Heartland Series: Milton Keynes v Bombshells preview

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The Bombshells kick off their 2014 gaming season – we’re supposed to call them games not bouts now, WFTDA says so – in style this Sunday (6th April) with a trip up to what we’re calling the South Midlands. Another name for this part of Britain is the Heartland, so it’s a fitting locale for the Eastbourne league to begin their first Heartland Series campaign. The competition sees 24 teams split into four regional groups. The six teams in each group (Eastbourne are in the South East Division) play the other five teams once each at (more or less) monthly double/triple header events, with the top two sides in the final divisional tables going through to an overall finals weekend at the end of the year.

Milton Keynes – or more specifically Bletchley, a town the MK New Town was built a couple of miles north of – is the destination as the Bombshells take on the hosts, Milton Keynes Roller Derby’s A-team Concrete Cows. The double-header’s other bout/game sees divisional favourites Big Bucks High Rollers up against the Norfolk Brawds. Bletchley Leisure Centre is the location, with doors at 2pm and bouts starting at 2.30pm (Big Bucks v Brawds) and 4.30pm (MK Cows v Bombshells). Tickets on the door are £10 adults and £3 under-12s, but adult tickets are a couple of quid cheaper including the service fee if bought online – see the link at the bottom of this piece.

The venue has parking and those driving up from Sussex can expect a journey time of two to three hours each way. Public transport-wise, the leisure centre is ten minutes walk from Bletchley train station. Trains leave from Euston, although you can bypass central London by changing at Clapham and Watford Junctions. Journey time is anywhere from two to four hours depending on where in Sussex you’re starting from. The adult return fare varies between £25 and £50, and Bletchley is within the Network Railcard area so card holders can get a third off these fares. After party location The Enigma Tavern is conveniently situated halfway between the leisure centre and station (about six minutes walk from either).

You’ll find all sorts of links at the very bottom of this article. In a moment, we’ll be talking to Bombshell Smash’er Fierce about her thoughts ahead of the bout, but first Milton Keynes bench manager OzymAndyAs talks Heartland history and more…

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OZYMANDYAS – MK CONCRETE COWS

Hi there. Firstly, for anyone who might not be aware of the MKRD league, can you tell us a bit about your history and achievements to date? What’s the derby scene like in your area? We were formed in May 2010 by skaters who were originally from Bedfordshire Roller Girls, but wanted to set up a team where they lived, alongside BRG. There’s a lot of derby in the area. Bedford has two teams, Northampton has two teams, Oxford now has three and there’s another one in Milton Keynes. We all know each other very well, which makes it a very friendly and competitive area. We hold monthly mixed scrims (on the first Friday of every month) where a lot of us get together. We would love to see some Bombshells there! Our first bout was a closed door against Romsey Town in November 2010 and our first public bout was against the Seaside Sirens in September 2011. We hatched the idea of wanting to play teams more competitively, rather than one-offs, so we launched the End Of The World Series in 2012, a year long tournament with our local friendly leagues. It was a great success (even better as we won the tournament in 2012!) and it grew into the Heartland Series, which had 12 leagues last year and 24 this year. And now we get to play the Bombshells as a result, so it’s pretty awesome!

What do you like about the Heartland Series, and what have been your highlights so far? How do you think this year’s – much bigger – series will go? We love the Series as it gives a structure for the year, organisation for our officials and a real focus for training and development. It has meant that we’ve formed really close relationships with a lot of the leagues involved and we’ve made many friends as a result. It’s also great to see teams repeatedly and watch them grow. A highlight for us was winning the first Series. As Bench Manager, I was able to call a timeout right before the last jam of the last bout, just to get the team to appreciate the moment and their unity as a team. Very lucky to be able to do that. We’ve also seen great matches from other teams. Oxford vs Wiltshire from last year was nail-biting, right down to the last seconds. Mean Valley’s games vs Hell’s Belles and the Brawds from last year were real seesaw battles and the Finals Day was an incredible atmosphere, with three excellent tense games and a worthy champion in Severn Roller Torrent. We’re hearing extremely exciting things about the continued growth of the Series into 2015. The most important thing is for all the new teams to have a positive experience and spread the word, and so far the performances of the North West Division teams, Nottingham Roller Girls in the North East and Dorset Roller Girls in the South West shows the strength in depth across the country. It’s great to see all the new teams have fun and improve!

Who do you think are the teams to look out for in the South East Division? Did the Bout Day 1 results (Brawds beating Beds by over 100, Big Bucks edging past Hell’s Belles) go as you expected? Big Bucks are the favourites I think, but Hell’s Belles played exceptionally well and were unlucky not to pull off a victory. The Belles have a lot of good skaters and being coached by Reaper [from men’s Team England] could make them a force to be reckoned with this year. The Brawds were awfully unlucky not to make it to the finals day last year. They’re well organized and have strength throughout the team. We look at other team’s performances and results, but essentially we try to focus on what we can control. If we win all our games, it’s in our own hands.

What do you know of the Bourne Bombshells (individually and as a team)?
We don’t know a great deal. We haven’t made it down to Eastbourne Extreme yet, but we know it’s a great event. We’ve met some Bombshells skaters at mixed scrims and bootcamps, and we’re excited to play them. The great thing about the Heartland Series is meeting new teams and skaters.

Are there any particular MK players or tactics people should keep any eye out for? Would you like to predict the result? Our tactic is to be awesome – hopefully it works out! We like to think we have strength throughout the team, and we get a good rotation of our best jammers and blockers. In terms of the result, who knows? As long as derby is the winner!

The day’s other match-up sees Big Bucks take on the Norfolk Brawds. How are you expecting that to go, and any players in those teams people should look out for?
We’re really excited to see that bout, especially as the Mayor of Milton Keynes is blowing the first whistle! I think it’ll be a really close game. The Brawds will be encouraged by the performance of Hell’s Belles in the first game, while Big Bucks will be wanting to show more of what they’re about. I think it will be a real cracker! Agent Sparling is a jammer to watch for Big Bucks, while Colletteral Damage always impresses for the Brawds.

Finally, for those travelling up from Sussex, what can you tell us about your venue? What can we expect from the after party? Any tips on other things to see or do in the local area? Bletchley Leisure Centre has lots of parking onsite and a café. There should be plenty of seats in the hall and suicide seats for the daring. There’s no bar but there will be vendor stalls, including skate gear from Swift Customs. (Swifty is one of our men’s team, the Quads of War, and played for Team Wales in the recent Men’s Roller Derby World Cup.) The after party is at the Enigma Tavern, a three minute drive from the leisure centre. They serve food and it’s also next door to a Burger King (we’re all class in MK). We love meeting the skaters afterwards and comparing bruises! I don’t know if there will be much time for people to do anything else after the bout finishes, but if you’re there for the weekend you can check out Bletchley Park to find out how the war was won by the unsung boffins and cryptographers. Also XScape for skiing and skydiving, and CentreMK for shopping and being underwhelmed by the original Concrete Cows.

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SMASH’ER FIERCE – BOURNE BOMBSHELLS

You recently took on a mixed league team (Skate Invaders) in Hastings. They were very strong opponents with a number of well known skaters from sides like Brighton and Portsmouth involved. How important was that bout in terms of preparation for the Heartland Series? Going up against the Skate Invaders recently was really exciting. We knew we had a tough challenge ahead of us and wanted to see how far we could push ourselves, ahead of the Heartland Series. It was great to play against such a high level team, and after the match they gave us some critical feedback that we have been working on so as to improve. We learned that we needed to focus on our endurance and play to the best of our ability until the very last second!

You’ll be playing at least five Heartland games over the next seven months. Do you have an overall strategy for the Series? What do you know about the teams you’re up against (Hell’s Belles, Norfolk Brawds, MK Cows, Bedfordshire and Big Bucks)?
All the leagues are somewhat a mystery as we haven’t previously played any of them. It was interesting to see that it was such a tight game [in February] between Big Bucks and Hell’s Belles, showing that anything can happen on the day. Statistically we are ranked middle of the range in terms of our region, so we will take every game as it comes. Personally I think Big Bucks will be our toughest competition overall, but we can learn and improve from every game we play in the Series, before we meet them later on in the year.

Your Heartland Series kicks off this Sunday 6th April with a trip up to the South Midlands to take on Milton Keynes. Are you looking forward to the game, and how important is being involved in something like Heartland to the Bombshells? Being involved in the Heartland Series has huge importance for the Bombshells and we are really proud of ourselves with how much we have progressed over the last year. It’s great to have reached a standard that allows us to participate in such a well known tournament, which hopefully we can make our mark in. We can’t wait to get started.

Yourselves and Milton Keynes are the only Heartland teams (from 24 in total) yet to play. Are there any advantages/disadvantages to starting your campaign after everyone else? Are there any particular MKRD players or tactics you’re going to be keeping an eye on? An advantage of being one of the last two teams to bout is that no one will know what to expect of us. We’ve been keeping an eye on all the other teams bouting for future reference. A few of the Bombshells have scrimmaged with some of the MK girls before, so we do have some idea of the competition. I’ve heard to watch out for Red Hot Chilli Whipper and The Valkyrie. I think some big hits are to be had!

Are there are any specific Bombshells players/tactics that people travelling up for the game should watch out for? Would you care to predict the result?
We haven’t publicly bouted since November, so the team dynamics have changed… in a good way! We’ve really been focusing on team work, on and off the track (and maybe at the pub). The crowd can expect a new strategy and different line-up tactics. I wouldn’t want to jinx us by predicting a result, but we are ready to put up a fight.

The double header’s other game (Big Bucks v Norfolk) will give you an opportunity to check out two of your upcoming opponents. Anything in particular you’ll be looking out for?
It will be really good to watch our future competition in action at the double header. We’ll be taking note of their strategies and style of game play to take back with us and work on how we can maximise our skills against them. I’ll be watching out for standout players in both teams too, so I’ll know who to watch out for on the track.

Finally, you’re not just focusing on the Heartland Series this year. We understand the Bombshells recently secured a sizeable Sport England grant and have helped set up neighbouring men’s and junior leagues. Also there’s the Eastbourne Extreme tournament coming up in July. How are preparations for that going, and do you have anything else in the pipeline for 2014? The Sport England grant has been absolutely amazing. It will enable us to be a better league and increase our development; for example, being fully equipped for new fresh meat intakes will make trying the sport out more appealing for first-timers. Both the men’s league (Bomb S’Quad) and the juniors (New Bournes) are coming along great. All the Bombshells are really proud of them and love helping out or going to their practices. They will be showcasing their talents at Eastbourne Extreme. The outdoor – and free! – tournament on the 12th and 13th of July is definitely a highlight of the year for us. Preparations are going well and we have some great teams and players joining us. I have no doubt it will be bigger and better than last year. Let’s just hope the sun is out again! All of our efforts will be focused around Heartland and Extreme this year, but if there’s an opportunity to get involved with anything else then I’m sure we will. Some crazy Bombshells are taking part in a 5km Spartan obstacle race later in the year, which looks awfully tough, crawling through mud, etc. I think I’ll stick with my skates!

[Photos by John Hesse, Daz Wilson and Janine Keat]

LINKS

BUY TICKETS: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/603644
FB EVENT PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/events/208107349387555/
BOUT VENUE: https://www.facebook.com/BletchleyLeisure
PARTY VENUE: http://www.enigmatavern.co.uk/about-us/#
SWIFT CUSTOMS (VENDOR): http://www.swiftcustoms.co.uk/
HEARTLAND SERIES: http://www.heartlandseries.co.uk/
MK ROLLER DERBY: http://www.miltonkeynesrollerderby.com/
BOURNE BOMBSHELLS: http://bournebombshells.wix.com/bombshells
BIG BUCKS HIGH ROLLERS: http://www.bigbuckshighrollers.co.uk/
NORFOLK BRAWDS: http://www.norfolkbrawds.com/

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