Sunday, March 27

High Rollers 174, Guns N Rollers 63

It's been a busy week for me, and I've been trying to put together something coherent here about last weekend's Guns N Rollers bout against the High Rollers. My strength isn't in insightful, sportsy recap or analysis—it's in mocking stuff. But there's just not a lot about that bout to poke fun at because despite GnR losing by one hundred eleven points, I think it was some of the most fun derby I've seen.

GnR came out very strong and might have scared some of the High Rollers right out of their little green and gold pants if they weren't cinched on so tight. After that opening surge by GnR, the High Rollers buckled down, took over the bout, and held GnR to 33 points for the rest of the first period and into the second.

Despite mixing things up a bit, HRMF played to their strengths as an experienced team by opening up lanes for their jammers (often by drawing GnR's blockers to the inside and clearing the way for their jammer to pass on the outside) and by increasing the pace. Because HRMF as a team were able to maintain a pack speed that at times seemed absurdly fast, their better endurance wore out the GnR, and by weakening both GnR's offense and defense, the High Rollers were able to dominate the bout and keep an increasingly comfortable lead.

You could argue that the High Rollers kinda took it easy on the GnR: They often jammed newly drafted Illegally Blonde or rookie Napoleon Blownapart—who both burned up the track, and one of the strongest things about the High Rollers is that it's not very clear how much of that to credit to their individual skills and how much to credit to the HRMF pack work—or other skaters who rarely wear the star like Heidi Go Seek or Intensive Scare. On the other hand, regular HRMF jammers like Minstrel Psycho blocked in several jams. And they didn't roster Texine, Devaskating Deva, or Layla Smackdown.

So, the High Rollers made easy work of the Guns N Rollers—what's so much fun about that?

That initial surge from GnR—the first half of the first period—showed that they can threaten talented and more experienced teams. That the High Rollers adjusted their play to answer GnR's powerful opening says more about the High Rollers's strength than it does about GnR's weakness.

Scald Eagle is a blast to watch, but she's not the only jammer GnR has. Everyone but Handsome George loves to watch Scald twist, juke, and hop while she jams ("crazy and reckless," I think one skater called it), but she picks up lots of minors crashing through the pack. I remember her being "poodled" to clear her minors at least once, and while there's certainly short-term gains in jamming her as often as she can, I think she's potentially more effective as a blocker.

It's not as spectacular, but Scald can move just as easily through the pack as a blocker, which means that she can wall up in front, knock your skater out of bounds, stop dead and force her to re-enter play at the back of the pack, then skip to the front wall and do it again to another skater. Because that tactic can recycle an opposing jammer just as well as it can open a hole for her own jammer to skate through, I hope that with a little more experience, GnR's jamming will regularly fall to other skaters—including strong newcomers like Supa Sixpack and Untamed Shrew, and recently returned Guts & Bolts, the three of whom shared the bulk of the bout's jamming duties with Scald—and the Eagle won't be seen as GnR's "go to" jammer. Besides, that everyone goes both ways is just another one of the many joys of roller derby.

While the High Rollers were reliably able to shunt GnR's blockers out of the way of their jammers for the second half of the first period and for the first half of the second period, I was happy to see that GnR understood what was going on and was able to adjust to it. In fact, GnR constantly adjusted their line-ups, trying out different combinations of blockers and jammers.

Sure, I confess, I groaned at more than a few GnR blunders, but it doesn't take much to put those mistakes into context. Yes, Juvie Hall got surprised more than once by a HRMF jammer passing her on the outside. But as the outside skater of a three-skater wall, Juvie was being drawn inside with the other two skaters in that wall. I'd much rather see her stay in position relative to her teammates and force that jammer around all three of them than see her drawn out of position and allow an opening for the jammer to slip through. And as Juvie's and her teammates' pack awareness keeps improving, so will GnR's communication, and that blocker formation will get more and more nimble.

And yes, there were too many instances where the GnR jammer was trapped for too long behind a front wall of High Rollers. But when I recognized that Supa Sixpack or Untamed Shrew were skating in their first bout for GnR and that wall of High Rollers includes Hurricane Skatrina (former WoJ) and Intensive Scare (current RCR President—that'll make you think twice about how you want to hit her!), I'll accept that the Shrew or Sixpack might need some help there.

Still my favorite thing about this GnR team is how individual skaters rarely stand out. Past GnR teams have had trouble putting their individual skills together in winning combinations. (And I mean "winning" here in a literal points-scoring kind of way not in some high priest Vatican assassin warlock Charlie Sheen kind of way.)

Aside from Scald Eagle, no individual skaters really call much attention to themselves—and no one would really notice Scald if she weren't 6'9" tall—and I mean that in a good way. It makes it difficult to comment on how well any one skater is playing because you have to pay close attention to them. There are individual explosions of brilliance, sure, but on the whole, GnR's play isn't built around a few super-charismatic skaters or flashy hits (no, that's not a Harmicist reference) but on solid pack-work instead. And it's the High Rollers own pack play that's made them so strong—in my opinion, their most valuable skaters are all primarily blockers: Layla, Heidi, Scare, and Hurricane Skatrina—and it's what they used to beat the GnR last weekend and to win last season's championship.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this GnR team skates against the Overbeaters Anonymous at their fund-raising bout this Friday. Party-mix teams like this tend to be all about individual efforts because they don't have experience skating with other, so I'm excited to find out how well GnR works together against them. (You can get info at the RCR website.)

Just one more thing: I don't think there should be any disparaging remarks about the cowbell after Texine and Layla honked on those vuvuzelas all through the bout. (And, no, the fabulous green dresses don't balance things out.)

So would someone mind getting the cowbell out of the WoJ merch box and giving it back to me? I promise, I won't beat it near you.

Thanks! :)

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Thursday, March 17

More New Skaters

Itzo EZ returned to GnR when she was drafted last Thursday!

She's still reffing, and so is Breakneck Betties skater Scrappy Go Lucky. There's also a rumor that newly re-drafted Betty D.Konstructor may try the skater-ref multiclass thing too, which is even better, in my opinion, than the very popular Fighter-Thief multiclass. Both referee and skater cultures should benefit from those sorts of inter-relations, I think.

Besides EZ, GnR also drafted Untamed Shrew (whose name really is "Kate"!) and a skater who may, I believe, be called Artemis Foulmouth (Teen-aged criminal genius? Profanity spewing? I like her already. And sound like a pedophile. :/ )

Also in this draft round, Lt. Uhurta and Baccha Nailya went to the Heartless Heathers; D.Konstructor returned to the Betties; and High Rollers picked up Illegally Blonde and Skeeve Holt! (exclamation mark required—Skeeve Holt!). I can't be as excited as actual Betties fans to see DK back on skates, but I am very excited about that. And as I'm contractually obligated to find the Heathers slimy and gross, I am very disappointed to see fine skaters like Uhurta (add your own "Hailing frequencies open, sir" jokes) and Nailya forced to join the stinkiest, coldest, and bluest team in the league.

Raised Lighter
Skeeve Holt! in particular needs to be recognized for her kind actions to prevent me from further sullying the reputation of the Wheels of Justice and to save everyone else in attendance at Wild West Showdown from my annoying and generally obnoxious drunkenness.

In an unusual instance of foresight, I had written a noteBe Nicenote to myself earlier in the day, and there is some evidence that I'd managed to follow my sober self's advice—Cherry City's Squid Vicious says that I gave her a beer—for at least a few hours. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought that I might actually become completely illiterate before dark, and that, I think, may have been the true flaw in my plan. By the time the bout between Rose and Rat had started, my brain was so completely dissolved in alcohol that if you'd unscrewed the top of my head, poured ice and some kind of mixer into my skull, and stirred it all up, you would have had a batch of strong cocktails for you and a handful of friends. Me, I'll believe pretty much anything you want to tell me about that bout.

Smack Ya Sideways was ejected? Didn't see it.

Sat next to Effy Stone 'Em? Don't remember seeing her at all that weekend.

While I can't recall any specifics (surprise!), I do have a nagging suspicion that I was an obnoxious prick to pretty much everyone around me, and so it was that Dr. Snark N. Stein transformed into the not-quite evil (but definitely annoying) Dr. Drunk N. Stein.

And here the noble and kind Skeeve Holt! (Skeeve Holt!) and fellow (at the time) Fresh Meat skater Indigo Hurls intervened. They took my keys, took my car, took me back to my hotel, and sent me to bed before I could further embarrass myself or the Rose City Rollers. I've heard that the after-party was excellent!

In better news, congratulations to skaters Joyride (Betties), Mercy (Heathers—boo!), and Scald Eagle (GnR—huzzah!), who have been added to the Wheels of Justice roster as well as the AoA one. (Spots were freed up when Firecrotch moved from skating to coaching for the travel team and when Honey Hellfire stepped down from the travel team roster.)

One more thing: I may owe Intensive Scare a drink. I was going to share my bourbon with her at WWS on Saturday night, but she was upstairs, and stairs were an insurmountable obstacle for me. (Dr. Drunk N. Stein, it turns out, is very easily defeated.)

Also, a second more thing: If I got drunk and misplaced the cow bell, to whoever found it and kept it safe, I say "Thank you!" If on the other hand, the cow bell was confiscated, to whoever took it from me and has since hidden it, I tell you that I'm sure you made the right decision, and I support it.

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