Gotham Is Fired Up for a Championship Run in Chicago
by: Thomas GerbasiNovember 3, 2010
Watch the Gotham Girls All-Stars battle for The Hydra at 10:30am (Eastern) on Saturday, November 6th, at derbynewsnetwork.com/live, followed potentially by the Championship Semifinals at 6:30pm (Eastern).
Gotham Is Packed (Not Really) and Fired Up (Definitely) for a Championship Run in Chicago
by Thomas Gerbasi
A year ago, the Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars were reeling and on the ropes. Having seen an 18 bout winning streak snapped by Philly in the WFTDA East Regional finals, the team began the defense of their 2008 National title with the imposing task of winning four games in three days.
Things started off well enough with a 187-38 rout of Detroit, but in their second bout of the weekend, they were eliminated by the eventual champions, the Oly Rollers, sending the Gotham Girls back to the Big Apple to re-evaluate and regroup.
Above: Surly Temple blocks during Gotham's romp over Detroit at the 2009 Championships. Photo: Jules Doyle
“Last year, a little of the confidence might have been taken out of our sails because we lost that game (to Philly) after winning the tournament the year before,” admits team Captain Bonnie Thunders. But as soon as practice began for the 2010 season in January, it was time to get back to work and back on top.
“I think our focus this year is a little bit more intense because there’s a little more to prove,” said Thunders. “There’s more drive in the team to say ‘you know what, we actually are the best in the country, and we’re gonna show you that.’ We have to prove it and we have to show it.”
They have. The number one ranked team in the East and the 2010 East regional champions, Gotham has put together a perfect 10-0 record (the only team in the Derby News Network (DNN) Power Rankings Top 25 that can make that claim), and have also exorcised the demons of 2009 with a win over Philly in September, 133-103. Now if they can get to 13-0 with three wins in Chicago’s WFTDA Championship tournament this weekend, it will be a second title for the GGRD All-Stars and the sweetest dose of redemption.
[Downloadable tournament bracket here; all listed times are Central, i.e. one hour behind New York.]
It’s not going to be an easy ride though, as 11 other teams have the same goal in the Windy City.
Suzy Hotrod jams vs. the Oly Rollers at last year's Championship tournament. Photo: Jules Doyle
“Derby just doesn’t have a lot of games, so you’re gonna see a crazy intensity in every game, whether it’s a home team game for a private league or a national tournament,” said Gotham’s Suzy Hotrod. “We just don’t play a lot of games and it all goes back to the fact that we’re not full-time roller derby employees – we’re not the Yankees – and we’ve got a lot of other stuff going on. But there’s a lot at stake and everybody’s going to be playing as hard as possible. The thing that’s tricky about the national tournament is that you have to play three games. There’s no saving it for the next game. You have to go at a hundred percent in every single one. It’s a bit of wear and tear on your body, but with the adrenalin involved, you could get hit by a truck and you’d still be skating. It doesn’t matter.”
Luckily, Gotham – thanks to their East regional win – has a first round bye in the tournament, with their bout against the winner of Friday’s matchup between the Texas Rollergirls and the Bay Area Derby Girls coming on Saturday morning at 9:30am. It’s an ungodly time for any sporting event, but the squad from New York has taken the proper precautions.
“We’ve been practicing on Saturday mornings to get ourselves used to that time of day,” said Thunders. “These Saturday practices have helped everybody figure out what they need to eat and what they need to do differently for such an early game.”
And as Suzy puts it, “a game is a game, and it’s a level playing field. We’re all up and going to work at that time (during the week); it’s not like all of us stay in bed until three in the afternoon. (Laughs) We’re functioning real-world adults, so it’s not unheard of to be up and moving at that hour.”
If you expected anyone to brush off the idea of slow starts and fatigue, it would definitely be Suzy, who will be playing in her last tournament as a member of the Gotham Girls. Known as one of the hardest workers in the league and a taskmaster at practice, Suzy and the rest of the All-Stars know that in a tournament format and with all else being equal, it’s often the best conditioned team that prevails. And this isn’t the kind of work that can be crammed in on the week before a bout. If you haven’t been working your cardio all season, it’s too late now.
“You do absolutely everything you can,” said Suzy. “We’ve done off skates training for a long time; that’s not anything new for us. If you turn on the TV and watch five seconds of the Olympics, the first thing you see is the speed skaters not skating, but doing all kinds of other stuff. It’s definitely not a training secret that to be strong at the top of the game and to stay healthy you have to cross-train. So we’ve added additional practices, we’ve made some upgrades to our land training, and as far as being conditioned, the team has never been more physically fit. The thing with national play is, you can watch it online, but it’s really hard to tell until you’re face to face on the track. So in that case, prepping is saying we’re going to do everything absolutely possible to prepare, and that’s what we’ve done. There’s no way that Gotham can say that there was any wiggle room, like ‘oh, we should have done that.’ We’ve trained so hard and there’s absolutely nothing more we could have done.”
Bonnie agrees, and the team will have to be supremely conditioned come Saturday, because if they prevail in their first bout, they will have a semifinal bout at 5:30pm that same day, making it a test of will and skill.
“The team that wins is gonna be the team that has the better endurance and the long-term training both mentally and physically,” she said. “I almost think that it’s the mental game that you lose first. Your body starts to get tired and then you just don’t remember what to do mentally and then it falls out from there. I’m really confident in the training that we’ve had and the team’s endurance and everything that we’ve been working on, so I think that we’re gonna be fine for that afternoon game. It’s gonna be challenging, but I do believe the team is definitely capable of doing it. And to be quite honest, if we have to play a team that comes from playing up a mile high, that doesn’t scare us at all because I think that our sea level training is just as good as anybody’s mile high training.”
The Gotham Girls are ready to bring the Hydra back to New York City. Photo: Kerry McClain
And it just so happens that representing the “Mile High State” of Colorado are the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls, the WFTDA West region champions and the number one ranked team in the nation by DNN. If the stars are aligned and Gotham wins their first bout and Rocky Mountain gets by the winner of Friday’s matchup between the Minnesota RollerGirls and the Charm City Roller Girls, then these two powerhouses will meet Saturday evening. Yeah, it’s a biggie.
“That game seems to be the most sought after game by most of the derby fans out there,” said Thunders. “We’ll both be on level playing fields because we both will have played a game earlier in the day, and Gotham will actually have a longer break than Rocky Mountain if that’s who we end up playing.”
Rocky Mountain made plenty of noise in October by issuing the 2009 WFTDA champion Oly Rollers a 127-86 defeat. It was Oly’s first defeat in 23 games, and immediately, Rocky Mountain was being anointed as the next WFTDA champions, especially considering that Gotham was eliminated from the 2009 tournament by Oly. But Suzy Hotrod doesn’t believe in derby math.
“People get hot every time they see something, so the most recent tournament that was played going into the big tournament, was the Rocky (Mountain) game, so that’s what’s hottest on everybody’s mind because it’s the last thing they saw,” she said. Suzy and her teammates aren’t just looking at the top seeds either, as it’s clear that in a ‘win or go home’ format, any team that has made it this far is a threat, and Gotham is covering all of its bases when it comes to prep – not just on the track, but off it as well.
“Everything that we could possibly know, we know,” said Suzy. “And a lot of our players and people get around and they see things first hand at the other tournaments. It’s pretty serious, and we’re not sitting at home – we’re doing a lot of things besides just skating and conditioning to prep for this. Everybody knows that there’s a lot of strategy involved, so we’re watching everybody, and we know everybody who’s on every roster. It’s not that big of a world. It’s a very intimate family, and we know them all.”
Above: Papierschnitt spies on blockers from the Bay Area Derby Girls, one of Gotham's two potential Saturday morning foes. Photo: Steve Price
Thunders, who went out west to watch the regional tournament last month, is certainly on the same page as her teammate, but oddly enough, the two were rivals last Saturday night in the GGRD home team title game, as Bonnie’s Bronx Gridlock defeated Suzy’s Queens of Pain 132-98. For Bonnie, the highs of the victory had to be tempered by the reality of the work ahead.
“To be completely honest, I saw this game [the Queens/Bronx finals] as the first game of the championship tournament,” said Bonnie of the Gridlock’s second consecutive title win. “To me, it all mixes into one, and I knew that the season isn’t over until next weekend, so I just kept my perspective more along the lines of thinking that this was just part of a bigger thing. It was the first game of a week of games.”
The timing of the WFTDA tourney worked similarly well for Suzy, as she was able to shake off her team’s loss and the emotions of it being her last home game and get back to business immediately.
“The one cool thing about having the championships now is that we can say, ‘okay, we lost a home team game, now we’ve got to go back to travel team right now and get back to work,’” she said. “And that’s fine with me. For people on the travel team, there’s not even an inkling that this is the end of the season. So for me, it’s what’s next.”
It’s the same way for the other skaters from the GGRD championship game – the Bronx’ Kandy Kakes, Beatrix Slaughter, Ginger Snap, and B.Zerk, and Queens’ Ana Bollocks, Donna Matrix, Hyper Lynx, Steel Magnolia, and Haulin’ Cass. And when you add in Manhattan’s Swede Hurt, Sweet Sherry Pie, Fisti Cuffs, and Em Dash, and Brooklyn’s Hard Anya, Carmen Monoxide, Hela Skelter, Papierschnitt, and OMG WTF, there’s no question that Gotham has the type of well-rounded and hard-hitting attack that makes them a handful for any team in the world.
“If anything, it’s really obvious to everybody in the country that the bar has been raised,” said Suzy. “The competition playing field is fierce and nobody’s got an easy job ahead of them. I feel like Gotham’s always been a force to be reckoned with and everyone else is coming up too. We’re not in a league of our own, whereas I feel like in the past we got a really good jumpstart on it, got in there early, and we managed to maintain staying there, which – as the sport grows – is going to be the test. Rosters can change, but the thing that Gotham has is an amazing training regimen. Every year the bar gets raised and the competition is fierce, which is what the fans want too.”
And while the focus sometimes sits squarely on the high-scoring exploits of Bonnie and Suzy, the Captain is quick to point out that when Gotham is on, they can hurt you with anyone from anywhere on the track, with Hyper Lynx’ MVP performance in the East regionals a stark reminder of that fact.
“The teams out west have professional speed skaters, long-term speed skaters, girls who have skated their entire lives, but it takes more than just fast skating to be a good jammer,” said Bonnie. “I certainly feel confident and we actually do have a pretty deep jamming bench. There are four to five girls who jam for Gotham, but there’s about ten who could jam, and we choose not to jam them because they’re so great at blocking. I feel very confident in the team’s depth and I don’t feel like that’s a shortfall at all from us. Lynx had a great showing at regionals and hopefully proved to everybody that she can hang with the rest of them.”
Now all that’s left is to bring another WFTDA championship back home to New York.
Above: the 2008 National Champions. Gotham goes to war this weekend with a roster largely intact from that championship run. Photo: Scott Englehardt
“We’re gonna play a game that we’re confident playing and any team that practices the same thing every day is just not gonna win,” said Bonnie. “Derby is about being versatile and being able to adjust to whatever the other team brings, so I don’t think anybody should think they’re gonna go out there and see the same Gotham they see every single tournament because we’re ready for whatever anybody has to bring to us.”