Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Derby on the 24th

The word for today is 'opportunity.'

Opportunity
op·por·tu·ni·ty Pronunciation: \ˌä-pər-ˈtü-nə-tē, -ˈtyü-\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural op·por·tu·ni·ties
Date: 14th century
a good chance for advancement or progress

When last we left our heroines, both the Garda Belts and the Rockits had gained a march on the Atomic Bombshells and the Dagger Dolls. On Saturday, the winners of the previous bout switch opponents; our Girls in Green take on the Dollies, while the Red Menace go toe-stop-to-toe-stop with Mitzi and Misfit's Bombshells. And the opportunities are rife.

For the Rockits, well...the Reds have not lost since falling to a much different Bombshell team in April of 2007. This bout will push their intraleague streak to six if they are victorious, and will go a long way to sewing up a spot at the finals in April. Remember, the current Rockit roster has not significantly changed since the draft of '06. They are confident, they are strong, and they're starting to string together a legacy that may stand for MNRG seasons to come.

While anyone can talk about the jammer threat (Abbie, Harmony, Dude, Jawbreaker, and Vue) posed by the Rockits, fans tend to forget that all five of those women are credible blockers as well. However, it's the team's specialist blockers where the team lives and dies. Last bout's Pizza Luce player of the game Honeydew Felon owned the back of the pack in the six or so jams she played each half. Also, the front of the Rockit pack is efficient; you don't see Scarmen or Coochie Coup go to the box very much because of a push out of bounds, and that can make a lot of difference as the game winds down.

But none of that makes them invulnerable; a team can shut down the Rockits by catching up their jammers on the initial push through the pack, and then pulling their own blockers forward to interfere in the front where JB or Coochie likes hunting. But if a person takes lead jam against the Rockits, they have to sprint, get a few points, and have the awareness to call off the jam before the Rockit jammer re-engages.

It's a different place and time for the Atomic Bombshells. Here's a team that you can't help not wanting to win; old guard leaving, new (and fabulous) players on the Roy track for only the second time in serious competition, and two charismatic veterans running the show. They're playing the Rockits this time, and that streak I just wrote about? That's a target - painted in red - on the Rockit's team's collective back. Sure, there may be a few nerves through this young team, but they are...well...they're on the track to win. This is a game that they need to win; without it, they must defeat both the Dolls and the Garda Belts by hefty margins in February and March to have a shot at the finals. With it? The race for the finals could be blown open with the ABS having shown a way to beat the league leaders and a win in their column.

Is there a key to the Bombshells winning here? It may be the versatility in the ABS lineup. As I count, the Bombshells have six potential jammers, all of whom can take turns as blockers. They are going to need fresh jammers against the fast Rockit staff, and with only nine or ten jams in a half, it may be useful to space out the jams so those with less experience (and overall stamina) can sprint through the pack, rest a jam or two, then join in as a blocker. If this game is close and the Rockits lose some players to the penalty box, we may see Bombshell co-captain Misfit Maiden muscle her way through the pack once or twice as an unbreakable jammer.

The deck is stacked against the ABS; one doesn't learn how to play in the MNRG in a few months, and with seven new players...it's a difficult game to win. If the Rockits use their wiles, sending young players to the box on track-cutting violations or simply immobilizing the Bombshell jammers while Harmony, Vue, and Dude try to outslam one another, it's going to be a long night for the girls in orange. But as I said...man; you just want to see these rookies pull one out.


Now...the Garda Belts. They have not gone to the intraleague finals since getting defeated by the Dolls at the end of Season 1. With a 21-point victory over the Bombshells, they could go 2 and 0 if they defeat the 08-09 Dagger Dolls on Saturday. For a team who has been third every season since the first, this match is a huge opportunity to turn their fortunes around; like the Rockits, they will control their own destiny if they win. The team has been clicking as a unit since their defeat of the Bombshells last April, and the reports I've been getting from players on the team is that they feel very prepared to play this bout.

If the Bombshells have versatility, the Garda Belts do a few things very, very well. Their jammer threat comes from the onslaught of the Suzie Smashbox-and-someone-else rotation. 
There was a point at which I thought this rotation was a weakness; if a team could consistently beat Suzie, then that team would have a huge advantage against the GBs. But...there's not a lot of teams that can work out how to do this. So, hey; I'm on board with the strategy. It might not be so bad if the other jammers on the team weren't so good; it's not exactly a respite when instead of Suzie, you get Rumblebee or Hanna Belle Lector as the jammer trying to skate through you. And - jammers aside - the GB line is starting to get really tough. 
The line has always been hard-hitting, but this year's team is making fewer mistakes. In previous years, the team would fall apart at the last minute due to penalties, but in the last half of the last game, only five Gardas went to the box. What's more, well...put it this way; when Demora Liza or Tiki Torture were on the track, the Bombshells did not score more than five in a jam in that last bout. Tiki in particular was everywhere - she snaked back and forth through the pack, tracking jammers and making them fall back just enough instead of laying massive hits and losing her own place in the pack.

But the Gardas - including Suzie Smashbox - are no force of nature. If you can break Suzie's dominance on the track, you take out the point scorer who put 60% of the GB's points up on the board last bout...and Suzie seems to break a pack by walking through opponents' blind spots. I noticed this at Eastern Regionals; teams that kept an eye on Suzie had more success against the Garda jammer than those that just kept looking in their normal range of vision. There's also the nagging problem of injury or other inability to play; the Garda Belts have several players who are rehabbing injuries, and there have some rumblings that Demora Liza may not be able to play this week due to sickness. In all cases, we wish speedy recoveries.  Finally, although the Gardas have been keeping their noses clean, they do have a reputation for losing it in the final minutes.  If the Dolls can work on the fatigued GBs in the pack, they could benefit a great deal in the stretch.


As to the Dagger Dolls...the December bout was a hard tonic for a great team. The Rockits outscored the Dollies 55-5 points at the half, and Candi and Barbie's team simply could not recover in the twenty minutes of the second half. The upcoming game against the Garda Belts will give the Dolls a new start to the season. Defeating the Gardas will place them right back in the running, no matter how the Rockits/ABS game comes out.

The Dolls will need the best from their blocking staff as they handle the Garda Belt jammers; Sweet Justice, Candi, Wonderbroad, and Sinnamin all stayed out of the box and played hard against the Rockits.  This is a far cry from the all-out hitting that Dolls have been known for, and the team will be better for it down the stretch.  The offense has been picking up the pace this year as Stella continues to be on leave; Roxanne, Sparkle Ninja, MTR, Scootaloo...the Doll jammers can keep up with Suzie, Rumblebee, and Hanna.

The problem for the Dagger Doll jammers this year may be the blocking of their own players.  Although filled with strong players, the front of the Dolly pack needs to watch the jammers of both teams when they re-engage.  If the blockers don't see their own jammer coming, they can't protect her...and if they don't see their opponents' scoring runs, they're going to spend all of their energy trying to run down the opposing jammer and leave their own scorer to the tender mercies of the Garda pack.

Doors open at 6:30, folks.  Get your tickets at your outlet of choice, and we'll see you at the Derby on Saturday.

Pontificating from the exact geographic center of Roller Derby in America,
-Garrison Killer

1 comment:

mark jarvis said...

Let's hope tomorrow's bout doesn't have a nearly packed penalty box for any of the 4 teams, like bouts of the past.