Black Sticks Ladies :(

Black Sticks underperform and leave fans disappointed

If one word was used to describe the Black Sticks Women’s campaign at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games it would be disappointing. Heading into the Games, several players promised gold and as one of the leading teams in the Commonwealth, many thought this was do-able. 

Game 1 vs Trinidad and Tobago saw Rose Keddell celebrate her 50th cap and the girls demolish T&T 14-0.  With 47 shots at goal in the first half, it’s a wonder they only managed to slot 14 past the keeper!  Next up the Kiwi girls met India in a slightly more competitive game in the pool.  Sitting at 1-0 at half time, Anita Punt scored twice in the second half to finish up 3-0 and secure another three points.  While it was a much more complete performance than game 1, the girls still had a lot to fine tune before meeting Australia or England in their cross-over match. This game also saw star defender Sam Charlton celebrate her 100th cap.

South Africa was next up in pool play and as the 11th ranked team in the world, you’d expect New Zealand to beat them convincingly but this is never the case in tournament hockey.  A win against South Africa would see the Black Sticks through to the semi-finals with one pool game in hand and that they did just that in a tight 2-1 battle.  Captain Kayla Whitelock was ‘sensational’ as Coach Hagar described in his post-match interview, and that’s what you would expect from such an experienced player in a crunch game.  The girls then went on to beat Canada in their final pool play match 6-0 to meet England in the semi-final.  South Africa went through second in the pool and met Australia in the other semi-final, where the Hockeyroos downed their opponents 7-1 in a more than convincing display of hockey. 

The Black Sticks knew they had a challenge on their hands meeting England but given England’s 11th placed finish at the World Cup months before the games, you could have expected the Kiwis to be in with a sure show of making the final.  In a tough battle, the girls were behind 1-0 from an England goal late in the first half.  With eight minutes to go, New Zealand were issued a yellow card but subbing confusion led to no one leaving the field which resulted in Whitelock being sent off and giving England a two player advantage.  The English couldn’t capitalise on the Black Sticks poor decision making and ended up getting a yellow card of their own.  With five minutes to go, and the pressure probably starting to take over player’s minds, the Black Sticks had a one man advantage and converted a crash ball from Krystal Forgesson through Katie Glynn.  This took the game to penalty shoot-outs and no one can forget the Delhi Com Games where the Black Sticks made the final and lost on shoot-outs to the Netherlands after not practicing them enough at training.  You would have thought we would have been one of the best teams at penalty shoot-outs, given our disappointment from them last time, but we produced a result we would rather leave at the back of our minds, losing 3-1.  This meant England met Australia in the gold medal match where Australia edged England to take the gold medal.  The Black Sticks put in a good performance and beat South Africa 5-2 to win the bronze medal.

While the bronze medal is great, and better than 4th, you can help but feel slightly underwhelmed by the result.  The team is obviously different to the one that competed and performed incredibly well at the London Olympics, but how long is it going to take before we are performing at that level again and competing with the likes of Argentina, Netherlands, Germany and Australia? 

After coming back from injury, Katie Glynn went well at the World Cup but lacked any x-factor, which continued on to the Com Games.  Apart from her crucial goal in the England game, she failed to perform to her usual best.  Stacey Michelsen definitely improved from the World Cup and celebrated her 150th cap for the team – it will be great to see her back playing at the consistently high level that saw her win Young Junior Player of the Year in 2012.  Young players like Olivia Merry, Sophie Cocks and Jordy Grant failed to make any huge impact to the team and it was evident the occasion may have been bigger than them. 

Speedster Anita Punt was outstanding as usual but Hagar potentially overplayed her during the tournament, leaving her dead on her feet for the final match.  Sam Charlton was solid throughout the campaign and began to put some of her best performances on the field later in the week.  Questions loom around the continuation of key players such as Kayla Whitelock, Emily Naylor and Krystal Forgesson.  While they are all nearing the end of the career and it would be good to give younger players like Charlton, Punt, Flynn and Michelsen to step up, there currently is not enough depth in the National Squad to lose such key players.  The trio are Hagar’s go to players and if they could hang around to Rio, there could be potential to go one better than London Olympics – we all know they’re good enough!

There is also a massive question mark around whether or not Coach Mark Hagar will take the Australia Men’s head coach role that has been offered to him.  Some are saying that, that is his dream job but reports are he is disappointed with the girls bronze medal at Com Games and wants to do better.  All would not be lost if he did decide to ship over to Australia, as this would give certain players an opportunity to have a crack at the national team who have been overlooked in the past.  In particular, Charlotte Harrison who has 177 caps should be in the team – and should have never been dropped in the first place – given her standout performances at Auckland Club level and Auckland NHL this year.  She will definitely be one to watch in this year’s upcoming national hockey league!