With a flair for the dramatic, Hillary Buscovick and Rose City begin bid for a roller derby encore
Hillary Buscovick actually had to cover her ears.
The crowd at the 2015 Women's Flat Track Derby Association championships at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, Minnesota, was so loud, so intense, that "Scald Eagle" felt a step removed from reality.
"It was one of those games in which things were happening so fast," says Buscovick, a 6-foot jammer for the Rose City Wheels of Justice. "I was in fight-or-flight mode."
Ask her teammates, though, and they'll tell you she was in delight mode.
Buscovick led all scorers with 133 points and propelled Rose City to a 206-195 upset win over five-time champion Gotham Girls Roller Derby of New York. The Hydra Trophy, which had practically planted roots in New York, would follow Rose City and the MVP home to Portland, Oregon.
Now, Rose City sets out on its 2016 season, hoping to hold onto the Hydra, starting this weekend at the Big O in Eugene, Oregon. First up is a Friday match against Minnesota, followed by an international match against Australia's Victorian Roller Derby League, which finished third at the 2015 WFTDA championships and features former Rose City captain Shaina Serelson. The game will be streamed live on ESPN3 at 7 p.m. ET.
That everyone will be trying to find ways to stop Buscovick shouldn't be a surprise. Growing up in the high mountain village of Gunnison, Colorado, Buscovick learned to ice skate at age 3, and was an ace at hockey by her early teens.
"My particular background -- in hockey and skating -- absolutely 100 percent set me up for success in derby," said Buscovick, who debuted with Rose City's travel team in 2011. "When I started, I had a base of muscle memory and great technique. All I had to do was learn the game."
Teammates and competitors are in awe, and fellow Rose City jammer Jessica Rodriguez isn't shy about it.
"Scald Eagle is the best player in the world," Rodriguez said. "She can change up her style, her speed is insane, and her agility is like no one else in the sport."
Serelson, now a rival, still admires from afar.
"Creativity is what makes Eagle stand out above other jammers. She's a step ahead of the opposition and unpredictably dynamic," Serelson said. "Match that with her strength and fight, and you have the world champion everyone saw last year."
And what Buscovick offers in power and speed is matched by her smart, if opportunistic, method of play. Along with her footwork, the 28-year-old Buscovick points to her time acting on the high school stage.
"The No. 1 thing stylistic to me is my juking technique. It's mental -- but to a degree, acting," Buscovick says. "Half the time I am doing things with my facial expressions and body to lure people to go one way, as I go the other."
She has dubbed one of her favorite tricks the "fapex jump" (short for fake apex jump), and it involves initiating a jump toward the inside line, before quickly shifting her body -- and her skates -- in the opposite direction.
"I've found a way to mix my extensive hockey background with my extensive drama background."
And, presto, now she has a championship background.
As Buscovick points out, though, Rose City's climb to the top wasn't without difficulty and heartache.
In 2012 and 2013, Rose City had successful seasons but failed to qualify for the WFTDA Championship tournament. Then in 2014, Rose City went all the way to the WFTDA final before conceding an 11-point lead in the final minute to Gotham, 147-144.
"That game, experience won out. Gotham had been there so many times before," Buscovick says. "But we went back to the drawing board, never wanting to experience that again."
Rose City arrived at Champs last year just weeks after losing their longtime coach and friend, Robin Ludwig, to cancer.
"Last year was hard," Buscovick says. "Rob was very much a driving force in our improvement through the years."
Moreover, it was Ludwig's motto -- "Win this moment" -- that became a mantra that helped Rose City throughout the long season.
"'Win this moment' meant taking everything one step at a time," Buscovick says. "Once you realize how close you are [to your goal], the team comes together, you ramp things up."
For now, Buscovick is eager to start the 2016 season with a bang. And even the "best in the world" knows she can't be the best without some serious help from her defense.
"To be successful myself, I need my blockers, and am so happy to have them," Buscovick says. "In creating plays, they open up the opportunities for me to play at my best."