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Roller Girls rally late in 182-156 loss

Victorious ArkValley to host September rematch
The Durango Roller Girls' Kelsey 'Eager Beaver' Beaver (1212) catches air on a point-scoring inside pass of the ArkValley High Rollers' defense Saturday night at Chapman Hill. The visitors, however, collectively scored more in a 182-156 road win. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Caught in a prolonged game of follow-the-leader after a short-lived four minutes (producing a shorter-lived 4-0 lead) of Women’s Flat Track Derby Association competition Saturday night, the Durango Roller Girls – and certainly the squad’s emerging talent – at least had a leader to follow while attempting a crazy comeback against the visiting ArkValley High Rollers.

Motivated by Kelsey ‘Eager Beaver’ Beaver’s return to action, with the hyped-up veteran jammer executing multiple enemy-eluding, point-scoring ‘apex jumps’ through the turns – including a particularly inspiring shortcut during the opening two-minute jam session immediately after halftime – the Roller Girls, down 90-53 at the break and still trailing 147-111 midway through the second 30-minute half, outscored the guests 45-35 the rest of the way but ultimately were defeated 182-156.

“ArkValley is, like, family, but they also know that it’s a really fun bout every time we play them,” DRG captain Celeste ‘D’Cell Punk’ Hanson-Weller said afterward. “They know that they’re going to come in here and … get a battle.”

“We always like to joke that we’re, like, a ‘second-half’ team,” she continued. “We collectively … said that we’re going to get back out there, regroup and just kill it. And that’s what we did; we worked really, really hard … and it all clicked for us.”

“We have a long history of playing each other,” said AVHR assistant captain Jessica ‘Shook Me All Night’ Shook, “so a lot of skaters on both teams – I’ve been playing for 10 years, Punk’s been playing that long, Quad-ess of Pain (Durango’s Stephanie Roberts) has been playing that long – know each other really well. And I think that does make it more intense, more physical; we play harder because we’re such good friends in the end.”

“But Durango had really strong defense – big defensive walls, big hits – so they were difficult to get through.”

“We really didn’t know what to expect, because we knew that the girls here had been practicing really hard … building (up) their team,” High Roller Stacy ‘Ramp’ Falk said. “So it was definitely going to be a good game and that we were going to have to work for it.”

With several out-of-towners summoned to fill unexpected roster vacancies, ArkValley made their first major move late in the first half via an 18-point jam courtesy Rachel ‘Pink FlameNgo’ Hanna – previously of the 10th Mountain Roller Dolls (Eagle) and Roaring Fork Roller Derby (Glenwood Springs), and even Team Colorado – putting the visitors up 84-46 entering the last couple minutes. Following the 15-minute recharge, however, the Roller Girls responded and began their rally outscoring AVHR 28-15 – helped by Kelli ‘Atomic’ Henry’s 16-point jam, cutting the deficit down to 105-81 – during the first 6:45 after halftime.

With 16:47 remaining, Durango had closed to 123-105 after a productive 12-point push by Tatum ‘Noodle’ Schmidt, but the High Rollers steadily reinforced their advantage back to an intimidating 161-125 with 5:30 to go. But the Roller Girls banked on Beaver, and after she called off a lengthy jam with 3:30 left on the clock inside Chapman Hill Ice Arena, the AVHR lead had suddenly shrank to 165-145.

“Beaver really wanted to play last time, but we said ‘We want you for the rest of the season,’” Hanson-Weller said, recalling her regular’s willingness a couple weeks earlier to skate hurt. “She always comes in with a fire. Always. And she just lit it up this time; it was amazing. She’s a great role model for our other jammers … everybody wants to be Beaver!”

The Durango Roller Girls' Kelli 'Atomic' Henry (808) accelerates while pursuing the pack, preparing to pass/lap as many ArkValley High Rollers as she can and thus add points to the DRG score Saturday at Chapman Hill. AVHR, however, notched a 182-156 road win. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

“Last time all (our) jammers were all really nervous, all (our) jammers were fresh, but it’s great to have Beaver,” said Schmidt. “And it was a tough game; ArkValley has some really great skaters, but I think everybody had a lot of fun.”

Henry then called off a new jam just 45 ticks later, having scored four points to get the home side back to 165-149 – the closest DRG would, unfortunately, approach during the remainder of their last home bout in 2023.

“We have jammers out with … long-term stuff that they’re finally getting to deal with, so we had a shorter roster and needed to fill spots,” Shook explained. “So we just put it out there to our neighboring teams, friends and said ‘Who’s available?’ And we actually had a couple girls from Albuquerque, had two from Roaring Fork and one from Arizona that came up – you never know what you’re going to get!”

“It is what it is, but we’re just proud of everyone to come out and give it their all,” said Falk, plenty familiar with the Chapman venue and atmosphere as a former member of the Durango Betties and Durango Fury traveling hockey teams. “We only had 11 players and usually we like about 14 or 15, so that kept (us) going.”

The Roller Girls will next journey to Salida for a Sept. 16 rematch even more anticipated than before.

“I only started playing a little over a year ago, so it’s good to measure my progress against ArkValley. Like, how much does it take to knock me out now? Am I getting better?” Schmidt said. “So I’m hoping to skate a little more aggressively next time; the skaters from ArkValley are really tough – I’m kind of scared to hit ’em sometimes – but we’ve just got to go for it.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Hanson-Weller, her birthday the previous day recognized by both crews. “And it’s always good to know, or to remember ‘Shook likes to do this’ or ‘Ramp likes to do that’, so we just know it’ll be really, really good.”

“We love playing Durango so much … and they’re going to come (to the Chaffee County Fairgrounds) with something to prove; they’re going to be hitting hard and skating fast,” Shook said. “Their jammers, with those jumps and their long legs and speed, they were working really hard to get past our defense. So I think they’re going to bring it with intensity!”