Entering the post-season with its highest global rank historically within the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), St. Louis-based Arch Rival Roller Girls are set for a highly-competitive tournament this weekend with the ultimate goal of competing at the governing body’s international championships later this year with a podium finish.
Arch Rival, 13-1 and ranked #11 internationally, skates at the WFTDA Division 1 playoff round in Tucson, Arizona this weekend. In its opening quarterfinal game, St. Louis, seeded third in the ten-team playoff, faces sixth-seeded Des Moines United Friday at 2 p.m. MST (4 p.m. Central).
The top-three finishers of the three-day bracketed tourney advance to the WFTDA International Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota in November.
Arch Rival began the calendar year ranked #23 internationally. Impressive wins over then higher-ranked teams and dominant victories against ones comparable propelled the locals to its current rank and post-season seed.
Without a doubt, St. Louis plans on using the momentum for a full-throttle attack at the Arizona playoff.
“I would describe the team as excited and determined,” assessed Arch Rival co-captain Bricktator of the squad’s mindset heading into the weekend. “This is the tournament we have been working towards and very soon we will step on to the track with our game faces on.”
The result of Friday afternoon’s quarterfinal is cut-and-dry for the local rollers. An Arch Rival victory retains the dream of a first-ever WFTDA Hydra Cup trip while a setback washes all hopes down the drain.
“We understand the importance of the first game,” said Bricktator. “If we win, we have the opportunity to play for a spot at Champs. If we lose, we don’t. It’s that simple.”
During its 14-game regular season, Arch Rival outscored its opponents, 2886-1415. That impressive 2-to-1 ratio was achieved via top-shelf blocking paced by co-captain Party Foul, Mayor Francis Slayer, Emily Rinehart, Shimmy Hoffa, Jamheiser Bush, Kayla Seiber, Chewblocka, The Ginger Assassin, Cloak N’ Drag-Her, Shear-Ra Powers, Ninja Sass ‘Em and Krista Grant.
Alongside Bricktator, who received Most Valuable Player honors at last year’s playoff round in Salt Lake City, jamming this weekend will be anchored by veterans Brickyard, Mighty Mighty Boston, Annie Swanson and Harmony Killerbruise, who all have tournament experience on their respective derby resumes.
Also on the Arch Rival charter of 20 skaters this weekend are jammer Cupquake and blockers Grave Danger and Party Rock-Her.
Arch Rival’s Friday quarterfinal opponent, a familiar foe, has already achieved numerous internal benchmarks in quick fashion and seeks a first-round bracket buster that continues its rapid ascension.
Sixth-seeded Des Moines United Roller Derby was established as a franchise in March 2013, became WFTDA sanctioned last October, made its first rankings appearance in April and is currently designated #22 internationally. Its appearance in Tucson this weekend marks the league’s inaugural trip to the WFTDA post-season and its debut in its first season of eligibility as an automatic quarterfinal entrant is extremely impressive.
Like St. Louis, Des Moines (3-2) has amped up its work ethic in anticipation of Friday’s tussle.
“We’ve been very focused, adding extra practices where we could and really tightening up our game for playoffs this weekend,” said Des Moines United captain Vyolent GriMm . “It’s just pure determination at this point. We’ve worked on the things we needed to fine tune or perfect and the team is ready to take on the challenge.”
Jamming is paced by Lolo Gunz, EnerGEEzer Bunny, Kayci Gallion and Lolli Pop Ya while the aforementioned GriMm paces the blocking schematic alongside veterans Thunder Cat, Je NE Sais Quoi, Karried Away, Snotface, MOAB, Sunami, Rainbow Bash, Tally Marx and Synyster Skates.
What makes this particular playoff’s quarterfinal intriguing is the fact that both teams have already faced each other earlier this season. On May 2, St. Louis topped Des Moines, 180-142, at Ballwin’s Midwest Sport Hockey by capitalizing on a 39-0 early rally.
“When we played Des Moines in May, we were unsure what to expect,” said Arch Rival’s Bricktator of the tangle four months ago. “They had just officially become a WFTDA league and it was hard to assess their success relative to other teams. During our game, Des Moines did not hold back and played to win. They have some strong individual players, but our overall teamwork prevailed.”
The Iowans made a hard-charge late in the contest to keep the differential respectable and used the flat-track knowledge to its benefit as the season progressed and specifically heading into Friday’s re-match.
“This season’s previous game was a great experience,” recalls Des Moines’ GriMm. “Playing the various Division 1 teams, such as Arch Rival, has given us a chance to understand our own team better and improve further. Arch has been a tough competitor this year, with strong and consistent lines. I feel like that’s remained the same since we met last.”
At the time, given the perpetual shifts in the WFTDA rankings, no one would have predicted that the two Midwestern leagues would inevitably face each other in the opening round of a specific playoff’s bracket. Familiarity actually provides welcomed relief for both compared to meeting an unseen opponent in a first-day quarterfinal.
“It is nice to have an opponent that we have already played in the first round,” said Arch Rival’s Bricktator. “Our familiarity with their players helps us to shape our strategy. We have a better sense of the blocker and jammer strengths and weaknesses. However, our game against Des Moines was one of the closest games of the season and we know they will be coming to battle.”
“I feel like it gives you an idea, maybe a slight increase in confidence, when knowing what to expect,” said Des Moines’ GriMm. “Having played a team before, you know a bit more about their style and strategies versus your own. Although, I believe, that only goes so far. It comes down to how well you execute that strategy come game time and one team will always out play the other.”
The winner of the contest heads to Saturday afternoon’s semifinal round, which would be a first-time achievement for both squads. The weekend goal for the pair is a podium finish and an inaugural trip to the WFTDA Championships in Minnesota to compete for the governing body’s Hydra Cup against 11 other international medalists.
For the Iowans, Friday victory means that the rapid rise of a team that was unranked in April has now recorded an incredible achievement.
“Considering this is a first time appearance for Team United at WFTDA Playoffs, it’s very rewarding to see the payoff of hard work and we are already feeling that,” said Des Moines’ GriMm. “The experience will only help us advance further and we are very grateful to be here, on so many levels. That being said, we like to aim big and shoot for the stars. There is always another goal beyond the one we surpass. I would say the next big goal for us would be getting to the Championships.”
Meanwhile for Arch Rival, a first-round win checks another box off of its 2015 bucket list. For the nine-year-old league, a playoff semifinal appearance sets a new standard and the potential of a berth to the WFTDA’s big dance in November remains realistic.
In the end, if hardware is obtained by St. Louis by placing within Tucson’s top three, its Sunday night snuggles would be…well…dreamy.
“If we walk away from this weekend with medals around our necks, we will sleep with them on,” said Arch Rival’s Bricktator. “This team deserves it for so many reasons, but we have to take it one game at a time.“
Game recaps of Arch Rival’s WFTDA post-season trip will be posted throughout the weekend at archcitysports.com.
For the latest information on the Arch Rival Roller Girls, go to its official FACEBOOK page.