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Tournament showcases top roller derby teams at Oaks Amusement Park in Portland

COURTESY PHOTO: CHRISTINA CAPOBIANCO - Rose City Rollers jammer Beyond Thunderdame (top) bursts through a wall of Denver Roller Derby blockers during a tournament in May. Portland's world champion Rose City Rollers will return to their home track this weekend to take on Denver Roller Derby and Los Angeles' Angel City Derby.

The 2019 Hometown Throwdown tournament, Friday through Sunday, June 21-23, at Oaks Amusement Park, will have the all-star roller derby Wheels of Justice competing in Portland for what is likely the last series of home games until 2020.

In May, the team played The Big O tournament in Eugene, defeating Montreal and Denver.

Rose City, whose world ranking spiked to No. 1 this year for the first time, plays Denver again this weekend, but this time, each team will have had a month to polish its game.

"We focused a lot on the last game we played against them," says Wheels of Justice captain Nicole Williams, who is better known as Bonnie Thunders. "(We've had time) to review and kind of finesse and tweak what we had worked on in the last game, to make sure it still felt solid and also think about what things didn't work well in those moments and how we could've had more success."

Thunders joined the Rose City roster in 2017, after years with a top rival team and five-time world champions, Gotham Girls Roller Derby of New York. She also skated for Team USA in its three Roller Derby World Cup wins since the competition was introduced in 2011.

COURTESY PHOTO: CHRISTINA CAPOBIANCO - The Rose City Rollers all-star team, Wheels of Justice, is seeking its fourth world championship. From left are Elicia Nisbet-Smith, OMG WTF, Bonnie Thunders and Juniper Simonis. With Thunders, Rose City gained one of the most notorious and successful skaters in the history of the sport, but that same year, the team also lost several powerhouse players and its international title to Australia's Victorian Roller Derby League.

The following year proved to be a bit of a rebuilding season.

"Last season, we had a lot of turnover," Thunders says. "We had only six returning charter skaters or something (on a team of 30). I remember having a conversation about how the inexperience can be a challenge but it can also be a blessing because people are always hungry to win and prove themselves."

The hard work paid off.

In 2018, Wheels of Justice took home the Women's Flat Track Derby Association's world championship for the third time since 2015.

This year, the Wheels of Justice roster doesn't have the shake-ups it did in 2018, making the team a juggernaut in its division. Thunders and fellow team captain Elicia Nisbet-Smith join returning skaters such as veteran jammer Loren Mutch and blockers such as WFTDA's 2018 MVP, Rochelle Jubert, aka Gal of Fray. New skater Lurz Lemon, who debuted with the team in Eugene, adds to the team's deep jammer rotation.

Now, the three-peat champs are hoping to secure a fourth world title in November at the 2019 International WFTDA Championships in Montreal, where 10 teams will compete.

First, the squad will need to get past No. 7-ranked Los Angeles and No. 5 Denver.

COURTESY PHOTO: CHRISTINA CAPOBIANCO - Rose City jammer Beyond Thunderdame (left) takes the line next to Denvers Scald Eagle.Denver's roster was bolstered in 2017 with two key players — sisters Erika "Brawn Swanson" Buscovick, and jammer Hillary "Scald Eagle" Buscovick, transfers from Rose City who left for Denver. This season, Denver added another titan to its squad with the transfer of Lady Trample — a top jammer from Victoria. Still, what carries the team isn't top talent, but team culture, says Denver captain Cailin "Sharon Tacos" Klein.

"There is no doubt that Eagle, Brawn and Trample have been great assets to the team, but the value they bring extends far past their talent," Klein said. "At Denver, we're a family. We believe that you can't succeed on talent alone. Our successes come from the culture that we aim to create to push us to be better than we are."

The weekend tourney is a must-win showdown for Denver's hopes of regaining its first-round bye into WFTDA championships.

Hometown Throwdown showcases three of the WFTDA's top 10 roller derby teams, but it also features the most competitive adult B-teams in the sport.

Axles of Annihilation, which serves as Portland's all-star B-team to the Wheels of Justice, will play the Denver and L.A. B-teams, Bruising Altitude and Rocket Queens.

Rose City will enter the tourney as the top-ranked women's flat track roller derby team in the world for the first time, after sitting at No. 2 for years, despite its championships.

"It's gratifying, especially for this team," Thunders says. "For a long time, they won multiple years in a row and still didn't get that first-place title. We've worked so hard to up our game and also have consistency and depth in our team.

"From year to year, if someone leaves we have someone to take over. I think that's the true mark of a great team."

Tickets for Hometown Throwdown are $15 each day or $35 for a weekend pass, and available online through Rose City Rollers

New to roller derby?

Flat track roller derby games consist of two 30-minute periods. Each period is played in multiple two-minute jams. During a jam, each team can have 15 skaters on its bench and field four blockers and one jammer per two-minute jam. Jammers wear a star and are responsible for scoring points by lapping opponents' hips while skating in counter-clockwise. The first jammer to pass all opponents legally is designated the lead jammer and can call off a jam at any time. Jammers and blockers may block using the hips, rear and shoulders, and may deliver hits to opposing players.

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