by Bulou Mataitoga
The past 7s season saw some returning veterans and a lot of young players, most of whom had never played 7s before. The Cal babies (Meeko Luarca, Cathy Cai, Brooke Gemmell, and Ceara Lafferty) really stepped it up as the season progressed. I felt their presence on the field grow stronger at each qualifier tournament. Cathy, a strong player, had some of the wickedest tackles I’ve seen. Meeko, although quiet, was sneaky on the field and was a calming presence for the team. Brooke really showed up at nationals in the last game and played her best game ever, from her intensity, to her support lines, to her ball distribution. Ceara (“8 Foot”) was a strong runner, but also a great distributor and played within the team very well.
The beginning of the season was a bit rough because we didn’t have an official head coach until Jack Baird came from the UK, but we made it through the first couple tournaments with Sarah Davis. A veteran player herself, her coaching style drew from her own experiences as a player. She put herself in our shoes and coached from that perspective, and I found that style unique and helpful. When Jack came, he used his expertise to set up our roster combinations so that it emphasized our strengths and minimized our weaknesses. He cared a lot about winning, but he cared more about the players, and that quality is rare to come across in coaches nowadays. With the structure that he brought to our 7s program, we were able to beat Life West for the last available seed to go to Nationals.
Although we were such a young team, we still had some old and wise veterans in the mix. Jessica Turner (JT) brought that fire and intensity that we needed to pump ourselves up, and her "hyphy" attitude really brought the team to life. Elena Edwards and Fehi Schaaf (“the twins”) were powerhouses who were strong enough to break the line and take 3-4 defenders with them, and skilled enough to get a good offload off in traffic. Not only that, but they always had great field vision and distributed the ball wide when necessary. Cassie "Tard" Tong was a solid experienced player for us this season. I remember I broke the line one time and I thought no one was with me, but I turned left and I saw Tard calling for the ball and she scored off that. She’s got the hands man, and she’s a great distributor and solid on defense. Last I heard, she’s still looking for that Pikachu…
Then we had Frieda Fetuu, the oldest one of us all. Probably the most versatile one (along with JT), she could play with the forwards and backs and still come up with the most creative plays you’ll see. She has a natural ability to step defenders and get that one-handed offload going, but can just as easily burn down the field to score tries. Her field vision and playmaking abilities really helped us as a team to get more scoring opportunities.
Our wingers Maggie Simpson and Courtney Hendrickson were insane on defense, and never let anyone get by them. As a fullback, it’s rare to have these kinds of wingers who you can always trust to shut down their zone on defense. They always played on my outside and I knew that I could always count on them to finish and score the try. Not only that, but they worked really hard to get off their own lines to support a line break down the middle or on the outside. Speaking of incredible work rate, that’s what Maddie Taylor brought. She’s feisty, sneaky, and quick off every play. I love playing with her because she’s got this ability to connect with anyone on the field. Also, even though she’s not the biggest player, she can get anyone to ground and that’s what made her great on defense. A good tactical player, on attack she knew the plays back to front so she was always there at the breakdown or the offload.
Overall, captaining this 7s squad was a new experience for me and I wouldn’t want to do it with any other team. I also wanted to give thanks to all the players who came out to practice when they could make it (Chou, Bosko, Jamie, Lia, Tess, and the Stanford girls) because they brought that experience that we needed to make the nationals squad even stronger. Thank you for dedicating your time.