When Elicia Nesbit-Smith took the helm as captain of the reigning world roller derby champion Rose City Rollers this season, she had plenty of goals in mind for her team and herself.
The largest task looming, of course, was to capitalize on her team's success and win yet another Women's Flat Track Roller Derby Association world title in front of their home crowd in Portland, Oregon.
"My goal as captain was to lead a strong, hard-working and cohesive team and help create a supportive environment for our skaters to grow and develop further," said Nesbit-Smith, a 31-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand, who joined Rose City in 2014. "But we focused on talking about winning and working harder -- not defending a title."
This year, WFTDA's Division 1 championship tournament featured 12 teams from four countries -- the United States, England, Australia and Canada -- all but Canada were represented in Saturday night's semifinals. In the end, it was an all American affair for the title, a rematch of the two superpowers, Rose City and Gotham Girls Roller Derby of New York City.
After a difficult slog in which their opponent, No. 1-ranked Gotham, led for the majority of the game, Rose City eventually prevailed 186-166 to collect their second straight WFTDA championship and second Hydra Trophy.
Rose City booked their ticket to the championship with a hard-fought, three-point victory over Melbourne, Australia's Victorian Roller Derby League 155-152. Meanwhile, Gotham defeated London 189-163 in the semifinals after an exciting 197-168 quarterfinal win over Los Angeles contender Angel City Derby Girls.
Gotham took command in the first 20 minutes of Sunday's championship game with a 70-32 lead by Jam 11, as Gotham's longtime star, Nicole "Bonnie Thunders" Williams, provided speed and ample points for Gotham, while Rose City's powerful blockers made her fight for every point. Gotham's blockers also had their hands full trying to hold back Rose City's fleet-footed jammers Loren Mutch and Hillary "Scald Eagle" Buscovick.
"I love that the competition level is this high," Gotham co-captain Roxy Dallas said. "We knew that it would be an all-out battle and that no one can blow out [their] opponents."
With Gotham taking a 97-81 lead at halftime and pushing it to 146-103 about 10 minutes into the second half, Rose City mounted a slow and grinding comeback. With seven minutes to go in the game, Rose City overtook Gotham at the end of Jam 16 and switched the lead in their favor 166-158, thanks to a 21-point surge by Hillary Buscovick. She had more than a little help from blockers Erika Buscovick and Jessica Chestnut, who cleared the way while holding Gotham's offense at bay.
Rose City kept their lead in the final six minutes and mounted another strike, with Mutch picking up another 18 points before Hillary Buscovick added two more to close out Gotham 186-166.
"Luckily, we were about to catch Gotham off-guard," said Rose City blocker Erika Buscovick, who won the Most Valuable Player award for her defensive play. "We did it with quick transitions from defense to offense and clean, solid hits.
"Winning once again was an incredible experience. It wasn't easy playing against such a great opponent, but we worked hard to get back here. And it paid off."