So You Wanna Be a BETTER Jammer Pt 1: Off the Track

Jamming is really hard. I am in season number 9, in constant identity crisis about what position I am best at. I have never had a jamming coach, so I’ve had to learn the hard lessons in real time, and before this season I had not been in a serious jammer rotation since 2013, when I played for the Dutchland Derby Rollers. This season I decided to give it a go again. Almost made it onto the All Star charter a couple times (somehow), but have been a starting jammer for our Top 15 B Team, the Bruise Crew all year with moderate success (when you average it all out).

So I’ve had some ups and downs this season. Some highs, lows, and in between. A few panic attacks, a few moments of mental fortitude. A little over a year ago I wrote the blog, So You Wanna Be a Jammer, all about getting your feet under you as a point scorer. I stand by all of those lessons. Now, let’s turn it up to 11 and talk about the last 6 months where I have learned what separates the GOOD jammers from the BEST jammers.

There is so much to talk about, in fact, that I have decided to split this blog into two.

Part 1: OFF THE TRACK

Surround yourself with Positivity

I could be wrong, but I feel like every jammer in the world has a healthy dose of internal self-loathing or a deeply hidden masochism that comes out when they put on skates. Chance are you are going to be fighting with your own demons along this windy path, so do not give others permission to sow seeds of doubt and hate.

‘A positive circle’ looks different for everyone. You have to understand that what it is for you might not be what it is for the person next to you. The first thing that I figured out with jamming this year, is that I do a lot better in practice in games when I:

  • Have fun with my friends
  • Do not dwell on the pressure of what it means to win
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The Sea Sirens always strike out to have fun during their games. Photo by Keith Ridge

As soon as I started thinking about how close I was to breaking onto the All-Star team, I stopped performing well at practice. I was getting stuck, I was not using my tools. When I would come in laughing, making sound effects when I tried to jump the apex, and got to cheer on my teammates, the difference was undeniable. It’s hard to have no expectations when you have all the wants and feels.  You do not have to endure the mental pressure of “OH GOD IF I DON’T DO GOOD I AM OFF THE TEAM” / “IF I DON’T MAKE THE TEAM RIGHT NOW I AM SO TERRIBLE”.

Yes, I understand that this is easier said than done. I had a lot of trouble letting go mid-season. Every practice felt like skating through mud with my demons throwing sticks at me. I had panic attacks, cried after every practice for two weeks, and considered retiring from playing. Right before Tiny Tourney I was able to find my “MEH! Whatever” Happy Place that I had lost. The result was two of the best games I’ve ever skated (and my first successful in game apex jump)!

Part of that happy place (for me) is being around my friends. I have noticed a DIRECT correlation between the happiness I have with playing roller derby to my proximity to my jammer pod, The Caviteez. The six of us (and the previous incarnation of five earlier this season), are supportive of each other. We offer feedback, high fives, and sometimes just eye contact and a nod to remind us that we are not alone on the track. When my jammer friends spread out on the sidelines, I start to feel alienated. That leads to me feeling like I need to do amazing things on the track otherwise I am not good enough. It’s a pretty terrible downward mind spiral. I am glad I picked up on it early.

Recognize your patterns. Recognize when you are doing your best and when you are feeling stressed, panicked, overworked, or mentally drained. Journaling at the end of a practice can be super helpful in connecting the dots. If you do nothing else, you can even just write down: Your goals going in, names of drills you did, how you felt going in, how you felt during drills, how you felt at the end, and any instances that happened during practice that made your emotions change.

NOTE: If you don’t track your nutrition, you probably should. Sometimes not eating properly the day of a practice, or not having enough water the day before a game will also adversely effect emotions and performance. You have to be able to look at ALL the factors to understand the full picture.

And do not think that my version of a happy place is your version. Some people like being by themselves when they jam. Some people want all the input from their peers, while others like to be left alone. Some people like to be thrown into new situations without warning or instructions, others like when things are laid out for them and they know what to expect. There is no wrong version of what makes you happy.

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Getting #SecondStarbucks with Disaster Chief and Cookie Jarrd. Our happy places don’t look identical, but we’re always at our best with wheels on our feet and friends by our side.

The hardest thing to contend with are outside sources of input. The parents who keep telling you to quit derby. The blocker who always gives you guff about not taking their offense. The circle of people gearing up in the corner who are complaining about practice. It is easy to be drawn into the bad. (Trust me, I know) Breathe, smile, and keep going.

If you’re around toxic conversation, help to change the topic. Before that blocker gets a chance to say something snotty, high five them for a great jam. If your family won’t ease up about your dangerous hobby, smile and thank them for caring about you so much.

And then, if you need to, do some yoga or do a round at the punching bag when you get home.

Evaluate & then Focus

In other blogs I’ve talked about the importance of self-awareness. Once you hit a certain point beyond “hey you’re pretty good”, self-evaluation and feedback from peers is going to be the only way you really can ratchet down and improve your skills. How do you know what you need if you don’t know what you have?

I like the idea of doing a series of tests to see where your weaknesses and strengths are. I admit that I have yet to do this myself, since I just came up with the idea while writing this blog. As I sit here and consider all the aspects I think that I would break my test for individuals into:

Individual Footwork — Toe stop line work, stopping on edges, mobility around a stationary object, balance on front wheels while moving

Power/Driving — Time it takes to move a blocker 10 ft, 100m sprint off skates, 10 lap PR, big lift PRs

In-Pack Mobility — Quickness through obstacle course that involves ducking / squeezing through spaces / hopping, also looking at game footage to rate mobility inside of packs

In-Game Mentality — Penalties per game & when those penalties occur (in sequence, or unrelated to each other), points & lead percentage out of the box, call off decision making

Awareness — Frequency of recognizing offense (regardless of ability to take it), visual periphery tests, call off decision making

Blocking — Plow stop, one on one blocking, recycle ability, tripod work, communication within a pack, pack awareness/bridging ability

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We don’t always recognize our own mobility, so external feedback is important. Slaytoven knows the value of feedback. Photo by Phantom Photographics

Within each area, I gave some examples of skills or habits you could evaluate, but the possibilities are endless. These are not things you can evaluate the way you do minimum skills. They must be looked at over the course of games, scrimmages, and practices. This is something you sit down with footage to do as a jammer pod.

I’m a nut for information, data, and comparisons. I like knowing what I’m doing, where I’m going, and where I’ve come from. Knowing where I am weak gives me a focal point. Every piece of data is just one fragment of the whole picture. If you can compile all the individual pieces into one consumable story, you can set your training plan up to compliment those needs.

Talk to a friend you trust, or your coaches and ask them to help rate you in each area. In fact, it’s better to get different people to evaluate you. Make up a rubric ahead of time, maybe with your team leadership, so that other people can take advantage of feedback.

It might be good to do a self eval as well to compare against the others. You can also write down what you think your strengths and weaknesses are. Ask your friends to identify those too.

Think about how you feel during a game. Are you best at racing through a pack (as long as you’re untouched) over and over again but get stuck in tripods? Can you get through a pack fast and hard, but you can only do it once or twice? Can you do a longer jam, but then have to sit the next six? Are you kind of ok at everything? Do you have power but not speed? Speed but not power? Power but not endurance? Speed but not recovery? Yea. It’s a lot I know. I believe in you though, you can figure it out.

Now what? Now is the time where you build a program.

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Myself, Pete in the Pool, Foxxy, and NoMad have been in an accountability group since December helping each other through clusters of Tactical Barbell

There are a thousand different kinds of programs you can build. Starting with something made for general fitness might not be a bad place to start for the first 6-8 weeks of training, assuming you have not been regimented in your training before. If you have been regularly going to the gym and feeling stuck or you just do not have a plan, it’s time to sit down and get one. I’ve been using the Tactical Barbell template since late December, along with my boyfriend and friends from Alaska. I like this particular program because you break your program into clusters.

I do 8 week clusters. My first focused on building stability and capacity for strength, the second moved into long muscle endurance and recovery, the third focused heavy on quick twitch, and now I am in a power cluster since I’m in a bit of a mid-season off-season. Eight weeks seems to be enough time to improve on your focused goal, but not so long that you lose sight of other weaknesses.

Oh, here’s something else: If you’re not working in interval sprints at some point – you are hurting your progress. If you are not lifting heavy weights at some point – you are hurting your progress. Can you be a great jammer and never deadlift a day in your life? Of course! For most of us, it’s going to be a much harder route if you chose to do it that way.

I hate sprinting. I hate it. My knees don’t trust it. I have one rehabbed ACL that still flinches at the thought, and half another ACL that wants to stay in tact and doesn’t trust my stopping ability. I don’t usually run sprint, but will do row sprints or bike sprints. My heart rate monitor has been tremendous in helping me with my training too. Now I don’t have to rely on a machine’s reading, or my own counting. I can just look down to see whether my sprint is actually pushing me or not.

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Planning plus the proper tools = having success!

When in doubt, hire a trainer and/or nutritionist to help you. Can that be expensive? Sometimes. Is it better than continually plateauing out, wondering what you should be doing next? Is it better than saying “I need to go the gym” and then getting there to make it up as you go?

Fail to plan, plan to fail. No one who is successful just wings it. They know when they are doing things and why. Including resting. “Resting?” You say, “#NOREST, Khaos!! IT’S THE DERBZ!”

The Deload is real

WE DON’T REST ENOUGH IN ROLLER DERBY.

We are in a year-round sport. Some of us are lucky to have November and December off. Some of us are lucky enough to have schedules that lighten in July and August. We need to spend more time looking at what our goals are and planning our clusters of cross training accordingly. That includes resting.

Scrimmaging three times before a game weekend does not help you learn, it simply wears out your muscles, central nervous system, and your cognitive processing (which is why you feel mushy brained and jelly-like after hard training session). If you want to know ALL the things this is a great piece. The concept of deloading has been popular in the lifting scene for a long time now, I couldn’t pin down who first introduced it. It is slowly working its way into popularity in sport-specific training and also real life.

Have you ever had to take a couple weeks off from derby or another sport and when you came back you could do a skill you had struggled with before? That’s a result of deloading. The first time I recognized it was when I was rock climbing. I was going three to four times a week when I was in my early twenties, but I was not particularly strong, I relied on my flexibility. I took about 3 weeks off due to life, and when I came back I was expecting to back at the start. What happened was that my strength had improved, my technique had sharpened, and my on-sighting ability (reading a route as you move through it the first time) jumped significantly. I immediately knew there was something up with it.

Rock climbing
Sometimes taking a break from something will actually help you increase skill ability. Weird, I know.

When it came to derby, I spent the first couple years always on my skates. I took a month off to rest my knee, I came back and suddenly had more control over my edges. Down the road I would take of randomly for injury, and while the injury itself was not strong, my abilities to complete skills and tasks had sharpened. The deload is real. It’s ok to take a step back from derby for a couple weeks to let your body heal and process what you’ve been working on.

Note: this is very important for officials as well as skaters. Sometimes you need to stop thinking about the rules and just let it all marinade. Come back to it fresh and new and you’ll see more and understand clarifications better. What does officiating have to do with jamming? As a good official you have to be as good of a skater as any player on that track!!

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Even officials need to have fun and take breaks. RollerCon is a great place to learn things AND deload the brain on different rules stuff. Photo by Tristan King

Now a word of caution, if you take a break for too long, that’s no longer a deload. That’s just a break. Deloads are typically a week to 10 days. During this time you work out but at a much lower weight, rep, or speed. You work the neurons and muscle memory without pushing to to hypertrophy. Do your lifts, but do them at 50% 1RM. Do you Tuesday run, but don’t push as hard. On deload weeks, you can also replace your typical workouts with stabilization and recovery work. When I say “Do extra yoga”, I’m talking recovery yoga, not Bikram Power Yoga. Instead of your sprint day, do a light bike ride. Spend extra time stretching. That sort of thing.

PS Your brain remembers better when we’re sleeping properly at night too, so mark that down on your daily ‘to do’ list.

PPS Want to read something about deloading in life? Here’s a great blog I found in my searches.

Take time to evaluate, look around, and do some planning it. You deserve it and your routine deserves it!! And after all this processes, move on to So You Wanna be a BETTER Jammer Pt 2: Game Play

Did you enjoy this blog? Consider buying me a coffee to say thanks and so I keep doing the thing! I write everything myself and want to keep covering all things derby for this world. 

Please visit our Photographers!! Phantom Photographics , Tristan King, and Keith Ridge Derby Photography.

And keep an eye out for me at ROLLERCON!!! I’m teaching 2 classes: Stuck in the Middle with You and FANCY FEET (where we’ll work on some of the stuff from these blogs)

 

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Review: RD Elite Travel Bag

So I just got back from a magical 5 week romp around part of the world. Along the way I acquired some new stuff, and I also got to really put some other stuff to the test. I decided to review them all in separate blogs now that I’ve gotten back. In this issue: Roller Derby Elite’s new skate bag.

THANK THE DERBY GODS FOR THIS BAG.

Seriously, Tony Muse is awesome at designing skates, but I believe his true talent lies in designing luggage.

Ok, so I am tentative to post this review first because I don’t want the world going, “Of course she loves it, they’re her sponsor.” It’s not why I love this bag. I will tell you why I will not need or desire another gear bag ever. This is a two-part bag (as are many), where your backpack and rolling bag zip together. But this is OH so much more.

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Yes, it’s waterproof (I knew I’d be in Manchester, waterproof is necessary). Yes, it still is easy to sew on patches! Super handy when I was at MRDA champs and everyone had one. I could easily discern mine!

Spaciousness

I tested the backpack previously for space. It was able to hold: Size 6 skates, 187 pro knee pads, 187 elbow pads, Atom Wrist guards, my ACL DonJoy brace, full water bottle, mouth guard, 8 wheels, 8 helmet hats, 2 scrimmage shirts, shaker cup, extra shake container, and the little extra things I carry like re-wetting drops and chap stick. I clipped the helmet on the outside of the bag, and rode my bike 16 miles. The backpack clips across your chest, and the clip slides up and down, so you can adjust it to sit wherever is most comfortable on YOU. Note: while abroad, I added in ArmourFlex shin guards, and Steaks padded shorts/tank and it still fit comfortably.

The bag holds up to size 12 skates comfortably, though I personally prefer using my Skate Noose when utilizing my backpack as my gear bag, so I can put my helmet INSIDE the bag and not scuff it up. The helmet does swing a bit when attached to the outside, but that’s physics for you. If you clip your helmet through the loop with the shorter side through first, and the longer side coming over top, you can pull the longer piece through and the helmet will sit more flush to the bag.

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ALL THE STUFF

The backpack has a separation in the largest compartment so you can put a laptop in safely. It has several separations in the smaller pocket, including a zippered pocket that was great for keeping my passport and cash in. All the separate parts are waterproof too, and overall the bag seemed really resistant to stank (throughout the trip I flip flopped between the backpack as gear storage and a regular clothes storage).

The rolling bag will hold any size skate comfortably plus gear, plus multiple braces, plus helmet. The rolling bag also has a handy wheel section on it so you don’t have to throw your wheels and bearings all willy-nilly into your gear bag. Or if you don’t want to keep wheels in it, store your extras. Honestly, it was my eye drops/tools/cash/tampon/whistle pocket while I was away.

Both bags individually fit as carry-on baggage on airplanes, though if you’re in Europe, do not overstuff the backpack. I got guff from a British Airline security lady because she thought I “brought way too much” in my backpack. I showed her that my backpack squished down really nicely into the bin sizing thingy and she reluctantly agreed. She was not happy about my skate noose, but everyone else in security oo’d and aah’d over my pretty new skates.

Durability

I gotta be honest, I wasn’t sure how this bag was going to hold up. Not every part of the world I was going to was involving smooth surfaces. Den Haag and Lincolnshire were particularly cobblestoney, and Manchester was just a perpetual puddle. I decided that since I had the option of a checked bag, I was going to take advantage:

Enter the beautiful option to zip the bag together!

Now, with other bags, I have seen a lot of strain on the zipper when stuff is in the backpack and attached to the rolling bag. I was worried about that with this one, since it is very obviously front heavy when the backpack is attached. That said, because of how close the zipper is to the ground, and how the backpack is designed, there is actually not much pressure on the zipper at all. When you rest, the backpack takes the brunt of the weight of the bag, instead of the zipper being a force to keep the backpack in the air. The bottom of the backpack could use a little rubber coating, just to guarantee it won’t scuff or rip, but the bottom is really durable already. I have no tears, no wear and tear from it resting in the airport or on buses.

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The full bag

The zipped and stuffed bag didn’t just survive cargo holds on four different airplanes, it looks damn near close to new regardless. There was a little strain on the zipper in the lower right hand corner of the backpack attachment when everything was stuffed in there, but I found that once I unloaded and reattached, the zipper was back to normal.

Convenience

Aside from the convenience of all the big storage, there’s a ton of little pockets everywhere on the backpack. The outside flap has a ‘tools’ slot, which was another prime place for easy access to credit card and identification while I was traveling. The front of the bag has two pockets, and the smaller one has headphone access. Admittedly, I never used it for that. The pocket itself is too small for my iPhone 5, but could be the right size for MP3 sticks, or other cells. I used it for chap stick, my portable battery, and to hold my headphones and USB cable. The second front pocket was large enough for my mouth guard case, finger whistle, and some random odds and ends.

There’s also a mesh water bottle holder on the side of the backpack that saved my life. My 32oz Nalgene fit PERFECTLY in it. I was worried about it stretching and tearing when the water bottle was in it, but the mesh is in good condition. The top of my water bottle had its attachment tear off (so the lid no longer attaches), and there’s a couple sharp bits of plastic that did a little bit of damage to the mesh, but I consider that a special scenario. It never caught on things while stretched taut.

The smaller, front pocket has an added bonus: the sides unzip so you can reach into the depths (which does have a tendency to eat small items) more easily! Often I would put my my eye drops or headbands into the deep pocket, and then when I needed to fish something out, I’d take down one of the side zippers for better access. SO NICE.

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The wheel bag, when filled, provided a small shelf on the rolling bag, so I could wear my backpack, roll my bag, and keep another large handle bag (one of those enormous RollerCon bags from a couple years ago) on top of the rolling bag. It ended up looking cumbersome, but being quite easy to manage. Couple that with the fact that the bottom of the bag has a  little handle that helps with balancing it when standing, but also with hoisting the thing (particularly when the backpack is attached), and you’ve got a great multipurpose travel bag.

The rolling bag also has a front that unzips to reveal two layers of mesh. You can unzip the front completely to vent your gear (or partially as I did sometimes while traveling). You can also keep things in between the two layers of mesh! I find it a good spot for helmet hats, spare Herbalife Liftoff and Hydrate packets, or bandanas. The mesh keeps it all just a little bit separated to give everything air to breathe. Again, the bag has been really resilient to maintaining stink.

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The second layer of mesh unzips for easy access to your gear if you need to grab something without messing up your packing genius.

In conclusion, while there are little things that I would like to improve (like a more convenient spot for a cell phone/headphone combo), I am in love with this bag. The comfort level is high up as well. The outside is durable, but woven in a way that it’s comfortable. I am a huge fan of backpacks that include a strap across the front to help distribute weight. Not only does this bag have one, but the height is adjustable! I didn’t discover that until halfway through my trip, but once I did my world changed! I didn’t have to adjust the tightness of the arm straps in order to shift where the clip sat (which, as a woman, can sometimes be placed in awkward and uncomfortable spots).

The bag retails for around $100 USD. You can find the bags from Wicked Skatewear, Bruised Boutique, and Sckr Punch (they’re not on the website, but call them up they have them). Buy from derby-owned shops!! Support our community!! Make sure you like Roller Derby Elite Series on Facebook, and follow Elite on Twitter @RDEliteSkates.

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Starting my adventure, waiting for my plane out of Dallas. What an adventure, and I’m super glad I had my Elite bag in time for the trip!

Khaos Theory Blog is run completely off my own funds. Make a donation now to keep the blog going! 
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Kristie Grey (Merry Khaos) has been playing roller derby since 2009 and has coached almost as long. She has worked with over 20 leagues in 11 states, and five countries. She has coached on and off skates at Beat Me Halfway 2014 & RollerCon (2012-2015). She currently skates with Tampa Roller Derby. Active in health and wellness, she is an active Herbalife Health Coach, rock climber, and power lifter. For questions, booking, requests of topic, or help with a nutrition plan, message Khaos at DerbyAmerica@gmail.com

Continue reading “Review: RD Elite Travel Bag”

2014 MRDA Champs Preview: #2 St. Louis GateKeepers

The GateKeeper defense are the thing nightmares are made of. Like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens of eggball, the GK have line-ups of monsters that have one objective: Ruin your jammer’s day [and do it as a team].

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Another old dog of the MRDA, GK has been growing since Magnum PIMP and Bat Wing decided to form the league in 2009. With over 50 active members, the GateKeepers (and their highly competitive B team the B-Keepers) strive to bring a balance of speed, communication, airtime, and pure pain to the roller derby track.

This season, GK appeared at Spring Roll and RollerCon. From an outside perspective, ti seemed that they approached these two events with one goal: Establish unquestionable dominance over every team they meet. And, for the most part, they did.

Gnat King Kill getting it done at Spring Roll against Southern Discomfort.
Gnat King Kill getting it done at Spring Roll against Southern Discomfort.

If you’ve ever seen GK play than you know that they rely on super strong blockers who are huge AND have amazing lateral motion across the track. Coming up against a wall of Monster Jam, Double Excel, and Neil Death Experience is a terrifying prospect [and I am not even skating this weekend]. Not only does each take up the entire track by themselves, but they know how to seal holes to prevent jammer breakthroughs and their timing is all excellent.

Mixing in blockers like Bane-Ana, Debaucherous Prime, and Gnat King Kill into lines help to keep the GK diamonds fluid and fast. These are the blockers that can dart out of a pack and pick off a stray jammer or destroy an opponent’s brace to give Shane Bower some space to run.

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“The Totes Adorb” Bane-Ana and Wrecking Bill team up to hold Jonathan R at RollerCon. Photo by Brangwyn Jones.

In every article I have talked about teamwork. The GateKeepers exemplify what it means to have teamwork. What it means to understand how your allies on the floor skate, and how to pick apart an opponent as a two or three wall, instead of as an individual. BUT if the time comes where an individual needs to make a quick save, they know who is bridging, who is chasing, who is baiting the pack to speed up, and how to recycle back to that massive concrete wall.

The only time the GateKeepers get in trouble is when they start landing in the box. Yes, obvious statement, but true nonetheless. I don’t have the stats packs to prove my point, but I remember GK getting into some penalty trouble against Shock Exchange, and that’s when NYSE starting getting a little more ahead. When they finally took hold of the NYSE game is when they calmed down, worked as a wolf pack, and ate the NYSE jammers and blockers alive [while NYSE let them at least].

Flight. By Screecharound. Photo by Mr. McWheeley
Flight. By Screecharound. Photo by Mr. McWheeley

The jammers of GK are not to be forgotten because they are majestic to watch. Remember how I said that they mix in ‘airtime’ to their strategy? These guys eat apexes for breakfast. In fact, if we can have a contest this weekend to have Screecharound from GK and Reaper from Southern Discomfort have a head-to-head ‘jump off’ battle, I’d really appreciate it. (Ironic note: It wasn’t until after I was coming back through and editing that I realized that Screecharound is #66 and Reaper is #666. Obviously there’s a connection.)

While Screecharound and Shane Bower both have the long, beautiful legs that allow them to take flight each bout [without effort]. Both skaters are able to switch up between long, loping strides and the small, controlled edgework to fake out opponents.

Shane Bower has a little more experience under his belt, and you can see it when he comes up against stronger walls. He’s deft at playing offense for himself by simply shifting his weight as he approaches a pack and trying out different spots in a wall until someone over commits and he can easily glide through. He seems to find holes in defenses unperceivable to the human eye on the physical plane.

Magnum P.I.M.P. hops another apex at Spring Roll. Photo by Mr. McWheeley
Magnum P.I.M.P. hops another apex at Spring Roll. Photo by Mr. McWheely

Then there is GateKeeper founder, Magnum P.I.M.P. Magnum is to be feared with the star. He is strong, he is light on his feet, and he has a head for the game. He understands his blockers, and how they move on the track. His offense understands him and can create the smallest distraction for him to take full advantage of. He is definitely a utility jammer.

In the first round the GateKeepers will be coming up against a relatively green Southern Discomfort. While the men from England are ready to make a statement, they are going to have to pull out all the stops and have a stellar game to make a dent in the GateKeeper strategy. GK’s jamming bench is deep and wide, and their blocker rotation is so versatile that the SD jammers are going to have to continually readjust to the styles thrown at them. Do I think So Disco could come out with a surprise for the GateKeepers? Absolutely.

You Shall Not Pass. Photo by Mr. McWheely
Neil tells Ballistic Whistle: “You Shall Not Pass”. Photo by Mr. McWheely

“But Khaos! The Gatekeepers already beat So Disco by 200 points this year!”

True. However, look at the circumstances: SD played GK the last game of Spring Roll in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The GateKeepers had a 6 hour drive to the venue, and had only played two other games that weekend. Southern Discomfort was 6 hours out of their normal time zone, and had already played six games in the previous 8 days (including games against Mass Maelstrom and Your Mom). So Disco did not come into that bout as they will come into this one: Fresh, studied, and hungry.

However, there is still the fact that they’ll be facing off against the St. Louis GateKeepers who are on a mission for Your Mom.

Doing work at Spring Roll. Photo by Mr McWheely
Doing work at Spring Roll. Photo by Mr McWheely

You can see the GateKeepers work to hold back the British Invasion at 11a PST on WFTDA.tv, if you’re not at the MRDA Championships live. Check out the GK facebook page for updates. Thank you Mr. McWheely for the photos in this article. Visit his page to buy prints! Thank you also to Brangwyn Jones. You should totally go like him on Facebook.

2014 MRDA Champs Preview: #6 Mass Maelstrom

The Boys from Boston are coming in with something to prove, and there is nothing more dangerous than a group of committed individuals that feel a bit slighted.

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Mass Maelstrom is coming to champs in a lower seed than they may have anticipated, and two places lower than how they finished out last year’s championship despite only suffering losses to Your Mom’s Men’s Roller Derby and New York Shock Exchange this season. Coach Rich Gaudet (also known as Stryker) says that Maelstrom is coming into champs:

“To prove that we were robbed of our 4th place ranking going into championships and to get our new skaters playing against the best in the MRDA.”

Maelstrom is no stranger to fighting for recognition. They started off as part of a co-ed league and split off in 2010 to do their own thing. Stryker says it was through hard work and dedication of the core of the team that Maelstrom was able to debut at #10 in the MRDA in 2012 and break into the Champs seeding the same year by landing at #8. While other teams are chuck full of experienced skaters, that isn’t the case with Maelstrom:

“Maelstrom’s strength is directly related to both our ability to play as a team on the track and to implement and counter the most current winning strategies on the track. Since maelstrom is one of the smallest competitive teams (stature/size wise), and because many of us did not come from skating backgrounds our style of game play is directly tied to that: we play in tight walls and use game play strategy to make up for our lack of bulk and skating skill. Although we have some stand out skaters who can dominate a jammer on their own, most of the time we contain jammers behind a solid wall of small guys.”

Maelstrom isn't all little guys. Bill Coulter is pretty infamous for making a statement on the track. Photo from ECDX 2014. By Tyler Shaw - Prints Charming Derby Photography
Maelstrom isn’t all little guys. Bill Coulter is pretty infamous for making a statement on the track. Photo from ECDX 2014. By Tyler Shaw – Prints Charming Derby Photography

When you compare the stature of Mass against most MRDA teams – they do look generally small. Critical pack directors Terry Hasselmann (Peter Rottentail), R Pickering (Smiteochondria), and Mars Travolta are average height (at best) and certainly not hefty – they rely on deftness of movement to even the odds against opposing jammers. Overall, a fluid diamond formation or “around the world” style of play is very present in the Maelstrom blocking strategy, in order to give every blocker the best chance of leveraging their body weight against bigger opponents. Jammers like Cilantro and No Big Deal are not breaking any height barriers either. NBD uses brute force and quick, hammering edges to break packs wide open while John Collentro (Cilantro) falls back on pure acrobatics to obtain lead jammer (The kid is made of silly putty, I swear).

Wes Turn (Conlin) uses his edge to block during the Mohawk Valley Cup. Photo by Hispanic Attack.
Wes Turn (Conlin) uses his edge to block during the Mohawk Valley Cup. Photo by Hispanic Attack.

Ok, side note: you’re probably wondering why I’m using up your valueable time with making you read multiple names for all these guys. There was actually a bit of confusion during Champs last year for those streaming the Maelstrom bouts. The rosters were submitted with derby names, but [most of] the jerseys have real names on the back. Viewers at home weren’t sure which skater the announcers were talking about based on jerseys, and the announcers even confused themselves during their commentary.

Why the real names? Some of the guys are just done with derby names (I know a certain bunny who is particularly done with cheek of the fake names), while others see it as a way of really claiming the work they put into their skating and into their league. They are all very proud of what they do with Maelstrom and with smaller leagues in the greater Boston area; using their real names brings them a sense of professionalism and ownership for their accomplishments.

Alright, I’m back from the tangent.

2014 has been the season of ‘injures and real life’ for the Vikings of New England.

Terry Hasselmann usually blocks, but every now and again he gets to wear the star when the team needs him. Photo from Mohawk Valley Cup. Photo by Hispanic Attack
Terry Hasselmann usually blocks, but every now and again he gets to wear the star when the team needs him. Photo from Mohawk Valley Cup. Photo by Hispanic Attack

Everything from a car accident kept two heavy rotation blockers out of the first half of their ECDX bout, to a series of key skaters getting injured, to a few skaters simply tipping their hat and taking a leave. It is roller derby. This is a contact sport, and injures happen. It is a hobby, and sometimes people must bow  out for personal reasons. That does not mean that the team gives up, the deeper a bench, the more effective a team can be, even in a time of struggle. Gaudet commented on Maelstrom’s roster changes:

“Since we sustained injuries to half our roster over the course of this season our newest skaters had to step up and fill some big shoes, which they have done with flying colors. We have picked up two strong hockey skaters that are helping to round out our jammer rotation; all we need now is to get them some more skate time.”

The acrobatics of Jurasskick Park as captured at ECDX by Tyler Shaw - Prints Charming.
The acrobatics of Jurasskick Park as captured at ECDX by Tyler Shaw – Prints Charming.

Maelstrom’s first bout of Championships is against an old, familiar face: New York Shock Exchange. This will be the second year in a row that Maelstrom will face NYSE a total of 3 times [in 5 months]. Last year, their final match-up of the season was at the Mohawk Valley Cup, in the finals, and Maelstrom took the win by 20 points after having lost the previous two match-ups.

The first round of Champs could prove a similar Cinderella story. At ECDX and Mohawk Valley this year, NYSE proved too dominant for the Vikings. Despite not having a “full strength” roster, Mass does not consider themselves out of the competition. With two bouts against NYSE under their belt, and with the return of Coulter and Pickering to their bench, Maelstrom is restored to much of it’s 2013 strength. Both vet and newbies to the roster are ready for the classic rivalry match-up in the first round.

Vet Colleran holds onto returning skater Deep in Cider, while Velawesomeraptor and Mikeopathic Chiller hold the inside line. Mohawk Valley Cup. Photo by Hispanic Attack 2014.
Vet Colleran holds onto returning skater Deep in Cider, while Velawesomeraptor and Mikeopathic Chiller hold the inside line. Mohawk Valley Cup. Photo by Hispanic Attack 2014.

Fans (and NYSE) will be get to see new and old faces on the roster this weekend, including Deep in Cider who has returned to the Maelstrom line. Aside from the vets, you should keep an eye out for fresh faces Cormier and Velawesomeraptor as well as those who have worked their way up from the Bzerker B-Team such as the agile Mikeopathic Chiller and power blocker JBeast. Gaudet says of the team:

“Every one of skaters that step onto the track is a critical piece of our strategy puzzle, and thus [new fans] should be watching the overall cogs that make up the Maelstrom machine.”

Mars Travolta, Colleran, and Keith Webb work in unison to hold back NYSE at ECDX. Photo by Tyler Shaw - Prints Charming Derby Photography
Mars Travolta, Colleran, and Keith Webb work in unison to hold back NYSE at ECDX. Photo by Tyler Shaw – Prints Charming Derby Photography

If you love Vikings and want to pick up merch, get info on upcoming clinics, or just to follow their season, you should definitely check out their Facebook page. Also, Mass Maelstrom has some wicked rewards going on right now on the MAELSTROM GOFUNDME so … Go Fund Them!! And make sure you tune into WFTDA.tv all weekend to watch the 2014 MRDA Championships. Thank you to Tyler Shaw and Hispanic Attack for the photos used in this article.

As a side note, Richard Gaudet would like you all to know that:

 “No big deal is actually kind of a big deal.”

No Big Deal takes the outside lane at the championship bout of Mohawk Valley Cup. Photo by Hispanic Attack.
No Big Deal takes the outside lane at the championship bout of Mohawk Valley Cup. Photo by Hispanic Attack.