Follow Her Lead

Follow Her Lead

USA Rugby is WORKFORIT Rugby

Longtime U.S. women’s sevens and 15s player Nathalie Marchino recruits other team members to dance with her before practice. She puts together skits and songs (one about her burning desire to eat a cookie) and uploads them — along with a whole host of stupid human tricks, including squats atop Swiss balls — to her YouTube channel. She climbs into the overhead luggage bin on long bus rides on tour and posts the pics to Twitter, lamenting that there aren’t enough seats available. In other words, she is the ringleader of fun, and she is willing to share, if you just play along.

She’s also the woman with the golden hands, who has a tendency to magic up intercepted passes at the most opportune times, such as the one that sealed the win against Australia during the Houston 7s in early February. Another afforded the U.S. a brief lead — its only — over England in the same tournament’s championship game. “Nathalie reads the game well,” says Ric Suggitt, head coach of the U.S. women’s sevens team. “She can identify the seams in attack and jump into the passing lanes to deny passes or slow down potential attack.”

At least part of this vision stems from her background on the basketball court. Marchino played DI basketball at Siena College from 2000 to 2004 as both point and shooting guard, so she easily spots telegraphed passes and slips through momentary cracks in opponents’ running lines. “I love that rugby is a game that requires constant assessment,” she says. “Gaps open and close in an instant, so being able to juke on a dime gives players a huge advantage if you’re able to scan and read the field on a moment’s notice.” Better field vision is an advantage crossover athletes from this sport tend to capitalize on, and by design. The inventor of basketball, James Naismith, was also a rugby player, and he created some overlap intentionally. “The cuts I use on offense are very similar, and on defense, I always play the lanes — from time to time I’m able to pick a pass off,” she adds. No kidding.

She’s usually in the thick of the action at center, where Suggitt calls her “deceptively fast,” and lauds her ability to crack open long runs. The strength and conditioning staff has similar raves. “We’ve worked hard on mastering Nath’s speed efficiency, and have seen great improvements,” says Jared Siegmund, CSCS, strength and conditioning coach for the USA Eagles Sevens team. “She goes from to completely joking around to game mode at 100 percent. I swear she doesn't know what 50 percent is.” She flips the same switch on the field and in the weight room, where Siegmund notes Marchino’s propensity for piping French rap through the speakers overhead. “The problem is she’s the only one on the team who knows French,” he adds.

A national-team 15s player since 2007, Marchino made the U.S. sevens team in 2011 and joined the sevens residency program in October 2012. She left a cushy job as an account manager with Google in San Francisco to do so, and relocated 10 hours south to Chula Vista on her motorcycle to practice and play with the team full-time. “I always thought I was pretty fit until I moved to Chula Vista! I can honestly say that I have never worked harder at something in my life,” says Marchino. “I love being able to come to the Olympic Training Center to work on my skills, day in and day out, with some of my favorite people. Ric has a very inspired (read: twisted) way of coming up with conditioning workouts. You never know what you're gonna get on any given week, but whatever he comes up with, it’s working. The team is the fittest it’s ever been, and while we still have a long way to go, we’ve come so far in a short period of time.”

Though she’s the oldest player on the team at 31, her youthful spirit makes her tough to keep up with. “She’s a courageous player, and she isn’t afraid to take risks, which usually works out well for the team,” says teammate Christy Ringgenberg, “even if she is unpredictable at times.”

As for whether she’ll be on the 2016 Olympic team, Marchino emphasizes the near future. “I try to keep my goals short term so I don’t get blinded by the lights, as Ric would say. Team USA has been working very hard to put ourselves in the best position to perform at the upcoming World Cup in Moscow,” says Marchino. “But I love playing rugby, I love this team and I love wearing the American jersey. To be able to do it all on the world's largest athletic stage would be incredible!”

Jen Sinkler is a former sevens and 15s Eagle, and a longtime fitness writer and editor. Sign up for her fitness newsletter at www.jensinkler.com and follow her on Twitter @jensinkler.

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