By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Perhaps it was an abundance of curiosity.
Or maybe it was simply something to do on a slow weekend.
Or maybe, just maybe, there are a lot of closet roller derby fans in the Mankato area.
Whatever it was, the Mankato Area Derby Girls pulled off a successful home debut on Saturday, playing before a vocal and exuberant crowd of 1,670 fans at the Verizon Wireless Center.
“This is kind of crazy,” said Brian Peterson, 23, of Mankato at halftime. I got here and there were a lot of people waiting in line for tickets. I’m having a good time.”
Saturday’s bout featured the MAD Girls against the Goosetown Rollers of New Ulm. The Mankato squad pulled away in the second half and wound up with a 210-160 victory.
Both franchises are first year teams and, since the sport is new to the area, they began the evening with a demonstration of the rules for the fans.
Once the whistle blew the scoring was fast and furious. MAD’s main jammers were Strawberry StrikeHer (Heather Voges, Eagle Lake) and Jaded by Design (Sara Anderson, Eagle Lake). They scored the bulk of the home team’s points.
Nurse Nutcase (Brittany Schlie, Janesville) also scored her share of points but was limited in the first half because she took too many penalties. Curly Temper was the top point-scorer for New Ulm.
The final score seemed secondary to the newness and spectacle of the sport.
The MAD Girls entered the arena through a billow of smoke while loud, heavy-metal music filled the Verizon Center. The fans roared their approval at their arrival.
“I think it’s a great time,” said Battie Wheelock of Waseca. “I came because I know one of the skaters on the team. She’s Ver-Rockin-Ya (Veronica Enk, Mankato) and she’s been doing my hair for 10 years. We thought we’d come out and support her.”
Rachel O’Connell of St. Thomas (near Le Sueur) said she was surprised at the range of people attending the event.
“The demographic is all over the place,” she said. “They’ve got little kids all the way up to older, grandparent types. It’s pretty cool.”
When the two 30-minute halves ended, the MAD Girls stayed on the track and signed autographs for the fans. It was obvious Strawberry StrikeHer had become a fan favorite after just one home bout.
“This is pretty neat,” she said. “It’s nothing like it felt after our first bout at Mason City. Here we were in front of our home fans and they were so welcoming.”
Jaded by Design, a 2007 Mankato East graduate, agreed: “We didn’t expect anything like this. This is awesome. The fans were great tonight.”
The MAD girls feature a mother-daughter tandem in Slamra Sue (Tamra Sundboom, Mankato) and her daughter Andy Gorehol (Ruby Nelson). Nelson is a senior at Mankato West who said she had a blast on Saturday.
“I tried to get as many of my friends to come as I could,” she said. “I saw a few of them here and talked to them at halftime. Now they’re all “wow, I want do to that, too.’”
The MAD Girls (1-1) will have their second and final home bout of the season on May 4 at 7 p.m.