COURTESY: DANNY NGAN - The 2015 Wheels of Justice team, part of Rose City Rollers, celebrates its national title. The Portland squad goes for a repeat crown this weekend at Memorial Coliseum.The Wheels of Justice, the all-star team of the Rose City Rollers, enters the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association championship at Memorial Coliseum as the favorite.

Wheels of Justice won its first championship in 2015. Then the Rose City Rollers league successfully landed the tournament, allowing the team to defend its title in its home city.

The Friday through Sunday bouts will be a showcase for women’s roller derby and an opportunity for the country’s largest roller derby club to show off its all-star team.

“We’re physically and mentally prepared,” captain Elicia Nesbit-Smith says. “We’re really excited. We’ve worked all year for this event and this tournament.”

Says Kim Stegeman, Rose City Rollers executive director: “I absolutely love having this in our backyard, so our fans can see this derby and we can show the rest of the world what Portland’s like. And, I want my girls to have home-track advantage. It’s something special to host a tournament like this.”

Twelve teams qualified through playoffs. The first-seeded teams are Wheels of Justice, Victorian Roller Derby League (Australia), London Rollergirls (United Kingdom) and Gotham City Roller Derby (New York).

Wheels of Justice received a first-round bye and will play the winner of the Texas Rollergirls-Rat City Rollergirls (Seattle) match at 4 p.m. Saturday. If WOJ wins, they’ll play again at 8:30 p.m. (possibly against Victorian).

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In last year’s championship match at St. Paul, Minnesota, Wheels of Justice topped Gotham, which had won 67 consecutive games and four consecutive WFTDA titles. The Portland team has some of the best players in the world, including jammers Hillary Buscovick, Jessica Peiffer and Loren Mutch and blockers Jessica Chestnut and Jes Rivas — all invited to play for Team USA in next year’s Roller Derby World Cup.

Nesbit-Smith says the focus has not been on Wheels of Justice “defending” the title.

“It’s not ours to defend. We need to win it again and earn it again, the same as last year, with the same grit and determination,” she says. “I expect our team to put everything we’ve worked on into the matches, and play with intensity, heart and drive.”

Says Stegeman: “They all seem to be in a really good mood, really focused. That’s a really good sign. I’ve had years where I’ve had players midsummer getting substantial injuries, or teammate in-fighting. Right now, they seem really focused and concentrating on being the best team they can be.”

The Rose City Rollers organization, formed in 2004 and based at the Oaks Amusement Park hangar, has been preparing to host the championship nearly all year. Stegeman has been working on finalizing ticketing, sponsors, television (ESPN) and internet production.

Stegeman believes the first Portland match will attract about 6,000 spectators, and she hopes more show up for any ensuing matches.

“We’ve done quite a bit of promotion in Portland, and we have a big Ticketmaster eblast going out,” she says.

“While we’re going to have 90 percent of our audience be derby-specific folks, and people coming in from around the world because their team is playing or they are folks who follow the sport, we’re busy telling our Portland audience that there will be a 4 o’clock game on Saturday, and if we win it’d be 8:30 p.m. ... But, every game will be a great matchup. Friday will be fun because Seattle fans (of Rat City Rollergirls) will be there and they’re insane. Should be fun.”

Stegeman says the large contingent of volunteers and league members helping out with the tournament have made putting on the roller derby spectacular go smoothly.

“And, I’m glad we have Memorial Coliseum to do this at,” she says. “I know people like coming and playing here. We’ll have great nights of after-parties, tons of vendors. ... We got a lot of pride in showcasing our program.”

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