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Brazil’s Cerullo Enjoys Double Home Stand

  • 22 Jul 2018

Cerullo (front row, far left) with Brazil in San Francisco / Photo courtesy Isadora Cerullo

The rugby world has intersected inside AT&T Park, host to the Rugby World Cup Sevens, and several Americans and players currently competing in the U.S. featured on teams like Mexico, Spain and Brazil. Among the familiar faces is Isadora Cerullo, vice captain for Brazil, who picked up the game at Columbia University before becoming a professional 7s player in South America.

Cerullo was watching a men’s match at Columbia’s Baker Field back in 2010, when women’s captain Juliette Conte approached her in the stands. At that first practice, Cerullo met coach Jodie van Ogtrop, who was influential in her developmental as a player. Van Ogtrop, along with future coaches like Chip Auscavitch, encouraged her to pursue next-level opportunities, and so she joined the Boston-area Falcons 7s, Northeast at the National All-Star Championship, and Philly women. In 2013 Cerullo entered the Atavus (then Serevi) system and the access to national team coaches and elite rugby revealed a potential new path.

“It took me a while to realize that I could be a high-performance athlete,” Cerullo explained. “Back in 2013, I was set on going to medical school and pursuing my dream of becoming a doctor, so I almost didn’t even reach out to the Brazil Rugby Union to answer their open call for Brazilian athletes living outside of Brazil. A part of me had never really considered/believed how real and tangible the possibility of playing rugby at the highest level could be for me, as much as I worked hard in my clubs. Another part of me was daring and curious enough to go after a unique opportunity to play in Brazil.”

Brazil defeated Papua New Guinea for its first RWC 7s 2018 win. / Photo: Mike Lee / KLC fotos for World Rugby

The adventure appealed to Cerullo and after a two-week tryout she was selected to a European 7s tour with the developmental side. In April 2014, the team played England, in the club bracket of the Amsterdam 7s and in France’s Centrale 7s. Her performance earned her a one-year contract and a one-way ticket to Brazil.

“When I moved to Brazil, I had two years to work my way onto the team and earn my selection for the Olympic Games, which was my ultimate goal,” Cerullo talked timeline. “It often felt like I wouldn’t be able to learn and improve as fast as I needed to.”

Confidence came when she was selected to the Pan-American Games, but an ankle injury six months before the Olympics meant a race against time and the stress of maintaining fitness and game sense. She did recover in time and had the unique pleasure of representing Brazil in Brazil for the first rugby 7s Olympics.

“Apart from the rugby itself, it was incredibly special to have set this personal goal of becoming an Olympic athlete and be able to fulfill it,” Cerullo explained. “I turned my life upside down to chase this crazy dream! But now, I’m so grateful I did, because I continue to learn so much as an athlete and am really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish through rugby, on and off the pitch.”

That 2016 home stand was made even more special, as the Games marked Cerullo’s engagement to her partner.

“The proposal was definitely a highlight of the Olympic Games, but I did have to remind people that I actually played some rugby, too,” Cerullo recounted. “It was insane waiting in the tunnel to enter the pitch and hear the entire stadium chanting, “Brasil! Brasil!’ My parents and brothers were also in the stands, so it was extra special to have them there to watch me play. A home crowd gives you so much energy and belief, so it was an amazing atmosphere for a tournament.”

There was some turnover after the Olympics and Cerullo rose into the leadership group, serving as vice captain this year.

“It seems like after the pressure of the Olympics has passed, I’ve had more time to appreciate more organic learning curves and have felt my game evolve even more in the past two years,” Cerullo added. “[Vice captain] is definitely more pressure for me in terms of consistency and performance, but it’s also been an opportunity to help lead the team forward.”

In the opening round of the Rugby World Cup Sevens, Brazil lost a 43-19 decision to Canada and then dropped a 19-14 game to Japan in the Challenge bracket Friday.

RELATED: Photos of Brazil at the RWC 7s

“We had a tough first day but we performed really well. We scored a few tries against Canada, which is good, and they got off the field congratulating us on how much we’ve grown in the past couple years,” Cerullo said. “And for Japan, we were up and then they came back and we lost by a try, so it was a tough loss to swallow, but we took away some really good lessons.”

On Saturday, Brazil got its first win, 15-12 over Papua New Guinea, and finished with a 22-0 win over South Africa for 13th place. Cerullo was happy with how the team rallied in the final match and showcased its capabilities.

“[There’s been] so much growth in that most of the team is under 21 years old, so we have us experienced players – I include myself in that, above 25 – but we’re bringing in a lot of young girls,” Cerullo said of the progress made in San Francisco. “Hopefully they’ll learn a lot from us and stay on for at least two Olympic cycles. So the idea is to get a lot of young players in and help Brazil rugby just grow a lot over the next few years in terms of player depth and how much they can play.”

While the San Francisco crowd might not have been as Brazil-oriented as it was at the Rio Olympics, there was a contingent cheering for Cerullo specifically. Her parents and one of three brothers were in attendance, as were supporters and friends from the east coast.

“Seeing friendly faces is always great – getting messages from people taking pictures of me from up in the nose bleed section of the stadium to say: I saw you! So it’s really special to have a home crowd back in Brazil and then come here and feel like it’s a home crowd for me as well.”

Rugby is still Cerullo’s full-time job, and she recently accepted a coaching role with University of Sao Paulo Rugby, and hopes to keeping leading for at least a couple of more years, body parts willing.

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