It’s been a good summer for Berkeley thus far, with solid numbers and a synced coaching staff aiding the club’s 7s success locally and outside of the region. This Saturday is a big test, as the All Blues join four other NorCal and Pacific Northwest teams at the Pacific North Club 7s Championship in San Francisco. Three berths to nationals (Aug. 10-11) are at stake, and with the final whistle Saturday, the 16-team field heading to Kansas City, Mo., will be finalized.
This season is the second year that Berkeley alumnae Irene Gardner and Lucy Croy have shared head coaching duties for the 7s program; however, the duo has coached the All Blues in unofficial capacities prior to 2018. USA Eagle and Olympian (Colombia) Nathalie Marchino has also joined the coaching staff this year.
“For me, personally, it’s been a really incredible experience to coach alongside Lucy and Nathalie,” Gardner said. “All of us played together and we’re able to share our knowledge and love of the game with our former club. It’s a really special season from that perspective.”
The coaching staff has grown in step with the expanding player pool. Gardner explained that the club has been able to field two 7s teams to most tournaments and the uptick in interest is intensifying the internal competition.
Mataitoga is fresh off the Super Series / Photo: Jackie Finlan
“It has a lot to do with the All Blues having year-round rugby,” Gardner considered factors affecting better 7s numbers. “We have WPL [in the fall], D2 [in the spring] and then 7s [in the summer], so really it’s an opportunity for a player that played either WPL or DII to continue to play longer in the year. It’s also great skill and fitness work for those preparing for the WPL.”
In NorCal, teams like Life West and San Francisco Golden Gate – both of which will compete this Saturday – provide solid opposition, but Berkeley prioritized variety and added some out-of-region trips. The All Blues took two teams to Austin’s Bloodfest and played Frontier’s Rocky Mountain Magic and two ARPTC sides. Berkeley returned home with a trophy after a two-point win over the National Development Academy in the elite final, and the second side finished third in the social competition.
“Playing different competition is what we were after,” Gardner said of Austin goals. “Playing in the facilities was a little different. We played a few games in the stadium, including the final. It’s more of a big-tournament feel, which mimics nationals.”
The team also traveled to Santa Barbara’s Sevens by the Sea, which featured nationals-bound San Diego and Santa Barbara Academy. Berkeley fell a conversion short of the Gladiatrix in the semifinals, and Life West went on to win the tournament. On that Sunday, the All Blues traveled to Chula Vista to view and support the USA 15s team in the Super Series.
In between those road trips have been two NorCal qualifiers, as well as a Santa Rosa tournament for which ORSU traveled south.
“There’s contribution from a greater number of players and a lot more depth in the program this year,” Gardner reviewed the club’s performance thus far. “The players are more challenged this year, within the team, so overall it’s exciting to see growth of either younger players or players a little newer to 7s. It’s been great to see how everyone has meshed well together collectively as a team as we go through tournaments.”
Driving that internal competition are players like Bulou Mataitoga, who played in the back three for the USA 15s team during the Super Series and is so good under the high ball. Fellow 15s Eagle Evan Hoese and notables like Cathy Cai, Shelby Lin, Christina Ramos, Maggie Simpson and Madison Taylor are all influential players driving the performance.
“One game at a time is going to be a focus for the qualifier, since every game is so important on Saturday,” Gardner looked toward the regional tournament. “Really making sure we’re not losing sight of each game, really taking each one very seriously, and making sure we’re ready to go. That’s what it’s going to come down to for all the teams: Who’s ready to play.”
Berkeley, Life West, San Francisco Golden Gate, ORSU and Washington Athletic Club will play each other once for a total of four games. A schedule has not yet been released but there’s conjecture that a final round – #1 vs. #2 and #3 vs. #4 – will determine for three seeds to nationals. Stay tuned.