By Thomas Gerbasi
Roster turnover is an inevitable part of every Gotham Girls Roller Derby season. But few have been turned over like last year’s runners-up, the Bombshells from Brooklyn.
“I feel like this is the most turnover that we’ve had in a really, really long time,” said co-captain Raggedy Animal, who will begin her 12th year on the track when her squad faces the Bronx Gridlock this Saturday at John Jay College in NYC.
So how different will the Bombshells look in 2017? Well, there will be five new skaters representing the team this year, the most of any GGRD home team. But that’s not why this is such a league-shattering news item. What makes this such a big story is that joining Girl Friday among the “newbies” will be former Bronx star Sweets McBacon, GGRD junior league phenom Bellatricks, current All-Star V-Diva, and another skater Gotham fans might remember, Donna Matrix.
Put those five on the track and it’s an all-star lineup in itself. Add them to a team that has won two championships in the last five years, and that’s a frightening prospect for the rest of the league. But as Animal points out, it takes more than talent to win in this league.
“We are super grateful and tickled that our turnover resulted in drafting huge, huge individual talent, and we have that excitement going into it,” she said. “But the challenge is knowing that individual talent can’t win games. It’s really been about making sure that we’re not just showing up with individual talent, but that all the draftees are enmeshed in the team culture and we’re on the same page with playing roller derby.”
Given this reality, Animal and the blue crew were very happy that their season opener was scheduled for this weekend and not on March 25.
“I’m so glad we didn’t play first,” she said. “The turnaround from a draft to the first game is tight. You’re basically dusting off the cobwebs from the off-season and it’s really intense. And while you always want more time, I definitely feel like we had the time that we needed. Because we drafted a lot of talent, our focus wasn’t necessarily on individual skill building. So Day One, we got right into how we play and our strategies and making sure that we were on the same page and had the same language and were doing the same things. So we’ve spent our time making sure that we’re skating together as a team.”
And if this group of skaters has come together as a team, it’s going to be quite a show this weekend. Yet regardless of the final score on Saturday, anticipation is at an all-time high to see what this group offers to the league.
“Because they come from such amazing backgrounds, to get to see them skate for the Bombshells is a whole new world of excitement, with Diva and Donna and Sweets, and even Bella coming from the junior league,” Animal said. “She (Bella) is incredible and did amazing things in the junior league. She’s unassuming and quietly effective, but she’s always in the right place at the right time. So it’s not that we drafted new skaters that have experience. We drafted some serious skaters with major accolades from what they were doing previous to becoming a Bombshell.”
Yet even though all eyes will be on Brooklyn in this opening matchup, the Gridlock aren’t showing up to make up the numbers. They’re coming to win, and with no victories on their ledger since May of 2014, the Bronx are hungrier than ever and more dangerous than they’ve been. But they won’t sneak up on Brooklyn, whose veteran skaters know just what it’s like to be in that position.
“I’ve been on the losing side and I’ve been on the winning side,” Animal said. “In 2014, we lost every single game and in 2015 we won every single game. They are very different motivating factors. Even in the early years of the Bombshells, when I first joined, we couldn’t win a game to save our lives. We kept being called the lovable underdogs, the Gotham darlings, and we couldn’t beat anybody. So I know how bonding it is to go into a season and be like, ‘Damn it, we want to win.’ And they have so much individual talent and they’re big and strong, so they’re absolutely a threat.”