Didn't really finish that last thought there in the previous post. A lot of new blood in the Dolls. This isn't exactly a surprise; the Dolls have welcomed some great players into the fold in the last two years, and the new crop...well, I guess we'll see. The first looks are promising.
But let me get to the Garda Belt/Atomic Bombshell game. If the first game looks like a foregone conclusion on paper (and it shouldn't, but it'll just make the win that much sweeter if the Dolls pull it off), the second bout is just a mess. But it's a glorious mess. Follow along.
- Suzie Smashbox. MNRG Derby Sensation, co-captain of the Garda Belts, co-MVP, our own Joanie Weston, the golden girl who will drink you under the table. You cannot beat the Garda Belts without finding ways to keep Ms Stutter-step from triple-slamming you. Last year, I wrote that Suzie was mostly a jammer threat - I think it's plain that she can do more than put points on the board, but it's a waste to do so. What's the answer to her in this game? Simply put, I have to say that the Bombshells have to slow her down on the initial pass. Whether that's with Dolly Blocks in the back or just a simple wedge keeping her on the inside where acceleration is difficult without nipping the inside line, that's going to be a tall order for the young ABS team.
- Other Garda Belt jammers. Ok, here's where this bout starts to be anything but a foregone conclusion. Angelfire is out for most of the season; she'll be bench-coaching. Of our Garda vets, that leaves Demora Liza, Hanna Belle Lector, and Rumblebee (without grabbing my bout archived recordings, that's who I remember well). All three have jamming greatness to them, but all three also are extremely competent blockers and pivots. Both HBL and Liza were blocker threats in regionals, and in particular Liza seemed to come alive in the front. This could be a great time for Liza to solidify that role, and for other players to step up as new jammers. But that's a big, fat unknown. And that's a hard thing to plot against. It's probable that the ABS knows who's going to be sent to the line after practicing against them for months, but setting up lines to deal with the unknown in advance is a mug's game.
- Which brings us to Garda Belt blocking. When I first joined on as sideline reporter, I asked one of the players what they like to do for training for their infamous hard hits. I was asked if I had ever seen Fight Club, and I stopped that train of thought immediately. Garda fans live and die on their girls' blocking. Their jammers don't get through by simply being fast. Players go flying when Optimiss, Citizen Pain, Inspectress, and Tiki get going.
- Garda Belt penalties. But...the hard hits come with a huge price; time after time in the fourth season, the Garda Belts crumbled in the end off of huge trips to the penalty box. If the Gardas want a shot at the Skate (and - sweet heavens - everyone's been whispering, "It's the Garda Belts' year!!!!?!"), they're going to need to rein in the penalties. Penalties create holes. Holes become opportunities for jammers to spin by a pack with a nod and a grin. You simply cannot defend a pack for long when you have one or two women cooling their blistered heels in the box. And jammer majors are even worse; that means no points for a minute. In a forty minute bout, the jammer doesn't have the luxury of being able to spend seventy seconds out of play at a time, particularly since teams have taken to stranding weaker jammers in the box by calling off the jam just before their penalty expires. That means no new jammer goes to the line, and the tired jammer must jam again. It's a hell of a thing to do, but you will see that this year. You'll probably see that in this bout.
- Atomic Bombshells v3.0. So much has changed. I have a hard time imagining the ABS without the Bonesetter, Lizzy, Marilyn, Bonnie, and Buffy...but that's what's before us. Mitzi Massacre and Misfit took on the challenge of building a brand new team. LOTS of rookies. Word is, they got several of the top picks in the rookie draft. There's no end to the players that I was impressed by in the exhibition bouts. L'Exi-cuter, Tara, and Jocelyn did their new teams especially proud in key moments of the fall bouts. So we've got a lot to look forward to, but I wonder how well they'll do in this initial bout. I also wonder how much we'll see of them, and how much the new captains will depend on their veterans.
- ABS jammers. Yeah. Think about that. Mitzi and Misfit can both jam; I'll be a little surprised if they don't take double duty, jamming and blocking. Of the last year's ABS rotation, CleoSPLATra is the last remaining jammer. She can put good points on the board, especially if she gets protection. But that's going to be the trick in this match; protection is the last thing that any jammer is going to get, orange or green. Oh, and take a moment to note Venus Thigh Trap's face as she whizzes by, hopefully as a jammer. If she looks familiar, it's because she skated under the name "Sugar Cain" (#Gen 4:8) last year.
- And when it comes to blocking, the ABS has lost several of its most noticable defensive staff. Marilyn is out. Bonnie is out (for now). Bonesetter went west. WHAT THE HELL? But don't write them off! Misfit Maiden is the match for many a fine MNRG player, Flora Flipabitch has returned, rookie of the year CTO is back for her second season playing forward blocker, and all-around Mean Girl Eve L Hazard is wearing radioactive '#U-235' again for the ABS. The list goes on; 7 0f 9, Crush, and Bad Dream. This is one hell of a blocking staff, even without some of the well-known names of the past.
This is going to be a hard-fought, defensive match. The ABS simply must keep Smashbox out of scoring position and get their new jammers through the pack. The Garda Belts have to be able to stay out of foul trouble and be aware of the entire track instead of just their immediate opponents.
I want to say that this will be a game where the cooler-headed team is going to win it all; that's what seemed to be a key to the last game. But this - like the Rockit/DD game - will be repeated later in the season. The time for cooler heads may be then. This may be the time for Derby passion to bust loose and conquer all foes. One team with great expectations for the coming season, the other with new players ready to take on the world.
The Rockits/Dagger Dolls is going to be a great game. The ABS/GB bout could well set the Roy on fire.
-Garrison Killer, MNRG sidelines reporter