Rolling in the win: Bendigo Chikos triumph over Ballarat Rat Pack, 10/11/12 26 / Nov / 2012
Three weeks ago I had the pleasure of witnessing the grand final of the Best Western Regional tournament - a gripping conclusion to months of derby goodness between three rural leagues: Ballarat Roller Derby League's Rat Pack, Bendigo's Chiko Rollers, and Geelong Roller Derby's two teams the Atom Bombs and the Psychotics.
But like everyone else, sadly derby is not something I can enjoy full-time. Work and health have taken their toll during and after that event: so, a quick note to thank everyone who kindly and generously offered their own stylish suggestions for introducing this piece in classic crowd-sourcing derby fashion - you can read them over here. Sharon VanillaSlicer, I owe you some laughs :)
After experiencing only a glimpse of Victoria's Best Western Regionals at the Hoedown Showdown, I made sure not to miss the grand final of this epic country tournament, showcasing, as it had been for the last few months, the best of the best in the often-overlooked rural derbyverse.
The entire series of events had traversed each home team's town, beginning with Ballarat on August 19th, Bendigo on September 22nd, and Geelong on October 27th. However, the final was to be held on neutral ground in Melbourne, at Puckhandlers Stadium in Reservoir, home of the Melbourne Northside Rollers, on November 10th 2012.
Geelong Roller Derby League fielded two teams who defeated both the Dragon City Chiko Rollers (Bendigo) and Ballarat Rat Pack at Dawn Of The Derby on October 27th. Thus the final saw Geelong's Atom Bombs go up against their sister team the Psychotics for the ultimate grand final. First up, however, would be a concluding duel between friendly rivals Ballarat and Dragon City.
The first game opened with the Chiko Rollers very quickly making their intent obvious on the track. Their jammer Summer Reign quickly burst out in front in an early jam, carrying away a 22 point powerjam while her opposing jammer Little Piece went to the bin for a track cut. Midget Mayhem took it further with another 14 points shortly after in a very similar jam (Ballarat jammer D'Bruisa also visiting the bin), taking the Chikos to 36 to 0.
With D'Bruisa still in the bin from that previous jam, Invader Zoom stepped up to jam for the Dragon City side, breaking out past Scarlett Savage but soon sent careening out of bounds by Ballarat's Crash Killmore and BezZombie.
Meanwhile, D'Bruisa returned to the track from the bin and snuck through a gap on the inside of the pack. Although the Rat Pack jammer was not yet on a scoring pass, Chiko's Invader Zoom nonetheless opted to call it off.
Penalties continued to climb as the next jam saw both jammers Mabel Stark (Ballarat) and Fuzzy Merkin (Bendigo) visit the bin shortly after each other.
Once both jammers were back on, the pack picked up some serious pace as Stark slipped past Summer Reign, Lamb Chops and Midget Mayhem. In further good news for Ballarat, Vanilla Slicer also dealt a fantastic hit against Fuzzy Merkin, and this jam saw the Rat Pack finally get their first 13 points up on the board, chasing after Bendigo's 54 points with 21 minutes remaining in the first.
Ballarat began to really increase their defensive walls and force a few penalties on Bendigo. Notable blockers were BezZombie, D'Bruisa and Vanilla Slicer. Some resulting power jams allowed them to advance to a score of 24 against 67, to 42 against 68. and one really got the feeling this was going to be a close match.
But the teamwork between the Chiko blockers and their jammers continued to demonstrate a very strong dynamic on the track. The black and red team once again began to drag themselves a bit further out of reach with a series of short 4-0 scoring jams (sometimes even when their jammer was not lead) - albeit with some penalty slip-ups at the same time.
With roughly 4 minutes remaining in the first, a sudden powerjam was opened up for ChickenDawg of the Chikos when Vindask8tr visited the bin. The Rat Pack mustered Crash Killmore, Mabel Stark and Jillbee Stingz to try and hold the line as the Chikos slowed the pack. But ChickenDawg slid straight through them for multiple passes, ultimately notching up another 28 points for her team before the jam concluded.
With a few minutes left, the Rat Pack quickly recovered from this upset. Mabel Stark stepped up to jam and deftly dodged through the pack for lead and 4 points while Lamb Chops encountered stiff opposition from the fierce blocking duo Katie KaPow and Vanilla Slicer.
The good fortune continued for Ballarat as JillBee Stingz withstood the characteristically notorious blocking skills of Ya Mum, and was awarded a power jam after Invader Zoom went to the bin with a back block. Fuzzy Merkin dropped a big hit on the Ballarat jammer, along with more punishment from the relentless Ya Mum, but this did not stop JillBee from collecting 9 points by the time the half was over.
Half time! After a very solid start by the Chikos, they had maintained a decent but not infallible lead ahead of the Rat Pack throughout the first half - and they had actually also committed slightly more major penalties than the Ballarat team (15 to 12). However, as the period clock had wound down, the Rat Pack clearly switched on with a solid revenge mission, surging forward with an extra 13 or 14 points. With the score at 72 - 131 in Dragon City's favour, Rat Pack had left Puckhandlers echoing a clearly defined message for their rival and the crowd alike: they were far from done yet.
The concluding half of this game opened with powerjam exchanges a-plenty. It started with Dragon City's ChickenDawg who took another 22 points after JillBee Stingz visited the bin twice in the first jam.
After a slow start in the next line-up, along with some jammer-on-jammer scuffles even prior to entering the pack, Slinky Ice darted out first after Fiddle Fingers landed a terrific block on D'Bruisa who was jamming for Ballarat. Slinky (who would ultimately end up scoring the most points for Bendigo this day) further took another 15 to bring the score up to 72 - 173.
The 100-point lead wasn't long-lasting, however. Invader Zoom, dodging Crash Killmore and coming out with lead jammer status, collided with BezZombie and Vindask8tr, and their blocking technique led the Bendigo jammer to cop a back block and the loss of her advantage.
D'Bruisa was quick to jump on this powerjam for Ballarat, and single-handedly used brute force to push opponents Ya Mum and FiddleFingers back beyond the 20ft line. Ya Mum then was taken out entirely with a trip to the bin (possibly for an out of play penalty), thus removing a significant piece of the Chiko defense during what was already a great jam for Ballarat: it ended with a 23 point increase for this team, though Invader Zoom did sneak back onto the track towards the end and pull a quiet 4 points too.
Nonetheless, despite these small victories for the Rat Pack, it was the Chiko Rollers who appeared to retain control for at least the first 15 minutes of the second half. As always in derby, the reasons for this tended to be a complex mixture of strategy and good use of time by the Dragon City girls, but also because Rat Pack (who were also down 3 of their usual contingent in this match) were letting slip a few more penalties than they did in the first period. In these modern derby days of serious pack control and long powerjams, losing a jammer and several blockers can be a difficult catastrophe to bounce back from.
Rat Pack were just 2 points short of hitting the century mark, while Slinky Ice took the Chikos over the 200s to 222 with a 28 point powerjam when Little Piece was issued a track cut penalty. Little Piece fixed this after returning to the track on the next jam after her time in the bin, recovering well from a recycling by Fuzzy Merkin on her pass. But a series of snappy 'hit-and-quit' jams by the Chikos held them in the low 100s.
Though Ballarat began to develop more successful techniques for evading the powerhouse of Ya Mum and other Chiko blockers, consistent lead jammer statuses were in the hands of the Bendigo team, which allowed them to control much of the outcome over the next 10 to 15 minutes.
Soon only 2 minutes remained in the game, by which point the Chikos were sitting on a decisively comfortable 289 with the Rat Pack persevering fiercely at 122. The Bendigo team returned Assault 'N' Pepper to jam, whom they had made use of in the second half more than the first. This veteran SRDL skater was somewhat of a subtle, secret weapon for the Chikos back at the Hoedown Showdown despite their defeat. On this day, her gift to the league was once again an enormous boon, and especially in this second last jam.
As the whistle blew, the Chiko guest skater leapt from the line into the path of Scarlett Savage. She pushed past the Ballarat blocker as rival jammer Crash Killmore was taken off to the bin (I believe for a low block, against Chickendawg) by the referees. On a subsequent pass, Scarlett Savage tripped Assault 'N' Pepper and was also sent off. Vindask8tr stepped up to try and fill the gap in the Rat Pack defense, delivering a sizeable check on the powerjammer but at this momentum, Assault 'N' Pepper continued unabated in one of the largest power jams I, and possible Australia as a whole, has ever seen. As Crash Killmore returned from the penalty box, the red-and-black force of nature finally called it off, the digits glowing an incredible 39 points to her name on the scoreboard!
It almost seemed as though it would be full time, at 122 - 328 for the Chikos, however one more jam was snuck in. In this thrilling conclusion to the hardest fought of games, Ya Mum donned the star for the first time in the match, alongside Vanilla Slicer for the Rat Pack, and an unusual, high-spirited pivot line start was agreed upon mutually by both teams.
Ya Mum, weaving past the clutches of BezZombie, responded to the jammer's lead-status whistle with a burst of speed as Vanilla Slicer was pushed out of bounds by Invader Zoom and Fiddle Fingers. After snatching 3 points, though, the popular Chiko skater took a massive fall after a collision between the second and third turns. As Ya Mum lay still for a moment before the referees' realised the incident, fears suddenly rose as it became apparent she'd sustained an injury (the last thing a budding RDX guest skater would want!).
However, after a few moments, she was able to rise to her feet to the relief and applause of all onlookers. Finally, the game was wound up for good, delivering a big win to the Chiko Rollers with a score of 331 over the Rat Pack's 122.
Dragon City Chiko Rollers 331
Ballarat Rat Pack 122
It's been a while since this game took place, from time of writing, but a significant element to that Chiko victory is still resounding off the walls of social networks, e-mails, and no doubt the Dragon City headquarters. After 5 losses against the perpetually strong and impressive performance of the Ballarat Rat Pack, few wins can possibly taste as sweet when the effort put into changing this course of events was so obviously, and outstandingly, spent.
But this was no simple revenge match: these two leagues share a history of co-operation and inspiration that inevitably forms bonds even intertwined within the rivalry: in some way, it's the Rat Pack's encouragement of their sisters, both in the tournament and in training, that no doubt pushed the Chikos harder to excel. By being a tough team to beat, competition was never compromised, and that benefits everyone (yes, even the spectators :) ). For this reason, the Rat Pack can surely take a bit of pride that the Chikos' deep respect for their Ballarat cohorts inspired them to pull out all stops to break their winning streak. It's the very definition of hard fought, well deserved success that I think was paradoxically celebrated on both sides.
Judging by the smiles on the faces of both teams as they took their high-five tours of the track that Saturday, I think I might be right.
Coming up next, from that same day, the grand final between Geelong's two teams: the Atom Bombs and the Psychotics.
Special thanks to Fiddle Fingers for sending me lots of useful stats from the game - and to all those who helped get this recap over the line.