(Story by Brian Ledford – Photos by Bob Dunnell)
(MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA) Heading into the global finale of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) held in the Great White North this weekend, St. Louis-based Arch Rival Roller Derby knew that it would have to bring their self-defined “Midwestern, cornfed, sticky derby lives” to the sport court if they wanted to potentially win a first-time medal.
Propelled by a pair of 20-point first-period sprints and punctuated by a defensive lockdown on the game’s final jam, Arch Rival topped Denver 127-122 in a WFTDA International Championship quarterfinal Friday afternoon at Complexe Sportif Claude-Robillard.
St. Louis, seeded fourth within the ten-team bracketed tourney, advances to Saturday semifinal game set for 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. St. Louis time) and meets the winner of the Rose City/Philly quarterfinal game that will be held Friday evening.
Friday’s breakthrough over Denver was a monumental benchmark for Arch Rival (6-2). Even though they were the higher seed of the pair, many pundits had considered Denver the favorite due to their edge in recent victories over the locals, which included their triumph in last year’s quarterfinals.
With victory and advancement to the final four, ARCH flipped the script and shot the plot.
“Looking at derby Twitter, I saw a lot of #milehydras,” assessed ARCH blocker Kayla Woodward after the game, making reference to people giving the opposing Mile High Club early favor. “Fundamentally, seeing that means that nobody believed in us…but we do.”
Believing and being confident helped set the early tone of the game as Arch Rival sprinted out to a 21-0 lead after the fourth jam. A nine-point strike by jammer Loki Doki three minutes deep was followed by an eight-pointer from Annie Swanson and a four-point pass from Bricktator.
Denver (7-5) picked away at the deficit and narrowed the score to 25-12 at the 16:05 mark following Andee’s four-point pass.
ARCH tallied eight straight on the next two rotations as Doki claimed three in Jam 10 and Swanson followed with a five-point power jam that pushed the score to 33-12 with 13:50 left in the period.
And as smooth as things seemed early, ARCH’s play became unhinged and Denver produced a 28-8 run over the next five jams that quashed the differential. Highlighted by Scald Eagle’s dozen with 11:05 left, the Mile High Club narrowed Arch Rival’s lead to a solo point, 41-40 with 6:50 left.
Undaunted, ARCH regained their composure and utilized their stingy defense, paced by blockers Woodward, Vicious Van GoGo, Shear-Ra Powers, Cloak N’ DragHer, Smarty McFly, Bolt Action, LuxFurious, Thestral, Splatter, Dad Bod and Ace, to full effect.
As a result, St. Louis outscored Denver 30-6 in the period’s five reaming jams. Utilizing a pair of back-to-back power jams that yielded 15 points for Swanson in the penultimate rotation and five for Bricktator in the final sprint, Arch Rival possessed a 71-46 lead at intermission.
In the early stages of the second period, Denver launched a hard charge in scoring but ARCH was able to maintain their 20-point cushion thanks to important claims such as Jedi Knight-N-Gale’s five-pointer scored with 24:15 left that pushed the lead to 80-56.
As the period progressed, St. Louis capitalized on Denver penalties. With 17:30 left, Doki tallied an eight-point power jam that resulted in a 97-68 score. Swanson followed with 14 points on the next rotation to push their total to triple-digits, 111-76 midway through the final frame.
With ten minutes remaining, ARCH maintained a 123-84 and it seemed that a Hydra semifinal slot was well within reach.
Denver was ready to play spoiler and shatter St. Louis’ dreams.
Over the next eight rotations, the Mile High Club chipped…and chipped…and chipped…and chipped at the differential. A mind-numbing, and sour belch-inducing, 34-4 rally ensued and Denver, once almost pinned for consolation placement, narrowed the score to 127-118 with one minute left on the period clock.
With momentum on their side, Denver placed the star on veteran jammer Scald Eagle. To counter defensively, Arch Rival fielded blockers VanGoGo, Dad Bod, Powers and DragHer.
In front of a nervous crowd, the final jam between the side-by-side seeds ensued with :55 left. Immediately, Denver put pressure on ARCH jammer Doki while the St. Louis quartet put the lock down on Eagle. Precious clock time elapsed as neither team were able to gain advantage out of Turn Two.
With five seconds left on the period clock, Eagle squirmed out of the ARCH rival wall and claimed lead jammer status. As the period clock expired, Eagle glided around the track and made a mad scramble around the track and reengaged into the ensuing mayhem. A four-point pass was made with under thirty seconds left on the jam clock and Denver trailed by five points, 122-117.
Eagle attempted a second scoring pass but the Arch Rival defense prohibited another go-around. The jam clock expired and ARCH secured their semifinal berth with the narrow victory.
Swanson led all scorers with 58 points.
One can hope that Friday’s breakthrough could lead to medallions ahead.
ARCH INDIVIDUAL SCORING: Annie Swanson 58, Loki Doki 38, Bricktator 17, Jedi Knight-N-Gale 14.
© 2016 Arch Rival Roller Derby All rights reserved.