On Saturday, The Windy City Rollers conclude their home season in the Ivy King Cup Championship, which kicks off at 7:30pm at UIC Pavilion. If you haven't gone to see this great action-packed sport then Ivy King is a great way to catch a fire.
The Fury are two-time defending champions, collecting the cup in 2010 and 2011 after back-to-back championship seasons. Meanwhile, the Manic Attackers, last years' runners up, have retooled an existing lineup of solid players and made their mark in 2012.
Current champions: The Fury
Colors: White, Orange and Black | Emblem: Brass knuckles
Players to watch: Kola Loka, Ska Face, KonichiWOW.
This year has been more of a challenge for The Fury, as the brass knuckle babes lost two of their three home bouts (against the Hell's Belles and Manic Attackers) amidst losing seven key players to retirement.
TS Helliot has had to step up big on defense to allow The Fury's jammers to score points. (pic credit Heyman Neisschott)
"It's been a rebuilding season with a very new team, as everyone knows," said TS Helliot, a defensive player who was part of The Fury's last two title seasons. "Our vets have been focusing on being leaders. For instance you haven't seen Jackie Daniels jamming as much this season because she's more often blocking in the pack."
With Daniels doing double duty on defense, jammer Ska Face returned to the fold and was instrumental in The Fury's defeat of the Hell's Belles in the playoffs two weeks ago. Along with co-captain Kola Loka, The Fury have at least two reliable jammers to score points.
As a bonus, KonichiWOW moved to town from Buffalo, NY with experience under her belt. Shortly after being drafted the The Fury she broke into WCR's All-Star team during February's travel team tryouts. KWow has had an immediate impact and looks to blaze trails. Helliot agrees.
"KWow has been a huge boon for us, both as a jammer and as a pack leader. She is our future," she said.
All in all, The Fury have the skilled players and spark to win just about any bout against any competitor when they skate as a team. In past years their defense was unstoppable, but the current roster --with a little less experience-- have had to work harder to stop opponents from scoring, something that was not even a slight concern before.
The Challengers: Manic Attackers
Colors: Blue and Yellow | Emblem: Lightning bolt
Players to watch: Zoe Trocious, Mo Vengeance, Bork Bork Bork.
The Manics have gone undefeated since January's pre-season charity cup, beating all three of the other teams in the league handily. A few important players have come back to the roster. Other veterans such as Wreck, Tamikaze and Mo Vengeance have tacked on a lot of experience on travel teams, along with Rose Feratu, who has also picked up a side gig coaching the Chicago Bruise Brothers men's team. Plus the speed and grace of jammer Zoe Trocious carves out a potent threat.
Despite all the outside work since the 2011 season, the Manics say they try to keep it simple and focus on team building.
"Our focus has been on fundamentals and team play, and there are key players in every jam because we are all important to the team," said Tamikaze, a long-time Manic Attacker. "Bringing the rookies along and getting them up to speed has been paramount. So, we stick to the basics."
That said, the Manic Attackers have also grown into a well-rounded and versatile team. While holding the luxury of a comfortable lead in every bout this season, they've used it by giving every player a taste of every position during open play.
Manics co-captain Mo Vengeance (left) has helped craft a team of emerging talent into a versatile, well-rounded squad of players. (pic credit Heyman Neisschott)
Compared to last year's Fury, who were a yin/yang of ruthless, agile jammers who could score with easy protection of expert blockers, the Manics venture a different approach. Smaller and quicker players have cut their teeth more often in the pack while natural blockers like Bork Bork Bork have donned the jammer cap to test their ability to score too. The end result is a better understanding of their game.
Expect both teams to come out with guns blazing. The stakes are high as The Fury want to reconcile a so-so season with a third consecutive title and another championship ring. Meanwhile, the Manics hope to end a near-perfect season with their first Ivy King Cup since 2009.
The afterparties at Union Park (at Racine & Jackson) are fun too. (pic credit: actionbooth.com)
Aside from the fact that there's a lot for the sports lover to dig in to, the Windy City Rollers make their bout events a fun affair. There are also great half time shows --featuring everything from acrobats to activities for kids-- and other extras that make a great night out. Plus you'll get to meet roller derby's stars afterward, get autographs, and if you're up for it, there is a good time to be had at the after party.
Andy Frye also writes for roller derby magazine FiveonFive. Follow on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.