At the start of Gotham Girls Roller Derby league’s 2015 season, the odds wouldn’t have been good had you picked the Queens of Pain and Brooklyn Bombshells to meet in the championship game. Brooklyn was coming off a winless season in 2014, while Queens had lost a bit of their heart and soul with Ana Bollocks and Donna Matrix no longer on the team.
But as the old adage goes, that’s why they play the games, and on August 29 at John Jay College in New York City, it will be black versus blue – or as the skaters are calling it, “the BQE Championship” – as Queens meets Brooklyn for the league’s 11th championship game.
Queens already has four spots on the GGRD championship banner; Brooklyn just a single one. And while the Bombshells enter the bout unbeaten this year – their last victory being a 219–183 win over the ladies in black just last month – they’re not assuming that the Golden Skate trophy is already theirs.
“Obviously, I think the Brooklyn Bombshells are the best team in all of roller derby, but when it comes down to it, Queens isn’t a lesser team than us,” said Brooklyn captain Evilicious. “I don’t think you can predict who’s gonna win this game and I don’t think it’s worth placing bets on because it’s going to come down to whatever happens on the track when the first whistle blows. And then every jam thereafter for the next 60 minutes. I don’t think you can say that we have much of an advantage going into this game undefeated.”
It’s a humble approach, but don’t think for one second that the Bombshells aren’t confident heading into the biggest bout of the year. They’ve said from the start of the 2015 season that this is the “Year of the Bombshell” – and they’ve proved it, defeating the Manhattan Mayhem, Bronx Gridlock and Queens of Pain in impressive fashion. You wouldn’t expect that kind of swagger on and off the track after a winless 2014, but this team has never wavered in their belief that hard work will ultimately pay off.
“It’s a much more subtle shift, going from losing all of our games last season to winning all of our games this season,” Evil continued. “It’s less of an adjustment than it may seem. Coming out of a losing season, it’s hard because you know how hard you worked, and I know what commitment and effort everyone put in, and we still lost every single game. That alone is a catalyst to win. So we worked as hard last year as we did this year and we just ended up with Ws instead of Ls. It’s a really interesting way to go into the championship game.”
Perhaps not as interesting as the way Queens is going in. Losing two of the team’s anchors in Donna and Bollocks was a crushing blow, even with Suzy Hotrod and Hyper Lynx waiving their spots on the GGRD All-Stars roster to focus solely on home-team play. The team even assumed that 2015 could end up be a rebuilding year. But then the opening whistle blew against the Gridlock on April 11 and those competitive fires came roaring back, leading them to a 181–126 victory.
“[Bollocks and Donna] have been a fixture with Queens since the team first started, so losing them was a big loss to us,” Lynx said. “So we said ‘it’s a rebuilding year’, we’ll take it as that; when we won the first game it was definitely a shock to us, especially when it was against the Bronx, who have the most All-Star players on their team. So we were just using the regular math we’ve been using year after year: the more All-Star players you have the better, because you get more practice time. But I guess we were able to gel as a team better, and it was basically those first few jams where we executed really well. That won us the game.”
Whatever it was, it lit a fire under the Queens team, and let them know that a fifth championship was possible. In May, they won a razor-close bout over Manhattan 194–187, and while they lost their final regular-season game against Brooklyn last month, neither team is putting much stock in that result, at least when it comes to predicting August 29th’s outcome.
“Every win is important, but there’s a freedom that you have when you know that your place in the championship is decided, and I think that both teams knew that, and so because of that, we were able to treat our lineups in a different way than we would have otherwise,” Evil said. “We were able to do things differently than we would have had we not had the calming effect of knowing that we’d go to the championship game win or lose.”
“We played that game down quite a number of players and obviously, we also had a lot more penalty trouble than they did,” Lynx adds. “You play every game to win, and we didn’t win that one, but we’ll have another chance and we want to make sure we clean up our fouls and give them a much better game this time.”
And oddly enough, while Queens was always the team with the veteran core taking on squads that had a rough time with turnover nearly every season, this time it’s Brooklyn with a unit that has largely been together for several years.
“An advantage we have that you used to be able to say for Queens a bit more than now is that the core of our team has been together for years,” Evil said. “You used to have Bollocks and Donna and Suzy and Lynx together, and now Brooklyn’s got a similar group of skaters that has been together for five, six and even seven years in some cases. That is a pretty special thing, and I think with adding really smart, awesome, newer teammates to that mix, the trust that we have with each other is a big advantage and why we can add little things that won’t take away from our core – which is ‘walls stops jammers,’ and that’s what we need to do to Queens. And our jammers need to score as many points as they can.” The Brooklyn captain laughs. “It sounds really simplistic when you say it like that, but that innate understanding of how to skate with each other and those really simple rules are what help us win.”
So who will win next Saturday? Both teams have the talent and desire, as well as plenty of personal reasons to get that championship bearing once more.
“For me on a personal level, I’m trying to take some time off to finally start a family, so maybe this will be the last game in a while for me,” said Lynx. “So I would love to go out with a win. And we’re gonna fight as hard as we ever did. We’ve got a lot of new skaters, so that’s always exciting, but we also want to prove that the foundation of Queens is always there, even if the players change.”
As for Evilicious, she gets right to the heart of the matter for the skaters formerly known as lovable underdogs.
“We didn’t change much this year,” she said. “We had a foundation of skaters who are really committed to each other and to the team, and we’re certainly not underdogs anymore. So it would mean so very much to be able to get another blue banner up on that pile of orange, black and yellow.”