Legends of the fall: Women's roller derby champions crash St. Paul

The Minnesota RollerGirls All-Star team warms up.
The Minnesota RollerGirls All-Star team warms up at the beginning of practice at the Saint Paul RiverCentre Tuesday. The team is preparing to compete in -- and host -- the 2015 International WFTDA Championships this weekend.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

St. Paul loves a good skate.

The city's been a huge draw in recent years for the Red Bull Crashed Ice extreme ice skating competition. This weekend, the city hosts the cream of women's roller derby — the 2015 International Women's Flat Track Derby Association championships.

The competition includes the local squad, the Minnesota RollerGirls. They're throwing all their energy into each practice to get ready for the big weekend.

"We just want the roller derby world to see we can fill the stands for a high level game," said RollerGirls player Chrissy Sampson. She and her teammates are training hard to make the championships a success, she said.

Team captains Lisa Eng-Sarne and Kimberly Foster
Team captains Diamond Rough (Lisa Eng-Sarne), left, and Shiver Me Kimbers (Kimberly Foster) talk to the Minnesota RollerGirls All-Star team during practice at the Saint Paul RiverCentre Tuesday.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

They also want to win. It's a single elimination tournament. Minnesota faces the Texas Rollergirls in the first bracket.

Roller derby is an intersection of athleticism and entertainment that draws an interesting crowd, including little girls who walk around with fake black eyes painted on their faces.

The skaters wear crazy outfits, play loud music, and have special names for game time. Eng-Sarne goes by "Diamond Rough," and Sampson is called "Crust Almighty". A few other notable names: "Her-trude Stein," "Madame de Stompadour," and "Shiver Me Kimbers."

While the regular season may focus more on fun, Sampson says that the championships are more about strategy than entertainment. The RollerGirls squad is an all-star team made up of the best players from across all four local Minnesota teams. The sheer amount of talent on the floor this weekend, she said, will make the games thrilling to watch.

"The games become exciting and crazy and they usually come down to just a few points," said Sampson. "I call them pants poopers."

Sampson (Chrissy Sampson) gets knocked down.
Sampson (Chrissy Sampson) gets knocked to the ground during a scrimmage. She quickly got up and resumed play.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Eng-Sarne says fans get very emotionally invested in roller derby. She recalled a showdown between Portland, Ore., and New York City at championships a few years ago. Portland's loss was heartbreaking.

"I look to my left and I literally saw a little girl crying, just crying, so devastated," she said.

The women are hoping to see more high-fives than heartbreak when they play Texas Friday night. The last two times Minnesota played Texas, in 2011 and 2013, Minnesota lost badly.

"They kind of kicked our butt last time we played them," Sampson said, "But that was years ago and we're both completely different teams at this point."

If you go: International Women's Flat Track Derby Association championships

Where: Roy Wilkins Auditorium, downtown St. Paul

When: Matches start at 2 p.m. Friday and run through the championship game Sunday night.

More information: wftda.com

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