Of scrimmages and kings

So after I passed my Yellow Star and was approved for scrimmage back in January I promised an entry about scrim, but never delivered. Well I didn’t forget, I just didn’t have a whole lot to say up until now. The past month-ish I’ve felt a bit off my game, firstly because of the hot weather which rendered me incapable of skating, then I came down with a cold, and then a couple of weeks ago I finally lined up for scrim again only to twist my knee in the first jam. Thanks to all these factors, the times when I was on skates I felt rather disconnected and frustrated because I was having trouble making my body do what I could visualize and it felt like I wasn’t making any progress.

My first two scrims were a blur. I only got to play 2-3 jams in each and the first one definitely set the scene for me: standing on the track, feeling like a deer in the headlights, the whistle blows and then people are shoving and yelling and it was all I could do to not yell back ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’. Drills have rules and objectives, being out on the track proper really highlighted, for me, how much I still had to learn about tactics and strategy. I didn’t know any of the hand-signals our Benchie was using, I didn’t know which jammers were likely to want assists and which preferred to break walls on their own, and I definitely didn’t know the names of any of the plays the vets were running! At one point I was passed the pivot panty and about crapped bricks because while I have no issue being loud or leading the group, I felt like I didn’t know enough to take charge! But I think I did OK, I asked the jammer what she wanted and then I kept my wall together.

This Sunday past though, things finally slotted into place. We only had 8 skaters a side for girls jams, and some of them were also doubling for co-ed jams so a lot of people were playing back to back, and it was a fast game. When we got a chance between jams, our side’s Captain explained some of the concepts behind the strategies she was calling which made it much easier to follow her on-track instructions because now we had context for our actions. So we tried running the pack (speeding up so the jammer has to work extra hard to lap you), breaking up the pack (hanging back until no pack is called and your jammer is let through, but you have to be careful not to get destruction of pack penalties), and of course just walling up and blocking. I managed to hit the opposing jammer out a few times which felt AMAZING, as well as generally slowing her down. Once I was on the inside line and she got by me while I was distracted by our jammer in distress, but I didn’t let it happen again. I even jammed, twice! I’m not very fast, but my size does allow me to push a wall pretty well (unless Jillie Pepper or some of the boys are on the other end, then I’m usually in trouble). The first time I put that panty on, I got lead jammer! The jam was called off almost immediately due to a downed skater so I didn’t have to do anything with it, but still… lead jammer 😀 The second time it took almost a full lap for me to fight my way through the pack and the opposing jammer called it off before I could score, but it was definitely a learning experience which I enjoyed. I won’t be busting to jam every time, but now I’m not scared of sticking the panty on when it’s passed to me. And best of all, after the full 1.5h I was one of only a handful of skaters that hadn’t committed a single penalty! My first scrims I served box time for cuts and a false start, so that was a good feeling to know that I had stayed in bounds, hit legally and generally behaved myself.

In just a few short days I will be trying for my Orange Star which would rank me as ’bout ready’. Tonight’s training session covered most of the test thankfully so I’m feeling pretty good about it, now I just need to do it on the day! I’m getting together with my testing buddies for a super-not-secret training session on Friday night as prep because it’s really hard to practice blocking without a partner, or figure out why a move won’t work without an observer, so together we can do all these things. On the one hand I know I can do all the test items, on the other I don’t want to get my hopes up or count my chickens before they’ve hatched. So this week is going to be a delicate balance of confidence without getting cocky or getting upset if things don’t go perfectly on Sunday. 

Either way, Sunday will mean scrim, which will be extra-interesting as WFTDA released an update to the rules this morning, which include reducing penalties to 30 seconds and reducing the number of ways in which you can be called for a cut. The League hasn’t made an official decision if we will begin training with the new rules immediately, but it seems likely as we want as much time to adapt to the changes as possible before our next bout(s).

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Bouts and scrims

Saturday Feb 15th was bout day! I was pretty pleased on a number of fronts, starting with the fact that I actually came up with the bout name! Our theme this year is Grimm’s fairy tales, and I pitched the Events Committee with ‘Snow Bite: Will YOU go into the woods?’. It was pretty awesome to see it turned into this amazing artwork and poster:

Snow Bite Feb 15th

I was helping coordinate the event again, and after a slow start I ended up with a great roster of Volunteers who helped the event run super smooth. A special shout-out goes to my long-suffering derby widow who showed up with me several hours before the event even started to help me move tables and yell at people, and then sat out on the foyer selling tickets for half the bout! I thankfully got to see most of the second half which was lucky, because the finish was nailbiting! We’ve played Blue Mountains a couple of times before and they trounced us last year, so it was pretty thrilling to be tied with only minutes to go and finally win by 20 points. Especially when we had 5 players playing their debut home bout, and one of them got to finish the night with the powerjam that won the bout for us! There’s more details on the official VDL page here.

While at the bout I also picked up these beauties which had just come in with a league group order. The scrim tank is reversible (white on one side, black on the other, with my name and number printed on both), and the armbands are heavy duty non-roll elastic with my number printed and sewn on. They’re actually really comfortable to wear, they’re made by Spank Alley who are one of my league’s fabulous sponsors this year.

Rabid scrim tank

I proudly wore them to training on Sunday, and of course I then took a bad fall in my first jam in scrim and twisted my knee *sigh* It’s not serious but it kept me out for the rest of the session.

But at least that was the second half of the session. Because it was the day after a bout, we had a shorter all-league training session first. Because of lucky coincidence, we had a guest trainer for the day. Copter was one of the original members of VDL, he’s since moved to Brisbane and now skates for Brisbane City Rollers’ men’s team The Scartel. He’s also been chosen for Team Australia and will be competing in the first ever Men”s Roller Derby World Cup in Birmingham next month as part of the Wizards of Aus. You can donate to the team’s travel costs here if you’re interested.

Anyhow, Copter took us through a great session on transitions and backwards skating. This is the second time Copter has guest-coached us and for all its brevity and mixed-levels  it was a fantastic session. We worked on doing transitions in multiple directions at speed, on skating and stopping backwards, on using transitions for blocking and finally having a partner guide you and control your speed while you were travelling backwards (it’s the most bizarre feeling, especially when trying to corner!). Copter is an absolute sweetheart who hits like a truck and it was a pleasure to train with him again, if you get the chance I highly recommend it! You can also become a fan on Facebook, just search for ‘Copter #173’. He joined our boys for scrim as well and they had a fantastic match.

I am not a summer person

Today, being a Sunday, I went to training. I was pretty excited, because earlier this week it was announced that instead of having 2h of drills and 1h of scrim, we were going to split the time evenly from now on. Our league has grown so much over the past year, especially since we now have enough boys to have male scrim as well, that 1 hour simply wasn’t enough times for people to get more than a handful of jams each (I know I skated in only 3 or 4 last time). While it does cut into our Advanced Training time, scrim teaches us tactics, strategy and rules, as well as letting us put drills into practice.

Unfortunately, today was also 38*C for the entirely of training and scrim (over 100*F) and I don’t handle the heat well. I did the on-skates warm-up, then sat out on the first drill because I felt a bit off. Did the second drill (a variant on a weaving pace line, using whips and circling each skater), and I had to sit out again. It took me 45 minutes to cool down to a point where I no longer felt dizzy, by which point training was almost over and I knew I jumped back in it would just happen all over again anyway. I briefly considered scrimming (since the longest you’re on the track is usually 2 minutes at a time), but the heat has also been playing havoc with my fibromyalgia so I geared down and took the chance to NSO again. I was pretty sad to miss out on so much skate time as well as scrim, but I have also missed NSOing the last month since I qualified to actually scrim myself, so I tried to just enjoy it while I could.

We’re supposed to cool down midweek so hopefully Tuesday training will be more successful for me, although temperatures are forecast to rise again in time for next weekend :/

Fathers Day open scrim

Sunday this week had something a little different. Varsity held an open scrimmage (a practice game, black vs white) with guests from Blue Mountains and Wodonga joining us for the bout. I showed up early with a couple of other Freshies and got a crash course in the various officiating roles required to run a bout. Non-Skating Officials, or NSO’s, are needed to time jams, time and track penalties, keep score and do a hundred other things to keep the event going smoothly. Between NSO’s and refs (go team Zebra!) there are about the same number of officials as there are players for a bout!

Because this was an open scrim we were going to have spectators, which meant helping set up bollards, seating and a merch stand. I grabbed myself a Varsity shirt while I was helping… I had managed to resist when I was just an audience member at their last public bout (my t-shirt drawer already overfloweth), but now that I’m a league member I figured I should be representing in style! I’m glad I did, the bout photographer got a great shot of me looking confused and chewing on my pen in the middle of the track with VARSITY blazed across my chest. New FB profile pic FTW!

For the scrim I was assigned to penalty tracking. Turns out standing in the middle of the track while the skaters go around and around and around makes you pretty dizzy! But once we got going I had to walk around a lot to ensure I caught every penalty (I didn’t, but the guy manning the whiteboard was more experienced and helped me out, plus the refs were really good about checking in between jams so I could make sure I had everything). I grabbed a copy of the WFTDA rule book because there was 9 pages worth of ref hand-signals, but of course I had no time to actually use it! It’ll take another few goes filling in all the tiny tiny boxes with all the right symbols before I feel truely confident in it, but by the second half of the bout I think I was doing OK.

I had been hanging around the gym for 4 hours by this point, but finally it was training time! Warm-up consisted of laps, lunges, side lunges, wall sit and another human obstacle course, this time with a third human hurdle. No knee-pads this time, although I still slid somewhat thanks to my stockings (and then spent the rest of the night trying to figure out why my knee was stinging, I had skinned it through my stockings *facepalm*).

For drills, we concentrated less on stops and more on falls this time, as we were in with the White Stars and Old Meat. I’m getting much better at single knee falls, one side is stronger than the other so I will have to concentrate on my ‘bad’ knee until I can do both equally well. I’m still unco as anything with double-knee falls, my timing is out and I spin as I drop.

We also did some group drills, forming walls and squares and practising skating together, keeping pace without tripping over each other. Individually we did crossovers (well, we tried anyway), laps in derby stance and sticky skating. We did a few laps in derby stance while having to hold a cone to our thigh with our elbow and I somehow had a breakthrough in slalom sticky-skating. I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I could do it despite no previous success with the method.

I should also mention that I was still hurting from Friday night training (hell, I still hurt today and it’s Wednesday). The legs I expected, the core didn’t surprise me, but even my arms were a bit twingey. Being something of a masochist, when I got up on Saturday feeling sore I decided to do some light weights to work through the DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness). It didn’t help much with the pain although it did loosen me up a little. Sunday was worse again, and holding derby stance for longer than 30 seconds at a time was seriously painful. I was also tired from several late nights (because no matter what, I seem to always wake up between 6 and 7am, even when I went to bed at 2) plus the scrim and oh gods everything just felt like an uphill battle. I had to take a few quick breaks in drills because I was getting wobbly.

We also had a game of Stuck in the Mud. Because we had so many Freshies we were skating under the outsretched arms of the stuck instead of crawling between legs, but it was great fun. I took a turn at being ‘it’ and managed to tag a lot of people, including some of the same people twice!

We finished the evening with the 5-in-1. In small groups we skated as many laps as we could in a minute… I was so close, managing 4 and 2/3! I had a wobbly start and botched a couple of apex’s, so I’m looking forward to trying again next week. Once I can actually do crossovers I should be able to fly!

Now that I’ve had my third practice on them, I’m liking the Atom Snaps a lot more. I still want to get something better, but maybe it can wait another month or so. I definitely want something with an aluminium hub and higher-quality urethane, but I’m also learning towards narrower profile (38mm).

Sunday I also revealed my derby name and got some mad props from the others. Jessica Rabid isn’t really bad, she just rolls that way!