Queen Bees maintain the sting on Geelong's Bloody Marys 9 / Jul / 2014
This recap was first published on VRDL's site here - I am cross-posting it here as an individual article and for discussion if anyone wants to use the Facebook comment feature.
Do you remember the Vic/Tas Tournament of 2013? It was one of the most ambitious roller derby tournaments of recent years, with 16 leagues bouncing from venue to venue, culminating in Derrimut with a 6-league battle and one emerging champion of VRDL Queen Bees.
You do remember it? Lucky you. I, on the other hand, missed every - single - bout, but recently got the chance to imagine the experience of attending the final. That's because, like November last year, the VRDL Queen Bees were set to face off once again against their long-time rivals (and friends!), the Geelong Roller Derby League's Bloody Marys, in what was thought of by some to be an unofficial rematch.
The bout took place shortly after the previous match-up of VRDL's Gold Lions vs WestSide Glory on Saturday 21st June, at VRDL's home quarters of Darebin Community Sports Centre. I can't go further without mentioning that the second game kicked off with a hilarious and stylish dance-off intro by the Queen Bees, which you can catch a snippet of here.
First up to jam was Mad Pixie for Geelong, and Ivy K'Nivey for the Queen Bees. Mad Pixie was first to escape the pack, but found Ivy hot on her heels. Bolting for blocker hips after her initial pass, Mad Pixie overtook a pair of hips before hastily calling it, but Ivy's speed had already paid off - by the fourth whistle, the VRDL jammer had picked up 3 points.
With VRDL's Hannah Rose extending that lead to 8 - 1, it wasn't long before the first power jam was to hit, and it was in the Queen Bees' favour - if that's the right word - because what went down was some of the most brutal and effective blocking I have ever seen by any roller derby league, period. The Bloody Marys' contingent of Rai Scar, Nitro Nutter and Bloody Gnawer introduced some obstructive wall-ups that was of a calibre I've not seen the Geelong side produce before. Other spectators also were impacted by this, though perhaps not as much as the VRDL skaters were!
Suffice it to say, Ivy, being no stranger to a tough opposition, came away strong with some confident footwork, and was able to escalate the margin to 27 - 1 for the home team. Mad Pixie answered with a very fast hit-and-quit of 2 points, but couldn't come away with more as her VRDL opponents played the situation smartly and kept ahead of her own teammates in a rapidly rotating pack.
GRDL continued to alternate Mad Pixie with the reputable and reliable veteran Ace of Hearts, but the latter skater experienced frustration trying to surpass the pack, with recent VRDL recruits such as Talibamma Slamma keeping those opportunities firmly closed. The score was pushed to 41 - 3 for the Queen Bees before the Bloody Marys called a timeout to see if they could find a way to reverse some of this damage.
While their blockers continued to consistently deliver, some vigour was renewed in Geelong's jammers as VRDL defenders took repeated visits to the box. There was some confusion when Ace of Hearts was sent off for a high block, followed by Queen Bee jammer Viola Rumble, but the latter was beckoned back on track. In the haltered momentum, Viola was called for a low block and sent off after all! Ace wasted no time getting back on 8 wheels and achieved a much-needed grand slam. Mad Pixie rode this wave several jams later while her opponent Ivy K'Nivey struggled to negotiate a path through that astonishing Geelong wall, and the Geelong jammer performed a beautiful apex jump to much crowd jubilation, but to VRDL's objection. The home team sought that an out-of-bounds call on Vajazzler be withdrawn, claiming her contact with the airborne (and therefore technically still 'in bounds') jammer was legal. Unfortunately the call was retained.
Soon the score stood at 74 to 31 in VRDL's favour. Viola Rumble tried to capitalise on her opposing GRDL jammer Ellen B Rage's delay in the penalty box, but Geelong's blockers upped the ante and came down on her super hard. She got the opportunity to try again later, assisted by some top-notch VRDL defense by Judgement Jay and Ms. Rhi, who forced a penalty on Death Roll Doll, allowing the VRDL jammer to extend the lead to 91 - 36 before more referee calls baffled player and skater alike - she was called for a track cut but then beckoned back on.
So far, a consistent and growing lead for VRDL was making its case. Yet Geelong's powerhouse of heavy-hitting blockers - perhaps putting more bruises on their opponents than their jammers could put points on the board - were playing some excellent derby nonetheless, and it did not go unnoticed.
As half time approached, Geelong's luck improved. Once again with only one VRDL blocker on the track after Judgement Jay went off for blocking out-of-bounds, Mad Pixie sped through a whopping 33 point power jam, taking the score to 115 - 73. VRDL pushed theirs to 118 just before the half time whistle blew. With 45 points between the teams, this was as derby as derby can be: if one power jam can almost change it all, what could two in a row do?
The concluding half of this bout arrived after some entertaining acrobatic antics by a young fella in a green shirt who appeared to have a GRDL affiliation and kept the crowd quite amused with his amalgamation of cartwheels and break-dancing. Can we get that kid back again?
Anyway, as if anticipating my last thought lingering in the echo of that half-time whistle, Geelong returned Mad Pixie to the track, who snatched another power jam off the bat. Deftly slipping through the inside on a series of passes, she left no hips unchallenged and came away with another 23 points. The score - first at 118 - 96, followed by 121 - 108 when a star pass by Hannah Rose to Ivy K'Nivey failed to pay off - truly was causing many in the crowd to ponder whether we were about to see the first lead change of this match.
The Queen Bees, perhaps sensing the imminent danger, began to employ more superbly aggressive tactics. Blocker The Cleminist forced a track cut on Death Roll Doll and opened up another opportunity for Hannah Rose to push the score forward, echoing a previous successful power jam by Ivy. Geelong's Carmen Attcha and Ronnie Ruckus continued to perform some of those signature mega-hits that are perhaps iconic of their league, but it was not enough to stop the VRDL lead extending once again as it had in the first: now at 164 - 119.
Down to the last 17 minutes of the game, the battle appeared to become one of wits and fatigue. Ivy K'Nivey, herself having one heck of a bout, still had the energy reserves to perform some outstanding agility reminiscent of All-Star skaters such as Mad Mel or Swish Cariboom. Proving, perhaps, that confidence on skates is half the battle, she withstood the impact of Geelong's fearsome blocking finesse, and approached 200 points in earnest.
Meanwhile, the referees began to rain down increasing penalty calls on Geelong, and the frustration of this was evident both in skater and spectator alike. Queen Bee's Green Eggs & Slam escalated opportunities to prevent the Bloody Marys from forming effective walls, and assisted Hannah Rose to take what had begun at the second half with a narrow differential, to almost 100 points between the sides at 222 - 125.
One could feel the strain on some jams as, as one skater put to me, 'the crazy took over', sometimes at the cost of cohesion on the track, in the desperate lunge for victory. Both teams certainly suffered losses: VRDL's Vajazzler, followed by GRDL's Ellen B Rage in the last 5 minutes of the bout. Ace of Hearts, in what undoubtedly was a frustrating game for her, was called for a track cut, then emerged only to pick up a forearm, and soon also fouled out. The Queen Bees, unrelenting and ambitious, made every second count as these upsets transpired for the visitors. The score soon stood at 269 - 131.
Meanwhile, VRDL somehow managed to keep finding gaps through those Bloody Marys, opportunities that were invisible to many of us on the sidelines. It was clear that notorious players such as Nitro Nutter continuing to punish VRDL jammers with epic hits, but the referees were often responding to some of those with penalty. So the resistance gradually dwindled against the home team despite many respectable efforts.
Statistically, with the full-time whistle imminent, VRDL had accumulated 102 points compared to GRDL's 15 - and that was just in the second half. The dominance of the home side was unmistakable in its rotation of jammers, effective dismantling of walls at key moments, and evading the lure of the penalty box when it counted most.
In the madness of the last minute or so, this wild ride concluded with VRDL increasing their overall score to 274, with the Bloody Marys remaining at 131 points.
It is an overused phrase that threatens to become cliché, and I am loath to use it - but in this case, the final score truly did not reflect the story of the bout as a whole. Power jams and penalties may have peppered the scoreboard and line-ups, especially in the second half, but these came and went between whistles, just as they did in the memories of those that watched this game.
Instead, the display of Geelong's relentlessly ferocious blocking is what no doubt remains vivid in the minds of those who watched (or were subject to!) that performance. The visiting team, unable to topple the Queen Bees from the championship taken at the Vic/Tas tournament last year, still played the most impressive defensive game I've seen of them, while also coming within a hair's breath of a dramatic lead change mid-way through the match.
But it was VRDL's honed edge of gameplay mastery in the face of hectic conditions, keen awareness of track position and strategic execution, all of which were woven together with sheer skating talent. The result? A textbook example of why the travel teams from this league continue to carve out a reputation that precedes them, across this derby-mad country and beyond.
Final score: VRDL 274 - GRDL 131