By Thomas Gerbasi
This Saturday’s Coney Island showdown between the defending Gotham Girls Roller Derby league champion Brooklyn Bombshells and the Queens of Pain at Abe Stark Arena was expected to be a clash of unbeatens that previews the August 27 home team title game.
Then Manhattan got in the way, defeating Queens in June and setting up the possibility of a three-way tie at the top pending the results of Saturday’s doubleheader. While it wasn’t a shock that Queens went from 1-0 to 1-1, it was a disappointment for the team and co-captain Livvie Smalls.
“We were disappointed because, of course, we wanted to win, but I don’t think we were surprised,” she said. “Everyone was pretty aware this year that the teams were closer than even they have been in recent years and that on any given game day, any team could rise up. We also know that Manhattan’s always a tough team, and I really feel like they step up when they play Queens so we definitely would have liked to win, but to say that we were surprised that they fought so hard, we’re never surprised at that.”
It’s a classy attitude to have, but at the same time, it does throw this weekend’s game into a new light. If both teams entered at 2-0, it would be an opportunity to perhaps test out some new strategies, get some bench players some more track time, and basically stay sharp for the title bout. Now, it’s a must win game. But as Livvie points out, with only three home games per season, every trip to the track is a must win.
“We play so few games that, in a way, we try to put all our energy into every single game,” she said. “There’s added pressure, but we want to be in that finals game and we want to win that finals game. So we want to lay the groundwork to show Brooklyn what they’re going to be up against and we want to win. I think we would have wanted to win anyway, but the added pressure is undeniable.”
As for the Bombshells, 2016 has basically been a continuation of 2015 – Eat, Sleep, Dominate, Repeat. Looking as good as they ever have, the team appears to be on their way to another title bout and, if they have their way, a repeat as champions. But one chat with All-Star jammer Miss Tea Maven and you’ll understand that their key to victory thus far has been staying humble.
“I don’t think we think we’re the greatest,” Maven said. “This league is so talented and every game is anybody’s game. A lot of times, it just depends on if the other team can play their game or not. And if both teams are on their game, it’s one or two points difference. So we need to stay humble in order to keep playing the game that we know and love to play. And another big contributing factor is our leadership. Our three captains do a fantastic job of organizing us and keeping us calm. We focus on the now and the moment, and once it gets closer to game time, we focus on what we need to do in that game. So while we’re proud of our accomplishments, it’s never a driving force, and it keeps us humble.”
What both teams can agree on though, is that Brooklyn vs. Queens always ends up being a special bout, filled with hard hits, high-scoring jams and Cyclone-worthy ups and downs. As such, don’t expect either team to come in mentally unprepared.
“I think we’ve been mentally preparing for this for a while, pretty much straightaway since the Manhattan game, and it definitely feels like we’re in the mental place that we want to be,” Livvie said. “The biggest thing for us is that when we’ve been playing together, we looked fantastic and were a challenge for any of the home teams. So mentally, we’ve really tried to focus on having Queens look inside, rather than looking too much at what Brooklyn’s going to do, play our game, play together, and stay out of the box.”
“Every game is a new game, every jam is a new jam,” Maven added. “Every time I take the line, it’s 0-0. If we win our next game, then we’re absolutely in, but we’re not guaranteed at this point. So everyone’s gunning for everybody.”
As the favorites though, does Maven have a preference if Brooklyn makes it to the Big Dance? “We’re going to be ready for any team at any time,” she said. “So I don’t know if we have a preference. Each team has its own unique style of play. Manhattan is much stronger and has a hard-hitting, aggressive style of play, and Queens is a lot slower, but controlled, and they recycle really well and they use a more strategic style, so it’s more organized. But Manhattan is one of the most intense teams you can play.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter. Just bring ‘em on. And should Brooklyn become the first team to repeat as GGRD home team champions since the Bronx Gridlock did it in 2009-10, what would that mean for the Bombshells?
“When we repeat as champions, I’m just going to look at the team and say, ‘All right, now we’re going to be the first team ever to win three in a row.’”