Women who wanted to be seen by the national 7s team's selectors had but one travel agenda item this summer: Head to California for the month of August. Between the Club 7s Championship in San Francisco, open 7s trials in Santa Barbara, and the upcoming All Star 7s Championship in Chula Vista, visitors found even more reason to laud the Golden State.
But San Francisco natives like Kelly Griffin didn’t treat the convenience lightly. The Berkeley All Blues center is a well known entity in the rugby world, having graced the national 15s and 7s pools during the last couple of years, but the 24-year-old hasn’t cracked the traveling squads with regularity. Fortunately for Griffin, she had three shots in the course of a month to state her case for national selection.
Griffin began August with a knockout performance at the Club 7s Championship, which Berkeley won over the Boston Belles. She did not slip the radar and earned MVP honors for her hard work.
“She has been in the USA Rugby set-up for some time but recently hasn't been getting invited,” Berkeley coach Brandon Sparks said. “I think if anyone who makes the decision on selection for these camps saw her play at club 7s nationals, they should be e-mailing her an apology and an invite.
“Her skill set is amazing and she has a great rugby brain,” Sparks praised. “She passes off of both hands well, her kicking is constantly improving, and she is as close to a 100% tackler as you can be. She is overall a fundamentally sound rugby player.
“She has great game speed, too,” Sparks added. “I can recall one specific example from 7s nationals: In the final she had a linebreak against Boston's Ashley ‘flicka’ Clancy, who is earning some hype of being one of the fastest players in the country. It became a flat-out 60-meter foot race between the two. Kelly won, and her running line was smart, too. In a nut shell, she is one hell of a rugby player.”
Griffin had no idea that the club 7s event would yield such personal recognition and had planned in advance to attend one of the open player camps hosted by USA 7s coach Ric Suggitt. The Eagle coach is familiar with Griffin, having seen her play for the Eagles in the 2010 Women’s International 7s tournament in Las Vegas as well as the High Performance Player Camp last January, but he didn’t invited her to the 7s assembly in July.
“We received a lot of individual attention and got a lot of reps in the training sessions,” Griffin reflected on last weekend. “It was helpful to attend this camp immediately after nationals, as I was able to take what I'd learned in that tournament and build on it with Ric's & Beth Black’s input. Each training session was filmed, and at a video session we received specific feedback that I am looking forward to incorporating into my play at the All Star Championship in a few weeks.”
One of the biggest assets that coach Sparks sees in the eager athlete is her natural leadership abilities, which made her an easy choice as Berkeley’s 7s captain this summer.
“She is one of the hardest working players I have ever seen, man or woman,” Sparks said. “I like to get to our training pitch early, and I know I will always see two things when I get there: grass and Kelly doing work. The best leaders are the ones who you don't fight for, but ones who make you want to fight with them. Kelly really embodies that. Her teammates voted her captain and would also join her in the before-practice workouts.”
As Griffin prepares to play with the Pacific Coast 7s at the All Star championship in two weekends, it becomes even more evident that Griffin puts her full weight behind the goals she pursues. It's comforting, however, to flip through Griffin's game photographs, as she very often sports a sly smile on her face, like she's enjoying every step on the pitch.
“I want to win a 15s National Club Championship, continue to improve as a player, represent the USA on the rugby pitch,” Griffin outlined her goals, “and continue to have a blast doing it."
Positive attitude and the skills to boot, there's no reason to doubt that Griffin will soon be counted among California's many attributes.