Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with Positive Tackles

Evan Hoese is an incredibly striking person, quite literally. When she tackles, she aims low and powers her legs through, driving her opponent into the rugby pitch- even faster than she drives her Subaru. The experience of sitting in the passenger seat of an Evan-driven car strikes the same mixture of gut-wrenching fear and awe of speed that occurs when matched opposite of her on the field.  

Even though she only started playing rugby in the spring of her freshman year at Harvard, Evan practiced running hard lines in the backyard with her father throughout her childhood. Her calm command was evident from her college days, as she captained her Radcliffe team to win a collegiate DII National Championship where she was named MVP. According to Shelby Lin, a teammate from Radcliffe Rugby, “Evan is a natural leader. She plays with a ton of confidence and is someone you want to give your all for, because you know she’s always going to leave everything she has on the field.” Upon graduating with a degree in Social and Cognitive Neuroscience, Evan didn’t stray far from her illustrious alma mater, and brought her rugby prowess to Beantown.

Prior to the 2014 World Cup, Evan was asked to attend the Top 50 US Camp, where disaster struck. While competing for a cap, Evan sustained a cartilage knee injury that would set her National Team vision back four years.

This injury did not keep Hoese away from rugby; in fact, she continued to hone her vision and skills as she developed new players such as Cathy Cai (attended Top 50 7s camp) and Courtney Hendrickson (Attended Top 100 15s Camp). Evan lent her wide knowledge to the next generation of rugby as she coached Berkeley All Blues D2 in 2017 and 2018, as well as acted as Assistant Coach to the Berkeley All Blues WPL side in 2017.

Striding on to Soldier Field this past November 3rd for the game against the New Zealand Black Ferns, Evan earned her first national team cap. Hard work, persistence and passion brought her to this moment where she could fly like an Eagle.  

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CPC Featured Player: Tonya Wessman

 Tonya Hanging out

Tonya Hanging out

Full Name: Tonya Wessman

Hometown: Brentwood, CA

Position(s) played: Flanker, Hooker, Outside Center

All Blues since: 2018

When and how did you first start playing rugby?  What got you into it?

Tonya: I was introduced to rugby in 2015, my Junior year at UC Davis (GO AGS). I transferred into Davis knowing I wanted play a sport, because club basketball was not offered at the time, rugby was the first sport I wanted to check out. Though I had never played before, my family and friends insisted it was something I would love. I got a flyer, went to the first practice, and I haven’t stopped playing since.

Did you play any sports prior to rugby?

Tonya: Basketball, Water-polo, Muay Thai, and Rock Climbing

Do you have a philosophy/mindset when you practice and play rugby?

Tonya: I try to play with intensity and intention, my goal is to always play the hardest I can and to make every decision with confidence.

How did you first find out about the All Blues?

Tonya: I heard about the All Blues the same year I started playing. After the 2015-2016 D1 Championship game at Saint Mary’s, the Davis team was approached by a couple All Blues who were watching in the stands. That’s when I learned about the WPL and playing opportunities after college.

How long have you played for us?

Tonya: This is my Rookie year!

What is one of your best memories thus far as an All Blue?  

Tonya: The best memory I have so far is seeing my name rostered at #7 in our first game of the season. I looked at that email all day because I couldn’t believe it, I’ll never forget how awesome that felt. My favorite thing about the All Blues is how supportive everyone is, we all try to lift eachother up. The All Blue team culture is definitely something special .

Are there particular player(s) and/or coach(es) that have influenced your development as a player?  

Tonya: Richie McCaw, Portia Woodman, and my UCD homie Sydnee Watanabe are some of my biggest inspirations to watch as a player. Their tackles are  poetry in motion and every time they step on the pitch they’re playing with maximum intensity and doing something amazing. However, I’d have to say the biggest influence I’ve had is from my Forwards Coach at UCD, Gary Gordon. Gary has always encouraged me to test my own limits and play the highest level of rugby there is. Gary continues to encourage me long after I’ve graduated from Davis.

What is the best advice you have ever received about rugby?

Tonya: The greatest advice I’ve ever received is to do everything with intention. Whether it’s a pass, a tackle, or a penalty, there is no time so second guess yourself, the worst decision to make is no decision  at all.

What skills are you working on/would like to work on right now?

Tonya: I’m constantly working on my field vision, it’s a work in progress but there has definitely been improvement.

Who’s your favorite rugby player/team to watch?

Tonya: The USA Women and the Black Ferns, gotta’ root for the home team and the team the got me into rugby. But come November 3rd, I’m 1000% for the Eagles!

What is your favorite non-rugby activity?

Tonya: Backpacking, camping, and rock climbing.

If you were an ice cream flavor, which one would you be?

Tonya: Rocky Road

Most memorable thing for which you’ve gone to Kangaroo Court for?

Tonya: My last team, the Sacramento Amazons, fined me for taking our  touch games too seriously... They were right ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?  

Tonya: I’m currently planning to climb “The Nose” at Yosemite within the next year or two. It’s a 3000 feet climb and a life long goal of mine. It’s gonna’ be awesome.


 Everyone on the All Blues loves Tonya

Everyone on the All Blues loves Tonya

CPC Featured Player: Shelby Lin

Full Name: Shelby Lin

Hometown: East Setauket, NY

Position played: Scrumhalf

All Blues since: Fall 2018

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When and how did you first start playing rugby?  What got you into it?

Shelby: Freshman year at Harvard. I played soccer in high school and when I decided not to play for a varsity college program, I knew I needed something highly competitive and intense. At the activities fair I went straight to the rugby booth.

Do you have a philosophy/mindset when you practice and play rugby?  

Shelby: I am always trying to create good, fast, free-flowing rugby - for myself and everyone I’m playing with and against.

How did you first find out about the All Blues?  

Shelby: I moved out from NYC, and knew I wanted to play in the WPL. My first WPL nationals in 2015, I remember watching an amazing game between the All Blues and Glendale, I believe. This is my first real season as an All Blue!


What is one of your best memories thus far as an All Blue?

Shelby: Our first WPL game this season was a ton of fun; it was amazing to experience the gritty, no-holds-barred playing style of this team. I like the team’s truly welcoming atmosphere and the energy and positivity we have.


Is there a particular player and/or coach that has influenced your development as a player? Shelby: I’ve had amazing luck with coaches throughout my career. Bryan Hamlin, former Providence head coach and NRU23s coach, was head of Radcliffe Rugby when it was a club team at Harvard my first few years, and let me talk my way into moving from the back 3 to flyhalf. Sue Parker coached Harvard in its first varsity year when I was a senior and encouraged me to make the move to scrumhalf if I wanted to play at a higher level. James English taught me how to really play the position from a tactical perspective and continues to mentor me to this day. Tiff Faaee modeled great leadership while captaining NYRC last year on our championship run.

What is the best advice you have ever received about playing rugby?

Shelby: Focus on developing your strengths (good advice for life, too). I think players can get really down on their weaknesses and spend a lot of energy addressing them, but when you think about great players they’re known for their particular strengths and skill sets, not for bringing their weaknesses up to mediocrity.


Who’s your favorite rugby player/team to watch?

Shelby: Kendra Cocksedge, the Black Ferns scrumhalf, can single-handedly shape and direct a game like no other. I try and learn from Aaron Smith’s style of play. Faf de Klerk is always fun to watch since he is completely fearless on defense.


What is your favorite non-rugby activity?

Shelby: Sleep, closely followed by eating.

If you were an ice cream flavor, which one would you be?

Shelby: Garden Creamery’s non-dairy mango sticky rice flavor

Most memorable thing for which you’ve gone to Kangaroo Court for?

Shelby: Booking a “roach palace” motel in Atlanta for the team. It was as bad as it sounds.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Shelby: I’m a cat-lady.

 Shelby’s Mittens

Shelby’s Mittens

CPC Featured Player: Elena "DC" Clark

Full Name (plus any rugby nickname(s)): Elena Clark a.k.a. DC

Hometown: Sunnyvale, CA

Position(s) played: In life: scrumhalf and center; for the All Blues: center

All Blues since: 2017

DC kicking for a conversion in the most recent D2 season vs. the Sacramento Amazons. Photo: Dasha Rychkova

All Blues: When and how did you first start playing rugby?  What got you into it?

DC: I showed up to college planning to join the sailing team, of all things. However, When I couldn’t decide between the two, my sister asked, “Well, who would you rather spend the next four years with? Sailors or ruggers?” That made the choice easy.

 

Did you play any sports prior to rugby?

DC: I ran the gambit as a kid, but by the time I was in high school, I was a competitive saber fencer. I even went to the Junior Olympics a few times. It was a great excuse to travel the country when I was supposed to be in school.

 DC fenced saber competitively in high school. Photo: Elena Clark

DC fenced saber competitively in high school. Photo: Elena Clark

Is there a particular player and/or coach that has influenced your development as a player?  In what way(s) did they help you?

DC: I’ve been super lucky to have lots of great coaches, so it’s hard to pick just one. When I played for the DC Furies 7s team, we made it to Nationals while I was still in college and definitely not on the same level as many of my teammates. However, the coach saw potential in me, so put me on the roster anyways. I got invaluable, high-level experience, and gained a lot of confidence in myself. I don’t think I’d be the same player today without that opportunity.

 

How did you first find out about the All Blues? What made you come out here and join us?

DC: The All Blues are legendary. I knew about them when I started playing on the East Coast, I continued to hear about them while playing in Arizona, and was thrilled when I moved close enough to be able to play with them.

DC on a breakaway for the Arizona Tempe Ninjas in a spring 2017 tournament. Photo courtesy of Elena Clark

Do you have a philosophy/mindset when you practice and play rugby?  Thinking about a game you thought went really well for you, how did you get your mind and body ready for that match?

DC: Being in the right mindset is so important, and surprisingly difficult. Before a game, I used to just stay loose and joke around with my teammates, so I went into the game having fun. However, recently I’ve had to change that strategy to be a bit more focused. I spent all of last D2 season working to come up with the right strategy. Now I like to listen to my own music, visualize what I’m going to do, and decide on one or two personal goals for the game. Then, once I’m on the pitch, if I ever start to get unfocused or lazy, I just remind myself that if my teammates can keep going, so can I.

Lisa Kelly and DC posing with the 40s they won (and had to chug) for being nominated as Men of the Match during a game in the most recent D2 season. Photo: Maria Kelly

What has been your most memorable time with the All Blues?

DC: On the pitch, my favorite game was the D2 finals against SFGG. What we had been working on all season finally clicked into place, and we flowed really well. It was a very gratifying experience. Off the pitch, it’s hard to pick a single experience. Every time we travel, I get to bond with different teammates and always feel a bit more part of the team. It’s a really great culture that the All Blues have created.

 

What is the best advice you have ever received about playing rugby?

DC: It’s a bit of a rugby cliché at this point, but the best thing I’ve been told by a coach is that the only wrong choice is no choice, and any choice you make is the right one. When I first started playing, I was very timid, and would sometimes freeze up if I wasn’t sure what the best option was. That advice really helped me to make decisions and stick with them in games.

DC getting low to go into contact, with teammate Bean in support during the most recent D2 season game vs. Life West Gladiatrix. 

What skills are you working on/would like to work on right now?

DC: There are always a million and one things to work on, and often my problem is choosing just one or two to focus on. Right now, I’m working on my offloads – both receiving and giving, as well as my drop kicks, and overall communication on the pitch.

 

What is your favorite non-rugby activity? Do you have any other passions besides rugby?

DC: Does drinking coffee count? I really put my heart and soul into it, every day. Besides that, I love being outdoors. Camping, hiking, biking – you name it, I’m in.

Her Sport Almost Killed Her, But That Won’t Stop Her

Berkeley rugby player won’t let fear get in the way of playing the game and working to expand its reach

 Ceara Lafferty walks off the rugby field at Estuary Park in Alameda after practice ended on June 12. (Photo: Elena Mateus)

Ceara Lafferty walks off the rugby field at Estuary Park in Alameda after practice ended on June 12. (Photo: Elena Mateus)

Ceara Lafferty was lying down on a cot at the Highland Hospital in Oakland with a thick plastic tube sticking out of her nose and another shooting out of her stomach when her family came to visit her. They came and asked her the question that no athlete wants to hear: “Are you going to keep playing?”  For the 6’0 rugby player, the answer was yes, even when her sport nearly killed her.

Lafferty went to the emergency room on April 21 after a kick to the stomach during a game punctured her intestine. She was rushed into emergency surgery to save her life after bile and stomach acid began dissolving her internal organs. Despite the injury, Lafferty, who also works for USA rugby, is expected to make a full recovery and has decided to keep playing competitively and keep expanding the sport that is part of her identity.

“My family was understandably upset when I didn’t quit, but rugby is a huge part of my story,” she said, “How could I just leave it behind now after one thing happened?”

Lafferty was playing for the Berkeley All Blues in the Northern California Women’s Club Division II Finals when she thought she just got the wind knocked out of her after a tackle. But when the captain of the team did not immediately get up after making the tackle from behind, coach Evan Hoese took her off the field. “She is our captain and a powerhouse. She always gets back up, so when she didn’t, I took it seriously,” she said.

It was not until later that evening during the team social at a local bar that Lafferty realized she needed to go to the emergency room. “I ate something and started feeling an escalating pain,” she said, “As the night progressed I could not walk anymore because of it.”

Her girlfriend rushed her to the Alta Bates emergency room in Berkeley where she was told she had a laceration in her liver and was fine, but needed to be observed at Highland Hospital. Once there, the radiologist looked at her CT scan and saw fluid in the abdomen. “The doctor said I must have a hole in my bowels,” she said, “Then they told me I needed emergency surgery ASAP.”

Lafferty’s final diagnosis was a laceration in her liver and gastrointestinal perforation in the duodenum of her intestine. Even with maximum treatment, the risk of death for gastrointestinal perforation can be as high as 50 percent, according to a 2008 study by The Medical Clinics of North America.

Though the surgery was successful and Lafferty was released after 7 days in the hospital, she  was left with more questions than answers. “I could have died from this, so it made me question everything I had done in my life,” she said, “Was I okay with everything I was doing?”

Those close to Lafferty, like teammate Alyssa Collins, knew that playing rugby was something she would always continue doing. “I was not surprised at all when she came back to practice,” Collins said, “She is back on the pitch already and it is absolutely representative of how dedicated and passionate she is.”

During her first practice back on June 12, Lafferty was able to jog but not much else. But that didn’t stop her from high-fiving her teammates during sprints or pulling aside a player to explain how shifting the ball creates space. “She is one of the most selfless players I have ever seen. She puts everybody’s well being above her own,” said coach Hoese.

For Lafferty, rugby is something that runs deeper than an 80-minute game: “There is an unbeatable feeling you get when you run through 3 people trying to tackle you at full speed, sure,” she said, “But it’s about more than that, it’s about the community that has empowered me to be my true self.”

Lafferty started playing rugby when she was a freshman at Cal in 2013. She knew she wanted to play a team sport and after her first practice with the Cal Women’s Rugby team, she never looked back. “The team understood me and gave me the strength to come out as queer,” she said, “Everyone is unapologetically themselves and they validated my existence.”

Now, since graduating, Lafferty has dedicated her time to developing youth rugby on behalf of USA Rugby. In her role as the Impact Beyond program coordinator, she provides free flag rugby curriculum to schools in the Bay Area as part of the World Cup effort to assess the host area’s needs. By the time the World Cup kicks off in San Francisco this July, Impact Beyond will have brought rugby to 75 schools and 22,500 kids across the bay area, according to the USA Rugby site. “This sport has given me so much,” she said, “My hope is that rugby can do the same for others, especially young girls, who deserve to feel strong and empowered.”

Lafferty is expected to begin full contact practices in October and will continue teaching rugby curriculum ahead of the World Cup from July 20-22 in San Francisco. She said, “I decided that I wasn’t going to let the fear of something happening keep me from doing what I love."