RDCL Battle on the Bank V Preview

While the WFTDA and flat track roller derby doesn’t get to see playoff action until September, banked track roller derby’s biggest playoff event is happening this weekend.

Battle on the Bank is now in its fifth year, and after stops in Los Angeles, Austin, San Diego, and Phoenix, it’s now Seattle, Wash. and the Tilted Thunder Railbirds playing host to the summer interleague tournament.

Eight banked track teams from five different states will be fighting for the really big Battle on the Bank trophy in 12 games over three days. Of the teams accepting their invites to Seattle, seven played in last year’s Battle on the Bank and have at least two years’ worth of tournament experience; four had played in the first BotB five years ago; three are returning champions; and one team, the Salt City Derby Girls, are playing in their first banked track battle.

The weekend is scheduled to have four games on Friday, six games on Saturday, and then two full-length games on Championship Sunday to determine the top three. Sunday will also feature an interleague junior derby bout in the morning between the L.A. Junior Derby Dolls and the Tilted Thunder Railbird Peeps. Click the image to the right for the full schedule in printable bracket form (PDF) to keep track of the action.

Though there are only two, or maaaaaybe three teams that have a legit chance of starring in the championship final this weekend, the action in the middle of the pack should be very, very interesting to watch, with some of the stronger teams beginning to slip and the up-and-comers firing on all cylinders. This may be the first time in a while where the majority of 30-minute games on the schedule will be relatively close and competitive.

Alas, although all of the teams are winners in our hearts, only one can be a winner on the track. So which team has got the stuff to take it all this year? Let’s find out…

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We’re Just Happy to Be Here

(8) Salt City

The Salt City Derby Girls, who take their name from the capital city of their home state of Utah, are new to banked track competition. Having only completed their track last year, they’re quickly learning the ropes in their first intraleague season as their four home teams do battle with each other on the banked track for the first time.

However, Salt City has quite a bit of team experience under their belts, being a flat track league playing games since 2005. Teams with a wealth of knowledge and skating abilities tend to adapt to banked track play quickly, if Arizona’s rise over the last few years is any indication.

But being first-timers to Battle on the Bank, it’s doubtful they’ll be able to adapt that quickly, especially considering who they’ll likely be playing in their trip through the brackets. Unless Team Legit suddenly falls apart in the opener, Salt City will probably see San Diego in their Saturday game.

That doesn’t bode well for them either, if an April 195-116 loss to one of SDDD’s home teams, the Hard Corps, is any indication. Though that result was a very encouraging one considering Salt City’s relative inexperience on the banked track, facing a complete San Diego team might see that score differential open up to a hopeless amount.

Expect Salt City to show up to play this weekend, but ultimately go home empty handed. Watch out for these girls in the years to come, though.

Salt City Probable Opponents: Legit, San Diego

We’re Really, Really, Really Happy to Be Here

(7) Tilted Thunder

TTRB has a great venue, a great local support, and all the comforts of home. Will they be able to parlay this into victory? (Photo credit: Tom Booth)

In stark contrast to Salt City, Tilted Thunder decided from the moment of its founding to be a banked track league. This had its challenges, considering their isolation from other banked track leagues in the country. Their first-ever interleague game was at Battle on the Bank III in San Diego, and that also turned out to be the first time they had ever skated on a banked track; their own hadn’t been built yet.

Of course they’d be really, really, really happy to be here, considering how far they’ve come. They’ve got a shiny banked track, a fantastic venue in the Comcast Arena at Everett, and a loyal fanbase that’s taken a liking to them in the derby-heavy Pacific Northwest. (The travelling crowd they had at BotBIV in Phoenix was by far the most of the non-local teams.) Now they’re hosting the biggest event in their league’s history.

After two years of figuring things out, this may be the year Tilted Thunder breaks through for an overachieving victory. Having completed their first intraleague banked track season last year, their all-star team should have the experience necessary to come out of the gate strong, a necessity during half-length games.

But the Thunder will have an interesting test ahead of them this weekend. They face the L.A. Derby Dolls in their opener, a team they lost to in last year’s tournament opener, 177-11. After that it’s a tossup of whether they’ll play Texas or Arizona in the loser’s bracket. Either of those teams are very, very tough opponents, and for TTRB to earn its second-ever interleague win on the banked track, it’s going to need every bit of support from the home crowd it can get.

Tilted Thunder Probable Opponents: Los Angeles, Texas

The Wild Cards

(5) Texas, (6) Orange County

The Texas Lonestar Rollergirls are something of the odd man out in banked track roller derby. Though they’ve been there since the beginning, they’ve historically preferred to keep to themselves and only very rarely play in interleague games. Outside of a game or two against Los Angeles a few years ago, TXRD’s only meaningful banked track action against other teams has been at Battle of the Bank.

TXRD didn’t fare well last year, getting knocked off by a strong Arizona team and ultimately going winless at BotB for the first time in their history. They’ve historically had a strong group of skaters, but their weakness may be that their home league plays by very different rules than the universally adopted RDCL banked track rules that everyone else at the tournament is intimately familiar with.

The faster packs and elbow blocks (legal in TXRD rules) that they’re used to in Austin don’t happen in interleague play, so how well they can re-adjust to different rules will be as critical as how well they can play against their opponents.

It seems as if the All-Scar Army is up to the task; last month they were spotted playing in a flat track game against their neighbors in San Angelo. (TXRD won 180-106.) If they can get their head around flat track derby rules, the subtleties of RDCL rules should be a cinch.

Do not adjust your Internet terminals: TXRD can play on the flat track. Will this experience help them regain their banked track standing? (Photo courtesy City of San Angelo, Texas)

Orange County may be closer to TXRD’s level than people might care to admit. OCRG has been one of the busier roller derby teams this year, both on and off the track. They participated in the Dustbowl Invitational flat track tournament in March, going in as the top seed and finishing in the top 3. They were also invited to the Pro Roller Derby Invitational in Glendale, Ariz. Though they lost both of their games, they were up against what turned out to be far superior competition.

But the league has been going through a lot of distractions as of late. They’ve been banked track for some time, but haven’t had a stable home for their track until just a few months ago. Their lack of results in Arizona surely had something to do with that; it’s hard to get good practice time in when you’re more concerned about finding a home. Now that they have one, they may be able to focus on the hard-hitting style that the OC Rollergirls are starting to become known for.

TXRD and OCRG are this weekend’s wild cards. With their new-found focus, one of these two teams could pull a first-round upset, or at least do some damage in the consolation rounds and possibly sneak into the third place game on Sunday. The seeding in the brackets give them a good shot at it. But will their play on the track let them make the most of their opportunity?

Texas Probable Opponents: Arizona, Tilted Thunder, San Diego

Orange County Probable Opponents: San Diego, Salt City, Arizona

The Championship Pretender

(3) San Diego

It’s been rough for the San Diego Derby Dolls lately. Their all-star team has lost a significant chunk of its core over the last few years. While the Wildfires still have many fine players, and have in fact expanded their league roster with the addition of a second home team this season, they’ve been missing something lately. Take their recent results against their sister league, the L.A. Derby Dolls.

Historically, the games have been close between them. However, San Diego has been defeated soundly in their three match-ups this year: In L.A., they lost 140-115. In San Diego, they lost 153-89. At Battle for the Coast in Ventura, a flat track tournament, they lost 71-39 in a 20 minute mini-bout. That San Diego lost a game that badly on the flat track, a surface where they’ve always had an advantage over L.A., says a lot about how tough things have been for them recently.

Throwing an additional wrinkle into the works, their 123-102 loss to a depleted Oly team on the banked track in February may or may not be an accurate gauge of San Diego’s actual strength, considering we still don’t know how good the new-look Oly will be on the flat track this season. But one thing is for sure, the classic “San Diego strategy” of rear walls and slow packs seems to have been hurting them more than it’s been helping them lately.

But no matter how you look at it, San Diego hasn’t had a quality win over a good team in quite some time. Coming in to Battle on the Bank, they’ve got to be looking for a strong performance to turn things around and get the rest of their season moving in the right direction. This will be very difficult considering how well their likely opponents have been playing. Still, a trip to the third place game should at the minimum be their goal for the weekend. They could very well take the bronze medal too, but it’s going to take an almighty effort to get it.

San Diego Probable Opponents: Orange County, Legit, Texas, Arizona

Just a Training Montage Away From Contending

(4) Arizona

The Arizona Derby Dames Hot Shots have been proving to everyone that they should be a force to be reckoned with. Last year at Battle on the Bank IV, they surprised everyone by beating Texas and Orange County to put them themselves in the third place final. Though they got blown out by San Diego, 235-65, people were starting to take notice at their fast, hard-hitting style of play.

Since then all Arizona has done was play the likes of Charm City and Rat City’s Grave Danger at the Pro Roller Derby Invitational and pocket $3,000 for their troubles. Charm and GD are two extremely talented teams that were both very comfortable on the banked track, so those games were legit indicators of how quickly AZDD has come from switching from a flat track to a banked track league a few years ago.

A lot of people are expecting Arizona to take it to another level this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hot Shots themselves feel the same way about their chances. Their opponents this year will probably be the same ones as they faced last year, but with the exception of Los Angeles, Arizona is only highly ranked team at the tournament that’s trending upward. Whether or not they’ve improved enough to take on the true top-level of banked track roller derby competition remains to be seen, but third place is a definite possibility.

A berth in the championship game, however, may be a bit too far out of their grasp. Next year? Quite possibly. But not this year, what with the two heavyweights that will likely be duking it out for the title.

Arizona Probable Opponents: Texas, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego

The Championship Contenders

(1) Team Legit, (2) Los Angeles

Lately, all-star teams like Team Legit have been the only ones to keep pace with Los Angeles. Will that be the case this year as well? (Photo credit: Rink Rat)

When you talk about Team Legit and Los Angeles in the same breath, you’ve got to look at their past history. And what a history it is.

Though both were at BotB II in Austin, it wasn’t until 2010 until both teams met on the track. Their first encounter was a close game from start to finish, L.A. prevailed in a 133-127 win. Later that year in San Diego, Legit turned the tables and took a last-jam 66-65 win in a 30-minute semi-final game at Battle on the Bank III. Last year, Legit took the Derby Dolls’ home opener with a strong fourth quarter run, ultimately winning 125-96. At Battle on the Bank IV in Phoenix, thanks to a biblical 71-point effort by Sarina “DeRanged” Hayden, Legit stormed from behind to win the championship over Los Angeles, 141-117.

But this year, Legit and L.A. have not seen each other. The traditional January game that the Ri-ettes had reserved for Legit was instead taken up by San Diego, with a new game added for super-team Team Bionic. Bionic’s 140-111 win in late January was very telling of how strong L.A. has become over the last year, considering that they’ve previously lost to (relatively) weaker Team Legit squads by a similar margin. Legit’s squad this year is missing key players from their previous meetings (the Hayden sisters), although they’re adding back in some pretty potent replacements (PITA, Killo Kitty, Swede Hurt). Still, it may not be at quite the level of Team Bionic’s monster roster.

Regardless, the only team capable of knocking off the L.A. Derby Dolls is an all-star team. The core of the Ri-ettes has been together for years and years, and every year they get stronger and stronger. They’ve beaten the best teams in the country on their home floor. They’ve beaten them at a neutral site, taking home $10,000 at the Chicago Pro Roller Derby Invitational at the end of last year. They’ve even won on the flat track, taking home the Battle for the Coast championship a few months ago. They’re scary good this year, plain and simple.

It’s a great shame that this weekend may be the last time these two great teams face one another at BotB, as the word on the street is that the RDCL is discouraging all-star mashup teams like Legit from making future tournament appearances. While I wouldn’t put it past them to make a comeback, we’d better savor this one just in case they don’t.

This year may be the most epic meeting yet, should both of these teams take care of business and wind up in the final. But it’s been four long years since Los Angeles was crowned the first Battle on the Bank champions, and they’ve done nothing but work hard to bring the trophy home. With how good they’ve been playing lately, all that hard work may finally pay off.

Team Legit Probable Opponents: Salt City, San Diego, Los Angeles

Los Angeles Probable Opponents: Tilted Thunder, Arizona, Legit

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Battle on the Bank V, hosted by the Tilted Thunder Railbirds, will take place June 1-3 at the Comcast Arena at Everett just outside of Seattle, Wash. The first game will take place on Friday at 5 p.m. PT. Live streaming of all games, as well as pre-game and post-game coverage, will be available via Derby Deeds. WRDN also be in attendance and will have live event coverage through the WRDN Facebook and WRDN Twitter feeds, as well as one or two special surprises…