By Thomas Gerbasi
This is what captains do. It was a July 15 game that had no bearing on whether the Queens of Pain were going to get into this Saturday’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby league championship game or not, as they were already in the bout at John Jay College in NYC. But Puss ‘N Glutes hopped on a plane from Loveland, Colorado to New York to lead her squad to a victory over the Brooklyn Bombshells before heading back on a red eye flight to continue coaching the GGRD juniors.
The trip back and forth lasted 14 hours.
“We committed as a team to doing our best to make this an undefeated season and we’ve been preparing and working hard to make sure every game shows,” said Puss, who will be a lot more rested as she takes the track to battle Brooklyn once more this weekend, this time for the Golden Skate trophy.
It’s the culmination of another season for GGRD, and one that has seen Queens dominate like few teams have in recent memory. Winning their three regular season bouts by an average of 73 points (for comparison, Brooklyn’s two wins have come by an average of 16 points), the ladies in black go into Saturday’s bout as a heavy favorite, and Puss would even go as far to say that in all her years with the team, this may be the best yet.
“I think that this is probably the strongest team that I’ve played on,” she said.“I think that Queens is an unstoppable force this year.”
The proof of that statement has been shown on the track, but the reason for the team’s dominance may come from an unlikely source.
“At the start of 2016, we had a lot of draft picks andwe decided that we weren’t going to pick the people that were ranked the highest,” Puss explains.“We decided that we were going to pick the right skaters for our team and pick the skaters that were going to be there every practice, busting their butts to get better. And so, coming into 2017, we had zero retirements, we are two years strong, and we’re a tiny team, size wise, but we have worked to be the fittest and the fastest and to make our gameplay really strategic. We are going to show no mercy this Saturday.”
To have the same team intact for two years in a row isn’t just a luxury; it’s the rarest of rarities in a league where titles are often won and lost by the teams that were able to weather the storms of team turnover the best. With Queens’ commitment to putting the right skaters on their team, a new blueprint may have been set for teams in future drafts.
“It’s a team preference and I think some teams will go into the draft feeling desperate for a jammer or a high level pivot / track leader type,” Puss said.“And we looked at last year as an opportunity to take skaters that we knew would grow and add to the culture of our team, which is all about hard work.We feltreally strong, really connected, and we were able to start working on new strategies from the first practice instead of getting people comfortable in our walls. We were fully ready and hit the ground running for 2017.”
Three big wins have followed, with Queens refusing to rest on leads or their laurels. It’s a kill, kill, kill mentality for 60 minutes, and in July, they sent a message to Brooklyn with a 167-118 victory.
“We’re never a team that underestimates our opponents, and the upper hand that we’ve had is that we’ve known our team intimately for two years now,” Puss said. “We didn’t have to know each other; we just had to start practicing how to take down the other teams. So we’ve been focusing our practices on the strategies of each team that’s coming up and I think it’s shown on game day. We know that Brooklyn is strong, we know that they’ll have even more of their skaters skating at championships and that they’ll come out pissed about the loss and even stronger, but they should know that we’ve prepared twice as hard.”
And with a few Queens veterans calling it quits at the end of the season, there’s even more incentive for the juggernaut to kick it into an even higher gear tomorrow night.
“Queens has made this the year of K-Pop, and so, as one of our favorite songs says, we’re planning on going out with a ‘Bang, bang, bang’ this year,” laughs Puss.“The ones that are taking the track for the last time are going to leave it all out there.”