Story and Photos: Mark Janzen

Abby had an almond latte. If you know Alev, it kind of makes sense that she went with a double espresso. Nana doesn’t drink coffee. She ordered a peppermint tea. 

Just two days before the Rugby World Cup Sevens, the American trio sat inside the Australian-inspired Bluestone Lane in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district.

At a table nearby, a few members of Australia’s delegation also enjoyed a caffeinated beverage. They looked at home. Not long after they left, New Zealand star Ruby Tui sat down. Quite clearly, the rugby world has arrived in the Bay Area. 

Yet, for this moment, it’s the Americans who are the focus. They are, in fact, the ones at home, hosting the Rugby World Cup Sevens for the first time ever.

Less than 48 hours until USA Rugby’s women’s sevens side will kick off against China at AT&T Park, Abby Gustaitis, Joanne Fa'avesi and Alev Kelter* enjoy a moment to chat and laugh or, perhaps in a more appropriate order, laugh and chat.  

*Kelter was recently ruled out of the World Cup due to a previously sustained injury. Not surprisingly, she still possessed the same excitable personality she always has.

So, Nana aside, is your team a bunch of big-time coffee consumers?

ABBY: We definitely need to find a good coffee spot everywhere we go, and then we have Alev bringing her beans from home, and her grinder and Aeropress.

ALEV: Four people have Aeropress’s on the team and others bring French Press or Chemex. Nicole (Heavirland) even entered an Aeropress competition a little while ago and beat out some top roasters in San Diego.

Where’s the best place to get coffee on the series?

ALEV: The Diver Café in Sydney. It’s a small place but it’s the best.

ABBY: It’s surfers and long blacks.

So what’s it like being here in San Francisco with the World Cup around the corner?

ABBY: We’ve been here for 12 hours and there’s so much happening. It’s really exciting. A lot of people are stopping us. The matching outfits get everyone.

NANA: We love to match. (Abby) picks our outfits for the day.

ALEV: If we’re matching, it’s (Abby’s) fault. But if she’s picking, we’re going to look good. 

The coffees and tea arrives.

What’s the feeling around the team right now?

NANA: I think it’s good nerves. It’s exciting but we show it differently. Kris (Thomas) was like “I couldn’t sleep last night.” And Jordan (Gray) was just like, “I’m always nervous,” but she always has this big smile and it’s this ‘she’s ready’ type of nervous.

ALEV: We’re genuinely excited. It’s just a ton of energy and you can use that. It doesn’t have to be a distraction. If you know how to channel and use that, that’s what makes the team perform well.

What allows your team to have so much fun as a team and seem relaxed?

ALEV: We stayed in our environment in Chula (Vista) longer, so we could be more comfortable in what we know. That’s going to the training centre; that’s having breakfast together, that’s laughing, and that’s playing 'duck duck goose' before practice. We’re blessed to be in residency and see each other every day, and now these are the moments you’re ready for.

I have to ask, what do you think of the World Cup knockout style format?

ABBY: Madness. It’s set up for anything to happen. You can’t sneak out of pool play going 1-2 or 2-1. It’s one and done. You have to bring your ‘A’ game from the first whistle.

NANA: It’s not a bad thing. It’s definitely different, but I like that pressure.

ALEV: When I first saw it, I thought it was fake. Leave it to the Americans to do something like this. We want to say we’re pioneers, but it might also just be silly. It’s definitely going to be exciting.

How could this tournament help grow women’s rugby in the USA?

ALEV: With the Olympics, we wanted to get people to see it. They see it and they understand that women can play tough sports, be feminine and own it and crush it. The biggest thing from the Olympics is that people watched. If we can just get the world to see – and especially Americans – they’re going to fall in love with rugby. Sevens is an amazing game and anything can happen and that’s what people want to see.

How do you think you can be an inspiration?

NANA: I have a group of nieces who are inspired to play…or maybe…have been forced to play, who end up loving it. The kids who we see at schools when we’re running camps or whatever it might be, those are the people I think about. Whether it’s a little move or a big move, any step is progress. There will probably still be some barriers later when my niece comes up to play at this level, but you think that you’re a part of making it a little bit easier. Even the women who came before us, I’m very thankful for them. My heart just gets warm when I think that I would somehow make it easier or open another door for the next generation. That’s what it’s all about.

ALEV: I think the thing that makes the game beautiful is that it’s so inclusive. You can be any shape or size or age and still play rugby. It’s so welcoming because the respect and integrity is all part of why we play. You can be out there having an all-out battle but turn around and go have coffee together or have a beer or sing songs together. That’s what’s so beautiful. I think people are going to see that this weekend and there’s something words can’t describe that brings us all together. It’s truly something bigger than yourself. I don’t think you can see that in any other sport and San Francisco is going to see that.

So, how are you approaching the World Cup? Is it just like any other tournament or is it different? 

ABBY: For me, I’ve just tried to treat it the same way as a circuit stop.

NANA: I mean there aren’t really games during the year where they’re little games. I don’t think we downplay any game. There is no bigger game than the next game. That’s what I love about rugby. We go into the circuit stops just as hard as we’re about to go into this one. It’s more special. I get that, but we treat it the same.

ABBY: We know each game matters more than ever, but it’s the same mentality – just go out there and give everything you have and smile while you’re doing it.

ALEV: At the end of the day, you’re going to be putting on the USA jersey that you’ve put on before and you’ve laced up the shoes the same and it’s the same ball you’ve held every training session. Maybe the pitch looks a little different and there are a few more familiar faces in the stands, but at the end of the day, it’s rugby.

They finished their beverages. On their way out, they had another laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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