Long Time Coming
New Texas Rollergirls champions close out 2011 season
By Richard Whittaker,
5:49PM, Mon. Aug. 8, 2011
Forget burnt orange: On Saturday night, Austin went disco purple and hellfire red as the Hustlers took their first Texas Rollergirls championship since 2003 and the Hell Marys broke their multiyear home field losing streak.
Both results had been a long, long, long time coming, and came with their own resonance. For the Hells, it was the simple joy of knowing that they can win at home. For the Hustlers, it was a reversal for fortune against the seemingly unstoppable force known as the Hotrod Honeys. The pink and black machine had stormed to three successive championships and the Hustlers had been beaten back by their pack time and again. But anyone who paid attention to last year's title bout knew how closely matched they were, even back then.
The first sign of vulnerabilities in the Hotrods' well-oiled mechanisms came at the season-opening round robin, where the Hustlers broke the reigning champs perfect record. Now there was a lot of talk about whether a win in a 15 minute mini-bout counted, and when the pair met in March for the full 40 minutes, the Hotrods got a full-formed victory. But either way the reigning champs knew they faced a real challenge.
So come Sunday it was curtain up on the big bout, and act one was all about the D. Hauss the Boss (a good contender for the Hotrods' 'most improved') lining up against Hustler all-star Molotov M. Pale for the opening jam should mean high scores, but a slow start and a dense pack meant the Hustlers broke the scoreline with a magnificent one pointer. Same deal when Bloody Mary put the Hotrods on the board in jam three, as the Hustlers' wall held and held strong. This was the proverbial meat grinder in action.
That leitmotif of a heavy defense was strongest in jam four, just before the Hotrods first pulled into the lead: Hauss got sent to the box after the Hustlers' pack lured her into a major track cut, but even with the benefit of a power jam The Killa Sal Monella could not get any traction or points. That cut both ways: Six jams later, even with Hustler veteran Curvette in the box, an unopposed Vicious Van GoGo could only pull out two grand slams to push the Hotrods further ahead, 26-13. That's a lot in such a tight game, but the fact that it was so tight – especially when both teams were reaching so deep into their jamming rosters – was stunning.
And then the second period started, and the Hustlers became the soloists of act two.
The first jam looked like it was going to be a continuation of the first period (nothing like a meat-grinder opening to lower expectations.) Even when Vicious headed straight to the box with a major back block, no-one expected much in the way of a score change: Then when Molotov got caught up in a shoving match with Vargas Grrl at the front of the pack, it still seemed like the same story. Three grand slams and 17 points later, it was obvious that the Hustlers were in the mood to dominate. Same deal two jams later: This time, it was Hauss in the box and Shank in a valiant fight to hold back Sal – then to just hold her back for ten points. Somehow the bout had gone from a halftime scoreline of 26-20 for the Hotrods to a 28-49 lead for the Hustlers in under eight minutes. The challengers kept matching or beating the champs in every jam, until Bloody Mary had to watch from the box as Sal racked up a triple grand slam and secured a seemingly unassailable Hustlers lead, 36-82.
Time for act three. Knowing that the Hotrods were unlikely to pull off a massive multi-grand slam game changer, the Hustlers switched strategy to run out the clock. Let the Hotrods score some points, or even bite a little into their lead: Just let them burn off those last few minutes. The Hotrods went down fighting, but the final whistle blew on a 94-52 victory for the new champs.
It was an emotional moment: Not that the crowd hadn't already had a moment of sheer catharsis. The Hells have been at the bottom of the heap for so long that it almost seemed like the natural order of things. Being fourth place in one of the best leagues in the nation still makes you better than most, but it's still a tough place to be. So their first home win in three seasons was the second biggest victory of the year. The biggest was building themselves up into a team that could beat the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers: Not by luck, or a few good moments or star players, but by strategy and cohesion.
What was surprising was how quickly they took the lead, scoring in all of the first five jams and shutting the Heartbreakers down for a 19-0 lead. The Heartbreakers managed to ricochet back eventually, and were even leading 30-39 by the half (courtesy of back-to-back power jams from Short Cut) but it was another defense-heavy slog. Both teams had to call jams early because the opposing jammer was right on their tail; Both teams were racking up enough penalties that they deployed slow starts to run out their box times; And neither team was pulling up monstrous scoring opportunities.
So what gave the Hells their chance for glory? Take the last three jams of the first period. Breakout transfer Smarty Pants went to the box for four minors, leaving Heartbreakers' rising talent Nae Slayer in the power jam position. This is when the 2010 Hells would have suffered, but the 2011 Hells stood their ground. First Virgo Vengeful body-checked Nae hard, then the Hells' front wall boxed the Heartbreaker in. Next jam, Smarty comes out, gets hit with a major, goes straight back into the box and, rather than being demoralized, the Hells locked Short Cut down. Three back-to-back power jams, and the Heartbreakers only got 19 points: Impressive, but not a blowout.
The Hells and their loyal Local 666 fan base would be the first to admit it: Two years ago, that would have been the start of a rout. Add on Rita Menweep opening the second period with a double grand slam to put the Heartbreakers ahead 29-49, and that would have been the end of it. But the 2011 Hells held it together until a triple grand slam from co-captain Speedyrella put them back in contention.
Not that the Heartbreakers were going down easy (if Hells mainstay Kat A. Killzem woke up on Sunday with a Devil Grrl-shaped bruise no-one should be surprised): But when the Hells took a victory lap with a 71-56 final score, then the sound of AC/DC's 'Hells Bells' had never been sweeter.