The game came down to the final jam. The score was tied. Not only that, we had climbed out from under a serious deficit at halftime to tie the score in the penultimate jam. Less than a minute remained in the period. All but five of our players had three minor penalties. I had jammed once with three penalties, managing to eke out four points and then call it. Then I blocked, helping to hold the opponent’s jammer back just long enough so that my teammate could score four points, putting us neck and neck with the other team. I took my place on the bench and we put out the players with the least risk of heading to the box. We needed to get lead jammer in the next jam in order to win the bout and clinch our Cinderella comeback. We didn’t get it. We lost by four points.

It was a real heartbreaker. A beautiful, bittersweet game. We did something I’m proud to say my team is good at — rallying in the second half. We gave the crowd a show on a day of derby that saw quite a few blowouts. We demonstrated what a tough little team we are to the Derby News Network and more established leagues from around the Midwest.

Afterwards, I ran out to the front of the venue to grab a quick photo with my uncle, aunt and cousin, who came to see derby for the first time. On my way back to the locker room, a member of the Green Bay Smackers stopped me in the hall. “You have nothing to be ashamed of — that was a great bout,” he said, adding that it was the contest of the weekend. Others echoed that refrain, though I’m not delusional enough to put it on par with the close contest between Minnesota and Charm City the day before. But I’ll concede there’s something about a close derby match-up, whatever the level.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned to stop obsessing over past errors. I know looking back is important for learning and growth, but regret and beating yourself up over things that cannot be changed proves an exercise in futility — and, at its worst, creates new setbacks. Changing this behavior was truly challenging for me, but paramount to improving at derby.

That said, it was hard not to replay over and over again a game that came to such a narrow victory. If one little thing had been different, would the outcome be different? I went to the box while jamming in the first jam. I’m a bit embarrassed to say this is not the first time I’ve done that in a bout. I think I want lead jammer so badly that I sometimes play more aggressive than smart, and make dumb errors. What if the first jam turned the tide of the game, sent a ripple throughout every jam that equated to a few critical points less for us in the end? What if I hadn’t had three damn minors by the last jam? Could I have donned the star for my team and won in those final seconds in the period? Maybe it would have gone the same for me as it did for my teammate. Maybe I would have committed a major penalty, like I did in the first jam, bookending the bout with trips to the box. There’s something literary about the symmetry of that possibility, which makes it seem like events couldn’t have helped but unfold that way. That thought of it frightens me. It makes me almost glad I was unable to test destiny. Though, really, when I get past all the superstitious thinking, I just wish I’d been able to help my team at that critical moment. Or at least been able to try.

Smiles prevailed over tears in our locker room afterwards. Because that’s the kind of team we are. We knew we’d played our hearts out even though the game didn’t land in our favor. The experience made us stronger. It drew us closer. It made us hopeful. And the only way is forward from here.