Manhattan and the Bronx Battle for Pride this Saturday

Considering that home teams in the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league only get three games per season, every win is pivotal and every loss hurts. Some hurt more than others though, and no one knows that better than the members of the defending champion Manhattan Mayhem.

The inmates won’t get the opportunity to repeat in the league’s title game next month, but it’s not from a lack of trying, as their 0–2 record was achieved with losses that came by a total of just 12 points. If you’re looking for a heart-wrenching season, you’ve come to the right place.

“It’s been a really challenging season,” said seven-year veteran Em Dash. “We’ve had some bad breaks – unfortunately literally in our case – and the hardest thing is that we haven’t gotten to play as a whole team for a whole bout this season. I think anyone who watches Mayhem sees how close-knit we are, how good our teamwork is, and how much we love and support each other. So in that first game, to have [Bruzin] Brody ejected and to lose two players to injury, including our captain [Bonita Apple Bomb], that was really devastating. Our second game, both our captain and Full Metal Jackie were out, so when a team has great chemistry, losing anyone is awful. I think anyone who watched those bouts would say that the way we work together as a team is apparent. Even more than the losses for me is feeling like there’s been a hole in our team this season on the track.”

The losses to Brooklyn (153–148) and Queens (194–187) have given the Mayhem an unofficial title of the best winless team in sports, but their opponents this weekend in Coney Island, the Bronx Gridlock, could give them a run for their money when it comes to that distinction.

Also checking in with an 0–2 record, the Gridlock didn’t have the razor-thin defeats Manhattan did this year, but there is no shortage of talent on the cabbies’ squad – seven members of the GGRD All-Stars is the big roster stat that jumps out at you. One of those All-Stars, blocker Cherry Napalm, knows how good this team is when it comes to individuals, but what hurt them this season is that with so many of them suiting up for the Bronx for the first time in 2015, it’s been hard to get the cohesiveness that brings teams championships.

“Half the team is new this year, so we’re still getting used to playing together, but by this next game, we’re feeling really confident and excited to get in there and have all the pieces fall in place instead of fall apart.”

Having over two months of working together since their last bout on May 9 has helped the Gridlock become a unit, and not just a collection of All-Stars.

“We’ve definitely got to know each other better,” Cherry said. “We’re working together, working on our skills, and everybody has gotten a lot better individually and as a team. We’re all on travel teams as well, so we’ve gotten experience there, and I feel like it’s solidified. It finally feels like we’re a team.”

Dash has seen the development of the Bronx over the last few months, and while most would consider the Mayhem the favorites to win this Saturday, she’s not counting them out in the slightest.

“The Bronx is a really impressive team, and they’ve been rebuilding for a couple years, but they’ve got some incredible players, they have a ton of All-Stars this year and they really seem to be jelling quite well, which is really wonderful to see,” Dash said. “I think the tougher every team in the league is, the better it is for the sport and for our fans and for all of our development as skaters. So I can’t wait to skate against them on the 18th.”

The fact that two talent-rich collectives such as the Mayhem and Gridlock have not won a game between them this year shows just how good the Gotham home teams are. Seemingly every bout is a war pitting evenly matched teams against each other, and the veteran skaters know that once the whistle blows, anything can happen. But how do new skaters adjust to the league’s talent level and intensity? Dash believes team culture has a lot to do with it.

“I have loved our rookies every year, but especially the last couple years, because they come in with so much energy and so much drive, and that reenergizes the whole team,” she said. “And I think that what our rookies see when they land in Mayhem, is that we have a wonderful team culture. We’re all really supportive of each other, the veterans take the rookies in hand and help them to build skills and learn how to play the sport and how to play Mayhem’s version of the sport.”

It’s why Manhattan has picked up league titles in two of the last three seasons, and even though 2015 won’t see an orange banner hanging from the rafters, don’t call Saturday’s bout an opportunity to salvage the season.

“I don’t like the idea of salvaging a season, because every single player on our team has learned and done great things this year,” Dash said. “We had a little bit of bad luck or maybe a couple bad decisions or foul problems, but the work we’re doing on the track every practice, as well as running together and working and scrimmaging together, it doesn’t feel like an 0–2 record is a reflection of our team this season. All of us are going into that bout on July 18 the way we take the track every game, which is that we’re going to play our game with our team, focus on what we’re great at, keep calm heads and stay positive. And hopefully this will be the beginning of our 2016 winning streak.”

Bronx is equally inspired to end 2015 with a win and carry that momentum into next season with a return to championship form for the first time since 2010. It’s not too early.

“We definitely want to come out and win this one,” Cherry said. “We’re both 0–2, so we both really want that win, so it’s going to be a good game. We do want to end the season on a high note and keep the momentum going into 2016. I’m actually really excited for next season – and after this season, it can only get better.”

Written by: Thomas Gerbasi