Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WFTDA Championships: Bout 2 – Rocky Mountain versus Nashville

Deranged (27) would get boxed in the first jam for a Major Cut, giving Nashville’s Rambo Sambo (M60) a lead jammer and a quick call to take advantage of the early Rocky Mountain penalty.
Nashville’s jammer, Rambo, would commit her own cutting penalty after earning lead, releasing Deranged to score three 5-point grandslams to Rambo’s 4 points. Nashville’s Slaya (1970) exhibited some great front-pack booty blocking to hold Triple Shot Misto (7423) back on her first pass. Misto would still earn lead jammer and 8 points in the third jam.

Rocky’s Frida Beater (202) would open up the score for the 5280 Fight Club, earning lead and a 24-point jam when Nash’s Rock Nasty (14) would go to the box for a Fourth Minor for a Cutting penalty.

Despite penalty trouble for Rocky, including Psycho Babble for a High Block, Misto for a Major Cut and Deranged twice in the same jam, the Fight Club held a 60-21. Deranged would be released in the 10th jam, earning lead and a 16-point jam thanks to an Outside Offensive Block by Urrk’n Jerk’n (00) and the refs sending Rambo to the box for a  Fourth Minor on a Forearm penalty.

Nashville fought back, but Rocky would answer and get the better of the exchanges, taking a 101-41 lead into the second half.

Rocky’s defense tightened up, holding Nashville to just 7 points in the first 10 minutes of the second.

In the second half’s 7th jam, Urkk’n would earn lead and score 5 points, before passing the star to Pyscho Babble, who was boxed for the illegal procedure. Later it was ruled that Psycho had never actually relinquished the star properly. Rocky’s Amanda Jamitinya (9) and DeRanged would key in on Nashville jammer Four-Leaf Roller (318), forcing the Nash jammer to commit a Track Major.

Nashville calls a timeout at 14:25, and everyone looks visibly winded. With a 138-51 lead, Rocky would again lock down the Nashville offense, holding them to 7 points. The Fight Club jammers continued rolling, scoring a collective 60 points in 14 minutes to win the game, 198-58. Penalty trouble haunted Nashville, handicapping their ability to score. Rambo Sambo would be boxed twice in those lasting minutes of the game, once for a Major Cut and another for a Fourth Minor on a Cut penalty. Her teammate Rock Nasty would also be boxed for a Cut Major. The Fight Club in turn managed six Lead Jammers in 9 Jams, and converted on multiple scoring passes three times.

WFTDA Championships: Bout 1 - Minnesota versus Charm

In the first short day of the weekend, the derby community was treated to a few surprises. In the first contest, Minnesota stormed the gates, amassing a 38-6 lead against Charm City, before Baltimore would call a timeout with 20 minutes left in the game.

During that stretch, Melissa "Medusa" Hopper managed a 25 point power jam when Charm jammer I.M. Pain was boxed for a penalty in the second jam.

Both teams utilized the scrum starts, a term adopted from rugby in which a mass of players are clustered together (in this case right in front of the jammer line), early and kept working with that strategy for some time.

Charm would adapt to Minnesota occupying the jammer line by utilizing the star pass over the Minnesota back 4 wall.

By passing the star over the wall, Baltimore gave it's pivot the star in an attempt to get an early first pass.

Relinquishing lead jammer, Charm gave the Minnesota the opportunity to earn LJ as the second jammer to exit the pack. With strong jammers Minnesota earned lead and would call it before the opposing jammer would start accruing points on her score pass.

 Harm would finally earn lead jammer in the 10th jam, IM Pain picking up a 7 (5-2) to 3 point swing.

 Both teams would hit various point swings contributing to the general ebb and flow of the game, but Minnesota would maintain a sizable lead. Charm managed a few more star passes to little effect, including an attempt by Joy Collision that would send her to the box as the jaMmer.

 Coming out of the halftime down 94-42, Charm would struggle, watching minnesota's lead grow to 107-47.

 In the 6th of the second half, Joy Collision would pick up a 4-5-5-5 run when the Charm defense stuffed Minnesota,
's Lexicutor, drawing closer at 107-68 with 23 minutes remaining.

 The Charm All Stars would scrum start with back-wall positioning with Bang! Bang! (9mm), Holly GoHardly (415) and Rosie the Rioter (100) bolstering the Baltimore pack. Pain would nab lead an 4 points to edge closer to the 107-72 deficit they faced. 

 Two jams after a Minnesota timeout, the refs boxed Minnesota's Juke Boxx (A18) for a Misconduct as a result of attempting to jump the apex and making contact with an opposing skater midair. Seizing the opportunity Charm's Joy Collision would earn lead and call it immediately, to take full advantage of a power jam. The crowd jeered Joy for calling it instead of skating, but the tactic would give Pain a better advantage. Pain would earn lead and a 5-4 scoring run before Juke exited the box and began her score pass.

 Charm's rally wouldn't end there. Behind an impenetrable Baltimore defense of Holden Grudges (63), Go Hardly and Loretta Scarrs (91), lead jammer Crowella De Vill scored 24 points, including 4 5-point grand slams, pulling Baltimore within 2 points, 107-105.

 With their bench positioned behind the jam line, Baltimore positioned themselves directly in front of the jam line before Minnesota would have a chance to. Back-to-back LJ's for Joy Collision would both give Charm the lead and extend it, 109-112. An official review by Charm would stop the clock at 14:08. Charm would maintain their lead and hold Minnesota to 1 point, but penalties would unwind Baltimore's run.

 With two sitting and one standing in the penalty box, Charm's Holly GoHardly was the only defensive player on the track. Minnesota would earn lead and a 5-point grandslam, as Crowella would be held to a 0-point scoring pass.

 Minnesota never gave up in the face of the 114-121 score. Second Hand Smoke would earn lead and a single point, setting up a run for Medusa, who went L-5-5-5-5-4 when Joy Collision was boxed for Four Minors and Reckless N'Dangerment (116) and Terrorizher (3636) were the only blockers. Baltimore would be forced to call a Timeout with 7:01 and relinquishing the lead 139-121.

 Minnesota orchestrated a 9-point swing during two jams with intense blocking. Voodoo Prodigy (Minnesota, 69) put a huge backward block on I.M. Pain. Charm's defense would take a front-control 4-wall.

 Working against the clock (3:35 remaining) and a 148-121 point disadvantage, Charm couldn't dig themselves out of the hole. Minnesota would hold them scoreless, while Medusa scored 7 points and Harmony Killerbruise (75) scored 5 points during a boxed-Collision powerjam. Killerbruise would run the clock and call it to end the game 160-121.

Friday, November 11, 2011

WFTDA Championships: Breaking Bad (Brackets)

It's really hard to plan for the weird upsets that happen during the Women's Flat Track Derby Association's regional tournaments.

With the 2011 Championship about to get underway, those of you filling out your brackets may or may not have to rely on luck on this auspicious day (11-11-11).

Arguably the hardest first round match ups of Minnesota-Charm and Philly-Naptown could be the hardest.

Charm ended Minnesota's championship run in 2010 in the first round, but Minnesota returns this year as a higher seed and with the addition of Melissa MEDUSA Hopper, former captain and standout jammer for North Star.

Philly has taken some hard losses this year at the hands of standout teams, including two losses versus Rose City, and a loss each to Rocky Mountain, Rat City and Gotham. Naptown improved to a three-seed at Monumental Mayhem, WFTDA's North Central Region tournament, by beating then-NC2 Detroit, to earn a spot in the championship tournament. Naptown's defensive blocking and hybrid style could mat up very well with Philly.

In the middle of the bracket, the possibilities for key second-round match ups include the likely Gotham-Rocky Mountain and Windy City-Kansas City.

Windy City managed to rebound from their loss against Kansas City in their last game at the UIC Pavilion, Chicago, before heAding to regional play. After settling for a 1-1 series split with KC, Chicago gets an opportunity to avenge that loss.

Rocky Mountain looks to repeat what they did against Gotham during the 2010 championship tournament, when they beat Gotham 113-79. Gotham is bringing a different game this year, hoping again to capitalize on their impressive season record going 10-0, with 7 regular season games, and 3 regional tournament wins. The only time the two teams have played each other was that 34 point win by Rocky Mountain in 2010 championship tournament play.

Texas and Oly offer the best chance at heading to semis, thanks largely to their first round byes and pairings against winners of largely mid-level bouts.

WFTDA Championships: Altitude, er, attitude is everything

In the Mile High City, the biggest difference for competitive athletes coming from outside Denver is the altitude.

The lower levels of oxygen can tax the lungs ability to oxygenate the blood, putting even higher demands on the body during times of stress, I.e. Athletic competitions.

Windy City posted a few short videos of a training session in which it's athletes carried weighted backpacks and breathed through straws to simulate the rigors of competing in Denver during the womens Flat Derby Association's 2011 Championship Tournament, Continental Divide and Conquer.

Rumor has it that Gotham Girls Roller Derby spent a week in Denver prior to the start of the tournament, acclimating to the altitude.

Host-league Rocky Mountain will likely have a distinct home-field advantage When they play No. 3 South Central seed Nashville, scheduled for 3:45 p.m. (Mountain) today.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

WFTDA Championships: Transfer skaters strive for their chance at gold

UPDATE: Cheri "Wild Cherri" Kresge will transfer back to the South Central Region, joining the Atlanta Rollergirls after a season playing for Gotham . 

"My love life takes me there," Kresge said. "I really wish I didn't have to leave Gotham. They were an amazing team to work with. Gotham is my N.Y. family  - the closest friends I have up here. I'm going to miss all of them."

Kresge was a part of the Gotham's 2011 Women's Flat Track Derby Association championship team, winning first place during Continental Divide and Conquer, the WFTDA's championship tournament, in Denver, Colorado.

Atlanta currently sits fourth in the WFTDA South Central standings and ranked 30th in the world on DerbyTron.com. Atlanta finished fourth in the WFTDA South Central 2011 tournament Show Me Der-B-Q in Kansas City, Mo.

"With the Atlanta Rollergirls, I hope I find a happy derby home and I plan to sit put for awhile," Kresge said. "I will be trying out for the travel team and hope to help build a collection of Ws going into regionals this year." 

Atlanta is 1-1 for the 2012 season. Atlanta defeated Maine 181 to 114 on Feb. 18, 2012, but lost to Nashville 166 to 136 on March 24, 2012.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

WFTDA Championships: Wearing the white hats

Roller derby encourages players to exhibit their personal flare. Some refs even get in on the action.

As the sport grows, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association takes increasing care to present it's skating and non-skating officials in a professional manner.

Uniform guidelines give very definite standards of what a referee or NSO may wear during bout proceedings during the WFTDA Championship Tournament, Continental Divide and Conquer, hosted this year in Denver, Colorado.

You may see referees wear interesting helmets. (Great Scott's brain helmet comes to mind). But what might be a note of interest is the increasing number of referees opting for white helmets -- Machete Holiday, Umpire Strikes Back, and Colin DeShots are but a few.

The white helmets help referees stand out from the chaos that may appear on the track. In a sea of skaters, referees and non-skating officials taking center stage, it's easier to play "Spot the Official" when they're wearing white helmets.

Joshua Pfenning, aka Conan the Vegetarian, has been skating for numerous years. Conan, who referees with the Angel City Derby Girls and is an officiating instructor for the WFTDA, can typically be seen sporting the white helmet.

"I have been reffing for 6 years," Pfenning said. "I started HRing (HR: head ref) right out of the chute for a newly formed league and thought it made sense for the HR to wear a different colored helmet, so I bought white."

"Later somebody on my crew bought a bright blue helmet which sort of nullified the effect of me having a white one."

Most helmets come in black or white, with an increasing number of colored helmets entering the equipment list. Many refs still prefer the monochromatic options.

"Having the refs all wear the same helmet color creates a consistent look and adds professionalism in my opinion," he said. "I like the idea of all refs wearing a black helmet, with the HR wearing a white one."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Upsets wreck mayhem on NC's mid-field

Now that I’m back in the Bat Cave, I need to start working. A whole Region Tournament season comes to a close as the final 3 seeds have been chosen to represent the globe at the Continental Divide and Conquer, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Championship Tournament, for the Hydra Trophy.

Monumental Mayhem, the 2011 North Central Region Tournament, upsets a lot of conceptions about a parity lack in the region (Including my own, but I’m willing to admit my mistakes). Last year, Windy City walked through the team’s three matchups to repeat as NC champions and heading into this year’s tournament, Chicago looked to three-peat with ease. Naptown and Minnesota would disagree however, both teams managing to put the No. 1 seed in danger of its region loss. Detroit proved it belonged at the top of the North Central dogpile with a 174-59 win over Brew City, only to fall to Minnesota with a 21-point loss, setting them up for the third-place game with tournament host Naptown.

The remaining six spots in the region were up for grabs, after a 119-116 loss to Arch Rival Roller Girls, the Chicago Outfit went 3-1 on the tournament to improve four spots and claim the fifth place spot with wins over Brew City, Mad Rollin’ Dolls and their ARRG rematch. Improving ninth to fifth in the North Central Region was only the start for the Outfit. Flatrackstats.com ranked the Funderdogs 17th in the top 20 teams. Chicago Outfit will likely move up a spot or two from their Derby News Network Power Rankings standings, currently at 20 of 25. Captain Sweet Mary Pain also won the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, capping off a long 12-7 season.

Losing the fith-place game, ARRG moved from eighth place to sixth, with wins over first-round opponent, Outfit, and Cinncinati, which came into the tournament with Seed 5, and ending in eighth place.

Cinnicinnati and Mad Rollin’ Dolls take the biggest falls of the tournament, slipping three and four points respectively, including a Madison loss to Seed 10 Ohio. Cinncinnati losses came from Naptown, Brew City and Arch Rival, in the Black Sheep’s 1-3 region tournament effort.

I have notes for these games – Brew City-Ohio, Detroit-Brew City, Cinnci-Ohio, Detroit-Minnesota, Windy City-Naptown, Arch Rival-Outfit fourth round, and Windy City-Minnesota – so look forward to some write-ups.

Original seed/change
1. Windy City (0)
2. Detroit (-2)
3. Minnesota (+1)
4. Naptown (+1)
5. Cinncinnati (-3)
6. Mad Rollin (-4)
7. Brew City (0)
8. Arch Rival (+2)
9. Outfit (+4)
10. Ohio (+1)

Friday, October 7, 2011

North central region tournament - Brew city vs. ohio

The best game of the first day was Arch Rivals versus The Chicago Outfit, but sadly we arrived late and missed the first half. So I settled for write-ups of Ohio-Brew City and Detroit-Brew City.

In Ohio's first foray into the North Central Region Tournament, they put up a greater effort than I think most gave them credit for. Keeping the game close in the face of Brew City's devastating defense lead by Servin' Justice, a wrecking ball at the top of the pack, and the Black-and-Gold's deep roster of star scorers.

In the second game, No. 7 Brew City maintained much of the control in the game versus No. 10 Ohio, grabbing an overall 50 percent average at earning Lead Jammer in the first half. A mental error by Ohio helped Brew City keep contol of the matchup, despite several box trips and a misconduct upgraded to a gross, and subsequent expulsion of Milwaukee jammer Zotay, No. 716.

While only a marginal lead at the half, Brew City's 44-30 spread would portend the final outcome. After Zotay's expulsion, Milwaukee relied heavily on a jammer rotation of Carrie A. hacksaw, High D. voltage and Moby Nipps. The trio scored only 27 of 39 points post Zoltay's exit, instead focusing on keeping Ohio's scoring to a minimum at 24 points.

Brew City moved on with a final score of 104-78, to play No. 2 seeded Detroit in the second round. I believe Ohio will play Cincinnati at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

North Central Regional - Preview

So far the regional scene has largely played out as we expected, with a few exceptions.
1) Rose City finally managed a berth into the championship tournament.
2) Texas managed to best Kansas City and reclaim the No. 1 spot in the South Central tournament, while Nashville managed to hold onto their No. 3 spot against Atlanta, and return to the championship rounds.

Three of the regional tournaments have finished, and now we head to Indianapolis for the North Central Regional Tournament, hosted by Naptown.

Monumental Mayhem, Oct. 7-9, will see the best of the best from the North Central Region compete for the last three remaining spots in the championship tournament.

The No. 1 seed Windy City, looks to improve on their 10-2 record, likely adding three more victories in route to Denver, where the top 3 seeds of each region will compete for the coveted Hydra trophy as the best team in the world.

From here the metagame is a bit tricky. Both Detroit and Minnesota managed better finishers than last year’s NC2 team, Madison, who’s been on a bit of slide since their 2010 Championship tournament appearance. Madison’s 1-6 record includes their only win against Brewcity and three other losses to fellow North Central Region teams -- Detroit, Minnesota and Naptown – with a 122 point differential loss to Detroit and a 152 point differential loss to Minnesota.

Arguably the middle eight spots are anyone’s to grab. Detroit, Minnesota and Naptown are looking to represent the region as the No. 2, 3, 4 seeds respectively. Like Windy City, Detroit gets a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed, and will play the winner of Brewcity versus Ohio. Naptown takes on Cincinnati, and Minnesota will get first crack at Madison. One loss can send any team back to the consolation rounds, and with Naptown, Arch Rivals and The Chicago Outfit in the pool, this tournament has the makings of being a bracket buster.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Show Me Der-B-Q South Central tournament

Tournament play continues to heat up with two more regional tournaments before the big dance. This weekend, the South Central Regional Tournament, Show Me Der-B-Q, takes place in Kansas City, Missouri, on September 30-October 2.
Last year, Kansas City managed to turn their 3rd-seed birth into a first-place finish against Texas in the finals of the South Central Regional in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Roller Warriors pulled off a first seed this year in an opportunity to see tournament play in front of their home crowd.

While KC isn’t counting out Gold Coast or Green Country Roller Girls, the Roller Warriors are already sizing up their second round when they’ll take on the winner of Atlanta versus Houston.

“Atlanta can be all on or off depending on if we have our stuff together,” said Kansas City blocker Kristin “Eclipse” Clarke, in an interview prior to KC’s game against Windy City on September 10, 2011, in Chicago.

Kansas City will put their 2011 season of 8-1 on the line as they try to do something no other team has done before – host a Big 5 tournament and win first place.

“Our goal is to be the first host to win our first tournament,” Clarke, No. 0, said. “Our goal is to win our own tournament. Obviously secondary to that is to punch our ticket to nationals.”

"Really you just have to win twice to punch your ticket" for championships, she said.

That might not be so easy for the derby darlings from Austin, Texas. The 9-7 Texecutioners have seen several battles in the 2011 season, including four bouts against Houston, in which Sisters from Space City narrowed the gaps from 126 and 118 points in the first two bouts, to more meaningful point spreads of 54 and 50. With losses to Oly, Philly and Rose City, Texas will have get past the first-round winner between Nebraska rivals No Coast and Omaha. And then they get to play the winner between Tampa and Nashville, which surprised everyone last year to earn a third-place finish and the right to go to the Championship tournament.

Last year, “we had to go through Tampa, Clarke said. “You have to work hard to put them down for the win. They don't go quietly into the night.”

Texas will have to work if the team plans a return to the South Central Tournament finals this year, but if they slip before then, plenty of other teams will look to capitalize.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Besterns and looking ahead

It’s Monday. For many of us it’s back to work after a long weekend of derby. The Quad-City Rollers just came off a double-header loss; The Rock Island Line dropping a game to the Push Up Brawlers and the River Bend Bombers taking a loss against Peoria Push.

Elsewhere, the Western Region Tournament went down over a three-day weekend filled with derby to determine the next three participants in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s championship tournament, Continental Divide and Conquer.
Gotham, Philly and Charm City repeat their Eastern feat from last year, placing first, second and third respectively in this year’s Eastern Region Tournament. Oly and Rocky would return to the Western final game this year, with Oly getting the better of the WFTDA 2010 champions.

Bay Area would have to settle for sixth place taking losses Rose City, the tournament’s eventual third-place finisher, and Denver.

With the international competitors (Montreal and London) knocked out, Dutchland’s forfeit to Gotham is still on everyone’s minds. Thankfully the chatter is starting to die as the rest of the tournament season continues on.

Six places have been settled after determining the best of each coast. Now, we wait for six more teams to earn a spot in the tournament.

I’ll be attending both the South Central and North Central region tournaments again this year (I guess 3 of 5 is something I’m just going to have to settle on), and I’ll be writing previews on each of those. I plan on posting occasional bout recaps here.

On a side note, fivepointgrandslam.com surpassed the 3,000 hit total, for which I’m incredibly proud and thankful for all who support the site. September 2011 also bested the 424 monthly hit record set back in July, and continues to climb. Personally I’d like to see it hit 500 hundred. With a few more days left in the month, that goal looks attainable. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Western Regional Preview - A five questions with D-Bomb

Due to a family emergency, I wasn't able to get a full writeup of the Western Regional Tournament. I was on the road for over 10 hours in the last two days and haven't gotten much sleep.
For something a little different, I present to you a Q&A with Oly's D-Bomb.

Q: What's your full derby name, full real name, derby number, your position(s) with the Cosa Nostra's and how long have you been with the team.

A: My name is Devon Tamaccio, derby name is D-Bomb #8. I generally am a pivot. This is my 3rd year as an Oly roller.
Q: Oly won the 2009 WFTDA championships, and came up slightly short of a repeat in 2010 against Rocky Mountain in the final game. How has that loss affected your overall seasonal gameplan? Have you adjusted anything?

A: I can't say that to much has changed. We do have that 1 point loss in the back of our minds at all times though.
Q: You're 9-0 for the 2011 season including some measure of revenge against Rocky in your June 4 contest against them. Currently you're considered the best team in the West and a favorite to Top 4 in Championships if not win the whole thing. Is it easier to prepare when your at the top of the list in Westerns?

A: Not at all. It adds so much pressure. Its so much easier to go into any tournament as a lower seed.
Q: Which teams in the West, besides Oly, have the best chance at getting a Top 3 spot in the regional tournament and advancing to Championships and why?

A: I think Rocky Mountain is a given to be in the top 3. They have such amazing skaters and teamwork. I also think Denver has a great chance. They are so strategic. You can never count out Bay Area or Rose City, both are very aggressive and talented also.
Q: Oly is famous for its plethora of speed skaters on the team. Can you talk a little bit about the advantages with having a speed skating core?

A: I think if you have any sort of skating background it helps. Your body is able to react a bit faster and you don't have to think about as much. It just becomes automatic.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Eastern Regional Playoffs -- A preview

Today marks Day 1 of Nightmare on 95, the Eastern Regional Playoffs, to determine the first three seeds of the WFTDA Championship tournament.

The Eastern Region has seen international play before with the inclusion of Montreal Roller Derby’s New Skids on the Block last year, but the 2011 tournament includes a second non-continental U.S. team: London Rollergirls.

London’s had a tough inaugural WFTDA season thus far, falling 0-4 on the year, with three of those losses coming from fellow Eastern Region sister leagues. Ranked last in the tournament with the No. 10 seed, London, which is ranked 22 in Derby News Network’s power rankings for September 2011, certainly has its work cut out for it when it matches up with Carolina, DNN 23. The winner of this matchup would face Philly Roller Girls, who took second in the tournament last year, in the second round matchup on Friday.

The other international flavor, Montreal, has had a who’s who of opponents this season with a grand total of 19 bouts, including three bouts at Anarchy in the U.K. and two bouts at East Coast Derby Extravaganza. Against other Eastern Region Playoff contenders, Montreal is 3-3, with losses against Gotham, Charm and Steel City.

Gotham and Philly are the best teams, No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, in the Eastern Region. These two teams are almost assured to meet in the final game of the regional playoffs, even though a disappointing 267-34 loss at ECDX set the City of Sisterly Shove back a little bit. Falling out of the Top 10 in DNN’s power rankings, Philly has a lot of ground to make up after a faltering season. Holding on to their No. 2 WFTDA ranking in the Eastern Region will be tantamount to their birth in the Championship tournament.

Gotham Girls Roller Derby has absolutely dominated their Eastern Regional opponents during their 7-0 2011 season. Outscoring Eastern Regional opponents by 682 points in five games, Gotham’s defense has held its opponents to a pale 218 points – and that’s including giving up 102 points against Charm City in their May 21st game in Baltimore.

Gotham shook off rumors of a possible move by Suzy Hotrod to Philly, their veteran jammer staying with her home team. The New York team also managed to pick up two transfers, cementing their stranglehold on the No. 1 spot in the East. One standout from the South Central tournament last year, Wild Cherri, who played for Tampa Bay in 2010, moved to the Gotham team. The team also managed to acquire Davey Blockit from the Arch Rival Roller Girls. Add those players to a stable including Hyper Lynx, Hotrod, Bonnie Thunders, OMG WTF and a slew of other skaters, and Gotham has a recipe to making it through the Eastern Regional Playoffs and straight into a Top 5 placing in the Championship tournament.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Windy City All Stars versus Kansas City Roller Warriors

CORRECTION: In Jam 4 of the second half, Windy City captain Jackie Daniels was penalized for an Out of Play Block after a No Pack was called. No further penalties were issued to Daniels. A second Windy City was penalized for Insubordination, but I was unable to determine who it was at the time.
Two regionally ranked No.1 seeds attacked the court at the UIC Pavilion, Chicago, on Saturday, September 10, 2011, in a bout that narrowed a point gap near the end only to disappoint the hometown crowd.

The Windy City All-Stars, ranked No. 1 in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s North Central Region, invited the Kansas City Roller Warriors, No. 1 in WFTDA’s South Central region, back to Chicago for a chance at revenge for KC’s loss the only other time the two teams have met on September 20, 2008.

Kansas City won 111-92 in a bout surely to shape the Derby News Network’s power rankings for October 2011, well after the regional tournament season has started.

The Roller Warriors shaped the opening half with solid pack control and delayed jammer starts, stifling any tempo Windy City could muster despite a late game rally by Chicago.

KC would effectively wall in the back holding back Windy City captain Jackie Daniels, while Kelly Young nabbed lead and a grand slam, calling it before Daniels could enter the engagement zone to score, and setting the tempo for the remainder of the game.

Windy City dug a deeper hole in the second jam trying to get back into the game when Athena DeCrime was directed to the box for a major track cut penalty 0:32 into the jam. Chicago’s pack would answer – thanks to bridging from Sargentina --  holding KC’s Case Closed into the pack until she finally earned lead 1:10 remaining in the jam.

The third jam took the wind out of the Windy City, when Athena De Crime was released from the box, scored two grand slams in a power jam with Hall Balls serving time as the jammer, only to get called on a major Back Block. Daniels, too, was sentenced to 1 minute in the box for an Out of Play Block after a No Pack situation.

The UIC Pavilion crowd of 999 grew wrestles restless as several fans were complaining about missed calls against Kansas City, while lamenting the number of whistles coming in their players’ direction.

Zoe Trocious drew first blood in the Lead Jammer category for Windy City, nabbing lead after Roller Warriors Track Rat was called for a Track Cut. Trocious would not earn any points however, calling the jam with a 0-0 wash.

Despite the heightened anticipation from the crowd, two Official Time Outs were called after back to back jams. Chicago would try attempted to take advantage of two KC blockers in the box with a knee-down start, but Case Closed would play countered with some jammer defense to free her players from the box to and nullify the WCR pack advantage.

Varla Vendetta managed two trips to the box in Jam 9, giving Hall Balls a significant power jam. Balls would earn three scoring passes at five points apiece.

Chicago calls a timeout with 15:44 remaining in the first half, desperately searching for an answer to their woes.  KC took advantage of a power jam and a 4-2 blocker advantage with a knee down start. Kelly Young snagged lead jammer with 1:11 left in the jam. She would pick up 9 more points and call it before  a sprung Varla could begin earning points.

With a full-pack, Zoe Trocious, would earn lead and successfully call it with a 3-0 point swing, but not before teammate Yvette YourMaker would head to the box on her Four Minors.

After the third OTO of the first half, KC would jump on the opportunity to yank the momentum from Chicago’s hands. Their back wall, thanks to the help of Eclipse and Bruz-Her, would hold Athena DeCrime in the rear, while jammer Track Rat earned a Jammer Lap Point for 5 on her first scoring pass and 3 points (a pass, 2 Ghost Points) for an 8-0 swing in the Roller Warrior’s favor, 53-15.

YourMaker used excellent defensive positioning to knock Kelly Young Out of Bounds to force a Minor Track Cut; Young opting to come right in rather than yield ran straight into one of her own players , knocking her off balance and crumpling her into an awkward heap, much to the delight of the WCR fans.

Trocious would be the only WCR skater to pick up any more points before heading into the half time, earning Lead Jammer and 4 points against Case Closed. Meanwhile, penalties continued to plague Chicago, with Daniels boxed in two different jams, for a Track Cut in Jam 12 and a Back Block in Jam 17, both times as the Jammer but she would be released before First Half clock would run out.

Jammer DeCrime would also be boxed for a Track Cut in Jam 15.

The halftime score was 78-21 in Kansas City’s favor, lead mostly on their jammers’ ability to earn lead and points while capitalizing on Chicago’s inability to stem the bleeding to the box. Kansas City earned lead 14 times in the first half versus Windy City’s 3 (Zoe Trocious earned 3-0 in all three of her jams, earning her team 7 points for her effort). Even with Lead Jammer, Athena DeCrime was the only Chicago player to make multiple scoring passes, earing two grand slams in Jam 3.

Second half
Down by 57 points, Windy City would storm out of the locker room with Jackie Daniels taking the jammer line for Chicago. Daniels, shaking off her first-half penalty trouble would race through a weakened Kansas City pack (Eve-olution serving time in the penalty box) to pick up 9 points in two scoring passes, thanks to WCR’s defense holding Case Closed in the pack long enough for a Jammer Lap Point.

Wreck N Shrew, too, would respond  -- earning lead and four points (which had originally been reported as a 5 point grand slam. Faced with a 13-0 Chicago rally, Kansas City would call a timeout with 27:25 on the clock. A boxed Bork Bork Bork and Deb Autry would give the Roller Warriors the pack advantage, but Varla would still earn five points. Kansas City’s pack work looked sharp in Jam 3 of the second half. Eclipse worked hard at the front of the pack, with some tremendous blocking. KC would answer a Chicago 2-Wall in the front with their own 3-Wall in the back, managing to kill 2 minutes of game clock while only losing a 5-point swing.

Track Rat managed a 10-0 point swing in KC’s favor, despite not clearing the pack on her first pass until a minute-plus of jam clock had ran down. Jackie Daniels exhibiting some fierce blocking at the top of the pack, but get’s called on an Out of Play Block after a No Pack Call and an Insubordination after arguing her case with the referee. A second Windy City player was given an Insubordination penalty, but I couldn't make out to whom the penalty was awarded. I couldn’t tell if she was given a third, because the action happened on the far side (the straightaway between Turns 3 and 4. Unfortunately, a full Windy City box meant Daniels had to remain on the track to await an open seat.

KC Pivot Toto Basketcase displayed sharp positioning tactics holding the front inside line, often holding the opposing jammer back long enough  to reabsorb her. With a sixth sense about the pack behind her, she managed to engage the Jammer in the engagement zone, keenly aware of her positioning and not get called on Out of Play penalties.

Varla’s skill in the sixth jam orchestrated a comeback, with the help of a power jam. Track Rat took an intentional fourth minor, and Varal capitalized on a weaker KC pack. Designated Not Lead (due to a minor cut) with 1:46 left in the jam she picked up 3 grand slams before being sent to the box for a High Block Major.

I don’t see jammerless pack starts very often, but penalty hierarchy dictated that both Varla and Jade Lightning had to serve a full minute before being released. Both teams jockeyed for control, hoping to draw the other into penalty trouble or disadvantaged position. Varla would enter the track and earn lead with 0:58 left in the jam, with Lightning not far behind her. Windy City managed to stuff the KC jammer long enough for a grand slam and 2 points on her second scoring pass.

The referees called an Official Time Out with 16:02 left in the game. Windy City’s hopes of pulling out a win rested on the outcome of the next 15 or so minutes. Wreck N Shrew enticed the crowd to get into the game, rallying the fans around her. Harnessing the crowd’s energy Shrew managed to earn 3 points for Windy City, bringing the game to 93-64. WCR was down but not out, and the house was chomping at the bit with the taste of comeback in their mouth.

Another OTO with 14:15 left, KC would pick up a single point, thanks to Track Rat sprinting ahead forcing Lead Jammer Zoe Trocious to call it to quell a drastic point swing in Rat’s favor.

A visibly upset Windy City Co-Captain Ol’ Drrrty Go-Go came out to the infield to personally deliver some choice words to one of the jam refs, but bench coach Justice Feelgood Marshall coaxed her back to the Chicago bench before she got into any trouble.

After successfully poodling Kelly Young in the jam prior, Kansas City would fail to capitalize allowing Zoe Trocious to pick up a 5-5-4 jam after Track Rat was boxed for a Back Block Major. With their opponent’s jammer in the box, Windy City’s pack slowed the pack down to allow Trocious quick passes. She would earn Lead Jammer in 12 seconds, her first five in 30 seconds and her second five in 16 seconds. Time was definitely not on WCR’s side, but their pack work took advantage of what time they had left. The chants for Zoe were deafening.

Kansas called a timeout with 10:13 remaining the gap narrowed to 95-83, and an opportunity for Windy City to take the lead near. Track Rat managed a 2-0 point swing after getting the game clock rolling, Fueled by the chants of Zoe, Trocious answered with a 4-0 jam in the 13th, quickly calling it. Within 10 points, WCR called a timeout with 7:27 game clock remaining. In what appeared to be a lineup mistake, WCR’s pivot Jackie Daniels instead hands her cover to a teammate, and switching into jammer position relieving Wreck N Shrew.

Chicago would take a knee down start but Hall Balls would earn Lead Jammer, beating Jackie out of the pack by a second. Balls nabbed two points before calling it. Young, further complicating things for a Windy City bench, earned lead with a fantastic spinaround move with 1:20 to go in the jam against Trocious, who’s famous footwork and ragdoll juking looked to tire. Kansas City’s pack amazingly plugged the center lanes forcing Trocious into the high-risk inside/outside lanes.

The gap widened to 102-87, YourMaker managed a grandslam against Track Rat, again bringing the score within 10 points, 102-92

Windy City managed a front 3-Wall against KC jammer Balls, as Evolution worked furiously to free her jammer. Balls scored four points for her effort against Deb Autry.

With less than 2 minutes in the game and a 106-92 Kansas City lead, Windy City looked to throw a tired Zoe Trocious on to the track for a Hail Mary. Trocious with a phenomenal game had to be WCR’s go-to player of the night – if anyone could get through the pack cleanly for multiple passes it would have been Zoe.

Kansas City paired her up against veteran jammer Kelly Young. Pitting Experience against the Chicago jammer’s agility paid off for the Roller Warriors, as Young would earn lead with 1:36 left on the jam clock. With a 14 point gap to be mindful of, Young just had to skate clean and make sure Trocious didn’t outscore her. With 40 seconds left in the jam and the game clock experied, Young called the jam with five more points before Trocious could begin scoring.

The Kansas City Roller Warriors improved to 8-1 on the season, heading into the South Central Regional Tournament as the No. 1 seed and holding their ground as the Derby News Network's No. 7 ranked. Windy City All-Stars slip to 10-2 (both losses to higher ranked teams) and heading to the North Central Regional Tournament with their No. 1 seed.

Traveling to the Windy City, or how to read my notes

I made it over to Chicago to watch the Windy City All-Stars take on Kansas City Roller Warriors. Made it into town just fine, with minor traffic backups (the biggest hiccup was exiting at Downers Grove to go to a gaming store). I arrived a little early, and was forced to wait at guest services until a security guard asked me to go around the building and check in there.

Once inside I grabbed food and drink and headed over to my spot in the stands behind the jammer lines. If I go to bouts and just watch I much prefer spectating from the sidelines, but i need to be able to see numbers when I'm doing bout writeups.

That being said, WCR's second wind has some incredibly hard numbers to have to identify from the stands. The Red numbers on Blue jerseys were impossible to read, made more troublesome by the size and the placement. Their numbers couldn't have been more than 3 inches tall and high up between the shoulderblades.

It took some getting used to, as I slowly started to get into the pace of it. But if Second Wind threw in a new jammer (particularly after the half when the moved to the furthest bench) I was struggling to hear the announcers call the number.

Luckily the B-team bout gave me an opportunity to relearn my system of keeping detailed notes. Unlike most professional sports, statistics aren't always available immediately after the bout. Dedicated fans or journalists have to keep their own form of stats. About eight months have passed since I've even used the system and nearly a full year since I've effectively had to use my own notes for a writeup. I was rusty. But the Second Wind-Plan B game gave me an opportunity to slowly get back into the flow.

To give you an idea (And I may have to take a photo to give you a clearer picture): At the beginning of each jam, I record the jammers' numbers. If the jam whistle is some how delayed via a slow pack, for example, I'll try to write down the time into the jam that the jammers are released. During a particularly long delay, I have enough time to write a few quick notes about players jockeying for position.

Once the jammers are off, I immediately look for the jam ref in the lead. Upon his or her signal (and the subsequent jam ref's signal) I write a (L) or (1st) or (N). L is lead, N is not lead and 1st is first out of the pack but not lead. Above each note, I'll look up at the clock and see what time she successfully (or unsuccessfully) earned each status. It's not crucial, but it gives you a better understanding of defense or how quickly a jammer is making it through the pack. If a jammer is designated Not Lead because of penalty, I'll usually write a little initial above the note. For example: Black Jammmer made it through the pack first but is not lead at 1:45 into the jam because of a minor track cut, would look like this -
1:45 x
Her # (1st)

On each scoring pass I'll write down the number of points signaled by the jam referee. Particularly skilled referees will signal a minor penalty if a jammer finishes her scoring pass but does not earn a point for an illegal pass. If you are one of these refs, I love you. If you're not, I probably have yelled at you but I'm not sorry.

If the Lead Jammer successfully calls of the jam, I circle her last reported scoring pass, and look for the other jam ref to signal her skater's points. One of the great things about General WFTDA NSO setup, is that the score table is generally pretty close to where I set, so if there is a correction I can usually tell.

After a few jams, I look up at the clock to check the time left and the score, write those down and underline it so that I can go back through and quickly double check my math, a subject that isn't my strong suit.

If a jammer is sent to the box before she completes her next scoring pass, I'll mark this with an (IN) and a capital intial for her infraction and hopefully the time remaining in the jam. When she is released I'll mark it as (OUT) and if I can, I'll write down the time in the jam.

It's all pretty complicated, but if I have time I'll scribble some notes down below the jammer line, usually trying to get some form of pack description or recording a big hit.

During Regionals I slowly devised this style, and it worked for me particularly at Championships. I've showed a lot of people how much information I can record in a short amount of time, and usually I get looks of disbelief. :D

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bout day - Sept. 10, 2011

Today, I'm headed over to Chicago to watch the last home game of Windy City's travel season Windy City's last home game before the Regionals. In a double header that features the Second Wind (taking on Ohio, I think), the All-Stars (10-1) will play Kansas City Roller Warriors (7-1). Windy City, ranked 9th on DNN power rankings for September 2011, will challenge KCRW, ranked 7th, in a contest surely to have implications on the next power rankings and the WFTDA Championship tournament.

Chicago bested Kansas City 155-39 the last time these two played September 20, 2008. Kansas City's only loss this season came at the hands of No. 1 Oly Rollers, while Windy City fell to Bay Area Derby during the Golden Bowl, for Chicago's only loss in an impressive season.

There's no shortage of roller derby in Chicago. The Chicago Outfit's Syndicate, No. 20 on DNN and 8th in the North Central Region, takes on Brew City, NC7. The 8-4 Syndicate looks to add another impressive win on their inaugural full season as they head into Regional play.

In Iowa, the Old Capitol City Roller Girls of Iowa City take on Cedar Rapids' Helldorados.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

By the position – No. 2

In the first installment of by the position, we took a look at the Pivot, sometimes referred to as the No.1 position, and what qualities pertain to the position.

The No. 2 player can be called a number of different things depending on the language your team uses. In the 1 through 5 scheme, the No. 2 position is the second blocker on the floor, just behind the Pivot. Some teams may use the term 1st blocker, designating the pivot as a position superlative to the other blockers. The blocker playing behind the pivot thus becomes the first blocker.

Today, we’ll go down the roster and look at the No. 2 position.

If we look at positioning on the track, the pivot takes the pivot line, and her blockers line up behind her. The player behind her on the inside may be called the Front-Inside or Inside.

The next two names for the No. 2 position include Wing or Shadow (or more appropriately, Shadow Pivot). Generally in this setup, the player becomes an extension of the Pivot.

For sake of simplicity, we will just refer to all of these things as the No. 2 position. For help and clarification, we turn to Melissa "Mo Payne" Dittberner and Libby "Pbr" Claeys of the Sioux City Roller Dames, Sioux City, Iowa.

PBR: (The No. 2) goes with the Pivot. Usually covering that inside line is where I like them to be. Their objective is to help hold a solid front on a wall while having the option to chase down a jammer or build a bridge if need be. Offensive/defensive switch needs to be ready!

Mo: Some people call this shadow pivot, I think that is pretty self explanatory there. Make sure you are on that inside line or a step over next to the pivot. This position is where I would put my newer players.
In its most simple form, the No. 2 position works closely with the Pivot serving as a helper. The No. 2 player becomes available to do tasks assigned by the Pivot: Wall, Inside, Chase, Bridge, etc.

A fast and agile Pivot may designate the No. 2 as an Inside 2, essentially taking on all the duties a Pivot may need to fulfill, such as holding the front-inside position. Other 2s work better controlling the middle to outside lanes of the track. 

In a pinch, the Pivot may “sacrifice” her No. 2, pushing her to the outside lanes to impede or block a forthcoming jammer.

The Pivot will generally cover the left side of the track, while the No. 2 will cover the right. A good 1-2 combination of Pivot and 2 is an amazing thing to behold, as the two are almost always in sinc, communicating through telepathy. The No. 2 is the Pivot's right hand, eyes and skate. Being able to cover a wider area than the pivot is important, because covering the outside of the turns is more area than the inside.

Inexperienced players often learn a great deal working the No. 2 position, so long as they are willing to take direction and go where the Pivot tells them (or pushes them). Learning to work laterally with a partner will greatly enhance the No. 2’s skill level.

A breakdown of the two...PBR started the Sioux City Roller Dames and before the beginning BFF Mo Payne was on board to make this team happen. The girls also belong to the Sioux City Korn Stalkers, Mo as coach and PBR as head NSO and the best organizer in the world for local events. These two chicks also started the Norfolk Bruisin Bettys after they put on a killer charity bout in Norfolk, Nebraska. The girls with the help of a couple other amazing derby girls started the Triple Threat Derby Girls, a group of strong willed, focused women to spread derby love without boarders and traveling while speaking the derby gospel to those who will listen. The newest and smallest version of the Mo and PBR show will be coming to the scene in late November...the Natural Born Rollers...a chance for the ladies to help mold the future of roller derby.

Read the rest of the series:
By the position – An introBy the position – Pivot/No. 1
By the position – No. 2
By the position – No. 3
By the position – No. 4
By the position – Jammer/No. 5

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Windy City season

(Editor's Note: This is mostly for my own reference, a place to refer back to on Windy City games. I'll be using this for a future writeup on the North Central Region Tournament. Any rankings are unofficial, and mostly the accumulation of various data on multiple sites, including but not limited to Derby News Network, DerbyTron and windycityrollers.com.)

March 4

Windy City 133 (1-0)
Detroit 114

May 20 - Brewhaha

Minnesota 105
Windy City 172 (2-0)

June 3

Windy City 178 (3-0)
Cincinnati 83

June 25 - ECDX No Minors

Charm City 126
Windy City 144 (4-0)

June 24 - ECDX

Windy City 130 (5-0)
Montreal 105

July 9

Windy City 147 (6-0)
Boston 44

July 30

Steel City Derby Demons 117
Windy City 147 (7-0)

Aug. 12 - Golden Bowl

(6) Bay Area 116
(10) Windy City 49 (7-1)

Aug. 13 - Golden Bowl
(10) Windy City 128 (8-1)
(13) Detroit 72
Aug. 14 - Golden Bowl
(11) Texas 121
(10) Windy City 132 (9-1)

Aug. 27

San Diego Wild Fires 22
Windy City Rollers 256 (10-1)

Sept. 10

(8) Kansas City
(10) Windy City

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Playing in Overtime

It's not something that happens in a lot of bouts. Overtime – An additional jam to determine the winner of a tied game.

In close games, everything is in the details and mistakes are magnified tenfold.

The Quad-City Rollers have found themselves in two different overtime jams this season. The first was against the Rockford Rage's Ragdolls, a mix of their Travel team and secondary-level players.

That game ended in a loss after Q-C jammer Lady Gotcha tapped out for an injury stoppage, and giving the point advantage to Rockford.

On August 27, the Rollers got to play against The Outfit's newest team, Shakedown, comprised of B and C team skaters. Two years ago, Q-C's A-team played against The Outfit B-team (The Shade Brigade), and lost handedly.

This time, Q-C would get some measure of revenge after both teams would skate to a 150-150 tie after the Rollers would fail to get a 3-point differential to come out with a win.

The overtime happens when the game is tied at the natural end of the game clock and any current jams are finished.
Often called overtime or sudden death, the overtime jam actually is an extension of the second half, and not a new half in regards to scoring.

The overtime jam consists of No Lead Jammer being designated; scoring occurs on every pass (even the initial one) and will continue for a full 2 minutes, or until a natural conclusion (referee stoppage, injury stoppage).

Lucky enough, the Rollers managed a 166-158 win even after losing two blockers to the box.

The key with overtime is pack control. In overtime, you know the jam is going to last for 2 minutes, so staying composed is mandatory.

I talk a lot about positive point differential (getting more points than opponents), and most people probably will say "no duh." For regulation jam games, positive point differentials and utilizing lead jammer is important. Without lead jammer, teams instead have to focus on the point differentials and pack control for the whole 2 minutes.

After overtime, the winner is decided by who earned the most points. If the game remains a tie, an additional overtime jam will commence.

In overtime, winning can be measured by a 1-0 point jam or a 20-19 point jam. Keeping pack control and tight focus can make the difference in earning that one extra point, instead of losing that extra point.

I encourage teams to practice specific situations to become more and more comfortable when those happen in bout situations.

Because our team had the previous experience in overtime, our focus was on our pack control.

We knew that the overtime jam was a possibility so we had our next line ready to go. Had we not anticipated the new jam, we would have thrown five girls out there that might be in penalty trouble.

The Rollers were also aware of how the overtime jam worked, so the blockers worked on getting our jammer through and collapsing on the opposing jammer, to minimize the amount of points she could score.

Practice overtime jams whenever possible: 2 minutes, no lead and scoring on the first pass. While they happen quite infrequently, they do happen. You want to be prepared when they do.

Web posting - August 2011

It's been a pretty slow month as far as posting things online. I bought a house at the end of July and the entire month of August was pretty much taken up by moving and getting the new place set up. With only one post for the month, I still managed to see 266 hits for the month.

August was the fourth most hits fivepointgrandslam.com has gotten since its inception. We're looking forward to keeping the coverage going and developing new relationships with players, coaches, vendors, etc., in the hopes of bringing fresh coverage to roller derby.

With Championship season getting underway in a few weeks, look for several posts about the upcoming regionals and some live coverage from Denver. 

Hits     Month

266    August 2011
424    July 2011
168    June 2011
317    May 2011
146    April 2011
222    March 2011
182    February 2011
098    January 2011
121    December 2010
379    November 2010
190    October 2010
050    September 2010

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Backup Plan

I use the analogy of building a house a lot when talking about strategy with my players. If I give you a hammer and say go build a house, how far will you get constructing the building? Probably, not very far.

So let's give you some more tools.

The same philosophy applies to roller derby (and other sports, I'm sure). Your team is really good at one thing, so well in fact, that thing is the only good tool in your arsenal.

For the sake of argument, your team is good at back walls – You can build a 3- or even 4-wall of impenetrable defense in the back. You let your jammers get through but not the opposing stars. The first two jams your team shuts down their jammer, but yours only scores a point or two.

Opposing team calls a timeout.

You should be worried. Want to know why? In a little more than a minute, your opponents are going to look over at your bench and smile. Maybe even wink at you.

That one thing you're good at is about to get dismantled.

And the house you've been diligently putting together with just a hammer, is going to come tumbling down.

Psychologically speaking, this is heartbreaking. You just spent two jams doing something you all know how to do and take pride in it.

Without a backup plan, you're essentially inviting the Big Bad Wolf over to blow everything down.

The next jam, the opposing team opens up your wall, releasing their jammer while yours is stuck behind everyone.

The opposing star squeaks through everyone. Her jam ref holds up five fingers.

Your jammer panics, which panics the rest of your team.

Opposing star is through again. Five more points.

By the end of the half, you're stuck in a pile of rubble holding a hammer.

You need a backup plan. You want a backup plan.

Halftime is not the occasion to have to solve a major glitch like faulty strategy. It can be, and has effectively been utilized in the past to solve issues, but it's not a guarantee.

You should have that backup plan before you even step on the floor for a bout. You should have been practicing it over and over, so that when something doesn't work, you can quickly switch to plan B.

Having a few tricks in your back pocket is a good way to get yourself out of a jam (pun not intended, but certainly relevant).

But tricks won't win you the game.

You're team's bread and butter is the back wall mentioned above. You're really good at it, but maybe you've been working on something else like a 2-2 formation. 2-2s are common among teams. One pair of blockers manages the front, the other two are in the back. One operates mostly on defense while the other operates mostly on offense.

Practice 2-2 as much as you can. Learn why it works and why it might not. When is it most effective?

Knowing the ins and outs of a particularly strategy will help you recognize certain things on the track. Recognizing a strategy's weak links allows for creativity and development of counter strategies and how to make yours better.

It's hard to create a backup plan on the fly, but good coaches can do it. Such an ability requires experience, flexibility, creativity and control.

Most notably it requires the coach (or captain) to have a high level of communication, and trust from his/her players.

The learning curve at bouts is a giant bell shaped graph. It takes a few bouts to really get the swing of things and absorb what is going on around you.

Once you get past that, be ready to learn a whole lot about derby.

Here's a saw.

Take the time to learn what each "tool" (or strategy) is about. Don't automatically assume the strategy is broken if it doesn't work for you right away.

New strategies take focus and lots of practice. Certain tools will be more effective in certain situations.

Never take a knife to a gun fight.

High level teams have plenty of tools in their arsenal and can switch gears almost mid-jam. Lower level teams can usually do one or two things really well. The gray area between them is filled with experience, learning and practice.

Monday, August 1, 2011

State of Derby Journalism

I started fivepointgrandslam.com to combine two of my favorite things in life: Roller derby and journalism.

The playing field of derby journalists could be summed up as either derby enthusiasts who knew little about actual journalism and the journalists who happened to find their way into derby.

The first group -- while not limited to them -- primarily focus on bout recaps without telling much of a story. They use little setup, minimal narrative and almost no quotes. Part of journalism is to tell someone else's story, not simply rehash events for your readers.

The second group is guilty of conflict of interest 9 times out of 10. Several journalists-saved-by-derby have written many an article on their league or bouts, and don't disclose that they're on the team.

In a way, these problems are systemic save a few examples. On the local level newspapers continue to struggle between derby's athletic DIY attitudes and its sordid past of flying butt blocks and showmanship of the 1970s. The only way a league might get coverage is if a member writes the article or they might have a friend who works for a local media outlet.

Yes, sadly, this limits one's exposure to the local populace. At least online alternatives exist for the standard roller derby fan.

Personal and team blogs help local fans keep up to date with their local leagues and possible events. The inclusion of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, help get the word out almost instantaneous (given, that your casual fans don't follow the blogs).

On a national level, the Big Two of covering bouts, points and standings would include Derby News Network and Derby Tron. For the numbers based mathlete and stats fan, there really isn't anything much better than Derby Tron, which takes a comprehensive look at 107 teams (currently) and numbers them from the best to the worst based on comprehensive statistics. Their scorebox is usually pretty up to date.

DNN's numbers game boils down to stats and a Top 25 listing of WFTDA participating teams, which is great if you want to see who teams competing on a National (global?) playing field match up against each other. DNN also includes boutcasts of high level bouts, sometimes including audio and video of key matchups. It was one of the most reliable sites to watch live bouts from any place in the world with an Internet connection.

The folks at Derby News Network also write up bout previews and recaps, and Justice Feelgood Marshall's guidelines to writing bout recaps set a good standard to long form write-ups.

Still there's not a lot of diversity in terms of storytelling. Many of the recaps are straightforward and chronological, not inviting the readers in with quick quotes from the coaches, captains or key players.

Some of this is the nature of the sport – we're not used to talking to the media and we tend to be pretty quiet – while some of it is lack of experience getting people to talk.

For the print-quality on the national level, derby enthusiasts are limited to two magazines, Blood & Thunder and Five on Five. I've contributed to Five on Five in the past and I plan on writing for them again, but there's a reason. Blood & Thunder has a few columns from active derby participants and then the rest of the magazine is recaps that happened several months ago. If you weren't lucky enough to see them when they did happen, you've probably already heard the outcome or read the recaps.

This is the main danger with covering sports without an avenue of a daily media outlet – sports recaps become stale, giving urgency to finding new ways to tell the story. What Blood & Thunder does excel at is photography. It's photos are usually big and crisp, getting us directly involved in the action we might have otherwise missed at home watching the bout online or up in the stands in the back row. If B&T would play more to its strengths and learn to find the players with the stories the magazine would quickly become the Sports Illustrated of derby.

Five on Five works on covering the different angles that happen in derby, each quarter covering new and diverse topics. This WFTDA-produced magazine takes key topics and works them into articles to help leagues and skaters become better. Since it avoids the recap-problems of Blood & Thunder, Five on Five is less handcuffed with making things timely and can focus on other points of interest.

The advent of e-readers and tablets I think there's room for derby journalism to grow and prosper, but the DIY attitude is still there. Just like MySpace and that social-networking sites aid helping derby itself grow, the continued evolution of print and web products geared toward derby journalism will continue to strive.

Web stats - July 2011

July was a big month for us here at fivepointgrandslam.com, as we reached a Web hits record of 424 for the month of July. The previous record was 379, set in November 2010, mostly riding on my post about skaters using their real names in roller derby.

So far the big thing that helps push the Web hits up include the labels/tags, Google searches and quality of posts. I'm hoping to finish up a few key posts this week or next to help boost August's numbers a bit.

Hits     Month
424    July 2011

168    June 2011
317     May 2011
146    April 2011
222    March 2011
182    February 2011
098    January 2011
121    December 2010
379    November 2010
190    October 2010
050    September 2010

Monday, July 25, 2011

Effective communication with the referees

I specify referees in this blog because in the course of a game, Non-Skating Officials and Bench Staff should not be talking with each other. NSOs should only be communicating with themselves (if necessary) the Skating Officials (referees) or perhaps the skaters in specific instances (Penalty Box to Skater: Number of seconds left, Stand and Time).

Neither NSO nor Bench Staff should initiate conversations with the other.

Many times the Bench Staff shouldn't be communicating with the referees unless it's an official review or a quick discussion about points or penalties in the time allowed (30 seconds between jams to a possible Team Timeout).

A Coach or other personnel yelling and screaming at the sidelines sends a definite message to the Head Referee and the other officials: This guy is a douchebag. They won't say it. They may not even talk about it in the ref room. But they're thinking it. Think about the message your sending when you're jumping up and down and screaming at the referees: It's aggressive and demeaning. No one wants to deal with that. By prescribing to the above actions, you're building a wall instantly between the head referee and yourself.

A step down from that is the Coach who occasionally gripes about calls (made or missed). While this person is a pleasant respite from the above, it can still send the same signal if it's excessive.

I generally float between this and the next example, depending on the level of officiating and how my team seems to be performing.

Coaches who utilize their moments to have a quick discussion about points/penalties or use their timeouts effectively to address certain situations are beneficial to their team. A Head Referee is more likely to actively listen to a Coach who calmly steps out the middle says something brief and exits, or one who effectively communicates something that happened to gameplay no matter how complex the events.

The last example, nearly as extreme as the first (and I've NEVER seen these before) was a Coach who simply stands on the sidelines and never communicates to the officials. But this can happen. Perhaps your Coach only runs the lineups, while you have a skating Captain and Co-Captain, but often the Coach watching some of the game and may react accordingly.

Here are a few tips I recommend for communicating with referees:

Utilize your time
The time breaks that occur before a bout generally include (but not limited to) the 30 seconds between jams, a Team Timeout (1 minute), an Official Timeout (30 seconds to 2 minutes), an Official Review/Challenge (30 seconds to 2 minutes or more, Halftime Intermission (15 minutes or so).

Recognizing how much time you have available is crucial with any conversation including an official. Thirty seconds only affords you the opportunity for a quick question-answer: Hey how many points did White Jammer score that last pass? Or Why didn't she earn all four points on that last complete pass? I never saw a hand signal. And can easily be a quick request: "Hey , can you make your hand signals big?" or "Can you please hold up the points for the jammers' entire pass?" Thirty seconds doesn't allow for a lot of time. It's enough to do a quick count of how many Team Timeouts and Official Reviews are available to each team (Don't just keep track of yours, as you want to know if the other team has a timeout available or not.

A Team Timeout gives you a full minute before gameplay resumes. Any Team Timeout does this. So if your opponent calls a Team Timeout and you have a quick question about a call or points awarded, this is the perfect opportunity to ask the Head Referee about it. It won't cause you to lose a timeout, but you are effectively awarded the same benefit. "I get one free minute with the Head Ref, and they lose a timeout? Bonus!"

The main thing to keep in mind here is that the Head Ref may not want you to talk to them unless there is an Official Review/Challenge, but generally this is not the case. If they have the time and you haven't been a belligerent douchebag, they're usually more than accommodating.

If there is an Official Timeout called, it's your right as a Team Captain or Alternate to request to know what the OTO was about. Allow the referees to meet before asking what the OTO is about. Don't jump into the herd immediately as they will likely ask you to return to the bench.

Official Reveiws/Challenges are effective ways to discuss gameplay aspects and why something was called something one way or why points were scored in the manner they were. As a general rule (and I'll cover this in the Pick your moments subsection) I don't use an Official Review if I know the outcome won't drastically change the landscape of the game, which usually involves points or a jammer penalty. In an Official Timeout, the time is usually determined by the Officials, if they're ready to return to gameplay then you may not get much of a break.

Halftime Intermission becomes an effective time to talk with the Head Ref at the beginning. Generally, the Referees return to their room and discuss certain aspects of Officiating and other nuances about the game as it relates to them. If you've been a douchebag, I guarantee, every referee now knows you're a douchebag and your ability to effectively communicate with the referees is drastically devalued.

It's also important to note that you want to inform the Head Referee that you'd like a quick word at Halftime before teams report to the locker room. If you wait until after the locker room it's less likely that message will be relayed to the rest of the Ref Crew.

This could be to address your concern about illegal blocks, asking for bigger hand signals or other things that will help the flow of gameplay. Safety and gameplay are a Head Referees (and by default his/her crew) biggest responsibilities, so if you need to hit those points, now is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Pick your moments
The original examples of Bench Personnel highlights some of the wrong and right Coaching personalities and these can often affect when you can and can't communicate with the Referees and how effective those communications will be effective.

Knowing how much time you need to convey your point is crucial. Is it quick and to the point or at best a short Q&A, then 30 seconds – I don't need a timeout. Is it a complex series of actions and penalties that prevented your jammer from scoring points, then maybe an Official Review is necessary.

There's no real tried and true system that will work for everyone, just getting the experience in those situations. If you're the aggressive jumper/screamer dude, you'll want to be extremely frugal with your moments and know that they count (not be dismissed and forgotten in the next jam).

If you're the quiet coach, you'll likely have more opportunity to talk with the refs in short quick bursts but if you begin to affect the Head Referee's ability to do his/her job, then you're going to be sent back to your bench.

Sometimes, you're team just needs a break and you don't want to burn a timeout at the end of the first half. Feel free to use your Official Review on a play that happened in the last jam.

You do not want to discuss a play that happened three jams ago, and you certainly don't want to address made or missed calls at this point. But it can be something about a review of points or something. The end of the first half is the perfect time for a quick Official Review if you need it before the second half, but you don't want to make something up on the fly because you could accidently burn a timeout if the Head Ref deems your call unreviewable.

Adjust your attitude
If you feel like you're in one of the above groups of Coaches/Bench Personnel and you often find that you're not able to effectively communicate with the referees, it might be a perfect opportunity to move down a step and see if that fixes the problem. Analyze your actions and word choices during a game. Does it merit being called (borderline) abusive? Let's tone down some of that behavior. No one wants a lobotomized Coach, but stepping back from that personality will do wonders for your team.

Are you screaming at the referees? Bring it down a notch and just use your outside voice. Make yourself be heard, but not spitting in a referees face. If your upset at a call when you call a Timeout/Official Review, as the Head Ref if you can collect yourself before jumping into the details. We're all passionate about the sport, but we don't want to turn that passion into a weapon against ourselves. A Head Ref will generally understand if you need a quick moment to breathe and calm down.

Changing your body language can have a distinct impact on whether the Head Referee is actively listening. Arms crossed and bending forward in their face is not how anyone likes to be addressed. Allow the head referee to come to you, stopping where they are most comfortable. Put your arms behind your back, unless you're reading off notes. If the venue is loud, you may have to use your outside voice, but use a prompt like "Okay" or "So" to judge quickly whether you may have to adjust your speaking volume. If you are softspoken and it's a loud venue, when you say "So" and the referee moves forward to hear better that is not your cue to start yelling, but maybe to speak up a little bit or move forward yourself. Finding a comfortable middle ground is important for both of you because you want to be heard and you want to hear also.

Be clear, distinct and to the point
Remember what I said about Referees wanting to keep a flow to gameplay? Yeah, well they don't want to hear long essays about what you did over your summer vacation, so get to the point. If it's incredibly complicated have something that you can jot notes down about key events so that you can reference them, but keep the bar graphs and the pie charts at home.

Learning to boil down your language to be understandable and clear is important. If the Head Referee is relaying information back to the crew, you want to make it easy to remember lest it gets lost in translation. Remember playing the game of Telephone when you were a kid: I tell you something, you tell someone else, they tell someone until it gets to the end and the message is completely different than when it started? You want to prevent that as much as possible.

It's really nice when the entire herd comes over to listen to you, but if you have some criticism about a particular referee's call, it may not be prudent to include everyone on that conversation. As a whole Zebras don't like if you criticize someone else in the Herd, but if it's having a drastic effect on gameplay maybe it should be addressed … to the Head Referee only.

Understand the rules
When you call for an official review, you want to make sure something happened that contradicts something in the rules. You don't' want to say "She passed all those players and was awarded points, but she shouldn't have earned them." Nothing about that statement says anyone did anything wrong, unless "she" is referring to a blocker. Instead say "White Jammer passed two players while she was Out of Bounds, re-entered the track in front of those players, exited the pack and was awarded four points in error." You need to learn the rules and be able to articulate those words in a manner a Referee will understand your complaint. You don't have to know the rules word for word, but you should have an understanding of them enough to convey your case.

I will say however it is quite impressive when a Coach or Captain knows the rules front and backwards and can say "Section 6.11 of the rules specifically defines cutting as …. And Section says the Jammer is ineligible for points by committing penalties on opposing players and not repassing them legally. defines the new scoring pass, thus she's ineligible to repass those players. By cutting the two players she should have been assessed a major track cut, not awarded those points, and directed off the track. Instead she was allowed to continue the jam and was awarded those points and any subsequent points in error."

It sounds like a lot, but it's imperative that if you're going to be a Coach or Captain (or Alternate Captain), you'd better know the rules.

Learn officiating key words
I learned a lot at a recent WFTDA referee clinic in Lincoln, Nebraska, but the biggest gleam of knowledge came through the course of the entire bout. While it was geared toward referee language, and boiling down terms and descriptions into a standardized language, I learned that to talk with referees as a Coach, utilizing that language can greatly enhance the effectiveness of my communication with refs.

Learning the standardized language improves clarification of what we're saying to each other.

Gameplay, Impact Spectrum, Inititator/Inititate and Counterblock are all terms that referees use. Did I see a non-call and think it might have warranted a minor or a major? "Hey I saw White Blocker #32 Back Block Black Blocker #12, but there wasn't a call? Was it deemed as No Impact?"

A ref who responds "Yes, I saw it -- It had No Impact on the opposing skater or Gameplay, so I did not call it," will generally get a thumbs up in my book. A ref who says "I did not see it" probably won't win my favor the next time he/she misses a call.

Understanding the Impact Spectrum can help you communicate to a Head Referee, and it goes something like: No Impact (incidental, didn't affect opposing player), Minor (affected opposing skater, but she didn't not lose relative position), Major (affected Gameplay/Player lost relative position), Expulsion (Egregious, reckless, negligent.ect.).

By that same token, learning the referee hand signals is important. As you're discussing a complex action in an Official Review using Hand Signals to convey penalties or other actions will accentuate your point, plus demonstrate the level of knowledge you have about the rules to the offiicials..