Tuesday, July 6, 2010

MNRG go 2-0 in Philly

The Minnesota RollerGirls returned to competitive play this past weekend at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza in Philadelphia, PA.  The ECDX has been a major gathering point for sanctioned bouts between leagues of all skill levels over the past few years.  

The Extravaganza is a time for old friends and derby wives to reconnect and close a few bars together, but the ECDX’s position in the derby calendar also makes it one of the very last stops before ranking occurs for WFTDA’s Q3 rankings.  The 3rd quarter ranking (decided upon by other WFTDA skaters) decides the seeding of leagues for the four regional tournaments, so the outcomes of the ECDX bouts have a great influence on who’s in and who’s out.  It’s the last chance for teams to show off before voting, in no small part due due to the Derby News Network’ whistle-to-whistle coverage.  It’s the summer’s biggest stage in the roller derby community as thousands of players and fans watch from Philly or from across the Internet.

The selection of teams was luck of the draw this year with preference given to the East Coast leagues, so we were very pleased to make it in.  The ECDX’s organizers do their best to make challenging bouts out of the leagues that are selected - and so Minnesota (who is currently ranked 7th in our North Central region) got placed against 7th-ranked (South Central) Tampa Bay and 7th-ranked (East) Providence.

We brought a team of twenty to Philly.  Notable in their absence were Suzie Smashbox and Harmony Killerbruise.  Suzie has been recovering from a broken hand, while Harmony has been playing for WFTDA’s National champions - the Oly Rollers of Olympia, WA.   Joining our All-Stars in their first sanctioned bouts were Anita Spankston (co-captain of the Garda Belts) and Skullateral Damage, second-year blocker for the Atomic Bombshells.  

MNRG v Tampa Bay

“We have 34 seconds before we resume this heart attack”.
-Hambone, DNN text commentator

Florida’s derby community is complicated; the state is littered with dormant road leagues up and down the coasts where players regularly jump from one league to another.  The life of some leagues has been measured in months, not seasons.  However, the 700-pound monster of all Florida derby - the league that has remained - is Tampa Bay.  We played Tampa Bay in 2005 in their very first interleague bout, but the now-7th-ranked Tampa Bay Derby Darlins were quite the match for our All-Stars, using a pack-heavy strategy very similar to our own and fast, fast jammers.  

This bout whipped back and forth as our players traded lead jams.  We had only a few problems getting our jammers through the pack, but delaying their scorers long enough for us to take the lead proved to be a challenge. Our defensive blocking could not gel properly through the first half.  However, we took advantage of their jammers going to the box to keep the points coming, using speed changes to catch our opponents when they dawdled on the track.  We gained and lost the lead throughout the half, going up by only one at the half (53-52).

In the second half, we began to fade out.  Tampa Bay adjusted well to our play over halftime, and we started to make mistakes that landed our our blockers in the penalty box.  With fewer blockers, our pack shifted to a fully offensive stance - getting our jammers through so that the opposing lead jammer would only be able to make a single pass.  Still, Tampa Bay jammers kept taking the lead.  They got ahead of us in scoring and would not be denied.  With twelve to go in the game, Tampa was up by twenty.

We began to come back, inching in with rapid-fire three-  and five-point jams...but each time we put a decent score on the board, the refs found a reason to send our players to the penalty box - often on illegal hits.  Down twenty-two with four to go in the game, MNRG All-Star Venus Thightrap took to the jammer line against Tampa Bay’s fantastic Lunch Lady.  They started racing with the second whistle, but both Venus and LL were sent to the penalty box within moments of one another just as the jam was called prematurely due to junk on the track.  

Both players started from the box as a new jam began, attacking the pack as it circled back around...but while Venus went through for the lead jam, Lunch Lady’s advance was broken on every turn by Tiki Torture, Citizen Pain, and Misfit Maiden.  They levelled, they flattened, they dumped...and then recycled to the back of the pack to do it again.  Lunch Lady could not move forward.  Venus picked up 15 unanswered points without a power jam to bring the game within seven. L’exi-Cuter completed the comeback as - once again - the MNRG pack broke Tampa Bay’s jammer’s (Little A) advance in the final moments of the game.  L’exi passed the pack on scoring runs once, twice, and called off the jam as MNRG fans rose to their feet across the world.  Nine points scored in the final jam of regulation.  Final score: MNRG 98 - Tampa 96.  Venus’ and L’exi’s final scoring runs came just at the right time, but so did the MNRG All-Star defense, stuffing two phenomenal opposing jammers for a full four minutes.  

Frau Scientits (assistant bench coach at the ECDX bouts) wrote a bit more to me regarding that game, and I’d like to share this final note on the bout:
“L’exi skated the entire second half of the Tampa bout with 3 minors.  Every time she went to the jam line I’d turn to [Coach] Dan to reclarify that.  He always responded with a shrug and a “Yup, that’s ok.”  Dan knows what he’s talking about!”

MNRG v Providence

“...and for some reason, one of the Prov blockers felt compelled to slow down the pack to a standstill by hitting [Coochie Coup] out and stopping.  Well, I was just coming up to the pack, and most of the Prov blockers didn't see me and the ones that did tried to chase but there was no pack.  It was just a riot coming into this brilliant accidental situation and just flying through most of the blockers as they were standing still.”
-Scarmen Hellectra, on her final 19-point jam.

Hardcore fans of the MNRG All-Stars may remember our last bout against Providence in the final day of the 2008 Eastern Regionals in Madison.  Providence had just missed the cut, but a last-minute pullout allowed Prov’s Rhode Island Riveters to take the lowest seed in the tournament.  We met Providence following a frustrating set of defeats at the hands of Madison and Cincinnati. The All-Stars took every lesson that we had learned from the losses and beat them solidly 143-16.

We would have liked that sort of blowout this year.  Like Tampa Bay, Providence is ranked seventh, but in the East, a strong region where highly-ranked leagues like Philly and Gotham improve their skills by frequently play sanctioned bouts against one another.  A win against Providence would show that our strategies could go toe-to-toe with those of the best in the nation...yet the last time we were on the national stage, we placed ninth in the North Central Regionals.  The tables were turned from 2008 and we were considered underdogs by many.

Scarmen Hellectra writes:
“I was worried about [Providence jammer] Craisy Dukes because she left quite an impression on me from Eastern Regionals '08, she was their standout.  I felt our pack shut her down pretty well.  I was pretty frustrated jamming in this game.  Their recycling (or "waterfalling", if you will) was pretty insane; they were great at hitting our jammers out and getting right back in to do it again.  They had some pretty intense back wall action that was really effective at taking away a jammer's speed.  I was feeling pretty useless toward the middle of that game because I was getting stuck in the back.  I felt it got better once I realized that trying to deke was not as effective as just going into the pack as fast as possible.  Also, Providence seemed to be less prepared when their jammer came in second (they couldn't...open [and] close to let their jammer through and shut out the opposing jammer) so I totally changed up the way I like to enter the pack and it actually worked pretty well.  A note on that 19 point jam I had [at the end of the bout] - I didn't know it was that many points until after the game when I caught up on tweets, ha!  I thought it was like 10 points or something... that's how it felt.”

In essence, we had two gears in the first half; ‘overwhelming’ and ‘stuck in the penalty box’.  We frequently had the number of our rivals, outpacing and outskating them.  Our jammers from Psycho Novia to Juke Boxx to Scarmen Hellectra were putting up grand slams and double slams.  Our pack - filled with our usual assortment of amazing rear defenders and frontside wallers - choked our opponents out 10 jams to six by the end of the first half.  At intermission, the score was 71-51 with MNRG in control.

The flip side of this picture was that we fell apart whenever our jammer went to the box.  At least 40 of the 51 points scored by Providence were taken off of a power jam opportunity.  Looking at DNN’s archives, it’s difficult to work out exactly what happened - except that Providence played smartly, made hay from their opportunities, and trapped our rear defenders to form a pack well more than twenty feet behind our front walls whenever they got an unopposed jam.  With the pack so far behind, our players could not engage the jammer.  Also, our penalties all seemed to fall within moments of one another. A jammer would go to the box, followed by two or three blockers.  Suddenly, the track would be almost bare of our All-Stars.

The second half moved much more evenly.  As our player wrote above, the Providence pack had remarkable aptitude in creating a back line, but only so long as the Minnesota jammer let them be held back with rear blocking. The game came to a head with four minutes left.  Providence had gotten close - within eight (MNRG 112 - 104), but Scarmen lined up against Providence’s Jetta von Diesel, bust through that pack, and started sprinting.  Now, Scar committed a minor so that she couldn’t take the lead, but Jetta track-cut her way to a major and got sent to the box for her troubles.  Scarmen accelerated and rampaged her way to a nineteen-point jam (5-4-5-5), missing out on a quadruple slam by inches.  131-104.

Jetta began the next jam from the box, but quickly burst through for the lead as Venus Thightrap (playing as blocker) got sent to the box, while jammer Vuedoo Prodigy got her fourth minor penalty.  In this case, Minnesota would want to increase the speed of the pack and keep blocking out the jammer at a high velocity - it’s a lot easier to hit a moving opponent when you’re moving as well.  However, the veteran Providence pack trapped one of our players and screeched to a halt.  Misfit Maiden (in her final appearance as a MNRG All-Star) tried her best to smoke the jammer dead in her skates.  However, she could only hit illegally and was sent to join her teammates in the box.  With only Killahertz still on the track, Jetta scored twenty-two points in that final jam before Vuedoo re-emerged onto the track.  Had Vue been released any later, Jetta may have made up the difference.  A basic skill of a derby player is to be able to lap the track five times under a minute; Jetta could have easily dropped another five points into the jam at the paste-slow speed that Providence was moving on the track.

But as the dust cleared, time had expired and that final jam was simply not enough.  Our early dominance of the Providence pack meant that the MNRG took the victory (131-126) and headed for the pool to party where they joined with the North Stars of Minneapolis (who also went 2-0 at the ECDX).  There are stories of abused flotation devices, but we could not get corroborating evidence in time for this report.

The MNRG All-Stars will now begin sharpening their skills for Regionals in Green Bay.  Their next bout will be against the ascending stars of the Lone Star State...the Dallas Derby Devils,.  We will have more details regarding this matchup soon - keep watching this space.

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