Interview with Havana Good Time and Soulfearic Acid: The 2012 Captains of the Wheels of Justice
The air is buzzing with tense excitement and everything else in your life is at a pause – can you feel it? If you’ve been bitten by the derby monster then you can’t think about anything else: Yes, the WFTDA West Region Playoffs are mere days away and Rose City Roller’s beloved travel team, the Wheels of Justice, will be traveling to Richmond, California to fight for each other, the City of Roses, and of course, for Justice. The hard-working women of WoJ have been training endless, grueling hours since tryouts in January—not to mention the years of training to place onto Wheels in the first place—to make it to this moment. The bouts won or lost at Westerns determine whether we make it to Championships and fight for the mythical Hydra and the title it bestows: greatest roller derby team in the world.
I met with two of the leaders of this ship, the 2012 Wheels of Justice Captains Havana Good Time and Soulfearic Acid, to talk about this season, how Wheels has been training, and how they are feeling heading into Regionals. Havana and I met before travel team practice on a surprisingly summery September day last week. Because our practice space was closed for Fresh Meat tryouts, we sat down outside in the shade of a tree. I was struck by this: the Rose City wheel never stops turning. As our travel team gears up for one of its biggest moments of the year we are also holding tryouts to determine which new skaters will make the cut to our competitive training program. Who in the tryouts that night will one day be on the Wheels of Justice herself?
Later that evening, as twilight set down around the Hangar, I met with Acid while she laced up her skates for one of Wheels’ last practices before Regionals. Here is some inspiration that will make roller girls skate a little harder and fans scream a little louder.
Love and derby,
Mortar ‘n’ Pistol: This has been a year of high change for Rose City’s travel team. Many of our long-standing skaters retired from the travel team at the end of last season and this season there has been a lot of new blood on the Wheels of Justice. After a season including ups—giving Gotham the closest point spread they’ve had in years—and bumps—Rollercon—how do you feel going into Regionals with this newer team?
Havana Good Time: How I feel going into Regionals is how I feel going into the first game: Confident. Yes, we were a new team, yes, we had skaters retire, yes, we had new talent. Did that mean anything other than excitement and the ability to see what we hadn’t tapped into yet with our new skaters? Take it for what you want. We practiced together as a team all season, and each and every skater has just continued to grow. They were good before, they’re amazing now. Each skater that came on this season brought something with them that they were able to share and teach each other on the team and it’s evident; you see it on the track.
MNP: Since you spoke to improvement: I was so impressed with the improvement Mutch [Mutch Mayhem] and Brute [Feliz Brutality] had over the summer (the height of travel team training). They were always great, but when I saw them with AoA, Rose City’s B team, against the Skatesaphrenics, Eugene, Oregon’s A team, at the end of August I thought, “they’re defying gravity.” It was amazing.
Ed. note: Mutch Mayhem was recently pulled up to the Wheels of Justice
HGT: I think the biggest thing is that a lot of people lose touch with is that the Wheels of Justice is Wheels of Justice but we wouldn’t be where we were, where we are, if we didn’t have all 30 travel team skaters to skate with. Yes, there are the top 14 that are on the roster for any given bout. But there are also another 16 skaters that got those top 14 to where they’re at, including themselves. We all push each other, whether you’re on AoA or Wheels of Justice is irrelevant. We’re all one travel team, 30 strong. We started the season with 30; we’re ending the season with 30. And that’s how, I know for myself, that’s how I look at travel team. And yes, the skaters continue to grow, and AoA has grown exponentially. I can attest as being a member of AoA last season to this season, the dedication and the drive that those skaters had far surpassed any season I’ve seen in the past. We never once had to pull up a guest skater or ask for waitlist skaters to come skate for any of the AoA bouts. The commitment was there, as soon as they signed up and made tryouts.
Soulfearic Acid: I think we showed from the start of the season that we lost a lot of key players from last season but we have such a strong program in Rose City people were able to fill the void and step up their game. We may not have had as much talent at the beginning of this season as we did last season but I think we knew we had a longer season than a lot of other teams so we worked on a lot of teamwork and a lot of basic skills, mastered repetition. I think we proved that we at the beginning of the season weren’t going to struggle as much as people thought actually. Our season has been pretty strong. Rollercon was a good opportunity for us to give our backup jammers a chance to play. Our entire main offense—me, White Flight, and Scald Eagle—didn’t play. So if you take the entire offense out of your game…we definitely lost by a lot but I think that was a great opportunity for our backup jammers to step it up and get a lot of playtime. Unfortunately, when you jam JK [JK Rolling] or you jam Blast [The Blast Unicorn] you don’t have them blocking either. When you pull them from that blocker lineup, it creates some real holes in our defense. I think the good is that now we feel comfortable playing any of them as jammer if they have to go in. They’ve had enough playtime, they know what it’s like out there. But we’re back to our go-to offense. We have a great group of jammers who can come in a pinch and get the job done.
MNP: It seems like every year WoJ has a “theme.” Last year, it was “Win This Moment.” Has WoJ had a theme this year, a phrase, or a specific idea integrated into your training?
HGT: Believe. We believe. We believe in each other. We believe in our leadership, we believe in ourselves. And we are finishing the season with “We Are Justice.”
SA: We’ve kind of always had a mantra. “The most important game you have is tonight’s game.” That’s been the mantra for me this season. It doesn’t matter what your last game was, it doesn’t matter what your future games are, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing a team that you’re ranked above or behind or anything. It’s just that your most important game is the game you’re about to play. That’s the game we need to focus on and play one hundred percent.
MNP: Without giving away any secrets (we see you reading this other leagues!) has the approach to training been different this year, and if so in what ways?
HGT: I think this season’s training has been a lot different. We still do a captain’s practice, where the captains lead a practice, and the coaches lead a practice. That hasn’t changed. But the style of our practices has changed. Mainly, on both ends it’s a lot of high intensity individual drills that will become applicable when we have a strategy practice. In doing that, you gain muscle memory, so you don’t even have to think about it when you’re on the track. Your body just knows exactly where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, and how it needs to execute it. In any strategy we implement, we’ve got a drill to get us there. Along with it comes having encouragement. We pump each other up, we know it gets tiring; you get sloppy when you’re tired – everybody in derby knows that. But the more you do it, that’s not to say it ever gets any easier, but, you do find yourselves being able to go the distance. And like anything you do, the more you practice perfect, the better you are.
SA: This year we split it up so the coaching staff does strategy and I do—me as Captain—skills and drills. I like the fact that the skills and drills are led by skaters. We’ve had some other people step up on the team to coach what they’re best at. I think that that’s been helpful to have continuous skill development all season long. Mastering those basic things and fine-tuning them I think has gotten us all to be more confident in our skates and then it’s nice to just delegate strategy a little bit. I’ve done a little bit of strategy, but it’s nice to know that Lobster’s [Rob Lobster, WoJ Coach] doing Thursday practice, doing strategy. I like that structure. We’ve done a ton of repetition, at least on my part for skills. I still think we can do more; I mean you just have to do it a million times to be able to do it automatically in games. I know it gets boring but I’m always trying to at least continue doing the basic skills: stopping and walls and scrums. We’ve been working on those all season and we’re going to continue working on them.
MNP: Have there been new elements—strategies, skate skills, or other—at the national level that you’ve had to adjust your training for?
HGT: The biggest thing that we wanted to do is learn and master countering strategies. We all face the “slow derby,” the “no-offense” derby when in a power jam situation, specifically, where the discipline on the power-jam-in-favor side ends up just allowing for no pack situations. Learning to counter that or at least know what to expect and how to stem the bleeding, per se, in a situation like that. It’s unfortunate, I guess. What I really want to talk about is Juke Boxx from Minnesota; the “f*** you, get past me” derby. She talks heavily about, you know, skating, and wanting to be able to skate. One way to counter a no-skate slow-stop derby is to skate. It’s what we all want to do, in Rose City. I’m fairly confident that I can speak for most of the country as well; they want to skate. Another thing that we’re finding in derby is jammer styles aren’t always necessarily going to be the small Soulfearic Acids. You’re going to find more blocker body shapes, body style jammers. Power jammers, I like to call them, because they can power through. They’re not the wiry jammers. I almost fear them more because of their size and power, and being able to just push through a wall, and break up a wall. I think we’re seeing that a lot. And then the backwards skating is really coming into play. It’s exciting because any opponent you face who can skate equally aggressively forwards or backwards in the correct skating direction…And I tell you what, when she’s looking straight at you and you’re coming at her that’s more terrifying than coming into a four wall any day. She’s watching you; she’s got her eye on the prize, and in her mind you’re not going to get past her. It’s defeatist. And it works.
SA: I was watching ECE least year against Gotham—us playing against Gotham—and scrums were a part of the game but now it’s huge. You have to be able to adapt and you have to figure out how to get through on those scrums, get lead jammer. That’s huge, and then of course the “sausaging” where on their power jams they’ll just line up—it’s called passive offensive or something like that—and they’ll just not do anything. Philosophically we’ve tried to avoid that because it takes any offense out of the equation which is against the spirit of the game. That’s been frustrating to see that type of behavior but the best you can do when you see things you don’t like develop in a game is to develop a counter strategy. Everybody always wants to change all the rules but I feel like, for example, with the Pegassist, everyone was rushing to that back line, but then if you have a Pegassist you hop over that back line. Then people don’t want the back line anymore. You don’t necessarily always have to have all these rule changes – you can let the game develop a little bit. I think there’s going to be some progressions of the sausage and I think eventually [it will fade]. There’s not a lot of teams that can actually do it very well because your jammer has to get through a four wall with no help. We’ve been countering that lately and we’re ready for it. We can expect that and we will be ready for it.
MNP: How has WOJ reacted to the Oly Rollers transfer situation?
HGT: Well, I think the best way to phrase that is that we understand what they did was not against the rule set. There is nothing saying that you cannot bring on skaters after the Quarter Two rankings have been published. Our reaction is purely that Rose City Rollers as a league is empowerment for women and it’s a unit. We not only skate practices together, but we have committees that we serve on, and have responsibilities that go far beyond lacing up our skates and bouting in front of fans. It comes along with charity work, committee work, fostering new skaters, including our junior league – the Rosebuds. And we’re a team. We’ve been a team since tryouts. Yes, we’ve had new skaters come on since spring tryouts but they’ve been within our league, and they’ve skated with us, and they’ve worked on our committees, and they’ve coached Wreckers practices and they’ve proven that they want to set the example of what Rose City’s core values are.
MNP: I was asking because I was curious if it brought a renewed, based on these values that you just laid out, a renewed sense of—
HGT: It did, we sat out here [the Hangar parking lot] and we talked about it. We wanted everybody who had emotions and feelings about it to hash them out. We all felt the same way – that is doesn’t really matter what they did. That’s them. This is us. That’s not what we would ever do. There’s a trust factor that goes in with this sport. The amount of trust that you have to earn, because it’s not something that’s given, you have to earn that trust – it does take time. I’m not talking about trust on the track necessarily, I’m just talking about trust in general, trust as a teammate. We all want the win, but you have to work together in order to get that. And in order to win that, to get that you have to trust each other. I think having that meeting solidified the amount of trust that we all have in each other. And, the amount of the trust that we have in our league.
SA: It’s just – it’s really frustrating. As our team we talked about it and said let’s have a day to be really pissed off…and move on. You gotta roll with it. I’m excited to play against them and I want to beat them. It’s been very motivational. When I’m running or sprinting or doing any kind of workout it’s motivation to work harder.
MNP: Aside from dominating Regionals and going on to Championships to win the Hydra, what were your personal goals as Captain for the team this year?
HGT: This is funny. When I was asked to run for Captain last season after Nationals I was in complete shock and awe that I was being asked that by our previous Captains Scratcher in the Eye, [and] Cadillac. I was the AoA leadership last season and they saw qualities, I’m assuming, in me that they felt would carry on and bring forth good qualities for Wheels leadership. My personal goal was to obviously, no brainer, make it to Regionals, go to Nationals. But it wasn’t just those. I wanted to win, I wanted to come into Regionals undefeated in our region. No one knew that, until the last game in Seattle. It was all I could do to control myself when that final whistle blew at the end of the game. It was only then that I saw the score and realized that my hopes and dreams for our team had come true. And nobody knew it. Nobody knew that that was my goal. I think that a lot of people might be like, “well, why? Why why why?” It’s because in the beginning of the season various write-ups had already touted as us as “Rose City, they lost all their power blockers, or their big blockers, and they have a new team of ‘who knows who these people are’ or ‘I don’t even know who these people are’ and ‘rebuilding,’ maybe it’s a rebuilding year for Rose City.” I’d like to quote somebody whose close to our team, an anonymous fan of sorts, who said “Well, that’s what they’re going to say, this is a rebuilding year, then I guess you rebuild every year, because look at what you’ve done.” We went into game one against Windy City with a three-point win with skaters that had never even skated in a Wheels bout before. At the Memorial Coliseum, in front of a crowd of 3500 people. It’s a lot of pressure. But we did it, because again, it goes back to the confidence and the trust. And so for every game that’s how we looked at it: one opponent, tonight. Not what’s ahead, but tonight. The most important game is the game we’re playing tonight.
SA: I remember that first Windy City game. I knew it was going to be a bunch of new skaters who hadn’t skated the previous year. I knew our skills weren’t going to be at the same level right off the bat. Our experience wasn’t going to be where it was the year before. So it was all about teamwork. We had to stay tight, we have to know what’s going on. My personal goal was to have it be very clear what people are doing in scenarios. For example, we know what to do when we have a scrum back wall; we know what to do in a scrum when we have the front wall. That’s been my personal goal, that we have strong teamwork. I thought with strong teamwork, and mastery of all the skills, we’re going to be able to win games.
Go to minute 80 to see the last-minute win in our first game of the season
MNP: Any final thoughts you would like to share?
HGT: I would definitely like to give a shout-out to all the fans, donors, sponsors, who believe in the Wheels of Justice. Without them, without their encouragement, without their support, without their cheers, it’d be really quiet.
SA: I’m pretty proud to be a part of Rose City Rollers. I feel like we’re a league with integrity and I feel like we develop our skaters to be sportsmanlike and hardworking. I’m proud to be part of this league and hopefully we can represent the league and place at Nationals…and/or be the champion of the world.