Some of the nation’s — and the world’s — best roller derby teams are cruising into town for the annual Big O tournament this weekend, May 4-6, hosted by Eugene’s own Emerald City Roller Derby.
Top-ranked women’s, men’s and juniors’ teams will be among those competing. One of the teams traveling to town is the Rose City Rollers — Portland’s league that is currently ranked second in the world under Victorian Roller Derby League out of Australia, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).
The Rose City Rollers’ travel team, Wheels of Justice, are two-time world champions. The team represents the league in ranked competition.
Wheels of Justice is hoping for a third win at the end-of-the-year WFTDA Championships, so performing well during early and pre-season tournaments like The Big O is crucial.
The potential of winning isn’t looking too shabby with help from a recent transfer — Bonnie Thunders from New York City’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby.
Thunders, whose given name is Nicole Williams, is one of the sport’s best-known athletes. She’s also on the USA Roller Derby team, which competes internationally in events like the Roller Derby World Cup.
Thunders transferred to Portland’s league recently; her first season with Rose City was last year. This season she’s one of the captains of the travel team and says she’s excited for Rose City to compete in the Eugene competition.
The Big O, Thunders says, is “an interesting tournament because it is usually most teams’ first game [of the season].”
Of the early-season tournaments, “It is kind of one of the most important because you have these really high level matchups straight out, off the bat,” Thunders says. “Instead of trying to start slow and build up, you don’t really have that opportunity.”
Rose City is playing twice in the tournament: against Denver Roller Derby, out of Colorado, and Arch Rival Roller Derby, out of St. Louis, Missouri. Those teams are ranked fifth and seventh, respectively.
Thunders says she’s looking forward to both match-ups.
Rose City played Arch Rival at last year’s WFTDA Championships in November. “It’s nice when you’ve played somebody recently,” Thunders says. “So you kind of get that feel for how you can adjust and change.”
She says Denver will also be fun because a former member of Rose City transferred there, and Rose City also recently received a Denver transfer. Thunders says this “flip-flop” inspires a good rivalry.
The ever-changing nature of leagues, through transfers or other circumstances, is part of the reason why Thunders is confident about Rose City’s position and the potential for another championship win.
“I feel great about the team right now,” she says. “Across all of WFTDA there’s been a significant change in the top teams, whether it’s transfers moving around, such as myself, or there’s been a lot of retirees of senior level starters who’ve been around for years. So everyone is looking very different this year.”
Thunders continues: “And while we’re on the same path as many other teams, as far as having a lot of new skaters and having lost a lot of important key players last year, I think we have a lot of talent and I think we have a lot of young skaters who are really hungry and ready to fight and do whatever they need to do to get to that championship and win. That kind of energy and that enthusiasm is something that you need in order to get there.”
The Big O tournament is Friday through Sunday, May 4-6, at the Lane Events Center. Along with Rose City, make sure to catch Eugene’s competing women’s, men’s and juniors’ teams — ECRD All Stars, Emerald City Junior Gems Reservoir Dolls and Lane County Concussion. Keep up with the Rose City Rollers, including an upcoming capital campaign to fundraise for a new practice facility, at rosecityrollers.com.