See what A Team Assistant Bench and Coach Kitty has to say about the year gone:
We came into the New Year bursting with goals we’d set at the end of the previous season – to improve our WFTDA ranking without traveling to the US, to strengthen our game through tough match-ups and to prioritise performance over results. Our team leadership and league strategist had set their sights on the task of getting us strong games within Europe and convincing a US based team to travel the 3000+ miles to play us in our home venue.From a personal point of view I had just retired as a skater and was beginning a new role within the team as Assistant Coach. I knew that while my first season as a coach would be a daunting one full of new adventures, challenges and surprises I was in good company with our leadership group (Captains Brewdoll E Lowcock and Lana Pain and Coach VB).
February saw us travel twice in the space of a few weeks, by no means a new experience for us island dwellers. We’d set ourselves two very tough opponents for our season openers: Nothing Toulouse and Rainy City All-Stars. Leadership had been pushing the ‘performance over results’ mantra at every session, in every meeting knowing that without it we could set a negative tone from the outset of 2017. We knew Toulouse would be an incredible challenge for us and we welcomed it with open arms. The game was as physically and mentally demanding as we’d expected and the score-line heavily favoured our French opponents from early in the first half. We slowly settled into the game and took our victories from the team adapting to the pace and ferocity of the game. We had a short period to work on opportunities from the game before heading off to Manchester to face the mighty Rainy City. Despite how steep this mountain looked we were incredibly excited to hit the track. Every point scored felt like 100, every lead jammer or successful withholding of points a victory within itself. Rainy are the type of opponent that challenge you to the very limit but you enjoy the hell out of every second of it. Of course I say this from my view on the bench. A second loss under our belts we went home delighted, happy in the knowledge that we’d learned a massive amount from both games and set ourselves up very well for our sanctioned play later in the season.
First up was Euroclash where we came away with a win against Leeds Roller Derby and a loss against Paris Rollergirls. We were mindful of what we’d learned and our post tournament stretch and debrief was full of teammates bigging each other up for their performances, pride in our team achievements and a hunger for more. While we watched the rest of the match ups that day Beans, our game strategist and our own personal ranking calculator, let us know that we’d had a mathematically good weekend and if we scored X in our next game and Y in the one after that we had a chance of making the D2 cut off. Our next two games were at home and we went into them not only with performance goals but strategic plans to pull off our mathematical targets. We played a fast and intense game against the San Fernando Valley’s ‘Like OMGs’ who made the trans-Atlantic trip for a triple header with ourselves and Central City Roller Girls (Birmingham). We came out on top in both games and put ourselves in a good position rankings wise having achieved the differentials we needed. We took a deep breath to prep for our last scheduled game, against Tiger Bay Brawlers. We’d need close to 2:1 again to be in with a chance for the June cut off. The game was set for 24th June, there would be no opportunity to schedule another game if our performance fell short of our own expectations. After a hard hitting game both physically and mentally we left Cardiff with a victory though potentially a little shy of our differential goals. Whether or not we’d done enough to get us over the line would be determined over the coming weeks and not only by our own performances but of course by how other teams were faring in their seasons.
Ultimately, we fell short. We found ourselves at 58 with the cut-off point hovering just out of reach at 52. We knew that the likelihood of 6 teams bowing out of playoffs was unheard of so we looked ahead to 2018. We went on our league summer break at the end of June. A few weeks later while getting on my bus home from work when I got an email from Games with the subject line ‘D2s’. It turned out that there was a slim chance that a team may have to decline playoffs and they needed to know what our situation would be if we became eligible. Just like that there was a chance. I can feel all of that right now as I write this. My heart. I responded with a ‘tentative yes but we’d have to check with the team’. The team were overwhelmingly in support with only a few players unable to travel but fully on board with our accepting the invitation should it come. We waited. It felt like weeks, it wasn’t. We were officially invited and had accepted within 24 hours of the original email. We had a lot of work to do and we weren’t sure if we’d be going with a full roster but…we were going to playoffs!
To say we worked our asses off in the run up to Pittsburgh would be a gross understatement. Our league was incredibly generous and supportive so we were able to get extra sessions each week and we made every minute count. We narrowed down the areas to work on and focused in on them with intensity and repetition. We practiced jam starts every week and added a simulated game night (mental prep, off skates and on skates warm ups culminating in a run of scrimmage scenarios). We made travel plans and got very excited over and over again. Every minute of training was brimming with possibility and the promise of our greatest challenge yet. By the time we started to board the planes in Dublin we were ready.
From the start we’d made our goal simple: get past Friday. We knew that losing both of our Friday fixtures would end our tournament. Our first match up was against Auld Reekie Roller Girls. We’d lost to them in 2016 and have a healthy respect for them but we’d studied them and highlighted areas where we thought we could gain advantage. It was a close game throughout but we ultimately snagged the win by a small margin of 17 points. We’d done it! We were overjoyed and crazy happy with the result. We celebrated and then took a breath to get ready for our second game of the day. We’d be facing No Coast. We knew significantly less about them but had watched footage and studied stats, we felt ready. The spirit on the bench was very positive and focused, as it had been against ARRG. It never got wild, no matter how close the score got. And it got close. We went into the last jam just 2 points ahead. With 33 seconds on the clock VB called a time out so we could take a breath before taking to the track again. No Coast grabbed lead and came around for a scoring pass with Snowy a half track behind. As the No Coast jammer called it Snow pushed to get her hips past a blocker on the out. With no time left on the clock we knew it was over. We were sure of that point. We waited. We were arm in arm with Bob signalling for one. No Coast scored 2. If the officials’ angle was the same as ours then the game was ours. If not, we were heading into an overtime jam. Someone commented afterwards that I looked very confident, that I must have been sure that we got the point. Kinda. Mine was the face of a coach that believed we had the point but if we were in the minority on that particular opinion I also knew we’d been practicing overtime jam strategy and we were 100% ready for that two minutes. Seeing the scoreboard turn from 165 to 166 is probably the greatest moment of collective joy I have ever experienced.
We were through to Saturday. We were giddy with the results and with the support we were getting from the crowd, online and at home. It was hard to calm down. But we had to. The players needed to rest, VB and I needed to prep. The next evening, rested and relaxed, we got ready for Naptown. These guys were fierce, a new level of opponent for us. It was an incredibly tough game but we capitalised when we got lead jam and played a strong and smart game. We stayed calm and stayed true to our game. It was another close one resulting in a 3 point win. We were living the weekend of our dreams. How do you come down from another game that was so exciting? Turns out that you don’t. Sleep was hard to come by for everyone that night. We’d never played quite at this level before this weekend and we had certainly never had such incredibly close games come three in a row either. The win meant we were guaranteed to finish in the top four. Woah. We were already beyond grateful for what we’d achieved up to this point. We knew that for every stride we’d taken since our last game against Paris they were sure to have improved. We played a good game against them but it was not to be. We experienced our first playoff defeat and took the 107 point deficit with our heads high. We’d put every ounce we had into the game and played hard to the final whistle. We came away proud of the game we played, bummed that we hadn’t made it into the final but then switched focus to the last game of the tournament.
That’s right, we had a fifth game to play! In theory this had seemed kinda nuts but we hadn’t thought about it in any tangible way as we’d gotten ready for the weekend. What gets you ready for a five game tournament? Probably playing other five game tournaments. I can look back at this now and say that we were not equipped for a fifth game. We went into it as ready as we could be and with a shit load of support coming from external sources as well as from within the team. On the surface we were positive and willing and ready to play to the final second of the game. We were also tired. So tired. We’d put so much into the first three games. There hadn’t been room in those games to save our energy for Sunday. There was a collective 21 points in positive differential in those three games. One more game. We can do this. We’ve got this. We’d looked at the previous night’s game and stats and prepared for a rematch with Naptown. They were also doing this. They did it better. They changed their line ups and changed their approach to the game. Smart. Experienced. We expected no less and we’ve learned from them. There was a virtual reversal of fortunes from the previous night and when they took the lead they bore down and stretched it out to a 71 point victory. We did everything we could that day, bled ourselves dry. As a coach I couldn’t ask for anything more. When players show the heart, determination and pure spirit that ours do you just count yourself lucky to be part of the team.
We finished fourth and were beyond ecstatic with what we’d achieved. D2 Pittsburgh saw the end of our official 2017 season. We went home humbled by the endless support we’d received and proud of ourselves for doing our league proud. We took our many hard won lessons back with us and set to work planning the next season and how we could put the wonderful experience to good use in building our team for 2018. Watch this space!