D1C: London Rollergirls Preview

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MILWAUKEE, WI–”ERMAHGERD CHAMPS.” One phrase from London Brawling captain Olivia Coupe sums up London’s feelings about being the first international team to compete at the highest level–but “ERMAHGERD LENDERN” could just as well sum up how the entire derby community has rallied behind the team from England as they look to make their mark in Milwaukee and finally silence the last few people still calling the tournament ‘Nationals’.

“After narrowly losing to Denver and beating Rose and Montreal, I think we learnt not to underestimate ourselves,” Coupe told DNN. “We worked our arses off all year and to see that hard work pay off was incredible. We came away from playoffs with the belief that we belong here.”

It is easy to forget that a little over two years ago there was controversy when London found themselves ranked #10 in the now-defunct East region, with many saying they didn’t deserve their spot and would be swiftly found out before returning whence they came with their tails firmly between their legs.

They finished fifth that year, with a last-jam win over Montreal in Baltimore ensuring they finished top of the consolation bracket. 12 months later they came within a jam of beating both Philly and Charm in Vermont after brushing Montreal aside in the opening round–but had to settle for a fourth-place finish. This year they turned around a 49-point regular season loss to Rose City to progress–and ultimately secured their place in Milwaukee with their third win over the Canadians, by their biggest margin to date.

As well as looking at each team as a whole, we’re featuring one skater from each team. For London, we caught up with the hard-hitting, pop-loving Shaolynn Scarlett.

How long have you been skating, and how did you get into derby?
I’ve been skating for nearly 5 years. I can’t really remember how I found out about roller derby, I think I was just bored one Christmas and was looking on Time Out for things to do, and came across an article about London Rollergirls, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’m not a stranger to aggressive sports as I used to play rugby union, so this was right up my street!! I’m not a natural skater, so it took me a while to get comfortable on wheels (I don’t think I really am, still!) , but I love the physicality and the strategic aspect of the sport.

How would you sum up your approach to champs this year?
Stressful!! 2013 has been an incredible year for LRG, but it has been a hard slog. Since March really we’ve been continuously preparing for something – the game against Windy City, our tour of the Pacific North West, Playoffs and now Champs, so it’s been really challenging trying to keep a high level of training and mental preparation for that long. But it’s been a great bonding experience for the team, and I’m proud to be part of a London Brawling squad that is stronger and closer than ever before.

Your hitting seems key to London’s packs. How would you sum up your role?
Why, thank you very much! I like to think I’m like one of the bottom people of the human pyramid – not a star player, not the one that people tend to notice, but part of the solid base that makes it all happen. I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do, bit of offence, bit of defence, bit of a jam from time to time, but I’d say I’m more of a workhorse than a show pony. I’m too heavy to go at the top of the pyramid anyway.

Are you going to be do doing anything specific pre-game at champs to give yourself the best shot of having a good game?
Just chill out really and keep my head in the game. I want to enjoy the experience and I’ve spent the last 6 weeks stressing so I’m determined to have a good time!

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
There’s too many! Just being part of LRG is highlight enough to be honest, it’s an amazing league to be part of and I’ve had so many incredible experiences because of LRG. Earning a spot at Champs is an obvious high point, we’ve been working towards it for so long so it was brilliant to finally get our hands on a medal. Also playing the game against Rat City at the Key Arena was an incredible moment – when else am I going to be able to say I played in the same venue as Michael Buble and One Direction?!?!

You’ve risen all the way through the London ranks over the past few years. What advice would you give to new skaters with ambitions of playing at the highest level?
If I had to boil it down, I’d say two things: 1) Success is not given, it is earned. You have to keep striving to be better, stronger, fitter to make sure you can always be the best player you can be. It’s not easy and you’re going to have to work hard for it, but if you ever sit on your laurels you’ll never get there. 2) Remember it’s a team sport. Too many people think that being a good skater makes you a good derby player, but if your team works as a group of individuals you will never be as good as the team that works together. I’m a terrible skater but I’m still in a team that has made it to Champs, that’s all the proof you need!!

Anything else you want to add?
We are so so excited to be coming to Champs and we want to thank everyone who has supported us and helped us get to Champs – whether you’ve donated money, come to bouts, cheered for us on interwebtelly, played against us, liked us on Facebook, whatever you have done has helped get us here, so thank you very much!!!

Also, DNN you are awesome. Everyone should donate to the DNN fund.

Coming within a jam of a big win but not quite getting the job done is something of a theme for London. As well as those regionals games, this year they’ve added Oly, Windy City and Denver to the list of teams they have just failed to get past–but have also added their first two big scalps in the form of western powerhouses Rose City and Rat City.

One hallmark of London’s play has been how fast they seem to learn and adapt–but they often find themselves needing to, after being hit hard by poor starts against new opposition. Atlanta will certainly hope to exploit this in the opening rounds–and they will have to take every chance they get to throw a wrench into the Brawling machine that Flat Track Stats heavily favours for the win based on the teams’ respective playoff performances.

What will London be looking out for against Atlanta? “Everything and nothing. Play every team like they are the best in the world but play your own game. You have to be adaptable but within the framework of your own style,” says Coupe.

If they get past Atlanta, then Texas lies in wait. The last time a London team faced off against a team from Austin, it was 2010–and the Texas Hustlers escaped London with an 84-63 win. Four skaters who were on Brawling that day will be on the track to face the Texecutioners if London make it past Atlanta–Kamikaze Kitten, Stefanie Mainey, Raw Heidi and Grievous Bodily Charm. As it happens, there will be three Texas faces from that game as well–Bloody Mary and Molotov M. Pale are on the Texas charter, and Curvette now finds herself manning the Texas bench. That game probably has about as much bearing on this one as does the price of fish–but does serve to illustrate how much London and the game itself has changed since they first emerged on the international scene.

London’s playoff performances showed that while their success is founded on solid basics, they’re not afraid to throw in a few tricks to boot. A faked star pass trick play between Kamikaze Kitten and Stefanie Mainey at playoffs secured the side’s spot in Atlanta, along with a 4-0 debut jam for rookie Lady Go-Go with five minutes left against Rose City. That trickery didn’t work so well against Denver–one star pass saw Mainey boxed for a high block as she reached over the Denver wall–so it will be very interesting to see if they have worked on perfecting those tactics or will simply opt to leave the box of tricks at home and return to their roots.

How far can London realistically go on their first visit to the top table? Coupe’s ambition is clear: “We have a great draw with some truly inspiring teams including, of course, the mothers of modern roller derby, Texas. But if we go out on that track and play the best game we can play, I think we could take any of those teams in our run up to the final.”

It’s clear that however far London go, they will have plenty of support. A massive 74% of those who responded to our audience survey will be cheering for London (among other people)–that’s more than twice as many as the next-most-popular team. That doesn’t seem to just be a fondness for the underdog, though–the survey also revealed that 38% of you think they are the 2-or-3-ranked team with the best chance of leaving Milwaukee with medals around their necks–again, that’s more than twice the number voting for the next-most-popular option.

Coupe’s not sure why this is, but offered a few suggestions: “Because we’re a bunch of dorks? [...] I like to think that people enjoy watching us play – we seem to have a habit of playing bouts which come down to the last jam. I hate it, they give me heart palpitations just thinking about them. Historically our team started off as the under dog; that little team across the pond with funny accents and pink uniforms that quietly started making waves, which eventually lapped the shores of the United States.

“Then people really started to take notice and even more incredibly they were actually rooting for us. We’ve had a well documented steady rise up the ranks and I think people like to see hard work pay off…no? It’s the videos? Okay I’ll be quiet now…”

London Rollergirls: London Brawling Tournament Roster

111 Lady Go-Go // 13 Stefanie Mainey // 179 Jensykes // 1984 Grievous Bodily Charm // 22 Rogue Runner // 33 Frightning Bolt // 357 Raw Heidi // 44 Knickerblocker Glory // 51 Olivia Coupe // 55 Lexi Lightspeed // 888 Shaolynn Scarlett // 9 Kamikaze Kitten // KT0 Hell Vetica Black // X0X0 Kitty DeCapitate

Bench: Ballistic Whistle (Bench coach) // Daisy Dioxin (Line-ups)

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