Speedy And Shifty, Loren Mutch Leads Pack Of New Roller Derby Stars

Loren Mutch was named MVP of the WFTDA championships last year after leading Rose City all the way to the final. Safe to say, she won't be sneaking up on anybody this year. Courtesy of Danforth Johnson

There she was last November in Nashville, Tennessee, a relatively unknown jammer juking by some of the biggest, baddest and smartest defenders the game has ever known.

Twenty-two-year-old Loren Mutch frustrated opponents and dazzled fans with her gifted skating last fall. She was named MVP of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association Championships, leading Rose City to the final before the team from Portland fell to Gotham Girls of New York City.

And now, as roller derby says goodbye to some of its brightest and most beloved stars, such as Suzy Hotrod and Downtown Dallis -- who have recently retired from national competition -- Mutch is being hailed by many as The One. The luminary in the next wave of stars as the WFTDA settles into its second decade.

"Of course it seems to some people like I came out of nowhere," said Mutch, whose team fell 147-144 to Gotham, which pulled off the four-peat at Champs. "But I have been working on my game really hard for a long time."

Mutch, who works as a personal trainer, played soccer as a kid growing up in Port Orchard, Washington, but she shifted her focus to roller derby when she was 14 and joined the Kitsap Derby Brats in 2007. After nearly four years there and a brief stint with a local 18-plus league, Mutch moved to Portland to attend college. Later in 2011, craving top-tier competition, she tried out for the Rose City Rollers just after her 19th birthday.

"I knew moving up [from junior roller derby] it would be harder-hitting, and it was," Mutch said. "There's more competition among women; I was ready for that challenge."

Maybe more than ready.

Mutch aced her initial tryouts. And by 2013, she broke into Rose City's renowned all-star travel team, the Wheels of Justice. Last season, Mutch settled into the 14-player starting roster, and she hasn't looked back since.

Skating alongside Team USA superstar jammer Hillary "Scald Eagle" Buscovick, Mutch became a key part of one of roller derby's most dangerous scoring arsenals. During 2014, Mutch and the Wheels of Justice won nine of their 10 regular-season games, rocketing up to No. 2 in the WFTDA international rankings before going undefeated in the playoffs prior to Champs.

"She just kept building on her endurance and strength and really blossomed in 2014," Buscovick said of her fellow jammer. "I can't tell you what a relief -- and how exciting -- it is for Wheels of Justice to have her as part of our jammer core."

Rose City opens its 2015 season Saturday against Rocky Mountain, the 2010 WFTDA champions, and Mutch and Buscovick are looking to continue to perfect their one-two punch against opponents.

"Mutch and I display particularly different styles of jamming," said Buscovick, a former hockey player who is known for her hard-hitting style. "It's difficult for our opponents to switch on the fly to the different styles."

Another Team USA star, Rachel Bockheim, played against Mutch and Rose City at Champs last year with her former team, the Windy City Rollers. Bockheim, known in derby circles as Jackie Daniels, says the young star is as much an enigma as she is a threat on wheels.

"If you give Loren any amount of space, she'll juke or outpace you," Bockheim said. "Reading her doesn't always count, since she'll beat you on acceleration and lateral jukes -- she's that much faster."

Team USA Roller Derby captain Tracy Akers also has taken notice of Mutch's talent. Akers, who plays with Rose City's western rival, the Denver Mile High Club, said the athleticism Mutch brings is a challenge for even the most experienced players.

"Denver has been able to figure out how to play Bonnie Thunders and other top jammers," Akers said. "Newer ones like Mutch are the hardest to defend against, because we don't know her patterns. You don't know what she's going to do next."

Part of that is Mutch's natural ability and slippery speed. Part of it is plain old hard work.

"Last summer I struggled a lot in practice, but teammates made me better because they push me harder," Mutch said. "Practice should be harder than the game."

Buscovick has noticed her younger teammate's work ethic. It'd be impossible not to.

"She puts in a hundred thousand percent at practice, makes me work harder and we make each other better as a result," Buscovick said.

All of which has made Rose City an elite contender at a time when the sport seems ready for a changing of the guard.

"I think a lot of teams make the mistake when playing Gotham of being starstuck by them," Mutch said. "It's great to go up against those amazing skaters, but on the track I have to remember that they are my peers.

"Of course I respect Gotham, but they can be beat."

But first things first. It's time to celebrate a new season on Saturday. And Mutch and Rose City are out to prove that last year's runner-up finish was no fluke.

"I don't think there's anything to be sad about that we didn't win it all last year," Mutch said. "I feel like a champion."