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! :)

\m/ \m/



  1. I enjoyed very much reading this post.

  2. That's some pretty good insight from a guy that doesn't do insight.

    The vuvuzelas belong on the list with Laser Pointers, Whistles and Fire Arms. They should at least allow guns if they are going to allow those annoying horns.

  3. It was SUCH a fun bout! The fact that we could even pretend to have a chance for five minutes was already kind of more than I'd hoped for this season.

    Really excited about our new skaters. And ditto on yes, you're super insightful, and yes, the vuvuzelas are unbelievably excruciating. Though probably on par with the cowbell...

    And those green dresses are hot. We seriously need some GNR cheerleading.

  4. Fantastic analysis, Doctor - way to earn that degree.

    I agree with pretty much every point you made, but especially that it WAS some really fun derby - definitely the most fun I've ever had at a bout with that kind of lopsided score.

    There's already been a TON of improvement in just a couple of bouts. Our skaters clearly *know* what to do, and the more track time they get, the more of that semi-mystical "track awareness" thingie is gonna appear.

    (Note: the Portland Timbers have preemptively banned vuvuzelas from their stadium this year. Hint, hint.)

  5. I see a trip to the farm storm in my future. I'm thinking I need a whole collection of cowbells.

  6. Honestly, I kinda like the vuvuzelas. Go figure. :)

  7. But I will not be wearing a green dress any time that I can foresee.