Sunday, September 26, 2010

No Cinderellas Here; Minnesota's road to the Finals (part 2)

"Minnesota became the biggest Cinderella since Kansas City in 2007 and Rocky Mountain last year. I knew my picks [Tank had picked us to finish last] were in trouble when I watched their 1st jam against Omaha. MNRG lost their jammer to the box and their defense would not let them score for the entire minute they didn’t have a jammer on the floor. Vuedoo Prodigy spent the entire time pinballing off of red jerseys and setting the tone for the entire tournament. Minnesota played smart, fundamental roller derby all weekend long." Tank, Cincinnati Rollergirls announcer ("I was wrong: My Recap of Thunda on the Tundra", 9/17/2010)

We entered into the regional tournament ranked 7th. Our low seed meant that we would play the Omaha Rollergirls - ranked 10th - for the opportunity to play 2nd-seed Detroit.  Now, Omaha's an interesting team.  The Nebraska league has been in existence for many years, but their location - far away from colleges and younger people - has made it difficult to find a large, faithful audience and retain new recruits until recently.  Omaha's All-Stars have therefore played with one another for years as they slowly built traction within the Women's Flat-Track Derby Association.  Many of roller derby's best prognosticators believed that this would be the year that Omaha would jump center stage and overtake a decaying MNRG league.  Didn't happen.

Minnesota put forward an experienced blocking line against Omaha's women in red.  Those in charge of the roster for Regionals took very few chances, calling up only Killamon Jaro from this year's group of rookies for the trip to Green Bay.  Putting a team out on the track familiar with one another showed from the first jam.  Jammer Scarmen Hellectra fell to an early major, leaving Omaha's Ima Firestarter a full minute to establish an Omaha lead.  Scar's teammates on defense - Venus Thightrap, Honeydew Felon, Vuedoo Prodigy, and Diamond Rough - did not allow Firestarter to even break through the pack once before Scar's penalty was up, and that first jam ended with no score.

The game quickly broke in Minnesota's favor.  We claimed the lead in each of the next six jams as five of our jammers (Scar, Psycho Novia, L'exi-Cuter, Venus, and Suzie Smashbox) broke through holes opened by their teammates and scored big for us - 38 unanswered points.  One of Omaha's star jammer Anna Maniac finally found a way through as Minnesota entered into foul trouble to score a point.  By the end of that first half, we had scored on over 55% of the jams - three of which we hit them for double-digit scoring runs.  Omaha only scored six times over the same thirty minutes, never for more than four points.

Credit where credit's due; Omaha were no pushovers.  Although Minnesota eventually beat them by over a hundred points (final 144-41), formidable jamming from Anna Maniac and Ima Firestarter kept our defensive line did protecting our own scoring line from the sting of Molly Massacre in the back and the 1-2 of Doozer and Mikilya.  However, less than four hours after our victory over Omaha, the same fourteen MNRG players took to the track against Detroit. 

"Garrison: [Do you] think they'll ever overlook a low seed again?
Jax (Frau Scientits) Kvaas: We never did after 2007."
- excerpted from online interview, 9/2010

We have history with Detroit dating back to 2007, the very first year that the Women's Flat Track Derby Association ran regional tournaments.  Minnesota was highly regarded as a hard-hitting (if perhaps a bit brash) and exceedingly tough league to defeat.  In that first tournament, all we had to do was win one game to advance to Nationals; some unsung league from Michigan called the Detroit Derby Girls.  We underestimated Detroit, and it cost us dearly.  The DDG took us out of the running that year (99-77).  

It had taken us three years to have the opportunity to return the favor...and it appeared that Detroit wasn't taking us seriously.  We put up the same team that we used to take out Omaha only four hours earlier, but Detroit made some confusing choices.  

Quick aside for those unfamiliar with flat-track derby tournaments.  When it comes down to it, the key game to win in a WFTDA Big Five regional tournament is the quarter-final.  If you win the quarter-final, you have two chances to win a game that will take you to November's championship tournament.  If you lose or don't show up (that is, if you were to lose a qualifying bout), you fight for fifth place at best. 

Got that?  So I hope that you will agree that it's with some surprise that Detroit put forward a team without several of their seasoned veterans against Minnesota.  Honestly, we were fine with it.  Winning this bout is what we showed up to do.

However, we did not start well.  DDG's Sista Slitchya and Detroit captain Racer McChaseher dinged us for six points over two jams before Scarmen Hellectra responded by punching through Detroit's defensive wall for two.  Suzie gave Minnesota the lead change with a grand slam as Detroit's Boo D Livers was peeled off the track by our own Tiki Torture. 7-6 Minnesota.

Detroit reasserted themselves.  Racer McChaseHer, Fatal Femme, and the DDG pack moved in on our jammers and stranded our forward players out of play.  They went on a 40-11 tear through the middle minutes of the first half.  With nine to go in the half, Detroit started climbing away from Minnesota, 46-18.  

Two things of note at this point. Racer was already playing a lot of jams and kept getting dinged for minor infractions as her experience made up for the younger talent on her team.  Also, Minnesota was keeping up; Honeydew Felon and rookie Killamon Jaro were all over the Detroit jammers, while our blockers were jumping on any dawdling player to establish a pack and try to catch the Detroit defense ahead of the game.  The problem was that Detroit was playing too well for us to put points on the board. The DDG have fit, large blockers who can skate together to create walls that are impossible to squeak past.  Those jammers eager to charge through will get called on back blocking, while timid players merely get holed up behind the Detroit defense.

Slitchya gave Minnesota a chance to rock late in the first half as she got sent into the box for back-blocking Vuedoo Prodigy.  Suzie took the power jam and scored six despite an attempt by Detroit to speed up the pack.  Juke Boxx, Psycho Novia, and Suzie Smashbox all slashed  through for a combined 13-0, but Racer McChaseHer took her team into halftime, brushing past bruising blows from Killamon Jaro and Coochie Coup for eight.  60-37 at the half.

Minnesota appeared to adjust their jammer rotation for the half, bringing in more nimble skaters such as Juke Boxx, L'exi, and Suzie Smashbox to go around the walls instead of through them.  The electric reaction from the crowd that Juke got from going to the line in MNRG blue can't be commented on enough; Juke's only been playing for us this summer, and many of her former Madison teammates (as well as the Minnesota fans) were solidly rooting for #A18.    Sista Slitchya gave the fans an opportunity to cheer by going to the box twice in the space of three jams. Minnesota took the lead back by scoring 27 unanswered points on the power jam.  Detroit experienced the speed of L'exi and Juke scoring and started to play foolishly, sending many of their blockers to the box as we merely moved fast and turned left.  

Psycho jumped into the action the very next jam, taking eight of her own before the referees called the jam prematurely when Detoit's Effin Money took a hard hit amidst a Minnesota pack that descended on her like a snowstorm over I-94.  Suzie then scored three, and suddenly we had the lead by fifteen points. Minnesota up 75-60 with twenty-two left.

Detroit tried like hell to get back, but the MNRG would return fire jam for jam.  Even a hard hit from Boo D Livers on Psycho that sent her into the Stats riser seemed to do nothing but give Killamon a chance to jam as Psycho rested her knee.  Detroit came back within nine on an excellent jamming run by Boo and Racer, but the night was not to be for the Michigan league.  

With ten minutes remaining, Detroit all-arounder Cookie Rumble got caught with two penalties while carrying the star during the same jam.  Detroit's pack imploded like a black hole as player after player in Detroit colors went to the box over frustrated, over-extended hits.  Suzie scored 19 points, and L'exi took the last minute of the power jam to take another ten. 109-71 Minnesota.

Playing as jammer with eight to go, Racer McChaseHer ran roughshod through a tiring Minnesota back (at this point, the MNRG had been skating for almost three hours of action on the tracks) and scored ten, but gained her sixth penalty.  Minnesota's Scarmen Hellectra came in for the next jam unopposed, and got sent to the box herself.  This penalty returned Racer to the track to score even more...however, the lightest of blocks by Tiki Torture at the front of the pack sent Racer weaving out and back onto the track.  A seventh penalty trip.  

Scar got released back onto the pack, and with seven trips to the box, Racer McChaseHer - who would go on to score 32 points in a single jam later in the tournament - fouled out with three minutes to play and a gap of 18 points for her team to overcome.  Suzie grabbed five more points in the next jam, but they were points Minnesota didn't need.  As the final whistle blew and Minnesota's fans and players alike collapsed into a pile of quivering joy, MNRG finally returned the lesson to Detroit...never look past your next opponent. 118-91 Minnesota.  

Madison - and MNRG's first shot at a ticket to the Championship tournament in November - was next.

[I am again indebted to MNRG's players for this part of the report - particularly Jax Kvaas who attended the '07 Regionals as a fan.  Also, I surely owe a beer to a few Cornhuskers who told me stories about mighty Omaha.  Sincerely, good luck next year.]

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