Manhattan and the Bronx Fight to Own the Track in Coney Island

By Thomas Gerbasi

Heading into the final weekend of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby’s home team regular season before the championship and third place games, a cut-and- dried title matchup between Brooklyn and Queens got a shake up when the Manhattan Mayhem upset Queens on June 11.

For the Mayhem’s Full Metal Jackie, she knew what was going to happen the moment she stepped into the locker room at John Jay College. And it had nothing to do with the idea of “staying alive” in the title race.

“When you say something like we need it in order to stay alive, that evokes a lot of desperation,” she said. “There is that reality, but I think fortunately, we didn’t allow ourselves to have that infiltrate that team mentality or even let it be recognized. Coming into that game and walking into the locker room and seeing my team’s faces staring back at me, there was a sense of calm and reassurance and an understanding that we have to get this done. That’s it. There was a goal, we had to achieve it, and there wasn’t any other way.”

PHOTO: DAVID DYTE

PHOTO: DAVID DYTE

Sixty minutes later, Manhattan skated away with a 192-187 win, and heading into this Saturday’s matchup with the Bronx Gridlock at Abe Stark Arena in Coney Island, another pivotal win could produce a three-way tie for two title bout spots, pending the outcome of the other doubleheader bout between Brooklyn and Queens.

That’s a lot to play for when it comes to the top three squads in the standings, but what of the Gridlock, who sit outside of the title party but have not played like it in their first two bouts, showing the parity of the league in 2016. It’s frustrating, but as Bronx standout Fast and Luce points out, that’s part of the gig as a GGRD skater.

“Every team has taken its turn rebuilding, growing, coming to a peak and then going through the cycle again, so that’s something we always keep in mind with the Bronx,” she said. “At this point, I think we’re really just trying to play the best game that we can play. We find a lot of success in scrimmages every week. I think the public games that we play only a few times a year are only part of the story for the Bronx. And I think that we’re just now realizing that when we play well and we play together, then that feels good and it feels like winning and that’s our main focus for how we’re preparing to go into this game against Mayhem.”

PHOTO: DAVID DYTE

PHOTO: DAVID DYTE

Saddled with an 0-2 slate heading into this bout, the Gridlock have not won a game since defeating Brooklyn in May of 2014. It’s been a painful drought, but one that the cabbies aren’t focusing on heading into the weekend, simply because they can erase that streak with a victory against Manhattan.

“We’re definitely a team that plays with a lot of heart, we give a hundred percent in every game and I think that we always go in with the hope that our work will pay off in that moment,” Luce said. “But it’s also derby and games go the way that they go, so it is a difficult thing to kind of pick your head up after a game time after time and experience so many losses in these last couple seasons. But if we feel that we play well and play our best and are together on the track and we’re executing all the things that we work on in practice, then you have to take away what you can from it, and leave the rest on the track.”

And would a win mark 2016 as a success?

“A win on Saturday would mean that we have improved over the season, that we looked at how we were performing in previous bouts and that we worked on specific goals in practice to get better as a team,” she said. “And I think anytime you’re successful at that - and a win this Saturday would absolutely tell us that we were successful in that way - we can go away from this season being happy with it. I think it would be a great wrap-up to the season if we could say that we pulled through in the end.”

PHOTO: DAVID DYTE

PHOTO: DAVID DYTE

The Mayhem are in a different place than the Gridlock though, and they have a different goal. In other words, they want to be playing someone on August 27 with the Golden Skate Trophy on the line. Does Metal have a preference if they make it that far?

“My preference is to play the most competitive and the most highly skilled team,” she said. “The team coming out of that game (Brooklyn vs. Queens) victorious is the obvious answer, so I’m looking forward to seeing who walks away from that, and I’m looking forward to playing them and beating them.”

But first, there’s the Gridlock, a squad whose championship game is a day away. “When preparing for Mayhem, we really have just been focusing on being prepared for their offensive skills and I think that both teams have good defense, so you can expect to see that matching up,” Luce said. “We always look to try to keep it calm and collected and Mayhem is a very chaos-driven team, with their offensive plays especially, so the Bronx is focusing more on the opposite of that and keeping cool and together on the track.”

Mayhem is fine with that, and if you think they’re focused on the end of August, think again. They’re just looking at taking it two minutes at a time, starting tomorrow night. “The game is just a series of two-minute segments, and how you play those two minutes and what you do in those two minutes can affect all your teammates,” Metal said. “So we try to play our hardest and our best for them. It’s all about concentration and where you allow your concentration to focus emotionally and physically. Going into this game, we’re focusing on each other and how we play. I feel that for any team, you are playing the way your team has been trained. If Bronx plays Manhattan’s style, then we will absolutely take it as a win and walk away victorious. But that’s always the biggest challenge – owning the track.”