“Hit harder!” The Vixenator demands as her fellow Ho-Bots circle her at the Wells Park Community Center basketball court. “Don’t rely on your elbows. Rely on your shoulders and your legs.”
Duke City Derby skaters say practices like this one, which take place once or twice a week, are what will make this year’s season different from the others.
On April 25, the Santa Fe Disco Brawlers roll out against the Ho-Bots in the season opener. The bout is two years in the making. Without a place to play, the entire 2008 home season was nixed. While they waited for a battleground, teams armed themselves with new skills and fresh meat.
“You're going to see lots of girls on their asses.”
Ho-Bots Captain The Vixenator
The veterans are teachers as well as teammates to newbies who've spent these limbo months learning the game. The result? By the time the derby found a home at the 7,000-seat Santa Ana Star Casino, squads were sporting the most talented rosters in the four-year history of the league.
“The game is so much faster now,” The Vixenator says. “It's incredibly crafted, and the hits are way harder than they ever have been in the past. You're going to see lots of girls on their asses.”
The Santa Fe Disco Brawlers will make their DCD debut in the 2009 season, but before there were four teams, an caustic rivalry sprung between the two derby underdogs.
The DoomsDames are the undisputed league champions. In all previous seasons, they walked away with the first-place trophy. The two other teams, the Ho-Bots and the Derby Intelligence Agency, developed a urgent need to beat each other. The DoomsDames were at the top, but no squad wanted to end up with the label of "league's worst." The resulting animosity made for brutal bouts.
“We’re all just extremely nice girls.”
Derby Intelligence Agency Captain Carson B. Demented
They’ve had two years to cool off, but league founder Nan Morningstar expects the squads will be at each other’s throats in no time. “I have a feeling that's going to start right back up on its own,” Morningstar says. “Maybe even more than winning the championship, they just want to beat each other.”
The Vixenator, captain of the Ho-Bots, says both teams have catty players whose personalities don’t mesh well. “D.I.A. tends to have a lot of drama, and the Ho-Bots also have a lot of drama,” she says. “When you put two dramatic teams together, we get very competitive.”
Derby Intelligence Agency Captain Carson B. Demented says she doesn’t know where all the talk of tension comes from. “I know that they’ve lost to us a lot,” she notes with a hint of malice. “Then they beat us one time by one point, and that was not fun. We’re all just extremely nice girls.”
Every game at the Santa Ana Star Casino will include two bouts: one league game between two of the four teams in Duke City Derby, and one all-star game. Albuquerque’s all-star team, the Muñecas Muertas, will challenge the best skaters from cities like Dallas, Seattle and San Diego.
Back when DCD had no place to call home, the Muñecas only had the option of competing in away matches. They will finally have a home-track advantage in 2009.
The Muñecas earned a spot in last year's Women's Flat Track Derby Association Championships by beating the defending national champions Kansas City Roller Warriors. At the Championships, the Muñecas (now ranked 13th overall, according to derbynewsnetwork.com) suffered a lopsided defeat to the Gotham Girls from New York.
The Vixenator, who also plays on the Muñecas, says the defeat taught them a lot about chemistry. “We totally underestimated Gotham,” she says. “It was an awesome learning experience to play with Gotham because it showed how well a team can work together and how much they can win if they do.”
In the first two seasons, these skaters fell to the DoomsDames in the league championship. In 2007, the team didn’t make it that far, losing by one point to the Ho-Bots in the semifinals. This year, D.I.A.’s acquired some new players, including Muñecas captain Kamikaze Kim.
Team Captain Carson B. Demented says her squad continues to work on bringing new players up to speed. “We have always remembered to keep it fun, new and interesting and not take it so seriously,” she says. “I plan on D.I.A. being No. 1 and having an undefeated season.”
This is the league’s wild card. The team is made of skaters who used to play for other squads. DCD founder Morningstar says she doesn’t know what to make of the Brawlers. “They are the least experienced as far as playing together,” Morningstar says. “But they have some experienced players.”
Team Captain Killer Queen says they will rely on their depth and the camaraderie established over long trips to Albuquerque for biweekly practices. “We get along really well because we travel together,” she says. “We talk to each other for two hours, two to three times a week.”
The defending champions come into this year’s season with a lot of ground to make up. They’ve lost several of their skaters to other clubs and must make do with a team of mostly rookies. There are still three skaters on the squad who don't know what it's like not to be league champions. That pride and experience could go a long way toward compensating for the weaknesses of newer players.
This squad must prove it belongs in the upper echelon of the league. In 2007, the Ho-Bots made it to the finals but lost to the DoomsDames. The Vixenator says the they’ll count on their teamwork to earn victories. "We're very spot-on with each other, and we communicate the whole time we're playing," she says. "Our teamwork has always been awesome, and it's just getting better and better."