The Big O: What We Learned

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The Big O provided bouts up and down the WFTDA and MRDA ladders. We’ll be addressing the MRDA results separately, so watch this space. But on to WFTDA…

The Division 1 Bunfight

Texas are still very much the real deal. They demolished Oly and Kansas City, and put up convincing wins over Philly and Rose City. Rose caused them the most problems but were seriously hurt by their own jammer indiscipline–but many of Rose’s jammer penalties were forced by excellent co-ordinated packwork that meant that every single mistake was punished by a ruthless and disciplined Texecutioner squad.

Rose City are coming together. They are looking as good as ever when they get it together, but still have the same penalty problems that effectively ruled them out of a Champs run last year. Yes, many of the penalties were the result of strong Texas defence in that game–but many across all their games were also the result of playing like a team that accepts penalties as an occupational hazard to their style of play, rather than one that works to keep penalty numbers down.

Philly outperformed expectation in all their high-level games over the weekend, despite a number of notable absentees. The additions of Anne Frankenstein and Brazilian Nut in particular have given them more depth; how the team does with their absentees back alongside their new additions will be a key point of interest for the coming months.

The Liberty Belles also seemed to become the latest team to attempt to implement a system of radio communication to their jammers, apparently by way of walkie-talkies in helmet covers with speakers pointed into helmets. This seems to work well as replacement for the interpretative dance with handkerchiefs that has dominated their bench comms for the past couple of years, but we’re yet to be convinced of its merits as currently implemented.

Terminal City had a good weekend too. They went 3-0 over Saturday and Sunday with wins over Sac City, the Oly Rollers and Kansas City. Their jamming line-up looked more solid than last year thanks to the addition of NazDroveya Wylde to the game day roster after being an unused squad member last season. They were pushed by an Oly team who struggled with penalties throughout–but Oly’s late rally which made the score close was as much a product of Terminal’s clock management working with their lead than it was any surge from the former champions.

Their fondness for star passes remains undiminished by the passage of time; this worked to their advantage against Oly on multiple occasions, but we remain unconvinced their effectiveness will merit the time apparrently spent on them against a higher calibre of opponent.

Which brings us to Oly. They went 1-3 over the weekend, with their only win being against WFTDA #48 Treasure Valley. Even in that game, Oly’s various jammers sometimes had serious trouble with a Treasure Valley defence that has leaked over 1,000 points in two games against Rose City and Bay Area this year; Oly’s performance against them was much more comparable to that of WFTDA #43 SoCal at Spudtown Knockdown in April. Their games were marked by high penalty counts and having to close out games with shortened rosters after having players removed from play.

Against Philly and Texas, Oly looked outclassed, outgunned and outskated. They have now lost ranking points in Flat Track Stats’ system for every game they have played since their appearance at Champs in 2012. Even announcers who are normally reticent to point out such things were picking up on Oly being slow to leave the track when penalties were called as their dissatisfaction with calls grew over the weekend. One of their newer transfers, Re-AnimateHer, even took to Facebook via her official Athlete/Coaching page to very publicly express that sentiment after she was removed from play during Oly’s win over Treasure Valley.

They certainly had their moments courtesy of the individual skills of the likes of Hockey Honey, Sassy, Tannibal Lector and Blonde An Bitchin’ in particular. If they get some of their off-roster charter skaters back in action and apply the lessons that could have been learned from this weekend’s debacle, they might just reverse their decline, but right now they looked every inch a team that had only played one competitive game in 18 months.

Finally in pure D1 contenders, there is Kansas City. Their 99-point loss to Terminal City was actually their second-best result of the season to date in terms of differential; it’s their closest sanctioned bout this year, with every other game being lost by more than 150 points. Those games were all against a very high calibre of opponent–but KCRW sufferend the biggest ranking drop in D1 last month to hit 29 in the WFTDA rankings. They will be hoping to find something against Arch Rival and Wasatch later this month to try and get some momentum behind their rebuilding efforts following the losses of Case Closed and Track Rat and safeguard their D1 future.

The Bubble: Teams Showing Promise

Moving down, there were a bunch of results that will have an impact on playoff qualification for a host of teams on the D1/D2 bubble. Tucson, Sac City and Treasure Valley all look to be in that mix–but Arizona have to be considered at the head of the bunch.

The Tent City Terrors have been on a strong upward swing since beating Brewcity on home turf back at BrewHaha last year. Luz Chaos is once again showing why she turned heads for Arizona back in 2012 and Atomatrix is still as Atomatrix does. A strong team core meant the dominated all before them this weekend; while their ranking point return won’t be great given the lowliness of their opposition, they showed what their early-season results indicated: they are going to be something of a force to be reckoned with at whichever level of playoff they happen to end up at this year.

Tucson are looking to make their first playoff appearance since Westerns in 2011, with a 2014 schedule that has already seen them play more games than they managed in all of 2012 or 2013 as they continued to climb the WFTDA rankings. Their loss to Auld Reekie will certainly serve to slow their ranking ascent in June, but shouldn’t stop them reaching playoffs this year–it just remains to be seen at which level.

Treasure Valley’s 2014 schedule has definitely been ambitious: scheduling games against Rose, Bay Area and Oly looks very much the actions of a team with a serious intent to get better, rather than one looking to game the ranking system or just get wins under their belts. The precise impact of their win over Sac City is hard to gauge given that we don’t yet know what at WFTDA ranking any teams started this weekend; but time will tell. They have a good bank of games to absorb any damage caused by those annihilations–and their game against Oly is likely to serve to bolster their average too, and they look like a very good bet for a D2 playoff place again–and likely won’t need drop-outs ahead of them to secure qualification this time around.

Sac City looked to have a bright future when they hit D2 playoffs last year. Unfortunately, they have failed to meet FTS expectations in every game bar one–against the tumbling Wasatch–since their playoff semifinal. Their 230-185 loss at those playoffs to Santa Cruz does not compare favourably to their 346-92 loss to the same opponents this year and provides important context for both Auld Reekie and Treasure Valley’s wins over them this weekend.

Emerald City are a conundrum. They have put up repeated triple-digit wins over teams around their ranking level this season that suggest they should be ranked much higher. They are currently ranked at 50 in FTS as opposed to 104 in the official WFTDA rankings–suggesting they have the ability to make a charge for playoff qualification–but their results look unlikely to move them up there.

Auld Reekie get the final say here. Their wins over Sac City and Tucson–both of whom seem likely to appear at playoffs this year–show that they are massively under-ranked. Unfortunately their loss to Emerald combined with a couple of European games in the system mean that barring some ranking gymnastics from returning European teams hastily arranging some games against each other, they won’t make it to playoffs despite probably having the talent to compete there.

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