Texas Rollergirls: The 2012 Outlook

Before this weekend's bout, what did we learn from the season opener?

Texas Rollergirls: The 2012 Outlook

Let's call last month a chance to knock off some rink rust: This weekend's Texas Rollergirls bout is the real season opener, a chance for the 2012 rosters to leave wheel marks along their enemy's backs. And if you know which way this will go, you're a braver pundit that I.

The March 3 double header was a re-run of last year's championship, but in a whole new environment. Gone are the two 20-minutes periods, replaced by Women's Flat Track Derby Association regulation bouts of two 30-minutes periods. The Austin Convention Center was pretty damn close to capacity, so if the Travis County Democratic Party, which holds its party convention down the hall this weekend, feels like a break from policy wonkery, better get your tickets now.

For those of you that missed last month's bout, there was an upset and a tense re-run of the 2011 championships. In a surprisingly broad defeat, title holders the Hustlers went down 59-141 against the furious Hotrod Honeys, while the Hell Marys continued their resurrection with a 144-87 win over the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers.

So, what did we learn?

Honky Tonk Heartbreakers

What I saw was the best damn jammer line-up of the day. Short Cut has always had the makings of a hall of famer, and there are damn good reasons why I made Kitty Karnage my breakout player of 2011. Now Naeslayer is joining their ranks, and her practice across the off-season has really paid off, adding control to the determination. Plus, if Kitty was my 2011 one to watch, then Flash Gorgeous could take that title for this season.

So how did they go down to the Hell Marys, 87-144? The Hells outsmarted the pack. There's no doubting the power or the veteran expertise on the bench, but they kept being lured into traps, often leaving the inside line wide open for the Hells' jammers to sweep right through.

Hell Marys

The uniforms, the team building, the fervent support of Local 666. Last year was the rebuild. Now the Hells are taking off the training wheels.

After keeping Luce Bandit in the pack a lot last year, she got back under the jammer star more, and it paid off. But the Hells downfall has often been an emphasis on superstars and too little time building the whole team. Their key to success was cohesion, and that's what will make them the broadest threat this season.

Hotrod Honeys

Last season, when the Honeys' seemingly unstoppable reign came crumbling down … well, wait, it didn't crumble. They got beat. They were a great team, but the Hustlers had their number, threw them off their grade A game, and then took the title. This time around the legacy was back in action. Let's face it, without Vicious Van GoGo they'd be dangerous, but she puts them into a whole different league.

The real difference this time around was that they controlled the pace, running the clock and making this an endurance game – one of their strengths. Luring Rita Menweep away from the Heartbreakers bolstered an already fearsome pack, and they integrated their rookies seamlessly.

Hustlers

The season opener had to be humbling for the champs, but at the time it was just plain frustrating. That was part of their downfall, that they could not put the Honeys away as easily as they did last year. Their smash-mouth style doesn't work if you can't corner the jammer, and the playbook they spent so long perfecting last year just did not seem to apply. It was only really a double grand slam from Acute Angel that even came close to keeping them in the second period, but considering they were still trailing 98-36 with 20 minutes on the clock, that was a thin hope. A short roster and the absence of Curvette's keen brain from the track did not help matters. But that's what made this game so interesting: Last year, the Hustlers out-smarted the Hotrods and this year the Hotrods returned the favor. This is just the see to that saw.

And let's give real props where they belong: The second year at the Austin Convention Center was off to a roaring start. True, old skool fans will miss having a full band at half time, but the cavernous hall is scarcely conducive to sweet harmonics. However, a packed house and a crowd that stayed hot right through both bouts proves the jump from the beloved Playland was bitter-sweet but well-timed.

So when it comes to the 2012 season, where's my money? Firmly in my pocket. If the Hustlers can get their heads in the game and their backsides out of the box, they can turn this season around quickly. At the same time, the Honeys are infamous for their ability to snap, and all that progress could collapse in an instant. Truth is, the teams that turned out last month are almost exactly the same squads that went head-to-head last year for the championships. That means they come with the same flaws as well. So when Vicious flips her skirt as she picks up another grand slam, that could either fluster the Hustlers or put fire in their bellies.

But what does that mean for the ever-improving Hells? That there is a real window of opportunity. Last year co-coaches Dagger Deb and Punk Rock Phil told me that there was a lot of rebuilding to do, just to get the Hells into fighting form. Two years, maybe, before they were in title contention. If the Hustlers and the Honeys give them a window of opportunity, they could pull a real underdog win out this time around.

And the Heartbreakers? Derby is a game of cohesion, and that's what they lacked this time around. But if they're smart, disciplined, and don't get drawn into the wrong side of the track, then they could sweep everyone before them. No kidding. And with the number of fresh legs on the jammer roster, then they could cause everyone real trouble next year as well.

Let's not forget, there will also be some unprecedented clashes this year. Rita gets to face off against the Heartbreakers for the first time this weekend. Meanwhile longtime Hotrod Dodge (formerly the oft-unstoppable Morphine) came out of retirement and got picked up by the Hells. (Yeah, let's note that the big feuds remains with the Honeys.) With a playing field this level, this could be the tightest season in a long while.

Texas Rollergirls, April 21, Doors 5.15pm, first whistle 6pm (Hotrod Honeys versus Heartbreakers 6pm, Hustlers versus Hell Marys 7.30pm.) Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez. Tickets available now via Brown Paper Tickets. More information at www.texasrollergirls.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

WFTDA, Texas Rollergirls, Hustlers, Hell Marys, Hotrod Honeys, Kitty Karnage, Short Cut, Luce Bandit, Honky Tonk Heartbreakers, Rita Menweep, NaeSlayer, Flash Gorgeous, Vicious Van GoGo, Austin Convention Center

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