Monday, November 15, 2010

"It Ain't Like Being There!"

As a newly inducted apprentice league, getting a glimpse last weekend at the WFTDA Championships was inspiring to say the least. I have watched some of those same teams play on DNN boutcasts, but as their slogan goes, “it ain’t like being there!” Seeing all sorts of different teams, vendors and fans was overwhelming and exciting; so many people brought together for the love of derby. I realized how small our team is in the derby world, but also that there are no limitations but the ones you set yourself.

The Hydra, Championship Trophy
named after a founding member of WFTDA
The twelve teams I saw play in three days in Chicago all average about five years of bouting experience and represent all areas and styles of play around the country. Finishing our first full season, and second year of bouting means potentially in three years we could be on the track with some of these teams. Every year derby seems to keep evolving and teams all over are pushing the game harder. The Hydra went to Rocky Mountain this year, with the previous champions, Oly taking second, and Gotham, the 2008 champions, taking third.

Since the recent epidemic of roller derby began in Texas and spread to the coasts, it seems like the middle of the country is still at a lower level of playing. Watching Gotham and Oly play was like watching majestical creatures glide smoothly across the track, and weave effortlessly through the pack. The 2 and 3 seed teams seemed a bit more awkward in comparison, but any WFTDA team seems to be leagues ahead of any team we see here in Iowa. Since derby is still so new, the level of skill varies because teams have to discover on their own time how to excel and improve. I knew Minnesota, Madison and Nashville would probably not make it past Friday, but their tenacity and determination did surprise me. Although they each lost by over 100 points, they were there to prove they wanted it, and were not going to give up without a fight.
Hugs all around after the Minnesota vs Charm City bout. 
We got to the UIC Pavillion a little late Friday and missed the first team to be eliminated, the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls, who played the Texas Rollergirls. It sounded like a good match up after seeing the low score of 72 to 59, a win for Texas, but I was most excited to see our Minnesota friends play next. They started out strong, but struggled with Charm’s solid control of the pack. MNRG’s Psycho Novia had insane footwork, as she seemed just cut through the pack like butter. I was surprised they didn’t jam Jukebox more, and didn’t realize until later that Vuedoo wasn’t playing due to injury. The floor also looked pretty slick, and after skating on Minneasota’s sticky home turf at bootcamp, I bet they were thrown off by the surface. They ended up losing 119 to 249. The other two bouts were kind of blow outs after the first half; Philly 213 to Mad 53 and Oly 214 to Nashville 53. (And very oddly similar in scores.)

Suzy Hotrod at full go.
The second day was a full day of derby with six bouts that upped the intensity. The Gotham Girls beat out Texas 151 to 52 with a very fast paced and skillful game. There were few penalties and both teams played very smart. I haven’t really seen Texas play much, so I mostly paid attention to Gotham, and of course Bonnie Thunders and Suzy Hotrod. Their jamming style is breathtaking and I hope I absorbed their skills through my eyes.

I was excited for the Rocky Mountain vs Charm City bout which upped the intensity even more. I have had my eye on Rocky since the Western Regionals where they upset Oly’s 22 straight win record, taking first place. They have a sassy sort of playing style, which also leads them to be prone to more penalties. A jaw dropping YouTube video of Urrk’n Jerk’n has me swooning over her sweet jamming skills and Amanda Jamitinya gets my love for her blocking (and her name). Charm’s tight pack control couldn’t reign in Rocky, and they lost 103 to 165. It was this bout that we saw our first ejected player of the weekend, Dolly Rocket from Charm.

Philly played Kansas next, which I was curious to watch since apparently I know nothing about Kansas, or any other South Central team. I believe it was this bout we saw a lot more of the kneeling on the line to counter act slow pack. If it is done before the whistle there is no pack, and no one receives a penalty as the jammers are then released right away. It also gives less time to gain control of the pack, but I could go on all day about the variables that apply to strategy. This bout also was high in penalties as I saw both teams’ jammers go to the box twice in one jam. It ended with Philly on top, 147 to 126.

The Oly Rollers were up next to play Windy City on their home track. Day two of the tournament resulted in a much more packed Pavillion since it was a Saturday, and a majority of those seats sounded like they were filled by Windy fans and they were very vocal with their support. This was another fast game and after Windy gave it all they had, they lost to Oly 76 to 178.
There wasn't a bad view in the whole UIC Pavillion.

I was looking forward to the next bout which put Gotham against Rocky, and it didn’t disappoint. My assumption was that Rocky would give Gotham a run for their money, but would still not overcome the seemingly untouchable New York team. That was not the case. Rocky dominated the first half but started to lose their lead to penalties in the second. The Rocky jammers had a hard time since they could only keep two blockers on the track at a time, which also didn’t provide help against the quick feet of Suzy and Bonnie. They started to look frustrated but pulled themselves together long enough to skate away with their second win, 113 to 79. The last bout had Oly vs Philly and as the previous year’s Champions, I was correct in assuming Oly would come out on top, 106 to 81.

After such an exciting Saturday, it was kind of sad to only have two bouts to look forward to on Sunday. Gotham went up against Philly for third place in a battle of Eastern teams. The first half kept it pretty close but Gotham’s fast game seemed to win it out in the end. Philly seemed to utilize the slow starts a little more which epically failed at one point. Their pivot was in the box and they managed to stall the line for about thirty seconds to get her back in. She then failed to re-enter the pack from the back and was sent back to the box for an illegal procedure. After wasting the clock and lots of booing, they didn’t even accomplish their goal. Philly just couldn’t keep their blockers together and lost 51 to 162.

Now the whole weekend had come down to Rocky Mountain vs Oly, a battle of the West. I think most people assumed Oly would win it all for the second year in a row, but Rocky was the only team they lost to in Western Regionals (86 to 127), so it appeared to be an exciting rematch. That would be an understatement.

I apparently took no notes of this bout because I gave it my full attention. Rocky started out dominating the pack, but lost their lead again due to penalties and not being able to keep a full pack on the track. When playing a team of speed skaters, that is not a situation you want to be in. I was nearly convinced they had already lost it, but they managed to bring themselves back into the lead late in the game.

Everyone is on their feet for the last jam of the weekend. 
What seemed to be the last jam of the night, started with Tannibal Lector from Oly on the jam line by herself. She made grand slam after grand slam, and pulled their score ahead of a scrambling Rocky. Although, by the end of the jam, Tannibal back blocked, sending her to the box as Frida Beater snuck back on the track to score a few points for Rocky. With only 20 seconds left on the clock, Rocky called a timeout in order to fit another jam in. (Another strategy of trickery.)

Now the tables had turned and Rocky was setup for a power jam with only two blockers from each team in the pack, and Frida lining up to jam again. She got through as lead, and came back around for her first grand slam as blockers from the penalty box started to return to the track. She barely made it through another time and looked up at her jam ref, and then the scoreboard… Rocky pulled ahead by ONE point. She called it off and the place was at full roar as we all stared down the scoreboard to make sure the score was official.

Rocky won it 147-146.

Go Go Berserk from the Quad City Rollers caught the last two jams on video so you can relive the insanity...


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