Yesterday I explored the Black Sticks Men's squad for their Oceania Cup campaign and the theme was depth. That's exactly the same for the Black Sticks Women's squad as Mark Hager ushers in yet another young wave of kiwi hockey players and we'd expect nothing less from Hager as he's done this consistently over the past five years. The ladies have enjoyed success thanks to always having players who are ready to step in, now is no different.
But; this Oceania Cup squad is an example of Aotearoa's hockey depth for slightly different reasons. While there are no debutants, seven ladies are 22 or younger, Sally Rutherford is the only player over the age of 28 and somehow among all of that, only two have played less than 15 games for Aotearoa. Tarryn Davey and Steph Dickins are the 'freshest' faces as they have seven caps each, adding to a Black Sticks Women's squad that is a prime example of why we are heading into such an exciting time for kiwi hockey.
As players do other stuff in the usual post-Olympics period, this Black Sticks Women's squad has an impressive core group that have come up under Hager's guidance and have a wealth of international experience. Like the lads, the lasses have already qualified for next year's World Cup, ensuring that games against Australia especially - shout out to Papa New Guinea hockey - will be crucial in preparing Aotearoa for a massive World Hockey League Final on home turf.
That preparation will involve the core group fine-tuning their playing systems and working on any new wrinkles that coach Hager wants to implement. Chuck in some ruthless trans-Tasman hockey and Aotearoa will be able to do that fine-tuning under pressure. Also funky in that context is how the core group is spread through the various layers; Ella Gunson, Liz Thompson and Brooke Neal anchor the defence, then Stacey Michelsen, Rose Keddell and Sam Charlton offer the play-making skill/passing, while Olivia Merry and Sam Harrison lead the striking group.
Kelsey Smith, Rachel McCann and Natasha Fitzsimons have also played a lot recently; Smith's offers immense energy bursting forward, McCann's a solid striker and Fitzsimons does her job in defence. The squad is rounded out by Frances Davies, Shiloh Gloyn, Grace O'Hanlon and Amy Robinson.
Players who haven't quite sealed WHLF selection will be out to make their mark and the best way to do that is to contribute to slick team performances. In that regard, it will be interesting to see whether this squad is the squad that Hager will take forward into the WHLF, or if he'll incorporate players who have been regulars in the past. Logic suggests that giving this squad an opportunity to build in the Oceania Cup ahead of the WHLF is the wise move and how Aotearoa perform over in Australia could be the key factor.
Peace and love 27.
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