ECE Preview: #1 Gotham vs #9 Windy City

ECE Preview: #1 Gotham vs #9 Windy City The Skyline Cup, a new trophy commissioned for the longtime rivalry between Chicago's Windy City Rollers and New York's Gotham Girls Roller Derby.

Four bouts between The Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars and the Windy City Rollers All-Stars.

Four wins for Gotham.

Yet as the fifth meeting between the teams Derby News Network ranks #1 (Gotham) and #9 (Windy City) approaches this Friday evening at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza in Philadelphia, Gotham isn’t counting on a cakewalk. Instead, team captain Bonnie Thunders recalls a valuable lesson taught to her team in Raleigh, North Carolina last September.

“You have to keep perspective,” she said. “We had a really good example of how that happened when Philly beat us at Easterns last year. We always expect a tough fight from Philly, but we really had dominated them pretty intensely for most of the games that we played in the past, and it was kind of a surprise that we lost to them. So I think that’s always a good reference point to keep going back to, to remember that anything can happen at any time.”

Before Gotham lost to Philadelphia 90-89 in the 2009 Eastern Regional Championship, they had won 18 consecutive bouts, including a 2008 victory over Windy City that netted them a National Championship. As Thunders admits, “at times it’s hard to keep perspective when you just keep winning and winning.”

At the same time, Windy City was looking for the magic formula to climb over the Gotham hurdle. The Midwest standouts dropped bouts to the New Yorkers at the first East Coast Extravaganza in 2007, in the East Regional finals in 2007 and 2008, and then in the WFTDA Nationals. Ask Windy City co-captain Beth Amphetamine the first thing that pops into her head when the name “Gotham Girls Roller Derby” comes up, and she laughs.

“The first thing that comes to mind for me would be a growl,” she said. “They always beat us. We’ve played them four times in big games, and they’ve won every time. But we always look forward to playing them because we really, really want to win the game.”

And if she and her cohorts have their way, this Friday will be the night that they get it done, and make a statement to the rest of the WFTDA that this is their year.  And this year, for the first time, the Gotham/Windy rivalry will be commemorated with the Skyline Cup, a new perpetual trophy jointly commissioned specifically this year by both teams to reward the winner of this big-city rivalry.

“There are a few leagues around the country that have been consistently in the national tournament for the last few years – us, Gotham, Texas, Seattle – and I think all of us share a friendly rivalry with each other,” said Beth. “Gotham has been able to be on top for quite some time, and I’m sure they’ll remain a really competitive team into the future, but we think that we have been as well, and none of the games [against them] have been huge blowouts as far as I can remember. So going into this game we have a lot more confidence, and we have a lot of new players who don’t have that sense of history, which is probably a good thing in this case (Laughs). But we want to maintain Windy City’s reputation as a top contender, regardless of who we’re playing, and we want to make sure we’re respected around the country as a formidable opponent.”

Given their performances over the last few years, that’s a given, but since 2009, when the WFTDA expanded into four divisions from two, Windy City has turned into a true juggernaut as they’ve dominated the North Central region, where they’re currently the top-ranked team. This season has seen All-Star team victories over North Star (159-59) and Madison (115-104), and they’ve been firing on all cylinders despite having to work in some new faces into the rotation.

“Probably similar to what Gotham has set up; we had to set up a training machine,” explains Beth. “There are some players on Gotham that have been around from the beginning, but they’ve also had new players on their All-Stars and you would never know. And it’s the same thing with Windy City. We try to have a pretty seamless training program where you move through the team levels until you get to the All-Stars, and it’s a league-wide effort.”

“We have some very talented jammers,” she continues. “Varla Vendetta is a legend around the country as a pivot and jammer. You should also look out for Jackie Daniels, who just transferred to us from Grand Raggidy this year and who is a famous player in her own right. And then we’ve got a whole bunch of vets – Shocka Conduit, me, and Hoosier Mama – who have been around for a very, very long time. So we’ve got a lot of experience on this team, we’ve got a lot of very, very fast talented girls and it’s going to be fun.”

But then there’s Gotham, with an imposing lineup that can strike fear into any team and that can hurt you from anywhere on the track. Whether it’s jammers Bonnie Thunders, Suzy Hotrod, or Em Dash racing through the pack, Beyonsláy sending opposing jammers into the VIP seats, or Fisti Cuffs, Ana Bollocks, Kandy Kakes, and Ginger Snap holding down the fort in the middle, Gotham is number one in the country for a reason, and after opening up their 2010 schedule with a 201-75 defeat of Charm City in April, they don’t look like they’re slowing down. In fact, with some new blood on board in the forms of transfer Swede Hurt, rookie B-Zerk, Montreal import OMG WTF, and returning all-star Carmen Monoxide, the team just keeps getting stronger.

“We have new skaters on the team, and it’s always challenging to integrate new people, but we still have our really big core of girls that have been skating together for a long time,” said Thunders. “Everybody has made some really great improvements on the team and integrated pretty well. We had some big holes to fill when we lost Polly Gone and Barbara Ambush last year, and everybody stepped up their game. You’ll see Carmen Monoxide as a regular on our roster now, so she’s really stepped up, and Swede will playing this weekend as well.  Then we’ve got lots of other skaters that aren’t on the roster, but are new to the team, and they’re pushing really hard to creep up there.  I think it’s really good for the old-timers, and it keeps us working hard because we know there’s somebody who wants to steal our spot.”

Thunders, GGRD’s 2009 Jammer of the Year, was the one who led the way for Gotham in their last victory over Windy City, scoring 48 points and earning tournament MVP honors.  It’s clear that the Midwest standouts must keep an eye on her, but as Beth Amphetamine points out, respect and fear are two different things, and her team fears no one.

“We tell [the newcomers] some stuff, especially with players like Bonnie,” she said. “I was talking to one of our blockers the other day — a really talented blocker — and this is her first year on the All-Stars, and I was, like, ‘don’t try to hit Bonnie, because it’s not gonna work, she’s gonna go away.’ (Laughs) We want our people to never underestimate any of the Gotham players — but don’t be too scared of them.”

And Thunders is well aware that just as in the previous four meetings, nothing comes easy when you’re playing Windy City.
“Overall they’re a pretty strong team, a pretty hard hitting team, and what we always find with them is that it’s kinda like a brute battle,” she said. “They’ve lost a lot of key skaters since last year, so it’s gonna be interesting to see how the rest of the team steps it up. But they gained a transfer from Grand Raggidy, Jackie Daniels. She was in ‘Whip It,’ and she’s a famous face in roller derby and someone to look out for. They also have some old vets who’ve been around for a long time. Varla Vendetta is excellent and she’s a small, scrappy jammer who’s always really challenging to have to stop. Those are two people I’ve definitely got my eyes on.”

More importantly, the eyes of the derby world will be on Friday’s headline bout at the East Coast Derby Extravaganza to see what may just be a precursor to a possible championship match down the line. That’s just fine with the two opposing captains.
“I think that it will be an exciting game,” said Beth Amphetamine. “Both Windy City and Gotham play an interesting, very fast and loose kind of style. What I like about the way we both play is that we’re not one of those west region teams that stands still and builds a little wall across the track and is boring for everybody to watch. This should be a fast-paced game; you’re gonna see some really talented jammers going crazy on the track and some fast, hard-hitting blockers. It’s gonna be exciting.”

“Last year, we didn’t do as well as we were expected to, and I think there’s a lot of vengeance built up for this year because we want to win and we want to get it back,” added Bonnie Thunders. “I think that everybody’s really prepared to put in the extra practice and do the off-skates work and make it happen for us because we’ve got something to prove now.”

Watch the #1 GGRD All-Stars and #9 WCR All-Stars battle for the Skyline Cup at 7:30pm Eastern Time on Friday, June 25th, on the Derby News Network at www.derbynewsnetwork.com/live.

On Saturday, June 26th, the GGRD All-Stars take on #13 Boston at 6:30pm Eastern, while Windy City battles #7 Philly at 8:30pm.  Both bouts will also be streamed at www.derbynewsnetwork.com/live.

Thomas Gerbasi is the Editorial Director for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Senior Editor for BoxingScene.com His work has also been published in ESPN.com, YahooSports.com, UFC Magazine, the Boston Herald, MSN Canada, Inked, the Village Voice, and Metro New York.