Some call it a cardinal rule before a big game: Don’t give the opposing team any bulletin board material that they can use as motivation.
But then there’s Bronx Gridlock captain Kandy Kakes, who may have invented the concept of bulletin board material in roller derby, and she’s not about to tone things down before her squad looks for a third consecutive Gotham Girls Roller Derby league title this Saturday at CCNY in Manhattan.
So, Kakes, we take it you have no problem shattering the championship dreams of this weekend’s sentimental favorite, the Brooklyn Bombshells?
“That’s my goal,” she laughs. “It’s actually really, really great that they made it to the championship and I’m excited for them. So I think that’s very cool, I think they’ve come a long way, but I still don’t think they’re a better team than we are.”
You should expect nothing less from a member of the team that has earned three of the last four GGRD titles, one that has done it with a precise style that can blow out opponents just as easily as it can win the close ones. But there aren’t too many close ones for the black and yellow, whose core group of Kakes, Luna Impact, Brigitte Barhot, Beatrix Slaughter, Bonnie Thunders, Ginger Snap, and Speed McQueen have all skated together for at least five years.
“You have so many skaters within the core of our team with very little turnover, when push comes to shove, everybody knows how to get it done,” said assistant captain Luna Impact. “And we’ve just gotten it done so many times together before that when it comes up again, we know how to do it and where our teammates are gonna be and how they’re gonna be doing it. That seems to work pretty well for us.”
So when new skaters arrive, like Dainty Inferno (four years), Care Bear Scare and Rat-A-Tat Kat (three years each), B.Zerk, Rushin’ Revolution, and Tough Muffin (two years each), and Arson Tina and Ow La La (one year), they have the time to acclimate to the team, learn its philosophies, and not get forced into the spotlight immediately. As for adopting that characteristic Bronx cool, Luna says “it’s never even a conversation that we need to have. I think they just pick it up from all the skaters that are around them. In the same way that chaos is contagious, so is calm, cool, collected machine action, which is what I think the Gridlock is really known for. When we’re all working together, that’s the way it really feels on the track. And that is also contagious. When everyone around you is quietly doing exactly what they’re supposed to do and it’s working, there’s no reason to get wild and crazy.”
And in 2011, things were working well as usual, with Bronx locking up another championship game berth with wins over Queens and Brooklyn. Two games, two wins, title game.
But at that point it was only May. That became a problem.
“We played our first two games back to back and then we had off for almost three months before we had another actual game [for local standings],” said Kakes. “We played a recreational game against Boston in the middle, so the team had a lull. People start to fall off; everybody takes a vacation and can lose focus.”
During this “lull,” the Gridlock, who are known for being as dominant in scrimmages as they are when the games count, began to show cracks in their foundation. For the first time, they weren’t winning every time.
“In that lull, everybody was saying ‘Bronx has lost it, they don’t have it anymore, they only have one good player (reigning league MVP Bonnie Thunders), blah, blah, blah, we just need to stop one girl and we’ll win,’” recalled Kakes, who decided that it was time to have a team meeting.
“I had to be like ‘okay, listen, I want to win, I still think we’re the best team, and I have no doubt that we’re gonna win this championship. But I need to know that we’re gonna be here for each other and we’re gonna play as a team, because no one of us is gonna win this game. Who cares what anybody says? Who cares what people think of the scrimmages we lost? It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.”
The queen of bulletin board material gave some to her own team. And they responded.
“Everybody started bringing it in practice and playing really hard, and we’ve been blowing people out. The team is back with a vengeance, and it’s pretty cool. This season was the first time other teams saw a Bronx lull and it gave people a little bit of confidence, which is good because I like to play a confident team. I don’t want you to come in thinking you’re not going to win.”
The Gridlock, back in business, ended the regular season in typical form on October 8th, defeating Manhattan 196-94. Now they will face Brooklyn for the title.
“Brooklyn has completely changed since our first bout,” said Luna. “It’s going to be like playing a new team. We’ve been keeping our tabs on them and have been watching them as they’ve been working and jelling. They’re playing great, and as a coach and a skater, I’m really proud of all the strides they’ve made this year. It’s too bad that we’re gonna have to be the ones to beat them in the championship, but as a team, they really are stepping it up.”
See, even the soft-spoken Luna Impact can let Brooklyn know that the Gridlock is planning on keeping them from hoisting a championship banner. The way she sees it, it’s just a product of her team always being on the same page.
“The Bronx has traditionally been a really strong teamwork team, and then there’s the stuff that you can’t really teach, which is knowing where your partners are and having one brain among everybody on the yellow bench,” she said. “That’s something that doesn’t just get taught in a week or a month or a season.”
You can’t teach grace under pressure either, and if the Gridlock has a decided edge in anything on bout night this weekend, it’s in big game experience. Yeah, Brooklyn pulled out an unforgettable come from behind overtime win over Queens in their final regular season bout, but Bronx has been doing this for years, winning three of GGRD’s six championships. Kandy Kakes expects to make it four.
“I really think Brooklyn has come a long way and they’re a really strong team now,” she said. “They’ve gotten a lot of skilled skaters over the last couple years in the draft, they’ve changed management and captains over, and it was refreshing and good for them. I think it’s what Brooklyn needed. So I look at them and I think that’s it’s awesome that they’ve come this far and I think next year they’ll be even stronger. But for this year, they’re not gonna beat us in the championship. I can respect their skaters, I can respect that they’ve come so far, and I see a really good team now; I just don’t see a team better than Bronx.”
Get tickets for this Saturday’s finals at www.ggrdtix.com. The Gridlock play the Brooklyn Bombshells for the title at City College of New York’s Nat Holman Gymnasium.