San Diego comes into the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship as the reigning titleholder, but the Surfers know that those achievements lie with last year. The majority of the 2018 team has returned, and with a couple of new faces freshening the lineup, San Diego is building toward another strong performance at nationals in Kansas City.
“Since the start of the summer, one of our main goals was not to focus on the success of last year,” San Diego 7s head coach Kate Zackary explained. “We had a great season with a great finish – but now we have to grow and adapt to new players, new positions, and different competition. Throughout the summer we have pushed the players harder during conditioning, asked more of them when it comes to skill blocks, and challenged them to showcase their individuality on the pitch.”
Eight of the 12 players who hoisted the 2018 trophy are back, and they’re led by captain and flyhalf Hunter Griendling. USA 7s Eagle Alena Olsen is an equally influential returner and last weekend helped Team USA to a silver medal at the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru. As for the four vacancies on the top side, two new Surfers have risen to prominence and two stalwarts are back in rotation.
“S’rob Oberman-Breindel and Kayla Lawson bring a fresh perspective and speed,” Zackary introduced the former New York player and Chico State track alumna, respectively, “while Kyla Roth and Mandy Wagner round out the squad with their experience and hard work.”
The team is without a handful of 2018 players who are now USA 7s residents and Josie Ziluca, whose coaching commitments have taken her to Toronto with the Boys’ High School All-American 7s; Little Rock for the ARPTC high school 7s residency; and Salt Lake City to lead Atlantis at the NAI 7s. Ziluca stays busy with the Girls’ High School All-Americans 15s West camp before heading to France to coach the North American Lions.
“The summer has been full of tough decisions when it comes to naming a roster each weekend, which is a testament to the hard work everyone has put in during the off-season,” the coach continued. “This team extends way beyond the 12 named for this final tournament, and we will be playing for those at home who made this run for the title possible.”
San Diego played in SoCal for the summer and won the two Pacific South qualifiers. There, the Santa Barbara Rugby Academy proved the team’s best competition and the Kelly Griffin-led team is also heading to nationals for the first time (read more). Fortunately for the Surfers, good competition came to town. Nationals-bound Life West and Berkeley from NorCal traveled to the Santa Barbara qualifier, and the Gladiatrix beat San Diego in the final.
“In addition to weekend tournaments, we had the opportunity to participate in a round-robin event at the CVEATC against ARPTC and USA players,” Zackary added. “This couldn’t have come at a better time in the middle of our season. We had a chance to play against some of the best in the country, evaluate our players and structure, then make any necessary tweaks before our final build-up.”
Zackary has spent a good amount of time at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (CVEATC) generally but especially this summer. The 15s loose forward captained the USA during the Super Series, which saw the Eagles go 1-2 against New Zealand, England and Canada.
“While it has been a busy summer for players and staff balancing the demands of work, national team events, and living a normal life somewhere in between, we’ve maintained a consistent schedule thanks to Michaela Staniford,” Zackary acknowledged the cooperative environment. “She has worked overtime running 6 a.m. conditioning, coaching a few evening practices by herself, and managing the team on tournament days.”
The summer pulls players and staff in all directions – Megan Foster is one of three Surfers currently in Greeley, Colo., for the Women’s All-Star Week – but it’s nothing new. Zackary indicated that the focus has remained steadily inward, and the team will be prepared for another national tournament.
“While you may look at our team and say we lack size or physicality, I would ask to you rethink that after you see Teigan MacDonald or Tia Blythe make a tackle, get up, and create chaos at the breakdown,” Zackary exuded confidence in the team.
“Stress, competition, and adversity are things that should not be feared as they could be what causes you to succeed,” the coach concluded. “Being able to thrive in those environments will lead us to another championship if properly managed one game, one half, one play at a time.”
The pools for the club 7s national championship have not yet been released. Stay tuned.