Pivot City: Geelong takes two wins over Ballarat and Bendigo in Hoedown Showdown

Far from the 'engagement zone' of inner-city Victorian roller derby, inland or stretched across the coast of the state, where the hustle and bustle of Melbourne is forgotten both in eyesight and in earshot, lies another type of hustle and bustle: regional roller derby.

Racing through gully and over Macedon hills peppered with volcanic rocks at a rather satisfying 110 kp/h, myself and trusty partner-in-crime Beeetle made haste on Saturday 22nd September 2012, to the Hoedown Showdown - round 2 of the Best Western regional derby tournament between three leagues Dragon City Derby Dolls (Bendigo), Ballarat Roller Derby League, and the veteran Geelong Roller Derby League.

We'd missed the first round, and having caught both games later on the Fans Of Derby stream, decided we had to witness it for ourselves. Who doesn't love a road trip, after all?

Somewhere close to noon and with the sun high in the sky, I was reminded of the Great Southern Slam while hunting down a good place to eat on View St: there were derby girls everywhere I went. At one point we entered View Point Handmade Gallery (seemingly the same address as the store 'Death by Derby' though I couldn't see it - maybe it's upstairs?), which seemed to be a derby-affiliated art space. The storeperson told us a little of the challenges faced by country roller derby leagues - particularly the difficulty in being able to bout regularly with other leagues, and of Bendigo's difficult training space.

Speaking of venues, I was impressed with the quality of the building this bout took place in at the Prince of Wales Showgrounds. It appears to be a somewhat new facility or at least has been revamped. The floor seemed decent and the lighting was excellent.

GRDL Atom Bombs vs DCDD Chiko Rollers

The first match to take place on Saturday afternoon was between GRDL's Atom Bombs, in white and khaki camo, and the home team Chiko Rollers, for Dragon City in their famous black and red Chiko outfits.

First Half

With a whistle blare, the event had begun. Damage Patch Doll, number 991 for the Chikos, faced off and got lead jammer against Ellen B Rage, captain for the Atoms, who nonetheless managed to overtake her opponent and forced the jam to be called off. Both teams had instantly put the first points on the board, with the Atoms having snuck one extra at 4 vs 3 thanks to that manoeuvre.

ChickenDawg rectified this on the next jam with a quick 3 points, taking the home team to the lead with 6 to 4. However, it was early days, and there were far too many miniature lead changes to bother reporting. Suffice it to say, it wasn't long before the likes of Deathroll Doll and Genie Smackers managed to slip through the Chiko defense, with the first power jam arriving in Ellen B Rage's lap immediately after Midget Mayhem was hit with a track cut major. The Chiko Rollers wisely turned up their defense in response - no small fact given that the South Sea Roller Derby star Assault 'N' Pepper was a guest on their team - but the Geelong team still managed to close out the 7th or 8th jam with a 28 point lead at 42 - 14.

Midget Mayhem, released back on the next jam, then faced off against Genie Smackers who was the first out of the pack, but suffered her own track cut major after some very solid blocking from Summer Reign. Thus the debut skater for Bendigo enjoyed her own power jam for the game - held up briefly by Thirteen for the Atoms but only for as long as the 20-foot rule would allow. Midget raised her team's score up to 26 with what looked like a satisfying 12 points.

With 7 minutes remaining and with the Atoms stretching further in front at 83 to 40, crowd favourite Ya Mum donned the star for the Chikos and was incredibly quick to obtain lead through a gap left by the Atoms on the outside of the first turn. A very solid Atom wall consisting of Mojo Gogo, Mish B Haven and Thirteen made her work for it, but it wasn't enough to stop her. Subsequent jamming by the Chiko captain ChickenDawg, juking past Carmen Attcha, began to remedy the damage with a fresh 20 points for the home team, while the Atoms had only advanced another 3.

It looked like a very strong comeback for Bendigo. Monstah Megs, also guesting for the Chikos since her somewhat recent transfer to VRDL, treated the crowd to some fancy one-footed evasion that awarded her lead jammer since Ellen B Rage went to the bin for what looked like a rather popular penalty for both leagues: another track cut. Monstah dodged Nitro Nutter but it sent her out of bounds: the Bendigo skater goaded her back behind the pack, but the jammer evidently didn't go back far enough and copped her own track cut from the referee. With no jammers on the track, Ellen was released back on for a small power jam and the score now stood at 74 for the Chikos, and 93 for the Atoms.

Two jams later, and in the final jam for that half, Ellen returned to battle with Ya Mum's fine blocking while Fuzzy Merkin snuck through for another opportunity that ended badly: accumulation of her fourth minor. But yet again, Ellen suffered another track cut, and the first half closed at 102 in Geelong's favour, with Bendigo unable to advance from 74 and without a doubt must have been feeling the frustration.

Second Half

The second half began with the Atoms without a jammer due to that conclusion of the first. While Fuzzy tried again to capitalise on the power jam, her teammate Slinky Ice, number 622 for the Chikos, took a very nasty hit that brought everyone to a knee and the medics to the track. With the nature of the injury unclear, she was carefully taken to safety on a stretcher, leaving many fearing the worst. Fortunately though, I've been told the injuries were no match for this skater's determination and she returned to the game halfway through the second half after being patched up. Respect!

My notes suggest a streak of 6 lead jams for the Atoms at this point - however, they are also annotated with depictions of exceptional blocking by Chikos such as Sugar Pants, Ya Mum and Fiddle Fingers, who were not prepared to let the away team off any sort of hook. The jams nonetheless appeared to get somewhat scrappier across the next 15 to 20 minutes with heavy rotations in the penalty bin on both sides. But time and circumstance continued to deliver more power jam opportunities to the Atom Bombs who relentlessly drove on through weakened Chiko packs, breaking the 200-point barrier while the Chikos were stuck on 111 for at least 6 or 7 jams straight.

Despite the evidence that the Atoms had significant advantage both in blocking and jamming while the Chikos perhaps suffered a few more penalties than they'd have liked, there was plenty of good-natured humour taking place on the track. In particular, Ya Mum, perhaps the blocker that filled the Atoms with the most apprehension, while forcing Mish B Haven to be recycled to the back of the pack, was grinning ear to ear and Mish returned that grin right back at her before calling it off. Myself and others in the crowd enjoyed the fact that both teams were having some fun regardless of the scoreboard which soon showed a 100-point lead at 211 - 111 with 7 minutes left on the clock.

There was still plenty of time left for some style, and it was Nitro Nutter who would show it to us - with an epic apex jump over the second turn and a bit of dancing to her fellow Geelong sisters in the crowd on her 4-point scoring pass. This was followed up by an exciting jammer-on-jammer zero-point race between DeathRoll Doll and Summer Reign, then later some more dancing between Ya Mum and Mish B Haven who racked up a big 25-point power jam for her Atoms. With 2 *milliseconds* (seriously) left on the clock, the referees called an official timeout and we saw one final battle which culminated in Ya Mum with a powerjam after Ellen B Rage took another penalty - yet still scored more points after being released back on towards the conclusion. The final of this entertaining but decisive match was a score of 255 for the Atom Bombs, to 134 for the Chiko Rollers.

In what was perhaps one of the weirder moments of the entire day, I found myself on the track ready to slap hands and congratulate the teams - yet no-one but Beeetle joined me. Can you say 'awkward'? Eventually a subset of the crowd also got to their feet - but it seems this is less of a frenzied tradition in the country than it is back in the city! There were many factors, not least that there was no alcohol (which I'll argue we see a little too much of in other leagues, and I'm no angel when I say so), as well as it being a daytime bout, and with what seemed to be a lot of locals new to the sport. In any case, it allowed me time to lament on the victory for Geelong. Ultimately I think the Chikos were hurt by the penalties they racked up. Despite having a very versatile team of players who could perform a range of positions, a little too much time in the bin, plus a very strong defensive contingent from the Atoms, meant the Chiko Rollers were unable to take advantage of a far majority of the opportunities that were opened up. Nonetheless, the Atoms were gracious winners, played fairly and I think they deserved it.

A special mention of good luck goes out to Ya Mum from Dragon City, who has been selected to compete in the upcoming Roller Derby Xtreme Bootcamp in Sydney!

GRDL Psychotics vs BRDL Rat Pack

Following a break and some live music from the Colonel Vipers Whipstick Band, another Geelong team took to the track: the blue and black Psychotics, vs the Rat Pack from 'The Golden City'.

The Psychotics had taken the win away from their fellow team the Atom Bombs back in August's Ballafornia Screaming - on the other hand, the Rat Pack had snatched a confident win against the Chiko Rollers, so it would be interesting to see how Ballarat would fare against this strong GRDL adversary.

First Half

It launched like a cannon with Geelong's Ace of Hearts leaping out ahead of Mabel Stark for the Rat Pack. The jammer efficiently lapped the 4 Ballarat blockers and called it off for an initial lead of 4 - 0.

Scarface Johansson took the momentum and a powerjam in the next, while Miss Hellfire got lead jam but then a back block major and visited the bin. A. Nerd switched on some impressive defense but the Psychotics had deliberately slowed the pack for their jammer. By the time Miss Hellfire returned to the track, the score already stood at 32 to 7 for the Psychotics.

Only 4 minutes into the game, the crowd was treated to some very imposing blocking on both sides: the Geelongites Penny LePain and Rhythm N Bruise pinned Warwick SnapHer, who came up against further struggles with Crash Killmore later, while Mabel Stark and Rumblin' Rogue made life hell for the Psychotic captain Estee Slaughter - who had the option to call it off, but chose to stick it through a bit longer than I expected. This allowed an extra 5 points for the Psychotics, but was an even bigger success for the Rat Pack who now stood on 15 after 7 in the last jam.

However, some absolutely incredible defense from Scarface Johansson held A. Nerd from obtaining any more points in the next line-up, while Vyvyan Oblivian for the Psychotics snuck another 3 in. Rumblin' Rogue fared batter after the Psychotic's Rai Scar was hit with a back block penalty, allowing her to pocket a very respectable 16 point power jam to take her team up to 13 points.

It soon proved to be another penalty-heavy game similar to the first: it wasn't long before we saw 3 Rat Pack players in the bin and 1 Psychotic. This left little contest for Ace of Hearts, although she sustained some big hits from Scarlet Savage on her next 24 point power jam before calling it off.

With now two Psychotics in the bin, the next jam was somewhat unusual - it initially looked like it was to be a dreaded 'no derby' bore - however it soon appeared to be a deliberate attempt to wind down the clock by the blue and black team in order to get their binned blockers back onto the track. 11 minutes into the game, and with only 30 seconds remaining in the jam, it lurched forward. Nonetheless, both teams seemed to accumulate points in this short timeframe - once again with the Psychotics pulling slightly further away from the Rat Pack by the time the four whistles blew.

Several jams ensued with both teams incrementing their scores. Notable in this period was A. Nerd's lead jam after a very smooth steal through a weakness in the GRDL inside line, as was the blocking from Vyvyan Oblivian and Suey Sez No on the next jam, who indeed said 'no' to Mabel Stark from BRDL - nonetheless she managed to juke her way around her and Gnawer Bones elegantly on the third turn.

Some confusion occurred for the Rat Pack's Warwick SnapHer, who wanted to call off a jam but wasn't being signalled by the jammer ref that she was lead at the time (she was). This was rectified, but she was lucky this mishap didn't cause more damage to her team from rival jammer Estee Slaughter. It was not to be the last case of friction between the Rat Pack and the referees in this game.

With 10 minutes remaining, Geelong's Psychotics broke the 100-point barrier at 106, with Rat Pack trailing at 61. They got stuck on this score for several more jams, despite BezZombie's solid work in the pack and the fact that Ace of Hearts visited the bin after an unclean hit on Mabel Stack. They finally took another 2 points but then got held back again on 63 while more penalties did their damage. This allowed the Psychotics to advance the gap by using strategies such as 'the sausage' to slow the packs right down for their rotating fleet of jammers.

That said, good communication between the Rat Pack blockers managed to get some revenge leading towards half time, with BezZombie and Warwick SnapHer opening up a gap for Mabel Stark to overtake the lead-jamming Vyvyan Oblivian and forcing her to call off a jam earlier than she would have liked. My notebook further highlights the skills of some quieter members of the Ballarat league, such as Little Piece, who worked with Scarlet Savage to make life hell for one of the strongest Geelong players around, Ace Of Hearts. D'Bruisa, who was jamming, also took the opportunity to switch to some defensive manoeuvres against the Psychotic jammer and knocked her down so hard she had to call it off rather than risk giving up any more advantage.

Half time soon arrived with a score of 159 to the Psychotics - a clear and decisive lead against the Rat Pack who were sitting on 67. Now the true exciting events could take place while the skaters were off the track: namely, the raffle was drawn and I was holding onto lucky Blue F 17, and got a mammoth-sized prize. The remarkably quiet crowd at this event did not seem to share my enthusiasm for this momentous circumstance. Despite the absurd amount of chocolate and wine in my lap, I managed to continue to take notes in the second half, which we should return to now after my few sentences of fame..

Second Half

Rai Scar for the Psychotics was chased by JillBee Stingz after taking the first lead jam of the second half, and hit some tough obstruction by BezZombie. Both teams pushed ahead with points in the next few, with a notable battle between Rat Pack's Scarlet Savage and three blue blockers Suey Sez No, Gnawer Bones and D-Molish, who she eventually out-manoeuvred but not before being recycled. This jam saw the Rat Pack finally break 100 points and land 115 against Geelong's 201. The jam ended with a tumble by (I think) Miss Hellfire, who appeared to contest the fact that it may have been a block to her back. What looked like an official review was called while head ref Ref Wrath tried to sort the situation out. We saw many an official timeout in this second half - sometimes what felt as frequent as once after every jam.

A rare no-point jam followed, with an especially exceptional performance by Rhythm N Bruise, Lola Von Striker and Scarface Johansson for the Psychotics. Nonetheless, they couldn't stop Crash Killmore from getting lead, although she did get recycled back into the pack before any opportunity to score. The Psychotics only snatched a single point in the next one against equally good blocking by A. Nerd and D'Bruisa, taking the score to 202 - 119. The Rat Pack had a lot of work to do points-wise though, if they wanted to stay in with a chance. And a big part of that goal would be to try and reduce the penalties.

Unfortunately it didn't look to be Rat Pack's day - despite fighting hard, the 'hit it and quit it' approach of the Geelong side continued to see time work in their favour, while another string of track cut majors were called on jammers for Ballarat such as VindaSk8ter and BezZombie, and then VindaSk8ter again. From 14 minutes remaining and 137 points for the Rat Pack, it wasn't until 8 minutes and four jams later til they were able to score again at 141, and then 145 thanks to VindaSk8ter's return to the track. By this point, some nice jamming by Penny LePain took the Psychotic score to 286.

Scarface Johansson was ejected from the game with 4 minutes remaining, evidently due to accumulating 7 majors, showing that the Psychotics were no angels themselves with their frequenting of the penalty bin more often than they would like. Their next jam was surprisingly even scrappier: only one blue and black blocker stood on the track to face VindaSk8ter, who cleaned up with a massive 34 points (is that right or did I screw up my notes? - confirmed as per comments below - That's huge!) for the RatPack, taking them to 182. But they still trailed by over 100 points to the Psychotics, and with only 1:48 left on the clock, and with Mabel Stark in the bin, Estee Lauder led her Geelong team to a victory over the 300 mark to 304 vs Rat Pack's 192.

It definitely was the day for Geelong's two strong teams, with very confident and definitive wins. Perhaps it was an omen that their city was nicknamed 'Pivot City' back in the 1800s. As is so often seen in modern derby, both games were a textbook study of the damage that penalties can do to otherwise very strong teams - so long as the opponent understands strategy enough to exploit such situations by taking control of pack speed and positioning. Given that the Psychotics were coached and bench-managed by two seasoned VRDL players in this last game, it was no surprise that they didn't miss any such opportunities.

The Best Western Regional Championship is the first of its kind here in rural Victoria. After the first held in Ballarat, and the second here in Bendigo, the third round will move to Geelong's Leisure Time Centre in Corio on Saturday, October 27th, before culminating in a grand final to be held on November 10th at Melbourne's Puckhandler's Stadium in Reservoir, home of the Melbourne Northside Rollers.

After my witnessing of top-notch country derby, I'll unfortunately miss round three - so I hope someone else covers it. I'll instead be travelling to Sydney to see the VRDL Queen Bees travel team face off against SRDL on that weekend. Next up in my series of recaps, though, will be VRDL's Bout #6 on October 13th - their last before their Grand Final, followed by South Sea Roller Derby's HallowScream on Oct 20th. Derby fever has well and truly gripped me!

Final score
Atom Bombs 255 v Chiko Rollers 134
Psychotics 304 v Rat Pack 192

These photos and more were by Beeetle. See her two albums from the event: Atom Bombs vs Chiko Rollers and Psychotics vs Rat Pack.

24/09: Edited to confirm 34 point jam for VindaSk8ter. Edited to clarify that Warwick SnapHer knew she was indeed lead jammer even though the jammer ref didn't.