Well, it's that time again. While I didn't reach my ambitious goals for the year, I did get to see my share of derby. I made it to three CRG home bouts, one away bout (at Chicago Outfit), and NC Playoffs (barely!). In addition, I got to one Circle City home bout (vs. Chicago Outfit), two Glass City Rollers home bouts (bookending 2012), and one GCR away (again at Chicago Outfit). Somehow, due to quirks in the schedule, I managed to see almost as many Outfit bouts (6) as CRG (7).
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to travel to any of the regular season tournaments, nor did I make it to Detroit, Cleveland, or any other nearby cities to catch some skating. I decided to do basically the same format as last year: a section of CRG superlatives, and one featuring the best of other teams. My list only includes teams I physically saw play, so no Gotham, Denver, Rose, etc. So, let's get on with it!
BEST OF CRG 2012:
MVP Jammer, Black Sheep: Wheezy
Last year, Wheezy earned a place in the regular jammer rotation for the Sheep. This year, she took over. K Lethal was flashy but wildly inconsistent. Hannah OuchoBarbaricCinco fought valiantly through injuries and later ended up on leave. Candy Kickass was strong in limited use. A handful of others tried, with very minimal success. Wheezy, however, was a revelation. Most of the measurables were similar to last year. I didn't notice huge gains in speed or moves. This was all about strength and toughness. Hits that used to take Wheezy to the floor were shrugged off. Rough jams that used to result in 10-0 or worse for the opponent were minimized as she fought through and navigated some rough packs. What's more, she seemed to step up as one of the emotional leaders of the team. Wheezy had a season of consistent positives, but her coming out party took place in Niagara Falls. With K Lethal unavailable, Wheezy showed her North Central competitors that she can be a true #1 jammer. In the final game of Playoffs, Wheezy carried her team to victory over The Outfit, offering a tantalizing peek at what's to come for her in 2013.
MVP Jammer, Violent Lambs: Hot Slice
Hot Slice is a repeat winner in a category that featured roughly 84 entrants. Throughout the season, the Lambs employed wide-open jammer rotations. While many others (Bombtrack and Cherry Choke most notably) had flashes of greatness, Hot Slice was the consistent leader of the Lambs' jammer corps. A quick skater with sharp cuts and a frame that belies her power, Hot Slice missed out on her chance to skate for he Sheep at Playoffs due to an injury. I would not be at all surprised to see her with th Sheep full-time, or at least as a tweener, in 2013.
Most Improved Jammer, CRG: Wheezy (see above)
Honorable Mention: Ruthless Chris
MVP Blocker, Black Sheep: Buckhead Betty
Just when I thought I might have to retire the "Sk8r-Kinney MVP Blocker Award," Betty became a true superstar. She completely owned the front of the pack, dishing out Kinney-esque solo positional blocks and crushing jammer take-outs with equal aplomb. The punishing hits have always been prominent in Betty's game, but all of her other skills took a giant leap forward in 2012. Betty showed vastly quicker lateral movement and excellent agility and body control. In all of the CRG bouts I saw, I can't recall more than 2 or 3 poor or missed blocks. On top of this, the always heady Betty went for her Derby Ph.D.. She was consistently in great position, controlled the pack, and was a vocal and emotional leader. If I had to choose an MVP Blocker among all teams I saw in 2012, I wouldn't put a single great Windy City, Minnesota, Naptown, or other blocker ahead of her. While some of them might be her equal in talent, none was as vital to her team's success as Buckhead Betty.
Honorable Mentions: Sk8r-Kinney, Nuk'em, June With a Cleaver
MVP Blocker, Violent Lambs: Railroad
This is always the toughest category for me. Many good Lambs blockers end up spending significant time with the Sheep. Some have one great game, while others are consistently good. That's the nature of a B-Team. In the past, I was a bit rough on Railroad for her tendency to go for the big hit and whiff. In 2012, however, she became a smarter blocker without losing the intimidation factor. While she hasn't completely shaken the tendency to go for the all-or-nothing, Railroad used improved positioning to minimize the mistakes. With another season of experience to polish her anticipation and lateral movement, Railroad could push for track time with the A-Team.
Honorable Mentions: Pistol Whippin Wendy, Sista Shovechild
Most Improved Blocker, CRG: Buckhead Betty (see above)
Honorable Mentions: Railroad, Mirderher, Garden of Beatin'
Moment/Bout of the Year, CRG: April 21 home doubleheader
Could there be any doubt? In the first game, the Lambs put together quite possibly their most complete performance ever in dismantling Hard Knox, 102-53. The jammers played a smart game, calling off jams to preserve advantages. The blockers pounded and recycled Hard Knox jammers, while also excelling at forming bridges to avoid out-of-play situations. It was a total team effort, as I had 12 Lambs graded above-average or better for the contest. Then, the Sheep faced Tampa Bay. It was a great back-and-forth affair, and the fans were into the action. I love when The Gardens gets loud, and the Sheep gave the fans reason to yell. As the second half waned, CRG clung to a small lead. In the last jam, with a crowd of 4,000 on its feet, CRG secured a 150-143 win. Here is what I posted on Facebook on my way home after the doubleheader:
Stopped for gas somewhere between Cincy and Dayton, looked up while I was at the pump and saw the Hustler Store. No need to stop. Tonight was like sports fan porn. What an amazing pair of bouts for CRG. Last time I was this pumped after a game of any kind, the Blackhawks were skating around with the Stanley Cup. Love my CRG... and I'm spent.
Most Disappointing Moment/Bout of the Year, CRG: Playoff Opener vs. Madison
I arrived at North Central Playoffs just in time to see this bout, fresh (or not so fresh) from a 6+ hour drive. I was very excited, as I expected a close game and a chance to cheer like crazy for my CRG. From the start, this one was ugly. CRG were shorthanded in the jammer rotation, and the coaching staff made some questionable decisions in filling the holes. Normally stout pack skaters looked like they had been absent the day they taught blocking in derby practice. Jammers and blockers alike formed a conga line to the sin bin, rarely leaving CRG with more than three total skaters on the track. This one was a blowout 15 minutes in, and it never really got better. By halftime, I could barely muster a cheer. By early in the second half, I stopped writing in my notebook. Roughly everyone fouled out. I have never seen CRG play so far below their talent and potential.
Best Teammate: TIE - Buckhead Betty / Pistol Whippin Wendy
I feel a bit funny choosing a "Best Teammate" from a team on which I do not play. Nonetheless, I wanted to recognize an underappreciated facet of a successful sports team. Since I am not present at practices, this reflects the skaters who were most essential to the morale and chemistry of the team during bouts. From warm-ups through trackside hand-slaps after the second bout, Betty is never "off." She is always energetic, always encouraging, always doing everything in her power to keep her team and the fans in the game. She takes a strong leadership role, seeking out struggling teammates and trying to jump-start their games. Betty is the ultimate motivator on the track.
Wendy's contributions are a bit different, but equally noteworthy. One of my strongest memories of Wendy from the season came from Playoffs. Due to injuries and other factors, CRG had 15 skaters who were healthy and present for the entire weekend. With 14 rostered for each bout, I expected to see a rotation for that final spot. Instead, CRG kept Wendy out of each and every bout, denying her valuable A-Team experience, even in games that had little bearing on playoff results. A mere mortal would have sulked and groused, especially as the team often showed little of the spark and energy that Wendy is known to provide. Instead, Wendy sat in the crowd very time, yelling encouragement, and never uttering a disparaging word. She was there with her teammates between bouts as well. While it had to hurt her personally, she consistently put her team first. This is far from the only instance of great "teammateship" I saw from Wendy in 2012, but it will stick with me for a long time.
Heavy Artillery Award (biggest hitter), Black Sheep: TIE - Buckhead Betty / Nuk'em
This is an award for big hitting. Both Betty and Nuk'em hit people. Hard. Often. Not much need for explanation here.
Heavy Artillery Award, Violent Lambs: Pistol Whippin Wendy
Wendy hit. Opponent fall down. Go boom. Everyone cheer.
Bad-Ass Award: Hannah Barbaric
In my five-plus years of watching roller derby, there are two skaters who stand out among the toughest athletes I've ever watched: Jackie Daniels and Hannah. Hannah has endured many injuries in her career, and an observer would have to conclude that her style of play is a major factor. Is she quick? Yes. Does she have moves? Sure. Yet, Hannah's style of jamming is defined by pinballing through a tough pack, daring the opposing blockers to knock her down. Simply put, she absorbs a lot of punishment. Despite this, she always bounces back and pushes through, whether it's playing with a broken finger, coming back quickly from a leg injury, or simply lining up and busting through the pack on her next turn after a tough jam. Hannah Barbaric is the picture of toughness, and she should be an inspiration to athletes everywhere.
BEST OF (non-CRG) ROLLER DERBY 2012:
MVP Jammer, Playoff Teams: Harmony Killerbruise, Minnesota Rollergirls
MVP Jammer, non-Playoff Teams: Vivi Section, Circle City Derby Girls
MVP Blocker, Playoff Teams: Sargentina, Windy City Rollers
MVP Blocker, non-Playoff Teams: Sonic Crush, Glass City Rollers
Heavy Artillery Award: Lady K, Chicago Outfit
Breakout Star: The Smacktivist, Ohio Rollergirls
Moment/Bout of the Year: OHRG upsets Arch Rival, first round of playoffs.
Most Disappointing Moment/Bout of the Year: Chicago Outfit A vs. Midwest Megateam
New Favorites of 2012 (Rookies, skaters I saw for the first time, or skaters who made a big impression on me for the first time):
Majestic, Naptown Rollergirls
Second Hand Smoke, Minnesota Rollergirls
Kitty Liquorbottom, Ohio Rollergirls
Mayor Francis Slayer, Arch Rival Rollergirls
Jennergizer Bunny, Chicago Outfit