Hannah Stolba is the head coach of the Berkeley All Blues, which won the Women’s Premier League National Championship on June 26 in Lemont, Ill. The former USA Eagle has been named Coach of the Month (June) by the Women’s Rugby Coaches & Referees Association, which published the following (original post):
Where do you live?
This is by far the most complicated question. This week, I am at my house in Minneapolis, but in a few days I will leave for four months in New Zealand. I have been living in Oakland, California for the last five months while I was coaching the All Blues.
Head Coach, All Blues
Ludis Analytics Rugby Partnerships
Tell us a little about your playing days? What positions did you play?
I was playing basketball in college and got talked into going to a rugby practice in the spring of my freshman year. I started as a lock in 2001 at Northern Iowa and then transferred to Minnesota State Mankato where I ended up playing back row for a couple of spring seasons. I played for the Minnesota U-23s and Midwest U-23s as a lock/backrower for a few years before the Minnesota Valkyries coach, Barb Fugate, saw me kick. From there, I quickly found the #10 jersey. I went to New Zealand as a flyhalf with the US U-23s before my senior year of basketball and then played flyhalf for most of my career after that. I also spent some time at fullback and have played a bit at center as well. Over the course of my career, I played with the Valks for six years, spent a season with the All Blues, and then spent eight years in Denver with the different iterations of Glendale. I was on two World Cup Squads (2010 and 2014). I also spent two years (2016 & 2019) playing in New Zealand for Otago in the FPC, and my last season was 2019-2020 in Spain with El Salvador in the División de Honor.
How did you get into coaching?
I started coaching high school basketball right after undergrad and continued until I moved to Denver. I started coaching rugby in 2011 with the University of Colorado and continued to coach various teams and stay involved as much as I could while still playing. I finished up my master’s degree in Sports Coaching in 2013 and have been coaching in various capacities since then.
Teams you coach/have coached and why it’s great to coach them:
It was great for me to start my rugby coaching career with Jim Stebbins at the University of Colorado in 2011. Jim and the team helped me find balance during a time when I was very driven in my playing career. They were a constant reminder to me that rugby is the best when you are enjoying it. I coached the Pacific Mountain U-23s, CU, and helped out with various camps for a couple years. I spent two springs (2016 and 2017) out at Stanford coaching with Josh Sutcliffe and Rich Ashfield. That was a great experience and I loved getting to work with the men’s and women’s programs. I coached a bit of high school and club in New Zealand while I was playing there. I worked with the Glendale D1 women’s program in 2017 and 2018 and then took on the head coaching role for the D1 program in the spring of 2019, where we went on to a national semifinal. That group of players was really special to me, and I loved seeing a bunch of them be successful at the WPL level this year. And this last year, I took on the WPL head coach role at the All Blues, which has been an incredible experience. They know who they are, they know their capabilities, and they still want more.
What do you love about coaching? What’s most challenging?
I love coaching because it is challenging. It’s challenging to take a group of people with individual goals and different learning/communication styles and try and get everyone to the same vision – to guide them to give more or, in some cases, give up something for the greater good. I love coaching because of the relationships you can build with people. I love coaching because I get to be a part of and help drive the direction that this beautiful game takes. The most challenging thing is centered around staying curious – checking myself to know when to swim upstream and when to go with the flow.
How was this year for you? Seems like a lot of change and expectation…
This has been an incredibly hard, amazing year. The All Blues have pushed me in ALL of the ways. I think we presented the right challenges to each other this year. I am learning and growing so much from them, and the team is really embracing the game without limitations. This year was hard; losing Kathy Flores undoubtedly hit this club HARD. There is so much history here, and she is the common thread through all of it. We really did want to make her proud this season. This year we have been able to celebrate some real incredible milestones. We had our D2 team make the national semifinals and the All Blues won their first WPL National Championship since 2012, which was Kathy’s last season with the All Blues, and we had two players reach 50 WPL games. That is monumental! It really has been a hard but amazing year.
Individuals who’ve had a big impact on your coaching career:
I feel really lucky to have played for coaches who supported me and pushed me in different ways as a player. Everyone has helped me learn who and how I want to be as a coach. Kathy Flores, because she was the first coach to sit down with me in a non-rugby setting and come up with a development plan. She is the main reason I believe in the importance of 1:1 sit downs with players and how they can build relationships that challenge, support, and grow. Martha Daines, because I have never had to think harder about my reply to a question than I do when I’m talking to Martha. She pushes me to think about the substance of everything. Bryn Chivers, because he took a complicated game and kept it simple. The point is to score, and I want the ball to be able to do it. And most of all, Barb Fugate, because she is a master at balancing the enjoyment and curiosity of the game with the push to be better and more than you think you can be, always.
Tell us about your ‘non-rugby’ life? What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I don’t know if it’s too much of a surprise, but I like big endeavors. I’m not good at picking up and going for a day hike or weekend backpack trip, so instead I take a month or months and do it. I have hiked the Appalachian and Colorado Trails, and would like in the near-ish future to hike the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Te Araroa trails as well.