2014 Season Preview

Cincinnati Rollergirls staff writer Tank recaps the Black Sheep and Violent Lambs’ pre-season action in advance of the team’s March 8 home season opener at the Cincinnati Gardens.

[Editor’s note: This article was written during the week of Feb. 16. Check back soon for a detailed preview of CRG’s March 8 home opener.]
“The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” – John Connor, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The Cincinnati Rollergirls’ 2014 home season opener is upon us on March 8 (you can purchase tickets
here). What lies ahead for the team this season? To understand the Cincinnati Rollergirls’ future, you must first understand its past.
At one time, Cincinnati was one of the top roller derby programs in the world; the team missed going to the WFTDA Championships by one game in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Over the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the sport of roller derby changed moving towards a slower game that neutralized the CRG strategy of “skate fast and hit hard.” “Scrum” starts changed the game into something that looked like rugby on skates. Cincinnati struggled to adapt to this new world and declined in the rankings.
In 2013, Cincinnati rebounded with a strategy of walls and checks, which achieved mixed results. On one hand, the team went 11-7, which included a mid-season 9-game winning streak. On the other, the Black Sheep went 1-3 at the Division Playoffs (the three losses were all incredibly lopsided), ran an unsustainable two-woman jammer rotation all season and were plagued with penalty problems. It was obvious the team needed to make drastic changes to return to being a top-tier program.
One big change this season is the arrival former Philly Roller Girls referee and current Cincinnati Battering Rams player He-Bruise, who is now a part of the coaching staff, along with Quad Almighty. According to WFTDA rules, you can only have two managers on your bench at a time, so any time a new personality is introduced into the game day mix, it’s a big deal. He has brought a renewed focus on fundamentals with him, so it will be interesting to see how the skaters develop over the course of the season in terms of skate and game skills.
Those skills were put to the test in the pre-season for both the Black Sheep and the Violent Lambs. The Lambs traveled to Bloomington, IN during the first weekend of February to compete in the annual B-Cup Tournament. Even though the Lambs went 1-2 at the B Cup, I was incredibly impressed by their lack of penalties. In roller derby, a foul takes a player off the floor for a minute and having a 4-2-player advantage in the pack or a power jam (one jammer on the track and one in the penalty box) are the things that shift the momentum of the game. If CRG wants to be part of the WFTDA Championship conversation, cutting down on their penalties is something they have to do. It’s not a maybe; it’s a must.
A week later in Cincinnati , the Black Sheep locked horns with Demolition City (Evansville, IN) in a bout that was closed to the public at their practice space. Since I last saw the Black Sheep play, a number of things had changed. Three major players are currently taking leaves of absence because of injuries or personal reasons: Buckhead Betty, Hannah Barbaric and Wheezy. Betty has been one of CRG’s best blockers for a number of years; Hannah is a multi-year, multi-positional veteran; and Wheezy is one of the Sheep’s two main jammers from last season.
A few other familiar faces were missing. Jammer K. Lethal was serving a one-game suspension, Sadistic Sadie was temporarily off of the depth chart, and Sk8 Crime had recently returned to CRG for a cup of coffee before heading north to the play for the Ohio Roller Girls.
Honestly, my big question going into this game was, who was I going to see in a Black Sheep uniform? What at one time was a very cemented roster has changed into one where the glass ceiling no longer exists. There were a number of Lambs and players that straddle both the B and A team rosters suited up for this game, including Sista Shovechild, Cherry Choke, Mirderher, Big Ugly, Ruthless Chris, La Bruja, and Annie Tomical.
Watching the Demolition City vs. Black Sheep game was a mix of good and bad. Let’s talk about the downside before we discuss the positive. The Sheep still have penalty problems, big penalty problems, which included 10 trips to the box for their jammers. To be competitive, they have to at the very least cut that number in half. The Sheep’s offensive output was incredibly low in this game, especially in the second half, which saw the Sheep score just 4 points in 30 minutes. It became routine to see CRG’s pack form walls only to have Demolition City’s jammers push them out of play. At the same time this was happening Demolition City would do a great job of blocking backwards, coming chest to chest with Cincy’s jammers and wearing them down. Demolition City came away with a big 256-66 win.
But there was a lot of promise in this game as well, and it involved the most experimentation I have ever seen since I started to cover the team in 2008. With Wheezy and K. Lethal both out, the Sheep had eight different players don the star during the course of the game. This is a big departure from last year’s two-woman rotation of K. and Wheezy with the occasional Sadistic Sadie or Hannah Barbaric jam.
When I talked to He-Bruise and Quad Almighty after the game, both stated, “Everyone jams, everyone blocks” this season. While this strategy may not pay off immediately, over the course of the season I think this will help take the Sheep to the next level. The Sheep also were attempting to work together in the pack more with walls, but that is going to take a lot longer to develop.
Some individual players also surprised me this weekend as well. Ruff’n the Passer jammed a number of times in this game and looked damn good doing it. Ruff’s short frame with big power works incredibly well against players who try to engage her while blocking backwards. She has no problem staying low and due to her incredible strength is able to easily push through opposing blockers.
Nuk’em also showed off some new tricks as well when it comes to backwards blocking. In the past, it wasn’t unusual to see her go for big hits that would result in some kind of penalty, or she’d miss and take herself out. Against Demolition City, she was much more in control and used her backwards skating to hit but more importantly corral jammers, slowing them down or bouncing them outside and then immediately sprinting behind them to force track cuts. Kitten Kicker had some success with this type of blocking as well, using her glutes and hips to control jammers and force them out of bounds. These are the things the top teams in the world have been doing for at least two years now, so to see Cincinnati bring more of this style of people into their overall core philosophy has me excited.
What is this year going to bring? Hopefully change, both on and off the track in terms of how Cincinnati operates as a roller derby organization. I don’t think the payoffs here are going to be immediate, as the focus seems to be on skate skills, shifting to a simpler strategy and reducing penalties. For Cincinnati to move forward, all of those things need to be addressed and changed for the positive, but it’s going to take time and there is no guarantee on how long that time frame will be. What will the future of CRG be? It has yet to be written.