SACRAMENTO -- The No. 6-ranked Santa Cruz Derby Girls came into Memorial Auditorium surfing a huge swell of emotion Friday, having worked for months to climb the rankings just to get into the Women's Flat Track Derby Association Division I playoffs.
Despite being dunked by the No. 3 Denver Roller Dolls, 260-48, Santa Cruz came away from its opening bout feeling the rush of playing what was likely its best roller derby game, at the highest level, of the season.
"Denver is ranked much higher than us, and we knew this was going to be a challenging bout," coach Megan Williams, aka Panda Manium, said of the Boardwalk Bombshells' effort. "They are not only a strong physical opponent, but they played a really smart game, too. We are thankful for the opportunity to play a tough competitor that challenges us to continue to grow as a team."
Santa Cruz will get more of the same Saturday, when it takes on New Hampshire Roller Derby in a consolation bracket bout. The Derby Girls must win that bout and a semifinal bout Saturday night to reach Sunday's consolation playoffs.
The bout against Denver started and finished incredibly physical, but was played fairly clean throughout. Both teams put a premium on staying out of the box, all while erecting indomitable four-walls and laying punishing hits.
Early on, Santa Cruz proved its mettle, nearly equalizing an 11-point deficit when Claire McCoy, aka Ace Wenchura, and Jessamyne Andromacha-Densley, aka Hellaluna, put up two jams of five points each on the board to make it 11-10.
This close competition forced Denver, ranked the ninth-best team in the world by the WFTDA, to really up its game. Denver blocker Ariel Quigley, aka Crash Dance, said she played the rest of the bout as if it were still a one-point game, even as her team pulled away.
The Roller Dolls proved their top-10 ranking by forcing points through Santa Cruz's stout defense. A big take-away was Santa Cruz's ability to curtail Denver's multi-pass jams to a great extent, while allowing only one 20-plus-point jam.
Denver was still able to chip away, however, and the Roller Dolls put the bout out of reach during the second half.
"We had some really successful defensive plays that I am especially proud of," coach Williams said. "We killed several of their power jams, which was a difficult task since they have really strong, athletic jammers. We also kept our penalties lower than our average."
Williams noted the bout was a positive overall experience, as well as a learning experience.
"We are going to focus on playing a smart and adaptable strategy against our opponents," she said. "Santa Cruz is a mentally resilient team, and I am confident in the outlook for the rest of the weekend."
**Article by Matthew Mednick as printed in the Santa Cruz Sentinel*
**Photo Credit: Mark Nockleby ©2014**