A Champion’s Saga

Friday morning. August 19th. Wichita, Kansas. We had decided to change our defensive strategy to prepare for playoffs. With the help of our visiting buddy, Skull Candi, from Wasatch, we started to learn the basics of what we now call “the cube.” It is never easy to switch up a strategy. What sounds good in conversation and on paper can become a real mess when you, as a blocker, are trying to work with 3 other people, predict what each other will do and try to stay on the same page, all while trying to keep the opposing jammer at bay and avoid any offense from the opposing team that could break up your wall. We knew that was our only hope for a chance to progress at playoffs.

Friday morning in Wichita, we were getting ready to play Carolina. We weren’t quite sure what to expect from Carolina or from us. Would it be a close game? Would they beat us? What will happen? The first whistle blew for the first game of the tournament and we were off! We took an early lead and just kept going. Then, we won…by almost 215 points! Our defensive cube strategy had worked and we were going to get a chance to try to move on up! The next game was against Houston just a few hours later. We had already seen the Tweets and predictions that Houston was expected to win it all. It was slightly intimidating, but we were ready to go out and do our best. This game was more difficult than the Carolina game, but we found ourselves working together and holding them back. Our strategy was working…against Houston! We ended up beating them by 45 points and it was glorious! What a victory! I cried. I was so proud of us. We had done such an amazing job! What a day we had! Just the day before, we were on a plane, not knowing what to expect. And now, now we had just beaten the NUMBER 2 seed at the competition when we had come in as a number 7 seed. We were riding a wave of joy, pride and complete elation, but we knew we would have to focus on our next game: Nashville, the number 3 seed.

We had watched earlier as Nashville had made a stunning comeback against Tucson on Friday. We knew what they were capable of and that we couldn’t rest on our laurels. When I think back, the Nashville game is kind of a blur. Our cool, new-to-us strategy was working against them, but it was a tough game. We had a lot of penalties and an ejection, but we WON! We beat the number 3 seed and now we were GUARANTEED a trip to champs in Portland in November!

Sunday came and I was tired and sore. We had not played in a tournament like that since September 2014 and I had forgotten how hard tournaments were on the body. We were 3 games in and about to play a 4th game, which was arguably our most important game of the entire year. A game that would decide if we would return home wearing gold or silver around our necks. A game that would decide our seeding at champs. No pressure, right?

We rallied, we hoped for the best and vowed to leave it all on the track. We did our cheer and we hit the track to play our final opponent of the weekend: Brandywine, from Pennsylvania, who was seeded #4 at the tournament. The game started out tough and it stayed that way. Brandywine had watched us closely over the tournament weekend and saw the holes in our brand-new-to-us strategy. On the very first jam of the game, they lined up two offensive blockers to immediately destroy our wall as soon as the whistle blew. We didn’t know what to do. We knew how to defend one offensive blocker from our cube but not two! We were chaotic and scattered and tired and doing everything we could to play “our game” and hold back their jammers. This was our fourth game in 3 days and they were only playing their 3rd game, due to the seeding of the tournament. Our walls continued to struggle, while our talented jammers kept on truckin’. Ultimately, we lost by only 23 points. I cried. I was so tired and heartbroken and frustrated.  We had done such an amazing job! But, we fell short. The good news was that we were going to go WFTDA D2 Championship in Portland, Oregon!!! What a treat! But we had so much to work on if we wanted to get even a bronze medal in Oregon. Practicing our cube had gotten us pretty far, farther than we had even known we would go, but we had a lot of work to do to before November.

We returned to Asheville and went back to the grind. We had to figure out how to combat Brandywine’s strategy of splitting up our wall. We had to learn to handle the offense with which the teams at Champs would challenge us. It was a long 2 months. We continued our 3 practices a week, but it was hard. We started working with Brandywine’s strategy, as we figured out the best way to combat it would be to just do it to ourselves until something clicked. It worked. We started feeling more comfortable working together in a three-person blocking wall, which we called the “tripod,” while we sent our fourth blocker to play offense for our jammer. We practiced offense off of the line, no offense off the line, offense mid-jam and anything else we could think of. Most importantly, we practiced adapting from a cube to the tripod when we needed to play offense. We practiced working in pairs and reforming when our entire wall was interrupted. We practiced what we would do in power jams and how we would execute our offense. Also, it turned out that it was not in the cards for us to scrimmage any other competitive leagues in the area. We just couldn’t find a date that worked for the majority of our teammates and the other team. Here we were, working on a new strategy again and we didn’t have any scrimmages or games to help us test it. We just had each other and we hoped that was enough.

Friday. November 4th. Portland, Oregon. We had traveled across the entire country. If we lost this game, it meant that we would have to play for the bronze medal on Sunday and that there would be a chance that we would leave without a medal at all. I was nervous. I have skated in four WFTDA D1, two D2 and a few other tournaments in my derby career and I had never felt as nervous as I did that Friday. I felt sick and scared. Due to our seeding at Playoffs in Wichita, we, as the number 2 seed, were set to play Calgary, the number 1 seed from their bracket at the D2 Playoffs in Michigan. This was it. This was now arguably the most important game of our season. Even though I played in that game and have watched it several times, I just don’t remember too much of it. One of the jammers in our rotation, Jackie Hurrycane Hurry, injured her knee in her first jam and was out for the rest of the game. It was a close game–the kind of back-and-forth game that is enthralling to watch but terrible to play. Even at halftime, there was just a 5 point difference in the score, which was way too close for comfort. We reset ourselves, got back on the track and just kept chipping away. The game took a turn when our jammer, Dr. Octopushy, had a 38 point power jam, that was followed by a 27 point jam by Lady Rider. When the game came to an end, we had won by 42 points! We were going to play in the championship game!

As luck would have it, Brandywine happened to win the qualifying game that they played against Charlottesville, VA. We would have to play them for the gold medal…again. A rematch! This time we felt more prepared. We had just beaten Calgary using all of the things we had been working on at practice (offense, reforming, and power jam strategies, oh my!). Also, this time we had only played one other game and had a day to rest in between. We would be ready.

On Sunday, I was a little nervous about the game, but nothing like how I felt on Friday. We had a lot of fans in the crowd who had traveled far to cheer us on, not to mention all of the friends and family that were watching at home. Oh, and we were on ESPN3! Yes, our little league from Asheville, NC was playing on ESPN! It was so exciting! The whistle blew and we were in the zone. It was a close game for a bit and we tried our best to slow their jammers, while trying to get our jammers through (like you tend to do in the game of roller derby). After we took the lead, we kept it and ended up beating them by 69 points! On ESPN! In Portland, Oregon in front of our friends and families for all to see! How amazing!!!! All of that hard work and dedication finally paid off and we were winners!

We returned home as champions. I still have my gold medal in my purse at the ready, you know, for when it comes up in conversation. Or if I’m having a weird day and just need to remind myself that at some point in time, in a faraway city, on a magical day, I was a WINNER!

With this team, I know no matter what we are handed, we will still rise! We play this sport because we love it.

The Blue Ridge Rollergirls will be holding a clinic at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville on February 19th prior to the season opener rematch of the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams and the Candy Apple Razorblades. BRRG is excited about using our experience to elevate the teams around us and this clinic is the perfect opportunity to do that. Come learn, play, watch, and drink $2 beer. Sunday Funday doesn’t get any better than that!

– Dixie Kicks