Ziv Kruger reporting from Austin, TX July 21-22
The Texas Rollergirls hosted New York City’s Gotham Girls (the current WFTDA Champions), San Francisco’s Bay Area All Stars, and Chicago’s Windy City Rollers to a six bout tournament in Austin’s state-of-the-art downtown convention center.
Spoiler alert: The reigning WFTDA Champions extended their win streak to twenty three bouts in a row, a new WFTDA record which appears in danger of being broken again by Gotham as soon as the Gotham Girls take the track again.
Bout one featured the hosts and inventors of the modern version of flat track roller derby, Austin’s Texecutioners vs. Chicago’s Windy City. Chicago appeared to take control early in the bout, but penalty trouble created too many opportunities for the home team, and the Texecutioners looked to poised to topple their first victims even as Windy City closed the gap a bit at the half. Undaunted by their first period errors, Windy City settled into a scoring groove and tied the bout with approximately fifteen minutes remaining, and then celebrated as Texas squandered what appeared to be a sure win with their own untimely series of unforced errors. Final score: Windy City 143 Texecutioners 121.
In an unsanctioned second bout, Temple Texas’ Centex H.O.T. All Stars gave Austin’s Firing Squad a real scare, losing by only 18 points 134-152, in either a miracle on quad skates or a disturbing sign of a program on the decline in what used to be the Capitol of Derby. The silver lining for Austin derby fans is that Texas Rollergirls typically respond dramatically to wake up calls of this sort.
Windy City didn’t have long to savor their first victory before being fed to the seemingly starved wolves waiting in the wings. After going toe-to-toe with the Gotham Girls for what must have seemed an eternity (approximately the first five jams of the first half’s twenty jams), they fell to the better prepared and expertly coached Gotham Girls by 165. The final score Gotham 254 to Windy City 89.
Bout four between Texas and Bay area resulted in a second disappointing performance for the former queens of the flat track. In spite of Texas’ best efforts, Bay area not only took an early lead, but maintained a near two to one scoring ratio for most of the bout forcing Texas to rely on Bay Area unforced errors and penalties to eek out their final production of 88 points for the bout. Bay Area finished with a strong 159, and the comfort of a full night’s rest before their next bout at noon on Sunday.
Bout five featured the Gotham machine vs. their closest challenger in the tournament, Bay Area. As Windy City had done before them, Bay Area matched Gotham for the first 5 jams of the bout, but Gotham capitalized on the Bay Area penalties to close the first half up by triple digits. To Bay Area’s credit, they came out of the locker room like a team on a mission beating Gotham for practically the first twenty minutes of the period and closing the gap methodically and patiently while Gotham seemed to struggle with their own penalty issues. With just under nine minutes remaining, it looked as if Bay Area would give us an exciting finish. Instead, Gotham took over the bout and poured on the points to finish 103 points ahead. The final score: Gotham 187 to Bay Area 84.
By far the most exciting bout of the tournament was the showdown between Bay Area and Windy City. In a literal tit-for-tat struggle, Bay Area appeared to have the early edge, finishing the first half with 87 points to Windy City’s 83. Stealing a page out of the Bay Area playbook, Windy City seemed to roar back after halftime forcing a Bay Area time out with 3:19 left on the clock and Windy City holding on to a 2 point lead 176 to 174. Whatever Bay Area coach G Money saw clinched the bout for the scrappy Bay Area skaters as they forced Windy City to take some ill-advised risks which landed the Windy City jammer in the penalty box. Bay Area closed out the final jams beating Windy City 21 to 4 to finish the bout with 195 points to Windy City’s 180.
In what felt like a sure letdown for the fans who packed the Austin Convention Center after the action packed fifth bout, the final bout of the tournament featured the Texecutioners vs. the Gotham Girls in what everyone knew to be a David vs. Goliath match up. Facing seemingly impossible odds, Texas drew first blood, and for at least the first 15 minutes of period one appeared incredibly game vs. the 2011 WFTDA Champion Gotham Girls. In one heroic effort, Texas Jammer Sarah Hipel appeared to use jet propelled skates as she jumped past the entire Gotham pack before the refs could blow four whistles and literally stole 4 points from the Gotham jammer to the delight of the home fans. I recall checking the clock at the ten minute mark as Gotham appeared to stall while Texas rallied again and again to close out jam after jam with no score for either team. Gotham was sitting at 34 points…poised to finish the half with triple digits. They did.
The Texas defense was potent, but you can’t win a bout without scoring, and Gotham was patient and methodical as always turning every delayed reaction or unforced error by Texas into buckets of points. The standout blocker for Texas was Polly Gone who seemed to be everywhere at once, and who must have prevented dozens of points by her efforts alone, eliciting chants of “Polly Polly Polly” from the loyal home fans on more than one occasion. For Gotham’s part, superstar Suzy Hotrod appeared genuinely impressed after a Polly Gone takeout launched Suzy off her skates and off the track forcing an end to Suzy’s jam. Suzy quickly got back to her feet and skated to Polly congratulating her personally saying “nice hit”. Understatement. Gotham lined up for the next jam and put up even more points. The final score: Gotham 265 to Texas 60. ZK