If You Build It, They Will Come Vol. II
My adrenaline was running sky high. My head was spinning and static, like on a non-working tv channel, was piercing my ears.
I was indoors but strangely there was a breeze that kept running by that eventually elevated itself to what felt like a small tornado and I found myself right in the middle of it.
Despite all this activity going on around me, I felt right at home. Don’t be fooled; I’m not talking about that twister I was chasin’ on my last trip to Kansas (’cause I’ve never actually been to Kansas). What I’m describing is what it feels like to be sitting in the infield of the banked track while a roller derby bout is happening. That’s the vantage point on which I was able to witness the Runaway Brides take on the Coffin Draggers at AZDD’s debut bout. Lady Lawless and I had the fortunate circumstance of being asked by the Brides to be their team managers during the bout since the Bombshells had the night off. To say the least, its intense in there and watching a game right in the middle of the action is WAY different than watching it from the stands. You would assume there is a big difference, but you don’t actually understand it until you’re right there. I was constantly rotating 360 degrees to follow the pack and the action around the track. All eyes and noise from the crowd are directed right at you that it can be deafening. You can even feel the athletes skating by. All senses are involved when you’re watching banked track roller derby from the belly of that beast of a track. I threw on my Karate Kid bandana which only signifies one thing: GAME TIME!
The posture of this bout was similar to that of the Beauties v. Scrappers bout. The Draggers had the edge in both roster size and experience. The Brides have experienced skaters that date back to their championship back in Season 3, but a good chunk of their team is a lot of anxious, new blood. Going in, my prediction was that the Coffin Draggers would take this bout, but I believed the Brides would make it a competitive bout. Right out of the first jam it looked like what I assumed may come to be true. Ellie Mayhem cut up the Draggers pack and took the lead jam with a healthy lead and it looked like we all might be in for a good fight. But once the Draggers got comfortable and set into their scheme it was the like the Brides were a guest in the Draggers graveyard.
The Draggers were able to keep the Brides’ score low with their impenetrable defense. They owned the front of the pack with the triangle formation they were running and not only were the Brides’ jammers having difficulty getting through it, but their blockers were having difficulty dealing with it as well. The Draggers jumped out to an early lead and they didn’t look back. They lost a couple of key players to injuries in the first half of the bout. Mia Pow Wow and Angela Darkness, both Dragger jammers, appeared to have gone down with shoulder injuries. It was a shame to see these two go down because they’re exciting players to watch. With these two players out, I thought the Brides might have a better chance to get back into it after every jam, but the Draggers had a few skaters step up and they just kept pouring it on.
I’ve already said enough about Cannibelle Corpse, but she did not disappoint and more importantly she didn’t make me look like a fool for all the things I said about her in a previous blog. She delivered exactly what I would have expected from her. I wish that I could bottle the focused intensity that she plays with and feed it to my skaters. You don’t get to many jammers out there who are willing to deliver a hit while they’re trying to score points and that’s one of the reasons I like her style of play so much. It doesn’t matter to her that she’s wearing a star on her helmet (when she actually puts it on hehehe), she will still try to punish you with a hit as she’s skating by.
My standout performer of the night would most definitely go to Dr. Mary Lu Botomy. She did a clutch job at the jammer spot and I remember watching her routinely call off jams. On a number of those occasions I saw her take the lead jam away from a Bride jammer in the thick of the pack. She showed everyone in the building why having the lead jam is so advantageous. When you possess it, it can be a tool for total domination, or for sour demoralization. On one instance I saw Phenomenon approaching the pack with lead jam and DMLB was about 10 feet behind her. Phenomenon got caught in the pack and somehow DMLB found a lane right by her and her lace laden teammates to score 4 points, take lead jam, then call it off. I can only imagine what Phenomenon felt like at that moment. You just busted your ass all the way around the track several times, leading the whole way, and at the last moment you lose the lead jam and 4 points are scored on you while you skate off the track with none. What a demoralizer. That jam was a great display at a high level by DMLB of the physical and mental aspects of banked track roller derby. And lets face it, she’s absolutely charming in that Go-Daddy commercial. I just want to put her in my pocket and bring her home and have her do advertising pitches for all the products I have in my refrigerator.
Don’t ride off the Brides after this bout. If anything, if you saw what I was seeing, you have keep them on your radar. Not only do they have one of the league’s superstars, but they’ve got some great blockers and their talent shows when they work together. Nothing evidenced that more than the first two jams of the second half. This was the only time I really saw the Draggers shook because the Brides were skating nice and tight and as one. They were able to get the lead jam on each of those jams and capitalized by scoring some points. Additionally, their pack did a great job defending the Draggers’ jammer. Throughout the bout Iron Swede was doin’ a bang up job as a Bride blocker. She didn’t need to do anything amazing to stand out. You could tell that she was focused on executing the fundamentals of blocking. She stayed low and kept placing herself in the right place at the right time when the Draggers’ jammer approached the pack. When it comes to blocking, the simplest and most effective technique is to just get in the way, and she did that well and with purpose. Defense is a huge part of this game now and to down-play it would be to undermine a majority of the athletes involved in this sport. From where I was standing, one of the most exciting defensive sequences of the bout was when Phenomenon defended Craven A. Cadaver, who was the jammer at the time, single-handedly for almost a complete rotation of the track. The make-up Craven was rocking was sick, but it had little effect in intimidating Phenomenon. I don’t know if I was just hearing myself cheer, but it sounded like the crowd roared at the booty-blocking clinic that Phenomenon was putting on. Watching scorers accumulate points is fun, but its solid, aggresive defense that always impresses me and makes me stand up. These instances of defensive brilliance showed me that the Brides have the tools, they just need some more time to learn how to use them effectively.
As expected, the Coffin Draggers skated off victorious with a final score of 112-44. To be quite honest, while I was down there in the middle of the track the score was the last thing on my mind. Even though I was a part of all the action and activity that the outer rails on the track encompassed, there was a part of me that was in awe and I had to keep reminding myself that for this bout I wasn’t a spectator. Its an awesome feeling to look into the eyes of the skaters and interact with them during the heat of battle. Its a humbling feeling to look up into the crowd and see all the faces looking toward you. One of the collateral effects of helping the Brides out for this bout was that it gave Lawless and I a dry run at how things go down on the bench. Its a comforting feeling to know that when I step out on to that infield next month to coach my Bombshells through there first bout of the season, it wont be my first time. I’ll know how to respond to certain game situations and how to approach the refs when I feel I need to call their attention to something. I have to thank the Runaway Brides for giving me the opportunity to help out because not only did I have one of the best seats in the house, they gave me an opportunity to learn some new things about this game. The Brides were very gracious in thanking Lawless and I for what we did for their team, but I don’t think they quite understand what they did for our team that night. We’ll be better prepared come next month. So, thanks a million Brides!
The first bouts of the season had ended. As we started to tear down the track and I looked up at all the empty seats I began reflecting on the part of the evening that had just passed. I witnessed this league evolve. The bout production was clean and seamless. The crowds were bigger than any AZDD had seen in the past. The game was faster and more demanding of the athletes. When the Dames decided that they were going to move from flat track derby to banked track derby I knew their would be an evolutionary leap, I just didn’t think it would be this drastic. The flat track days of last season are gone and though we still reside in the home we call the Coliseum, the debut of this banked track to the masses has proven one thing: We’re not in Kansas anymore.