The Cincinnati Rollergirls Black Sheep are on the road again this weekend, May 31-June 1, traveling to a Midwest BrewHaHa in Milwaukee in search of their elusive first win of the season. Tank has a preview.

“You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat.”- Christy Mathewson, Late New York Giant
“Just win, baby.”- Al Davis, Late Coach/Owner of the Oakland Raiders
I am not a quote guy, so it’s ironic that I would start my column with one, let alone two. If you have ever played a sport, at some point someone has dropped that little nugget of “knowledge” upon you, “you learn more in defeat than in victory.”
It’s supposed to be given to you in a positive way. This loss – or some cases the complete and unmitigated ass-whipping you just received – is going to make you a better teammate, a better player and even a better you. But that’s not always true. What people fail to mention is the negative feelings that come with defeat, the feeling that no matter how hard you train, it doesn’t matter because you wasted your time, the frustration of self doubt and/or why should I even bother going back out there? And that’s just on a personal level. Now add in a team dynamic and a coaching staff to that equation of negative feelings, and statements like “so-and-so isn’t pulling their weight” or “when are we going to work on the things we suck at?” or “why are they playing this person instead of me?”
Losing can teach you some positive lessons, but it can also be a figurative pile of quicksand that pulls you under as you try to figure out how to escape its unrelenting grasp. When you are winning, everything is sunshine and lollipops, but when you are losing, the world gets very dark, and sometimes it’s really hard to find the light.
The Oregon Trail-like trek of the 2014 season continues and while no one has dysentery yet, it has been a very hard 0-10 journey for the Black Sheep. Recently the team competed at Spring Roll in Fort Wayne, Indiana and went 0-3, including a loss to the lower-ranked Chicago Outfit, who at the time also didn’t have a win on the season. The Sheep and the Outfit were tied at the end of the first half, but during the second half the Sheep returned to their strategy of jamming by committee, which saw their point-scoring grind to a halt and the Outfit go for the throat and the win, 208-103. The Jacksonville and Toronto games were even more lopsided in terms of scoring, yet there were some highlights in terms of defensive pack play.
The WFTDA 56th-ranked Sheep are back in action this weekend playing in two games at Midwest BrewHaHa in scenic Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They will be taking on No. 61 Paper Valley (1-4) and No. 30 Madison (2-2). The Paper Valley match-up looks to be a winnable game; however, many of their losses have been by a close margin, so I predict that this team will play better then they look on paper. Madison recently defeated Naptown, who is still one of the better teams in the Midwest. Madison hasn’t been the dominant powerhouse they once were for a number of seasons, but 2014 looks to be a good year for them so far as they make the climb back up the rankings. While winning a game against Madison would be a huge boost for CRG, keeping a loss under 100 points against them would be good, and keeping a loss below 50 points would be something to celebrate even more.
There are a number of issues that the Sheep must address internally to start etching check marks in the win column. Before this season, the two big stats that generally determined who would win a WFTDA game were 1) Which team had the most lead jams per bout and 2) Which team had the most power jams due to the opposing team’s jammers going to the penalty box. Now that the WFTDA has switched from 1-minute penalties to 30-second penalties, the second stat has changed a bit. While it’s important as ever to get lead jammer as many times as possible, power jams aren’t the back-breaker that they once were, as jammers don’t have near the amount of time to orbit the track and rack up points.
Instead, the second key stat has changed to penalties in general; the more bodies you can keep on the floor, the better your chance of winning. I recently chatted with Bombtrack (the), who tracks and analyzes the team’s metrics. She said to me, “If we have 15 or more penalties in the first half, we will lose.” I completely agree with her, as the Sheep are a team that need as many pack players on the track as possible. Since they are playing in events like Spring Roll and BrewHaHa, which tend to have better officiating, they have to skate clean and keep their time in the box at a minimum.
The coaches and team also need to make some decisions on their jammers. While playing share the star is a good thing to do from time to time, the top teams in the sport have a rotation of two to four players that consistently wear the star through out the game. With CRG’s continued strategy of focusing on defense and having their jammers fight their own way through, not everyone can be a jammer in this system. Currently I feel that La Bruja, Nuk’em and Sailor Scary are the three best jammers for this system, as each one is strong enough to take multiple checks from opposing pack players and can push through walls.
I am also excited to see both Imma Tattooher and Tru D. Vicious finally being called up to the Sheep’s roster. Both will be in action this Saturday and have shown they can successfully work in this system on the B team level. I would, however, like to see the Sheep use more offensive blocking/assists to help their jammers out of the pack, especially on the first lap. To win games, you must be obtaining lead jammer throughout the course of the game, and there is nothing wrong with the blockers giving their jammers a helping hand, especially if you have more pack players on the track compared to the other team. Hannah Barbaric has been great at this all season long and I hope more players start to use the little things she is doing in the pack to help their jammers.
Speaking of Imma and Tru. D getting the call up to the big leagues, this is the best 14-woman roster I have seen the Sheep put together this year. No spot is safe on this roster, as the glass ceiling of yesteryear no longer exists. Instead, anyone can be bumped on to or off of this roster at anytime, which is prompting some excellent competition. This is also a roster in which the there isn’t a wide talent spread between the starters and bench warmers, each makes it easier to plug players into packs and get more people involved in the game.
Leadership and teamwork is another thing I continue to watch from afar. I have a very limited look at the inner workings of this team, as what I mostly see comes from my concrete seat on corner one for home games or my couch for the livestreamed away games. I do, however, talk to players after games or when I bump into them at events, and whenever I ask the question, “Who is the leader of this team?” I generally don’t get an answer. This team is still looking for a true on the track leader, something that has been lacking since the 2009 and 2010 glory days of this franchise. Leaders aren’t easy to find, as they need to be physically gifted athletes, intelligent players that understand strategy and charismatic enough to motivate a large majority of the team. At this point, someone needs to say “follow me” who isn’t a coach, someone who is down in the proverbial trenches with their quad-wearing peers. At the same time, the coaches have to take stock in what they are doing and how their actions are affecting the team both positively and negatively.
Roller derby isn’t like a professional sport or even a college sport. There isn’t a yearly draft to pull new talent from, there isn’t a way to trade players from one squad to another, and teams don’t fire their coaching staff after a bad season and then go out and pay top dollar to get different coaches. The only way a team can get out of the dark cave of losing is by banding together and working as one towards a common goal of winning. I have seen some real bright spots this season and I have seen a brilliant 10 minutes here and a good half there, but I have yet to see this team put together a solid, 60-minute game in which they are hitting on all cylinders. When and if that happens is when this team will start winning, but the thing is it’s much easier to write about it then actually do it.
No matter what, I wish the Black Sheep good luck and I hope they can find that solid 60-minute game this weekend. And while you do learn more in defeat then you do in victory, there is something to be said about taking a day off from class and just basking in the sweet, sweet glow of a win.

BrewHaHa Schedule

Games will be livestreamed on
Saturday, May 31, 3:15 p.m. ET: Cincinnati Rollergirls Black Sheep vs. Paper Valley All-Stars (Track 1)
Sunday, June 1, 11:45 a.m. ET: Cincinnati Rollergirls vs. Mad Rollin’ Dolls Dairyland Dolls (Track 1)

Cincinnati Black Sheep vs. Paper Valley Roster

Anne Bones 77 // candyKICKass! 32 // Hannah Barbaric 85 // ¡I, Caramba 23 // Imma Tattooher 81 // Jungle Lacy 83 // Kitten Kicker 30 // La Bruja 66 // Mirderher 44 // Nuk’em 86 // Ruthless Chris 5 // Sailor Scary 92 // Tru D. Vicious 19 // Wheezy 43 // Alternates: Annie Tomical 91 // Big Ugly 72
Black Sheep vs. Madison roster to be announced