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I didn’t know what to expect heading into my first live WFTDA Championship. I had some wonderful opportunities with my skate company, Roller Derby Elite, to go to a number of roller derby events in 2013 and encounter a number of the important players in women’s derby. As a member of the top ranked men’s team in the world, Your Mom Men’s Derby, I had also been fortunate enough to play against some of the teams who would be competing at the championship for the Hydra (the WFTDA version of the NHL’s Stanley Cup).

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Playing with a number of these ladies at RollerCon or at the Northeast Derby Convention, I learned that they were fantastic roller derby players…not men or women, but amazing players that made everyone around that much better.  Any players who looked at men and women different on the roller derby floor while in the middle of a game often found themselves knocked silly for letting up or relaxing. While playing for Your Mom, I learned that the top WFTDA teams have an incredible amount of teamwork that can only come by way of practice and trust. I have been told by numerous women players that we played against this season that playing Your Mom helped inspire and refocus their team toward the Hydra. I would counter that the main reason we were able to grow together as a team and win our second MRDA Cup was by learning so much through the experiences of playing the very organized women’s teams.

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We had played Championship qualifiers Gotham, Texas, Denver and Rocky Mountain so they were all my favorites going in (I like to cheer for people that I know). Rocky Mountain was rebuilding, but in my opinion had enough hungry up and comers mixed in with savvy veterans to make a decent run into the playoffs. I also have a niece who plays for Rocky so loving them comes easy. Denver was one of our favorite teams to play because they kept taking it on the chin, smiling and coming back for more. They hit as hard as any men’s team, they skate plow better then any team we had ever played and they generally looked like they were having a blast the entire game. Texas (kill, kill, kill) was one of our first women’s games (Minnesota Roller Girls were the very first) and they educated us on a discipline that we had never experienced in derby. They were very sharp on the rules and they used that knowledge to make sure they did not make stupid mistakes. They managed to largely stay out of the box and force us through game play to take a bunch a bunch of penalties that we were not used to taking. They had a game plan and down to the last player, they stayed with that plan to the end. We also came to love this small but mighty jammer named Haus the Boss. She surprised many at WFTDA champs but we had already been abused by her quickness and agility. Lastly, we have Gotham. The top roller derby team in the world was focused, organized, strong, deep and educated. They played us like a team in search of their first Hydra, not one with two already in the books. We all know Gotham for the multiple evolutions of the sport that they had been the originators of. What I thought was amazing while playing them is they had the ability to switch as a team from one style of play to another if it suits what they want to achieve.  They have some of the best jammers on the planet (some young lady named Bonnie Thunders) and the walls are made up of some of the best players who have ever played roller derby (one of my favorites, Sexy Slaydie). Probably the biggest take away that I had from our game with Gotham was that they did not look at it so much as a game for a win/loss. They were largely playing us to learn what we did that made us so successful and what value could some of our strategies add to their success. When a team that heavy in talent is as hungry as they were, I knew they would still be causing tons of problems to the other WFTDA teams.

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Now back to Milwaukee and the 2013 WFTDA Championship. The U.S. Cellular arena was nestled perfectly in the middle of the city which provided walking access to hotels, food and entertainment. The venue was amazing for spectators and vendors. Roller Derby Elite had perfect trackside (cardboard) seats which were the place to be for the semis and finals. The built in stadium seating gave everyone a great view and showed our sport in the professional manner that is deserved. The floor was a not so polished concrete which appeared to be both fast and grippy. I saw players skating in all kinds of skates and all kinds of wheels so it must have been suitable to what everyone was used to. The host team from Milwaukee, the Brewcity Bruisers did a super job setting up the tournament and taking care of everything imaginable that they had to deal with. Well done ladies.

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From the very first game of the first day I was in awe. The teams at this event all had very polished strategies and game play. Every roster was full of athletic and talented players who believed they were going to win the Hydra. As if to let everyone know that the rankings had both done a great job but were slightly flawed….all of the first day games were great match ups with the outcome in doubt until the end and all four games had the lower ranked teams winning (not by seed but by ranking). Day one took out London which had some of the best spectators around and Rocky which sent one of my favorites home. Day two was more by the books with the higher ranked teams winning most of the time. I did get to see Bay Area which was one of my high points. They had some of the best walls in the tournament and they hit with such timing and ferocity that I would have peed a little if I was an opposing jammer. While talking to Bonnie after the tournament, she expressed how impressed she was with the ladies from the Bay and how much of a battle that game was for her. WindyCity, a near local favorite, was knocked out but not before winning over more fans with the brilliance of Francey Pants and Jackie Daniels. Francey and Bonnie both remind me of my brother while they are skating and Jackie is a relentless beast while jamming. Denver was also relegated to the consolation game ending one more of my favorites run for the Hydra.

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Championship Sunday brought out the Division 2 consolation and championship games. I thought this was an amazing opportunity for the ladies in the game to showcase the up and coming talent and for many of the newer teams back at home watching to see what they needed to do in order to take that first step towards playing at the big dance. Three of my favorites were still playing so I was still emotionally engaged in the final outcomes. I did get to start the last day off with a impromptu scrimmage put together by the men from the Milwaukee Blitzkrieg. Some of my favorite players showed up which made it an extra bonus after all of the standing at the booth I had been doing. I had Quadzilla, Trauma and some of the Blitzkrieg brothers on my team. The other team was made up with Rollomite, Second Hand Smoke, Suicide Snowcone, Tink, Erin Jackson and a few others from the Blitzkrieg. They not only had a great spot to play but officials and NSO’s even showed up to help out. It was so much fun.

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The consolation game saw Denver fight valiantly but the walls and discipline of Bay area were too much. Bay Area looks like a team poised to fight for the Hydra in 2014. Denver looks athletically ready to compete but will need to clean up some game play in order to run the tables through a tournament. The championship game was everything and more than I expected. Both Texas and Gotham are skilled in penalty management but when two forces hit head up with some of the same intentions, something is bound to give. In my opinion, Texas won the penalty battle. They were largely able to dictate game speed and jam length with pack play and minimal penalties. That is not to say that Texas did not suffer from penalties. I have not seen the numbers but from the outside looking in, it is the ability of Gotham (and also the NYSE men) to capitalize greater when the other team is without a jammer that separates them from the other teams. Bonnie was amazing as always and Suzy Hotrod really stepped her game up for these championships but I would say that Bloody Mary and Baus Hoss were up to the task going head to head with the two legends. The difference in the end was the teamwork, strategy and scoring while on the power play that shifted the results in Gotham’s favor. Texas looked like they had come a long way since we had played them but so had Gotham. All four of the top women’s teams played strong walls as they always do but they also recycled at a level that I had not seen out of them in the past. The better the athletes get on their skates, the more recycling and less scoring we will see.

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As a result of me attending the 2013 WFTDA Championships, I don’t want a stinking off season. Let’s get back to work because the game is passing us by every second we sit. Secondly, I want my Roller Derby Elite skates to finally finish production. My throat hurts from talking about them so much. I need to let the skates do the work so I can relax a bit. Lastly, I am excited for the 2014 roller derby season to see all of the exciting action including the World Cups for both men and women. Buckle up.

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  • Great write-up of the weekend, Tony!!! I’m with you on my gut telling me that Texas won the penalty battle. It seemed that on a few occasions Texas got lead and then rolled the dice on continuing the jam, where a lot of others would have called it “Hit & Quit it, style”. It really paid off, because on at least two of those occasions, Gotham jammers seemed to get frustrated with that unfamiliar situation and landed themselves in the box for Texas Power Jam.

    P.S. It was incredible playing with you on Sunday morning! And Thank you for taking the time to explain some out-of-play tactics I was failing at.

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