By Logan Brandon • Logan Brandon • 

‘Once in lifetime experience, all year round’ for Barker, Mendoza

Submitted photo##
Adriana Mendoza and Samantha Barker pose during practice.
Submitted photo## Adriana Mendoza and Samantha Barker pose during practice.

Samantha Barker couldn’t describe the sport any other way. The recent Mac High graduate has learned to eat, breathe and sleep rugby over the past four years. She and her fellow Valley Panthers teammate, MHS senior Adriana “Coco” Mendoza, recently returned from the USA Seven’s rugby camp in Denver, and both were eager to share their experiences.

“There were 55 players chosen out of the whole nation. It was a big achievement to be selected,” said Mendoza.

The camp was run by USA Rugby Women’s Sevens head coach Richard Walker, recently returned from Olympic coaching in Rio de Janeiro. Emilie Bidwell, team manager, was present to evaluate and develop the players.

“No other sport can you go to a camp like this and be taught by Olympic coaches and managers. Getting to learn from Richie, who I think is the best coach in the world, was amazing. Before the camp, I was a terrible passer to the left. One session with him and I could suddenly wing it out there!” said Barker.

“During the camp, I got better defensively because the coaches taught us new drills to improve our positioning and hitting. The speed coach showed us how to utilize our explosiveness,” said Mendoza.

Barker and Mendoza spent five days conditioning, weight lifting and scrimmaging. The first day was intimidating because of the age and experience of competitors. Mendoza was the lone 17-year-old, while Barker was among the few recent graduates. The remaining athletes were college players from around the country.

“There was a lot of pressure to perform well. I had to focus on keeping my head and playing my game,” said Mendoza.

“It was hard to get into the groove of things. During the first day, it felt like Coco and I were stuck in a corner, not wanting to talk to people. But by the second day, I was meeting new people and making friends. It definitely made us better rugby players after we got out of our comfort zone,” said Barker.

Leaving the comfort zone was a foregone conclusion when they were placed on two different camp teams. Better yet, the two would be playing the same position (fly half) and competing against each other.

“When our teams played each other, I thought I was going to have to tackle her. I told her, ‘I love you, but I will do it,’” Barker said, laughing.

Unfortunately, in the opening of the first game, Barker was tackled (not by Mendoza) and landed awkwardly. As a precautionary concussion policy, the coaches made her sit out the day, thus avoiding a potential clash between friends.

After experiencing rugby camp, Barker and Mendoza have similar goals for the future.

Barker is looking at the potential organizations that will bring her closer to an Olympic roster. Everything from the United States Military Academy to Lindenwood University in Missouri is on her radar. She is in contact with Coach Walker, as he helps her locate the best place to continue her rugby career.

Mendoza, too, wants to catch the eye of the U.S. Rugby selection committee. Competing at the camp in Denver was a good start, but another year of Valley Panthers matches will help as well. Next year, she will be considering Central Washington University for the chance to play rugby.

The level of play from both could result in an invite to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. A once-in-a-lifetime achievement, indeed.

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