November 3, 2016

Roller Derby: New Zealand Top 10 Champs Finals

Throughout the year, 9 teams have been skating it out in a battle to be named New Zealand's champion Roller Derby team. Late last year, the top 10 teams (based on the official unofficial rankings kept by a number crunching fellow who goes by Geex Quad) were invited to participate in seeded pool play during 2016. Unfortunately one of the teams, Sirens of Smash from Nelson had to pull out early in the year.  Pool play ended in September, with the top two from each pool progressing to the cup semi-finals, and the third and fourth qualifiers from both pools progressing to a consolation semi to determine who would be awarded the shield trophy for "b" teams.  Shield playoffs were carried out early October in Napier, with Auckland Roller Derby League taking the win. The weekend just been saw Wellington hosting the cup playoffs for the top 4.

The schedule for the day had the semi finals as North vs North followed by South vs South, home team Richter City (RCRD) against Auckland's Pirate City Rollers (PCR) then Christchurch's Dead End Derby (DED) battling Dunedin Derby's Gallow Lasses (DD), then the losing teams played each other followed by the capping off the day with the final between the best of the South and the best of the North.

RCRD vs PCR was an thrilling and close game I'd not seen at league level for a while. It was clear in the first half-dozen jams both teams were playing the hit it and quit it strategy, but once Richter started racking up those jammer penalties, Pirates took the invitation and ran, taking Richter's initial lead and making it their own, using the momentum to win lead jammer just those couple of times more than the home team. They went into half time 83 over 51 for RCRD.  The third quarter of the game was much the same as the previous half, but things really started to heat up in the last quarter. Four lead changes (five if you count the equalizer jam) in six jams, had plenty of fans of both teams throughout the venue nursing palpitations and chewing fingernails while sitting on the edge of their seats - if they weren't jumping up and down that is! Richter managed to pull ahead and take the win with 130 points scored to Pirates hard-fought 119. Plenty of beautiful blocking from all the Pirates not wearing stars, but I think seasoned skaters Hui and Sugar Hit were my favourite of this bout.

DD vs DED was a closer game than I was expecting to be honest, with a long track record of wins in DED's favour. Half time score went the way of Dunedin, at 67-50, but it seemed they came out too strong in the first half and just couldn't keep it up in the second. A few obligatory apex jumps from Evil K Neevil (including one almost on demand of the MCs), and several lead changes in the second half, we came to a full-time score to see Christchurch win with 150 points to Dunedin's 133. Notable standouts for me this bout were Iona Shotgun, jammer for Dead End, and Little Yellow Jacket, blocker for Dunedin's Gallow Lasses.

Pirates and DD went pretty much as expected considering Pirates could easily have been playing for first rather than third, and with Dunedin coming straight off the back of their previous game. This doesn't mean the Gallow Lasses didn't put up a fight!  Some of their offensive walls against the agile Pirate jammers were very effective. Very much enjoyed Saradactyl's work this time around for DD as jammer , and PCR's blocker Schrodinger.  Half time score was 154 to 38, and full time 247 to 71, and Pirates take third place.

The crowds grew for the final bout upon arrival of a contingent of skaters from Tauranga's Mount Militia who raced down after finishing a double-header at Levin, bringing with them former Richter skaters, Ma Whero Mischief and Sweaty Pig. This reinvigorated the crowd somewhat and it certainly seemed there was more cheering for that final bout than the others throughout the day. The first jam certainly showed that RCRD meant business, opening with Skanda Lass against one of DED's most experienced skaters Evil K Neevil, scoring 10 points to Evil's nil, thanks to the latter taking a trip to the bin. Richter maintained that lead, with Dead End clawing a handful when they could, Razzmatazz made a dent in the points differential a few times throughout the game, her brilliant performance throughout this bout won her plenty of praise from the crowd around me. Half time saw a difference of 29 points, 102 to 73, and one could argue it was still anyone's game, especially when soon into the second half Skandal's skate broke ruling her out of the game till nearly the end once she procured some borrowed skates. The final jam saw a penalty assessed on Tu High (her as second bout as jammer for the All Stars, the first earlier in the day) leaving Razzmatazz racking up some points in a power jam situation, but not quite enough to take the win, but surely close enough to be satisfying. Richter won the Top 10 champs trophy final with a score of 193 to 155.

The next Wellington Roller Derby, and probably last public bout for the year, is yet another double-header. A fresh meat graduation bout for new and "tender" skaters from Wellington and abroad will be a curtain raiser for the Richter City All Stars taking on the NZ Men's Roller Derby team. The representative men's team are hoping to get to the Men's Roller Derby World Cup in Barcelona in 2018, and what better training to go against the recently crowned NZ women's champions. This double-header is slated for the 26th of November, further details at the Facebook event page.

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