CRG Looks to BrewHaHa & Beyond
As with any epic story, the Cincinnati Rollergirls have been preparing to slay their dragon for quite some time. This weekend, June 3-5, they will return to the Midwest BrewHaHa tournament in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The last time Cincinnati competed at BrewHaHa, in 2014, the team suffered some of its most crushing defeats in league history.
“We lost a game to a team that was ranked well below us. It was sort of the game you ‘can’t lose,’ and we lost it,” said Coach Quad Almighty.
CRG’s return to this tournament in 2016 means more than a challenging two-day lineup of games against Calgary Roller Derby and Grand Raggidy Roller Derby. It means redemption. Recovery. Growth.
For years, CRG was a powerhouse in the sport of roller derby. In the seasons leading up to 2013, the team had come incredibly close to the championship tournament — as close as fourth place in what was then the regional playoffs.
CRG had found success, and their formula was working. So for a long time, nothing changed. Until, in 2014, the team found that the game of roller derby had surpassed them, and they were fighting to catch up.
2014 was a year of transition for the league. The departure of seasoned players and the arrival of new ones meant that the team was in flux. The Black Sheep went 0-15 that season, the worst losing streak in team history. These losses wore on the team, but BrewHaHa was the low point.
“That weekend was back-breaking,” Quad said.
BrewHaHa was the catalyst for change in the league. CRG returned to Cincinnati shaken and defeated, but determined.
“Everything needed to change. We couldn’t keep doing what we’d been doing,” Quad said. “In that off-season, we started focusing on physical conditioning and athletic training. We knew that physical conditioning and fundamental skills were going to be the key."
Opening up to change
CRG reached out to Bork Bork Bork of the Windy City Rollers and Smarty Pants of the Texas Rollergirls for new ideas and veteran referee Tootie Tinwhistle for a rules clinic. For the first time in a long time, CRG was opening themselves up to learn and catch back up to their own sport.
By the end of 2015, Cincinnati had jumped from their lowest WFTDA ranking ever — 108 — and clawed their way back into the 70s. They still weren’t playoff-ready, but they were on the move.
Leading into 2016, the league continued a clinic-style approach to many practices, focusing on a few key skills and breaking down the steps. Quad was also determined to involve the skaters in their success and growth earlier on. In order to continue progressing, more accountability and independence would be key.
Through the building of a Training Committee comprised entirely of skaters, and Team Manager and Captain positions, there would be about eight to 10 skaters at any given point who had their hands in the day-to-day runnings of practices, team morale and leadership roles.
This signaled a huge change for a league that had previously looked to veteran players and coaches for leadership. “One of my goals was to get skaters more and more involved in learning the sport and the community,” Quad said.
“The implementation of a Training Committee and strategic training calendar has helped focus our practices and build skills across all skater levels,” said Training Committee member Sk8 Crime.
“We have a laser-focus on our goals — and things are working,” added Training Committee member Sailor Scary.
Planning for 2016
The league worked to build a 2016 season that wouldn’t burn out skaters, but would still call for more personal investment in the team’s success. While athletic training and basics were now an inherent part of the plan, creating a “smart” season moved into the forefront.
The team scheduled games based on whether they were advantageous to CRG using WFTDA rankings, Flat Track Stats and scouted video footage of other teams’ games to move up quickly and play their season in an efficient way. By doing their homework, they had hard-won athleticism and numbers on their side.
Currently, on the cusp of the playoffs, CRG is ranked at 59 in the WFTDA rankings. If the team weren’t to play another sanctioned game until playoffs, it’s highly probable that the teams that attend BrewHaHa would hopscotch over CRG. Their progress would be for naught. The invitation to the 2016 BrewHaHa tournament is the opportunity to advance further in the rankings and secure a playoff position.
“We put ourselves into a position to be here; we’ve overperformed all year long,” Quad said. “We’ve managed to outpace expectations every single game — there’s so much drive and dedication. The team is stronger from top to bottom. Everybody is on the same page and working together more than I’ve ever seen. There’s more energy on track, and the big thing for me is that all of the things we did to get skaters more involved and invested in derby are showing on the track. We are a far smarter team than we ever were. We’re more fundamentally sound than we ever were. This is the best team CRG has ever put on the track.”
That confidence isn’t coming from a place of bravado. It’s coming from a place of preparedness. With steady assurance, the Cincinnati Rollergirls have brought themselves up from their lowest WFTDA ranking ever in just about two years. While that’s a monumental feat for a professional team, it’s an astounding one for a league composed of athletes that don’t get paid a penny for their time in the gym or on the track.
Rolling into BrewHaHa this weekend, the Black Sheep are armed with an arsenal of wicked-smart and passionate players. From defensive might to aggressive offense and unstoppable jammers, the bench is deep and the dedication is strong.
But make no mistake: This league isn’t a steely-faced, predictable one. CRG has never progressed or changed in a “normal” way, and they don’t plan to start now. The team strategies are difficult for opponents to understand and pick apart. Team locker-room chants jokingly say, “WE GET US,” reflecting CRG's unique, sometimes confounding, but always interesting style.
“We don’t have to do anything extra, we just have to believe that who we actually are is good enough,” Quad said. “We don’t need any new strategy or motivation, or the best day we’ve ever had, we just have to be ourselves and be confident in that.”
The first game may not have started for BrewHaHa, but CRG has put in two years and countless hours, tears and sacrifices to get there. No matter where they emerge after this weekend, they’ve taken control of their fate — together.
CRG's BrewHaHa Schedule
CRG plays the Calgary Roller Derby Association at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 4 and Grand Raggidy Roller Derby at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 5. Watch a livestream of the games here.