As a Division I soccer player for Cal-State Fullerton, Brooklyn Bombshells captain OMG WTF was used to playing in front of big crowds.
But those were in a stadium.
When she arrived in the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league in 2009, the crowds were suddenly jammed into gymnasiums around New York City, where everything suddenly got a lot louder and a lot more intimate.
“That was a giant hurdle I had to overcome when I started playing for Gotham because there’s a lot of people in that gym,” she laughs. “Playing in front of that many people, if you do that on a soccer field, it doesn’t look like that many people because they’re spread out all over the place in the stands, and the stadium where I played was gigantic. But when you play in a small gymnasium and it’s loud and it’s hot, it does totally get to your head.”
Fast forward to the night of September 10, 2011, and it couldn’t have gotten any louder, hotter, or rowdier in Manhattan’s Hunter College Gym. But trailing the Queens of Pain by nine points with a little over two minutes remaining in a game that would send the winner to the GGRD title bout this Saturday, it was OMG pulling her Bombshells together for the final stages of an overtime win that gave them the most important win in their history.
Now they want to top it at CCNY by beating the two-time defending champion Bronx Gridlock and winning their first league title. Fighting for the Golden Skate Trophy is probably the only way Brooklyn could get up for another game after their emotionally draining war with Queens.
“We put it all on the line [against Queens] and we fought as hard as we possibly could,” said OMG. “I was still absolutely exhausted the following weekend. But it’s a sport, and come game time, you can always set aside that tiredness and those sore muscles if you have to. It’s mind over matter.”
It’s also a new Brooklyn squad, one that has captured the imagination of the league’s fans by shedding the ‘lovable underdog’ tag and becoming a league powerhouse with their stirring wins over Queens and Manhattan and their strong first half effort in a regular season bout with the Gridlock before eventually falling short of victory.
But it’s been their style of play that has really been the story, with a multi-faceted attack leaving opponents wondering where the next hit is coming from. First-year transfer Wild Cherri has been a revelation for the team, with returning vet Anne Phetamean also adding punch to a lineup anchored by knockout artists Sexy Slaydie, Hela Skelter, and versatile assistant captain Papierschnitt, along with pesky blockers Lady Fingers, Evilicious, Double Clutch, nameLes, Tail Gunner Flo, Bitch Cassidy, and Score of Babylon. MegaHurtz and Raggedy Animal, big hitters all season, will be sidelined for the finals with injuries, but there should be plenty of firepower in the Bombshells’ cannons to make up the slack.
The unselfish OMG has been the catalyst for the team’s resurgence, both on the track and off. As the team’s new captain, she set the tone for 2011 and made sure that everyone was on board when it came to making a move for the league title. That experiment was an unquestionable success.
“I feel like we, as a team, approached this season in a completely different light,” she said. “In the past, everyone’s always looked at us as these underdogs, and once you hear that over and over again, you start to actually believe that. My thing this season is that we’re not the underdogs; that’s absolutely in the past, and our road is to the championship. Coming into the season, there were skaters on each other team who said ‘well, Brooklyn is gonna be the team to look out for this year,’ and we wanted to prove that and step up into that role.”
They have, opening up 2011 with a 137-124 win over Manhattan. From there, a loss to Bronx was virtually forgotten after their classic victory against Queens, and when you throw in a 159-40 blowout of the DC All-Stars in a shortened exhibition bout, the Bombshells are no longer the Chicago Cubs. They’ve made it to the Big Dance.
“Everybody has stepped up this season, all across the team, and for me, my whole thing was that the mental side of sports is about 80 percent of the game, so if you can accomplish that, skill is such a small, small part of it,” said OMG. “Obviously it does help when you do have that skill, but that’s what we’ve been working on all season long. I think it has helped a lot and created a lot of confidence in skaters who didn’t have it in the past. So being able to say, ‘yeah I can do that; I’ve been playing for this many years, I can step up and I can be one of the best skaters in the league,’ it kind of sets a different tone for the team.”
The Queens game was the turning point, because in the past, the ‘down to the wire’ scenarios were usually the signal for opposing teams to pull away and leave Brooklyn in the dust. This time, they refused to go away without a fight, and then they landed the knockout blow. It was the type of bout you never forget seeing, and for the skaters, it was one that they will never forget being a part of.
“It really hit home after the Queens game,” said OMG. “Raggedy Animal and Hela have both been on this team for six years, and just their emotions over it were very telling. They have worked so hard and they have worked for such a long time to finally get this opportunity to be there. And none of us takes that for granted at all.”
This Saturday night, the lovable underdogs will become the sentimental favorites. Beating the Gridlock will be a tall order, one they’ve never achieved in six regular season meetings from 2006 to 2011, but this is a new day, and all they need is to be “on” for one hour. The crowd will be loud, but it really doesn’t matter.
“I tell my team that I don’t care who’s in the stands,” said OMG. “Nobody’s here right now except for our team and their team and that’s all you should be worrying about. So creating that space in their heads prior to the game is definitely something we do beforehand in the locker room. We visualize and mentally go where we need to be and go through all the motions and all the possible scenarios that can happen in a game. So when they happen in the game, you don’t freak out, you don’t foul and end up in the box. You stay calm so that you can be out on the track helping your teammates. The number one thing this whole season long has been ‘keep the bench calm.’”
And watch their ship roll in.
Get tickets for this Saturday’s finals at www.ggrdtix.com. The Bombshells play the Bronx Gridlock for the title at City College of New York’s Nat Holman Gymnasium.