Vanessa Sites takes hard-charging style to Gotham Girls Roller Derby

Courtesy Sean Hale

Gotham has had no shortage of superstars over the years. Now Vanessa Sites is poised to become the next.

Let's just say there was no tiptoeing onto the roller derby scene for Vanessa Sites.

But it wasn't her stellar skating that punctuated her 2008 arrival to Pennsylvania's Coal City Rollers. Far from it, in fact. What folks in towns across Pennsylvania are still talking about is her athleticism, power and passion, which could be code for her combative style.

"I was terrible when I started," says Sites, a former volleyball player, dancer and hiker. "I definitely could not skate. ... Derby was this exciting new thing."

Derby felt the same way about Sites.

Courtesy Sean Hale

Vanessa Sites, left, doesn't exactly shy away from contact on the flat track.

In 2011, the still relatively unknown Sites made Team USA's World Cup team just before moving to Philly Roller Derby. She has since become better known as "V-Diva."

"When Diva first came to Philly, her talent was evident and her power unmatched," said Mishel Castro, the longtime captain of Philly Roller Derby. "We saw her transform this raw power into a controlled talent, largely unstoppable in her trajectory to being one of the best in the sport."

Sites' combination of fast footwork, horsepower and hard hits wasn't unheard of in derby. But her unique skate-through-and-not-around style wasn't typical for a jammer, either.

"She's definitely a pusher," Castro said. "Instead of juking and moving to avoid blockers, she's not afraid to clash and use her upper body to get through."

Even those on the highest perch took note of Sites' high-scoring and hard-charging ways. Sarah McKemie, a two-time Team USA World Cup star and one-woman wall known as Sexy Slaydie, said her Gotham Girls Roller Derby team basically created a defense to stop Sites.

"When Diva joined Philly, we had to adapt our wall formations against her," McKemie said, pointing to a strategy called the "braced wall" in which multiple blockers form a tripod-shaped formation. "Opponents need a special plan for her exceptional strength and driving ability."

No need for McKemie or New York-based Gotham to sweat it out any more. After four seasons with Philly, the 5-foot-11 Sites announced she is joining Gotham Girls Roller Derby for the upcoming Women's Flat Track Derby Association season.

In signing on with Gotham, the 30-year-old Sites joins a five-time world champion team that has lost only one flat-track game since 2010. It also just happens to be their last big flat-track game. Gotham was stunned by Rose City of Portland, Oregon, last November at the Women's Flat Track Derby Association Championships, ending a run of four consecutive championships.

So you can go ahead and add good timing to Sites' list of qualities.

McKemie said Gotham's mission this year is to bring the prestigious Hydra trophy back to New York. And, while making each game's roster isn't an easy task even for the best players at Gotham, McKemie says that Sites' talent and ferocity makes her yet another weapon in Gotham's already deep arsenal.

"Diva adds depth and dynamism to our lineup," McKemie said. "She'll fit right in with Gotham, because she brings awesome intensity to every practice."

McKemie isn't the only one associated with Gotham to herald Sites' talents.

Justin Campoy, one of Gotham's longtime coaches and also a coach for Team USA, said that during the USA tryout sessions, in summer 2011, Sites stood out right away. She also represented Team USA at the 2014 World Cup.

"She was really wild in the beginning, and clearly had this raw talent," Campoy said. "She had a unique blend of power, speed and agility."

But despite her notoriety and improvement as a player, Sites said she's joining Gotham with a humble, eager-to-learn mindset. She's expected to make her Gotham debut later this spring.

"Gotham doesn't need me or anyone else to jump in and help them win a championship again," Sites said. "But if I can earn a role and contribute toward their goal of winning the Hydra, I'm all in."

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