Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No Cinderellas Here: Minnesota's road to the Finals (part 3)

Minnesota fan: "There's three minutes left in the game.  Plenty of time for Minnesota to bollocks it up."
Madison fan: "Yes, but that's just as much time for Madison to lose it as well."
- Media riser, Thunda on the Tundra, MNRG ahead 119-93


On Day 2, a lightly-hungover, jubilant team of travelling MNRG fans began amassing for Minnesota's next bout.  Minnesota fans on Friday had consisted of friends and family of the league, the North Star Rollergirls of Minneapolis (we likewise cheered our lungs out for them in their four games), and the Twin Cities Terrors.  


However, as Day Two began, MNRG season ticket holders, members of the newly-minted MNRG Debut-Taunts, and even fans who had just heard about the upset victory all hunted each other out to join us in All-Star blue and brown.  They made the trip to see the MNRG compete against its fiercest rival, Madison's Dairyland Dolls, for a shot at #1 in the Midwest and an automatic invitation to the Championship tournament in November.  


With the semi-finals at stake, the MNRG kept it simple after the win over Detroit.  The team had celebrated quietly at a local Italian restaurant, then most players turned in early.  Coach Dan opted for the same fourteen that we had played the previous night.


Madison significantly changed up their team from Friday's victory over the North Stars.  Madison elected to put in players that had played Minnesota in the past and brought in Allie Gator, Dolly Pardon Me, and Jenny Knoxville.  They also put added to the roster L'il Miss Behavin', a remarkable jammer newly called up to the road team.


Madison's method is to bide its time and to delay their opponents on the track until the other team makes mistakes and goes to the box.  At that point, the Dairyland Dolls become a convoy, delivering jammers down the track come hell or high water.  Their packs are also more fluid than our own, allowing them to hit a jammer, then recycle back to the front where they can hit the jammer again.  However, that fluidity comes at the cost of stopping power; a player that is tough enough will break through such a pack with assistance from her blockers.


What I noticed about Madison was that they looked worried, they were convincing themselves that they were going to win.  We had beat Detroit, it was THEY who had everything to lose and we only had something to gain.  Not only that, we had two shots at it (shots a Championships). But golly gee, we wanted it on the first try!
- Diamond Rough, excerpt from online interview, 9/24/2010


The players of both teams hit the track moments after the Windy City Rollers polished off Cincy's Black Sheep.  The first several jams were skirmishes of attrition.  Suzie scored the first two points, but Behavin' took back the two in the following jam.  After two scoreless jams where our jammers were on each other's heels, Suzie scored again...only to get matched the following jam by Dairyland veteran Mouse.  Five minutes in, we were tied yet again, 10-10.


The next jam gave Madison their first shot at making hay from the power jam. The DDs' Darling Nikki got the power off of a track-cutting L’exi-cuter.  This is precisely the moment where Minnesota in the past would lose it and send blocker after blocker to the box.  
Not so in this bout.  Nikki still scored fifteen points to L’exi’s four as Madison knocked out MNRG blockers, but when the next jammers came to the line, only one blocker from Minnesota sat in the box.  Moments later, Psycho Novia caught a track-cutting penalty and allowed Madison to score 24 points over two jams.  Still, Minnesota’s blockers stood, blocked, and stayed out of trouble.  Madison up 50-15.

Madison scored only once more in the half as the MNRG sent no more jammers to the box over that period.  The flipside of the power jam strategy is that clean-playing scorers are difficult to score off of.  Meanwhile, Minnesota began to build the comeback.  Tiki, Diamond Rough, and the rest of the MNRG pack cleared jammers going through rough packs to bypass DD monsters like Chop Suzzy and and Vicious Van Gogo.  Not a lot, mind you…just enough to score two or three points each time.

Vuedoo Prodigy and Juke Boxx also shepherded and bothered Madison jammers, even forcing DD rookie L’il Miss Behavin’ into two penalties of her own…from which we scored eighteen points.  At the half, Minnesota had come back a bit, but Madison’s two big jams kept them ahead.  59-38.

Madison began the second half with Jewels of Denile beating a pack and scoring one against a pack with MNRG advantage.  Suzie Smashbox responded by breaking past Darling Nikki and Chop Suzzy on the initial passfor four.   Jewels returned to the line, only to be sent to the box…giving Minnesota’s scorers a minute against a short-handed Madison pack.  True to Madison's ability to delay during the power jam, MNRG could only coax ten points over two jams from that opportunnity.  A couple of jams later, Minnesota were closing in, 66-56 with 20 left.

Minnesota's Scarmen Hellectra stepped to the line, picked her way through traffic, and took the next lead jam.  Her opponent, Miss Behavin’, could not get through the pack for love or money as ex-Dairyland Doll Juke Boxx and the rest of the MNRG defense stuffed her repeatedly.  Scar scored seventeen points in that jam; each scoring pass sent the audience cheering madly with approval, hitting a lusty high as the score spelled out the lead change (83-66) with eighteen minutes remained on the clock.  

Madison captain Vicious Van Gogo tried to lead her team out of this rough patch in the next jam, but could only score one point amidst a flurry of defensive activity from MNRG.  L’exi then bust out a nine point jam, and things began to look pretty good for Minnesota. 89-67 with twelve to play. 

We reverted to our old, penalty-taking ways for just a moment, and that moment of panic almost killed our win.  Killamon Jaro came out and got hit with a major track cut.  We lost our cool for that power jam, and Minnesota defenders hit the penalty box as we over-extended and attempted to stop the scoring tide.  That nightmare minute of Man-Jar and the pack in the box cost us our entire lead as Mouse and Behavin’ each scored 13 points over the course of two jams. 93-92 Madison with the lead change.

We charged right back in.  Vuedoo Prodigy, Tara Skatesov, and Diamond Rough opened the pack’s gate for L’exi-cuter to give her the lead, then snapped it shut on Darling Nikki.  Like Scar’s earlier jam against Behavin', this was no power jam; Minnesota merely held Nikki from passing through the pack for three whole passes of L’exi.

Miss Behavin’ lined up against MNRG triple-threat Venus Thightrap.  Behavin’ – getting called on a track cut – gave Minnesota another chance to widen the gap, and Venus fairly threw herself through the pack for an easy triple slam as her teammates screeched the pack to a near halt.  

At the very end of the jam, Venus got called on a track cut. Mouse came up for Madison unopposed. 119-93 with time for perhaps two more jams.  Mouse roared on that track, scoring fourteen unopposed, but the MNRG crowd roared back as Venus came out of the penalty box…only to recoil as she was sent right back in for another violation. 

Madison took a timeout and brought Captain Vicious out to jam one more time.  Meanwhile, Minnesota put the fastest pack out that they could muster – L’exi, Suzie, and Scar (with Juke in the box) – and sped as the whistle blew.  That speed saved Minnesota as we faced the power jam; once Vicious broke through the pack, Minnesota’s pack almost kept up with her lapping passes, making it difficult for Madison to do much within the pack besides keep up.  The pace kept Madison occupied when Venus re-emerged – and then Vicious went to the box.  With forty seconds left on the jam clock, Venus kept moving, intent on the final prize. Madison had nothing left. 

Minnesota’s fans counted down the clock, and when it expired, eyes went to Venus coming around that final corner.  Body low, she skated through that last whistle with a look of jubilation.  As the countdown finished, the skaters sailed into a monkey pile of army and aqua-clad women on the track, and then there was nothing but embraces, high-fives, and smiles between the fans and their team.  The Minnesota RollerGirls were heading to the big dance in Chicago…and they would play the Windy City Rollers tomorrow for the North Central regional trophy.

The next afternoon, Coach Dan brought together everyone for a meeting several hours before the tournament bout while Omaha and Arch Rival played for ninth (Omaha caught on to the Arch Rival slowpack game, defeated their strategy, and easily won).  Dan replaced Venus (having torn a pec the previous night) with Jax "Frau Scientits" Kvaas.   The team conferred for some time.  

Meanwhile at the site of the Regionals, fans continued to stream in.  Friends who had laughed and said, "Maybe if they make the finals..." made good on their word and showed up clad in army and aqua colors.  As the new blood joined the throng of Minnesota Nice at the edge of the track, we gathered to watch our friends on the North Stars defeat the host league, Brewcity, for 7th place.  Once the victorious NS Supernovas returned, a number of men and women split off to plan a little reception for the MNRG All-Stars to be ready for the championship bout.

And then...showtime.

As Minnesota rounded the corners - being named off to the crowd by famed announcer and MNRG Voice of Reason John Maddening - the gaggle of MNRG fans raised their shirts and proudly displayed 'MN ROLLERGIRLS!!' spelled across their bellies to the audience and players on the track (all cracking smiles).  Sports fans had come at last to roller derby.

The first four jams were ours, and for seven glorious minutes we were unstoppable queens of the rink.  Suzie, L'exi, Scar, and Psycho put fifteen unanswered points on the board as our defense, delighted to learn that Chicago was human, gleefully held back WCR jammers long enough for us to score.

The first concern came when Varla Vendetta - the smiling, fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing beast of Chicago - came to the track against Suzie Smashbox.  Varla picked up the lead, but both received their first trips to the box within fifteen seconds of one another.  As they returned to the track, Suzie could not find a path around WCR's Go-Go Hatchet and Sargentina,while Varla scored fourteen points unanswered points.  In one jam, we had almost lost the lead.  In the next, Jackie Daniels (formerly of Grand Raggidy) scored five against L'exi-Cuter. 19-15 WCR with nineteen to play in the half.

We did our best to hold them back, but it was as if Chicago had scouted our game in those opening minutes.  Their jammers found ways to break through weaknesses in the rear of the pack, where our defensive players traditionally worked alone to take down opposing scorers.  As in previous bouts, Chicago executed at a speed and level of dynamic play that we were not yet prepared for.  We scored three more times in that half, leaving us behind Chicago, 73-24.   The problems of this bout couldn't be laid at the feet on any one single jammer or defender.  We were playing clean and making relatively few technical mistakes; Chicago simply owned the shape of the game over that half.

We fought back.  Noticing the problems in the back of the pack, we tried to adjust our game to move our pack front-to-back, laying in wait up top, then descending the length of the pack to attack.  That adjustment did not go smoothly time; our defense began taking many trips to the  penalty box, and Chicago went on a scoring bender off of the pack advantage.  Shocka Conduit scored two double slams in the opening minutes of the second half, and Athena DeCrime got one.

After a 43-1 point spree by WCR over the first twelve minutes, Suzie started the game rolling again for Minnesota against Athena DeCrime.  Despite a heavy Chicago pack advantage, Athena was sent to the penalty box, and Suzie took the lead and the power jam opportunity.  Chicago's pack tried to run away, but Suzie's sprinting power would not be denied...even going so far as to duck under the arms of two WCR players to pass.  Double slam.  117-35, Windy City up.

With seventeen minutes left on the clock, the effort of bridging a 78-point gap seemed insurmountable...yet we were not yet ready to leave the track.  We sent no more jammers to the box and used a rotation of Scarmen, Suzie, L'exi-cuter, and Killamon Jaro to steal points against the WCR lines.  If we were not to win this bout, we would at least throw our jammers against the best in the Midwest and figure out how to play at this higher level.

We had a good run over those last fifteen minutes.  Chicago only scored fifteen points for the rest of the game, in part due to WCR jammers Ruth Enasia and Athena DeCrime being caught in the penalty box for six consecutive jams, in part because the WCR defense was starting to panic at the loss of their scorers.  The missteps led to more blocker penalties and several jams with the pack advantage to Minnesota.  We scored 48 points on the WCR team, but this was not enough to overcome Chicago.

When the smoke cleared and the final whistle was blown, the Windy City Rollers rightfully won the day and the North Central Regional championship, 132-83.  Hell of a game.  We can't wait to take them on again.

The Minnesota RollerGirls have been rebuilding this team of All-Stars for a year now.  We've said good-bye to players like Misfit Maiden and Harmony Killerbruise and welcomed a new crop of rookies and veterans to its ranks.  We've torn out what we could not use and strengthened the core of our team.  And so...we played one hell of a tournament as a capstone to this rebuilding effort, and we now face the greatest challenge yet.

In November, the MNRG All-Stars travel to Chicago to take on eleven other teams that, like us, are the fastest, the baddest, and the best in the world.  We know of five opponents so far; the next six will be decided over the next two weekends.  We want you there. Join our travelling army of Minnesota Nice.  Let's give 'em a bout that they'll not soon forget.

Reporting from where all the women are strong, all the men are accessories, and all the children turn left,
-Garrison Killer

[Thanks to Geoffrey Saucer of the Mad Rollin' Dolls staff for assistance with the Dolls report and the 'Sconnie refreshments.]

1 comment:

Clair said...

Thanks for the great write-ups Garrison!