All the Way to the Bank
I thought we were driving to San Diego but somewhere we took a wrong turn and we ended up in heaven. Roller derby heaven. Sunny skies, mild weather, cool breezes, and derby girls everywhere! The derby world descended on San Diego, CA last weekend for the Battle on the Bank III, the national banked track roller derby championship. The Dames went into the tournament to make a statement and get the word out that the newest banked track in the country resides in the Arizona desert. It was quite the sight to settle into the Del Mar Fairgrounds and interact with fans, refs and derby teams from all over the country. There were squads from San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, Texas, and Oklahoma. My head was spinning with excitement. It was like the control panel in my brain was flashing “OVERLOAD, OVERLOAD, OVERLOAD!
Our first bout would be against Texas Roller Derby (TXRD). Watching TXRD during warm-ups I noticed they predominantly use hip checks and low stance booty blocking. I anticipated this would be a challenging bout for AZDD for reasons that our league is more oriented towards hard hitting shoulder checks. Two different styles: One that hits high and one that hits low. I had a feeling which one would have the edge and unfortunately I was right. The girls from TXRD controlled the track from start to finish, led by their most impressive skater, Smarty Pants #4.0. This skater moved up and down and all around the track like her first jam was right out of her mother’s womb. There was no stopping this girl. AZDD spent much of the bout reacting to the TXRD game plan that was being imposed upon us. They used great pack control and spread our skaters out over the track which made scoring points easy.
We appeared to have some butterflies going into this bout and it showed in all the penalties we were committing. There was a Dame in the penalty box every jam, it seemed. Lora Stabs and Lady Lawless came 1 major away from ejection and Vanessa Velocity was ejected with one jam remaining. I can’t blame the skaters because I was feeling the same thing. This was my first WORD Rules bout as a coach and it was against a team I had zero familiarity with. Most of us were in uncharted territories and our league’s unfamiliarity with the WORD Rules really showed during this bout. TXRD was a better team but despite the difficulties we had during this bout the Dames never gave up. We switched around a few line ups in the second half to include Mia Pow Wow as a Jammer and she came up huge. Scoring all of her 13 points in the second half, she was the 2nd leading scorer for the Dames in this bout behind Goody Goody Blooddrop who scored 14. Final score was TXRD 100 – AZDD 42. When the bout ended we exchange pleasantries with the TXRD skaters and they were a very gracious group of ladies. Our skaters responded in kind and I realized that though teams are from different places, roller derby is a sisterhood that knows no borders.
Day 1 was in the bag and the brunt of the tournament would be played on Saturday. We showed up to play the Tilted Thunder Rail Birds (TTRB) for the first bout of the day and this bout was a complete 180 from the first with TXRD. After stressing to the skaters that they needed to improve on controlling the pack and skating next to a teammate at all times we went out there a lit up the score board. We played together. It was a complete group effort. Our blockers were doing their part and they were making our Jammers look good. I mean reeeeally gooooooood. I wanted to scream to all the people at the beer fest nearby, “HEY EVERYONE!!! COME SEE HOW GOOD WE LOOK!!!” Our blockers were controlling their Jammers and the pack. Mizz Nashty was humbled as a Jammer in the first bout but she came back angry as a blocker in this bout and, man, she made me feel sorry for their Jammers. Since they’re the “Rail Birds” and all I guess she figured that’s where they would be most comfortable; on the rail. On the other side of the track, Bad Betty and Lora Stabs played a strong game down on the inside line giving up nothing and forcing TTRB to the high side of the track. We got to see what we expect most from Lady Lawless and that’s the way she hits. She was layin Rail Birds all over the track and one of her cleanest and most vicious hits caused a stop in play in the 2nd half because their Jammer couldn’t get up.
My favorite jam of the bout came towards the end when we were down a Jammer and 2 blockers. It was a threesome in the penalty box but Vanessa Velocity and Kat Von Double Ds held it down on the track in their absence. The other team had their full squad on the track and our 2 Dames kept TTRB scoreless on a Power Jam by both defending thier Jammer relentlessly on her initial pass, then speeding up the pack when she was in scoring position to prevent her from getting any points. Nothing gets me more excited consistently than when my skaters hold the other team to 0 points on their Power Jam, but to watch only 2 of them do it was way impressive. The final score of the bout was 144-18. The Rail Birds didn’t score a point in the 2nd half. Our top scorers for the game were Ellie Mayhem (39 points), Vanessa Velocity (37 points), and Cannibelle Corpse (23 points). This was a game we were supposed to win. The Rail Birds are transitioning to the banked track and I admired their confidence to get out there and get their feet wet in a national tournament. Most of all, their attitudes infected me. The had just gotten waxed twice and they were the first team to be eliminated, but when the game was over and we met with them, you could just tell that they were just happy to be here; happy to skate; happy to learn more about the game through participation. That’s when I took on the same attitude. Seeing those girls celebrate after 2 losses put it all into perspective for me. Win or lose, let’s just have some fun playing this game. ‘Cause when you break it down, that’s all it really is. Its a game.
Our next bout was going to be a tough one no matter who we played. We would play the losers of Team Legit and the storied LADD All-Star Team The Ri-Ettes. Team Legit pulled (what I believe) an upset over LADD in an exciting game that went down to the last jam and was won by a single point. That’s when I looked around at all my AZ peeps with this wide-eyed look on my face thinking “Hooooo-leeee shit! We have to share a track with Krissy Krash and Tara Armov. Oh boy.” After I laughingly shook off that initial shock, I realized how much fun it was going to be to be on the track with one of the country’s best teams. I accepted immediately that we were going to get schmeeeered and my focus was to just have fun and soak up the reality that we were competing against roller derby rockstars. More than that, the Los Angeles Derby Dolls have been vital in helping AZDD get their banked track ventures off the ground. They are the Jedi Master to our Padawan learner. The roller derby force is strong in us, but much to learn we still have. We learned much right from that bout. I’m proud to say that at one point we were beating the Ri-Ettes. I think the score was AZDD 5 – LADD 2. Hey, I’ll take it wherever I can get it, ya know!? After that, it was all LADD.
Unfortunately, LADD sat Krissy Krash, one of the real life stars from the movie Whip-It, from our bout. Having watched her all tournament, that woman was a remarkable enigma to me. I just couldn’t understand how a woman of that size can move on skates with such ease, power, and grace. She’s all she’s hyped up to be, AND she’s a really nice lady. Just look at the damage she can inflict. I was aroused by this display. WOW!
The final score of this bout was LADD 121 – AZDD 37. The postive thing I took away from this bout was that our top penalty leaders in the first bout, Lora Stabs, Lady Lawless, and Vanessa Velocity kept all of there penalty point counts low. Stabs stopped advancing/cutting, Lawless stopped using her arms, and VV just stopped comitting penalties altogether. She went from being ejected in our first bout to having no penalties in our final bout. I think by this bout these three intense skaters had their nerves under control, had a better understanding of the rules, and were just out there having fun.
The most impressive team of the tournament in my mind was Team Legit which is something of an All-Star team of flat track skaters from different places all over the map. These ladies skate flat track and since each of them are from different cities, they don’t get to practice with one another much. They came in and beat every team all the way to the championship bout on their own playing surface. I tripped out when I walked into the locker room on the first day of competition to hear their captain explaining the WORD Rules to her team. Then they went out there and whooped everyone. They had some of the fastest Jammers of the tournament. They would literally run around the track after breaking the pack; their legs never stopped moving and they stayed low to the point where their spine was always parallel with the track. There pack had one of the sweetest control techniques I’d ever seen. At one point all four of their blockers had the pack moving at a tip toe pace; they were literally on their toe stops taking the smallest of steps and still controlling an opposing blocker at the same time. They went on to face the host team, The San Diego Derby Dolls, in the championship bout where they came up short and the home team kept the trophy in SD.
AZDD left their mark on this tournament and I think everyone knows that the next banked track BOOM is going to be heard coming from Phoenix, AZ. We’re gaining steam and the roller derby nation is starting to notice. The Dames placed 5th out of 8 teams and they were awarded the Captains Choice award. This was the first year the award was given. All the team captains voted for the team they thought showed the most improvement, played with the most heart and spirit, and just overall brought major “badassness” to the tournament. From my understanding this is an award for everyone from our league who came out to represent AZDD, including and especially the rambunctious cheering section of AZDD yellow and green that kept us motivated from the stands. We also had a few Dames sit atop several statistical categories for the tournament. Congrats to Ellie Mayhem, Vanessa Velocity, and Ginger Mortis. Ellie and VV were in the Top 5 Point Leaders on Day 2 and they were 2 of the Top 5 Jammers overall for the tournament. If you notice, the top 3 Jammers are all from SDDD All-Stars, the team that won the Championship, and our Dames came in right behind them. Out of sight!!! Ginger Mortis was in the Top 5 Blockers for the tournament as well. She was the #4 Blocker for the tournament! Nice job Dames!!!!
The experience of Battle on the Bank was more than just participating in a roller derby tournament. It gave us all an opportunity to learn new things, meet new skaters from other leagues, and learn more about the one’s we already call friends and leaguemates. From a personal standpoint, being a part of the travel team was a proud moment for me. I am profusely thankful to the AZDD travel team and its Captains Mizz Nashty and Nurse Ratchet for allowing me the opportunity to be involved. All of them gave me this sense of validation that all the time and work I’ve put into learning and understanding this game over the last year and a half was totally worth it. All along, the only thing I’ve ever wanted the skaters in this league to understand is that I love this game as much as they do. And I want to do whatever I can to make them better, because they make me better too. It was an honor to work with and for the best skaters in our league. I floated into San Diego on Cloud 9, stayed on it throughout the tourney, and floated on the same one on the way out. Cause that’s what they do in heaven, right? Play in the clouds? It was an amazing feeling and experience. One I’ll take all the way to the bank.