Queen City Roller Girls 2016 Week 1 Preview
by Dylan Powell - posted 8:31 pm, January 7, 2016
10 seasons. That is a huge deal for a grassroots sport like roller derby. Lots of people along the way would not have thought this sport was going to stick around – either in Western New York or anywhere else. Watching footage of what women’s flat track roller derby looked like 10 years ago it is almost unrecognizable. WFTDA, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, has institutionalized the sport and brought it to its present day form – where it is played globally with over 300 leagues and over a handful of continents represented. This is a huge accomplishment for the sport, for WFTDA and also for the Queen City Roller Girls who are entering their 10th season, and their second at Buffalo Riverworks which hosts the world’s first purpose built derby track.
As QCRG enters its 10th season the home leagues look radically different. With skater retirements and some skaters choosing to go travel team only, QCRG was forced to slim down to 3 home teams for the first time since 2008 (before the Alley Kats). The league voted to retire the Nickel City Knockouts for the year, the 4 time reigning Champions, and now for the first time since 2011 the league will have a Champion other than the “bloooo.” On top of this, the league also redrafted (“scrambled”) the remaining skaters in the home leagues – which means only 14 skaters will be skating with the team they were on last year. Throw in 15 rookies into the mix and this year in the home leagues is wide open. Anyone who definitively tells you how this will play out is a liar. How these teams will mesh is anyone’s guess, but for the sake of a preview here are some things I will be looking for in Week 1.
The Dollies will take the track on Saturday with only one rostered skater from last year – Chickadeemolish. They will also roll out with a league best 9 rookies and only 4 skaters who have more than 3 years experience (Bully Holiday, Chick, Lip Service and Labatt Bruise). Those veterans will anchor this team, especially former Lake Effect Furie and long time league member Lip Service, but it will be up to their coach Señor Wiener and bench manager Ivana LeiHerOut (Lake Effect Furies) to turn this roster into a contender. The former Knockouts coach, Wiener is a long time league member, a highly certified WFTDA Ref and a skater for Toronto Men’s Roller Derby. Wiener knows the game, and the league, inside and out. He coaches to win and he has an experience advantage over rookie coach Roxanne Debris (Saucies) and Shock-Her (Alley Kats). Not having Librawlian to rely upon will make things more challenging though and how the Dollies coaches adjust in game and keep this team motivated will be the key.
Coaches? You really want me to get excited about watching Coaches? Ok, ok, you want to hear about skaters too I get it!
The Dollies bring on two Canadians out of their pool of rookies, jammer McCreadie and blocker May Bringdowndahaus. Former Niagara Roller Girls, these skaters are like rookies+. Their Queen’s Court teammates last year all had impressive years and many had stand out performances in the Expo bouts in December – I can specifically remember flashes of greatness from Raspoutine, Megalo-MEINia and Double Barryl. 4 of these rookies are also on the B Travel Team – Double Barryl, McCreadie, May Bringdowndahaus and Molly Malign – another sign of their promise. The obstacle with so many rookies though is that they lack bout experience and typically run, or don’t run, on confidence. Derby is a game of high high’s and low low’s and it is going to be up to the entire team to keep everyone focused, calm and on an even keel.
With lots of potential jammers on the roster it will be up to Wiener and Ivana to manage the star and how deep they want to go. The Dollies give up a bit of size to the Saucies on the blocking line, so they are going to have to find an answer for that and make holes. This will not be an easy first test for this Dollies squad, however, all signs point to this class of rookies being ready for the challenge. If they skate out with this win I expect it to be because their jammers stayed aggressive the entire bout and their veterans and coaches kept everyone on the same page.
The Saucies bring back four skaters – Joyride, Beatrix Boom, Wailing Wench and Cuban Mistress Crisis. They also welcome back Flame Throwher after a year off. Former Saucie Roxanne Debris moves to the bench to coach alongside former league ref Trip Ur Mama, and the Saucies also snagged up 5 rookies – Rosi, Sigourney Cleaver, Tekill’ya Sunrise, Chet UpStandUp and Skarpinski. Those rookies are matched with 8 skaters with 3 or more years of experience. The most interesting element of this mix will be if this roster can carry over the things that made the Saucies great – they blocked tight and skated as a team, played with discipline and grinded out bouts. The core is still there and the “culture” of the Saucies is still strong. This team has been looking to reclaim greatness, and has come very close in the last two Championships, so the expectation will be there from current and former Saucies and also fans. After not drafting any skaters in the 2015 season though, this influx of new skaters and a new coach may upset that balance.
If the Saucies are going to reclaim former glory this year they will need a big year from their rookies and also from Flame Throwher. The Saucies don’t have the jammer rotation depth that a team like the Dollies do, and they will need Flame Throwher and Rosi to contribute right away. Both looked very strong in expo bouts, and Rosi was also named to the Furies – one of only two Furies skating in the home leagues – so all signs point to them being up to the challenge. How much inexperience and rust will play into this bout, and the season, will be key though.
The blocking core for the Saucies looks very solid and stacked with veterans. Wailing Wench, Her Heiny Granger and Chet UpStandUp have been picked for the Travel B Team and every skater will feel unease lining up against Beatrix Boom. Those Saucies that are still around know that solid positional blocking is the key and I expect this group to carry on the tradition left by skaters like Head Huntress and B’kini Whacks if they want to win.
The Kats bring back the most skaters from last year with 9, and also are the only home team returning with the same coach with Shock-Her. Their one rookie, Ana Killingspree, is one of the home leagues biggest wild cards this year. Transferring from Mad Rollin’ Derby in Madison, WI, AK is also credited with playing a central role in spreading roller derby to Denmark. She looked very solid in the Expo bouts she played in and the Kats will have to rely on her and also Ashes t’ Ashes – the other Furies home league skater – if they want to get into the win column in 2016.
The Kats looked poised to win in 2015 but came up short. The continuity of their roster may turn out to be an advantage, especially at the beginning of this season, since so many skaters are familiar with the team, the coach and the style of play. Like the Saucies they have a shorter jammer rotation, so they will have to get creative if at any point they start to struggle. You get the feeling that this same crew will struggle with penalties like they did last year, but this might be less of an issue as other teams struggle to catch up and find their own rhythm. Winning earlier in the season will be a priority for this team as they look to shake off a couple winless years.
The Kats also get the advantage of a Dollies team that will be playing two bouts in a week and if they are doing their homework right they should be able to get a good read on the teams strengths and weaknesses this Saturday. Mama Chops will be torn, but the Kats also have the advantage in every game as fans have always rallied to try and push them on to a win. New year, New Alley Kats? Time will tell.