Texas Rollergirls, Heartbroken No More
It was about the end of the first period of last weekend's Texas Rollergirls championship bout between the Hotrod Honeys and the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers that my fiancee turned and pondered – where's Flash Gorgeous?
It was a good question. The Heartbreakers had opened the bout with a slim but definite lead over the Hotrods, but their back had seemed broken around jam 15 when Kitty Karnage had gone to the box, leaving eternal Hotrods menace Olivia Shootin' John a clear track for a 29 point powerjam. The closing minutes of the first period had been a hard scrabble, with jammers from both teams flying in and out of the box. But a closing rush by newcomer Artemischief gave the Hotrods quintuple grand slams, and a 116-80 lead at the intermission.
This was an unexpected turn of events. No-one ever got rich betting against the Hotrods, but the Heartbreakers should have had this in the bag – or at least somewhere near it. This is the team in the league with the deepest jammer rotation, and Flash Gorgeous has been a key part of it. What were coaches Kelli and Koolaid thinking, keeping her on the bench and rolling her out for a few rolls in the pack as a blocker. Why weren't they jamming her?
25 minutes later, it was obvious. They hadn't been playing her as a blocker. They'd been keep her warmed up, waiting for an opportunity. With less than five minutes on the clock, that opportunity presented itself. Hotrods mainstay Haus the Boss, who impresses more and more every season, was in the box for a track cut. And suddenly, unopposed on the jam line, it's Flash. By the time Haus has served her time, that 183-136 scoreline gap had shrunk to 183-165. The Hotrods had the advantage, but they definitely did not have the momentum.
Flash had opened the door, but it was her fellow Heartbreakers Nae Slayer and Barbie Got Back who slammed it shut in the Hotrods' collective face. They had been tagging in and out for much of the second half, grinding out a few points here and there, still trailing behind the Hotrods by 30 to 50 points, but nothing that a hefty power jam and some lucky breaks couldn't fix. Flash started that erosion, and Nae crammed the crowbar in deep when Bloody Mary took Haus' slot on the track and then in the penalty box. Out of nowhere, this was a tied game.
And then things got really tense. In a game that had been dominated by a "hit it and quit it" style of play, two micro-jams ran the clock down to 10 seconds in the period. That left time for one more jam, and the refs ran it as overtime. It should have been advantage Hotrods again. Barbie had been slogging all bout, and she had only two Heartbreaker blockers out of the penalty box, compared to three Hotrods for Haus.
Before you ask, damn straight everyone was on their feet. This was going to set records. The Heartbreakers hadn't held the championship since 2006, the Hotrods since 2010. Both sat on three reigns, and either way this went, that meant a record fourth league championship.
What happened left the Hotrods shocked. A neck and neck jam, with blockers peeling back in and out of play. Barbie and Haus, each adding points and seeing them answered straight back. And then, in the closing seconds, Barbie got the edge, pulling ahead by five points against a depleted Hotrods pack and closing the door, 204-199. The Heartbreakers, the nicest women in the sport, had broken their six year dry spell. The bold? crazy? all of the above decision to hold Flash back had paid off. Personally, I wouldn't recommend anyone trying it twice, but leaving her in the deck until the last possible moment threw all the cards in the air. Fortunately for the Heartbreakers, no-one on the Hotrods saw this game of 52 Pickup coming.
It was a bittersweet moment, in a way. As the title was lifted in the air, everyone knew this was the final home team bout for two retiring Heartbreakers, Runaway Tre and the irreplacable, irrepressible Devil Grrl. We'd already lost another beating heart of the Texas Rollergirls earlier that night with the last lap of honor for eternal Hell Mary, the one and only Muffin Tumble. Along with co-Hells Peppermint Bratty and Dodge, she's hanging up her skates.
Sure, Muffin has one bout left: She'll be part of the Firing Squad travelling B-Team bout, taking on Assassination City when they come down from Dallas on August 10. And maybe this wasn't the way she would have wanted her teammates to finish their seasons, with a 183-209 loss to the Hustlers in the evening's opening battle for third place. But there's a certain narrative excellence to knowing that the ever-grinning OG skater, the 11 season veteran, ended the bout in the penalty box that she had impishly occupied so many times. Pretty sure the first bout I ever saw Muffin skate, she ended up throwing down with another skater.
And, yeah, it seems like a season where the Hells dropped from first to last might be something to worry about. But this was a year where the Hotrods remained consistent, the Heartbreakers excelled, and – most importantly for this bout – the Hustlers found the spark that had been missing all season.
That spark's name is co-captain Me Shove You Long Time. Watching Shovey play is always a joy. Sure, maybe there are skaters faster and more seasoned than her. But watching her work the Hustlers' line as captain, keeping them motivated and directed, with a smile on her face that matched any grin that lit up Muffin's mug? That's a delight.
The Hells have nothing to embarrassed about. After a bout-of-the-year contender against the Heartbreakers last month, they could have sat on the bench all bout and still have had a stellar season. But when Sinnerfold opened up a slow-rolling game with a 19 point power jam within the first five minutes, you saw why they took the title last year.
But for the Hustlers, this was the big test. It was little secret that they fell apart after their 2011 championship win. Bad communication, low spirits and just lacklustre derby had left a shadow over them, and it was hard to see how they could break that streak. In terms of raw experience, after two years of major retirements they are the least seasoned team on the track. But off the track they're boosted by Babe Ruthless, the 2011 captain that devised the playbook that took them to the top. What were green skaters are now the green shoots of a new generation.
Honestly? When the Hustlers came together and gave the Hells a real fight, the plaid-clad bruisers were the first to congratulate their opponents in purple. Because if both teams are playing at that level next year, no-one can rule out a rematch for the gold.