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Windy City Rollers Fri Jan 25 2013

Quest for the Ivy King Cup: Windy City Rollers Home Season Preview

To call the Windy City Rollers' practice facility spartan is a bit of an understatement.

From the outside, you might think the two-story brick building (the location of which the Rollers would not divulge on the record) was once a factory or school, but is now little more than a shell. If not for the roller derby memorabilia lining the walls and derby gear scattered about, the exposed duct work, corrugated ceilings and concrete floors that shake when a skater falls would not indicate that some of the city's best skaters practice there.

But it's in that spartan facility (a.k.a. the Batcave) that the four WCR home teams -- the Fury, the Manic Attackers, the Double Crossers and the Hell's Belles -- were recently preparing for the season-opening round robin tournament tomorrow. The tournament is the first step in the annual quest for the Ivy King Cup, awarded to the best of the four home teams.

Molly Fannin, who captains the Manic Attackers who won last year's Ivy King Cup, is looking forward to a repeat of last year's success. Fannin, who skates under the name Bork Bork Bork, said the fact that the Manics kept most of their skaters from last year is a major reason for her confidence.

"We retained most of our skaters," said Fannin. "We've got a real nice core of veterans."

Fannin said that while her team is well-balanced, there are definitely skaters to keep an eye on this season.

"Thievin' Tyler is really going to come into her own this year," Fannin said. "She's got really springy bunny legs. She's able to move her body in crazy ways and stay on her feet."

But Fannin's not the only confident captain.

Mo Pylinski (a.k.a. Ska Face), captain of the Fury, said her team has seen more turnover than the Manics, but that the newer skaters on the squad have proven themselves to be very valuable assets.

"We're pretty strong right now," Pylinski said. "Our junior skaters have really stepped it up. We're of the mentality that this season is ours."

The Fury, Pylinski said, is a very calm team that doesn't fall apart when things start to go south. If a skater starts to get frustrated or upset when things don't go well, Pylinski said, the team is there to snap her back to reality and get her refocused on the task at hand.

"That's the culture we breed as a team," she said. "Skills and physical strength are things that can be worked on. Emotional stability and competitive drive can't be taught as easily. That's a core value."

All four home teams (as well as the leauge's two travel teams) will be playing under a new set of rules that took effect Jan. 1. One major change is that jams will now start on a single whistle, instead of one whistle to start the pack and another to start the jammers. Another is that no minor penalties will be assessed; there will only be majors.

"It's made our lives a lot easier," said Nora Vogel, one of the Rollers' referees who skates as Nora Leif. "It's a lot less work for refs."

Vogel believes the new rules will speed up the game and make it a better experience for fans.

"It seems from our perspective that it is a faster and harder-hitting game," Vogel said.

Fannin believes the new rules will force teams to deal with their penalties earlier because under the new rules, an infraction means an automatic trip to the penalty box.

"It's forcing us to correct our errors and our weaknesses earlier," she said.

Penalties are something the whole league -- both home and travel teams -- needs to work on, Fannin said. She points to herself as an example and said she often gets called for clockwise blocking and is trying to change that.

"I like to swing my butt to hit people and it can sometimes look to the refs like your butt's going clockwise," she said. "It's sad because I like to do it a lot."

For two of the league's rookies, the new rules aren't going to be tough to learn because that's all they've known. Instead, Anne Kim (also known as Pain Goodall) and Jaclyn Stacy (a.k.a. Annihilist Nin) are focusing on understanding the strategy of the game. Kim said, however, that the only way to really understand it is to employ it over and over.

"The strategy's going to come the more we play," said Kim, who skates for the Double Crossers. "I'm constantly learning."

Stacy agreed.

"Every practice, my mind is a sponge," she said.

But underneath everything, Kim said, there's really only one goal for the home season: "We're all going for the Cup."

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