How to Get to Portland

Full recap of the Texecutioners triple win at last weekend's Battle Royale western regionals

How to Get to Portland
Photo by Richard Whittaker

If any Roller Derby fan claimed they weren't nervous about last weekend's Women's Flat Track Derby Association's Western Regional finals in Houston, Battle Royale '08, they were probably fibbing. Because, like so many events in the gulf region post-Hurricane Ike, there were nerves it might not happen. Yet somehow, hosts the Houston Rollergirls managed to shake off any damage and bring one of the three biggest events on the derby calendar to fruition. Twelve teams from the region (three from Texas, three from Colorado, plus Arizona, California, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington State) gathered to sort out who'll be going to the Northwest Knockdown in Portland, Or., Nov. 14-16.

And what a weekend it was, filled with firsts and lasts. It's the last time there will only be two regionals, since the sheer number of WFTDA-sanctioned teams means there will be four regions next year. Rising star Kamikaze Kim of Duke City and retiring icon Snot Rocket of Kansas City both walked away with a new WFTDA record: 25 points and five grand slams in a single bout. There was the unmissable opportunity for many players, gathered in the Verizon Theater, to sit in a balcony and get a unique bird's eye view of the track, seeing the difference that a tight pack really means.

It was also the weekend that Austin's own Texas Rollergirls' Texecutioners came back to the top of their region and set their sights on the national championship once again.

With a first-round bye, Texas pulled double-duty Saturday, opening up by taking on Denver's Rocky Mountain Rollergirls after they took down hosts Houston. But if Denver thought they were taking over the Lone Star state, they were sorely mistaken. This was text book Texas, dominating from moment one. With a 100+ point lead for 15 of the 41 jams, this seemed like a warm-up bout. Impressive as the final 173-50 win was, the reality was that it was overshadowed by one fact. Texas had to get past this bout to get their shot at Seattle's Rat City, and it was personal.

Turn back the clock a year: At the 2007 nationals in Austin, Rat City shouldercharged Texas out of the way, in part because they played a better mental game. From the bleachers back then, it was clear that the hometown girls were frustrated, and gave Seattle too many opportunities. But it was the sidelining and injuring of Lady X by Ann R. Kissed, followed by her seeming refusal to take the traditional respectful knee, that turned the entire auditorium against Rat City. That grudge has stuck and almost overshadowed every other match of the weekend.

For fans unaware of this underlying tension, what made this match-up exciting was the clash of styles, obvious from the first jam. Rat City specialize in high-impact aggression, and Rice Rocket got thrown off her start by some highly effective attempted jammer take-downs. No-one is going to take anything away from startling speed jammers like Miss Fortune, and the secret arsenal of the deadly three sisters – D-Bomb, Femme Fatale and Blonde An' Bitchen. But the line between aggression and dangerous play is a thin one. Sporting accidents are inevitable, but sometimes watching Seattle is like watching the early-80's LA Raiders or the mid-70s Leeds United: No-one that good ever needs to play with disregard for other players' safety.

It looked like the night might become a repeat of 2007: First points went to Texas, but then their mojo seemed broken. Rat City's Miss Fortune screamed through to a double grand slam, and Seattle owned lead jammer status. It took until jam 7, with Rice pulling her own double grand slam out to tie 21-21, that Texas looked to even have a shot.

Then, seeming catastrophe: Rice took a heavy hit, then got crushed under a falling player. Escorted off the track, she also ended up in the penaty box on four minors, while Blonde An'Bitchen racked up a triple grand slam. For the longest time, Texas was lagging by 15 points, and they've never had a reputation as come-back kids. Trailing by double-digits for 17 jams, they slowly clawed back the singles and a vital 10 point boost from Morphine, while Seattle seemed to stall a little.

It was jam 30 when momentum finally changed: A double grand slam from Rice gave Texas a slim 93-85 lead, and Rat City couldn't find a hole in the pack or a spare seat in the penalty box. The communication that makes Texas such a dominatinng force was evident, as the Texas pack dense with agile blockers like Bullet Tooth Tracy, Desi Cration and Friction Vixxen played immovable object. Even with the track to herself while jammer Desi spent the last jam in the penalty box, Miss Fortune couldn't beat the point spread or the clock. The final score of 108-94 seemed like a vindication, with a tearful Texecutioners mobbed by their fans. As bench coach Cheap Trixie put it, Texas won the way they wanted to win it.

Hopefully, the bout helped dispel some of the animosity towards Rat City that has pervaded the association, and the round of applause that greeted the new #3 seed at the Sunday night afterparty has put all the ill-will behind them.

Not that the Texecutioners were facing lightweights in their third bout of the weekend: after all, it was for the western regional championship and the region's number one seeding at nationals. San Francisco's B.A.D All-Stars are another hard-hitting team, with possibly the best power blocker in the west in the form of the fearsome Demanda Riot. They can match any team in top-tier jammers and, like Rat City, they bring the hurt straight from the starting line. With VixXxen expelled from the first period for four majors (not, as previously reported by this writer, against Rat City: sorry VixXxen, my bad), it felt like Texas was still having trouble with the high-impact style, and again trailed until jam 10.

This was a moment when the biggest wild card of the weekend was a game-changer: the latest WFDTA rule set, version 3.1, and how jammerless jams (When both jammers are in the penalty box) affect play. A blocker from each team gets pulled from the pack and has to wear the jammer's starred helmet. Frankly that benefits the Texecutioners for one reason only: the sheer depth of their bench. Being able to pull a fearsome blocker or pivot like Lucille Brawl or Lady Xtreme out of the pack, and know that they can create a grand slam, is a difference-maker: especially since the pack is still so strong without them. With high-class pivot-blockers like Tracy and VixXxen in the mix, it's proof that Texas isn't just jammers in waiting, but real multiple threats (It also points to the need for better skills cross-training as an inevitable part of top-tier intraleague play.)

But back to the bout. Jam 10 was when Lucille pulled out exactly what Texas needed: a triple grand slam to tie the score 27-27.

As if to prove that the Rat City come-back wasn't a one-off, Texas switched gears and scored grand slam after grand slam, while Bay Area was left grinding out ones and twos, stalling for long periods and only scoring in 13 of the 40 periods. It was frustrating for them, and Taxi Scab got ejected for throwing her helmet while returning to the bench.

The final score of 135-59 doesn't reflect how close the play was. But overall it was vintage Texas: Every jam was wrung for every point, but never pushed to risk. It's a conservative style of play, but when the pack communication is so strong (and it is that, not individual players, that make Texas so dangerous), that's what grabs the number one seed slot in the Western region. Now all eyes will turn to next weekend's eastern regionals, Derby in Dairyland, to see which teams will take the last four slots at nationals.

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