Women’s club 7s is one of the faster growing sections of American rugby, a fact reflected in the rapid increase in competition at 7s nationals. Surprisingly, current 7s champion Berkeley All Blues can be classified as one of those teams that was slow to embrace competitive 7s. Head 7s coach Laura Cabrera had been trying for years to get bigger, better buy-in, and it happened in 2013. With the help of assistant coach Brandon Sparks, the Northern California staple fielded three 7s sides during the summer: elite, club and collegiate.
Despite its burgeoning numbers, Berkeley had its challenges. Several elite players were cycling in and out of rotation as national team duties necessitated their absence. In fact, the eventual championship team didn’t play together as a unit until nationals itself. Younger players like Jenn Sever, Erin Overcash and Genevieve Ireland were tested early on, and the veterans like Phoebe Boone, Katy Augustyn and Jossy Tseng lent their wisdom when they weren't training with the Eagles.
It takes incredible leadership to gel a squad under those circumstances, and RUGBYMag’s Women’s Club 7s Player of the Year, Irene Gardner, was inspiring in her individual play and the stability she provided the team.
Gardner was the obvious choice for captain. The hard-as-nails scrumhalf represented the USA at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens, where the Eagles finished third. When she returned from Moscow, she re-committed herself to her home club and was one of two world cup veterans – Youngbloodz’s Katie Johnson being the other – to join the national club 7s field. But there’s no shortage of talent on Berkeley, and Gardner’s humble, lead-by-example attitude is what made her the perfect leader. Not a flashy player, she always makes her tackles, never runs out of gas, and inspires her teammates to play harder.
Berkeley went 6-0, defeating Combined Services 22-0, Scion 41-0 and Chicago Lions 22-19 in pool play, and on day two, ORSU 19-5, Atlanta 17-0 and NOVA 22-5 in the final.
“Don’t make cry,” Cabrera said after reflecting on Gardner's influence on the team. “Irene is our superstar. Irene has so much dedication, so much commitment, and not [just] at practice. She works her tail off. She’s our captain, and she’s the one I rely on. She’s a great player.”
“We had some great performances today from a lot of people, including some college kids who stepped up,” the championship MVP said. “A lot of new leaders on the field, and it’s great to see the development of the game and the development of this squad in particular. This weekend was the first time that all 12 of us played together, and when something like that happens, we just see the progress and the final result. It means a lot to me. This one’s real special.”