Hockey: Sticks come home' for test

Hawke's Bay's adopted sports team, the Black Sticks Women, are making a welcomed homecoming return to Napier for two tests against against India.

Hawke's Bay Hockey general manager Don Clark said interest has been strong and early indications are for a bumper crowd.

"Hawke's Bay has been the official partner for the team over the last year and everyone in the region was cheering them on at the London Olympics.

"This is the first time they've all returned and it's for an action-packed test series against India," Clark said.

The Sticks, ranked No3 in the world, will be itching to start the six-match test series on a high note at the Park Island turf with games on December 8 and 9. They also play India in Palmerston North and Wellington.

The series will have a familiar feel for both teams. The last time India came to New Zealand was in 2010 and games were hosted at the same three venues.

The Kiwis will be in the Bay for a week of training in the lead-up to the tests.

The province created its own support campaign for the women and men's teams during the London Olympics.

The "Give 'em Stick" campaign was a success with banners carrying thousands of signatures delivered to the teams in London.

"Hawke's Bay people have become real Black Sticks fans," Clark said.

Veteran player Emily Naylor moved to the Bay following the Olympics and said the team for the tests would be a mix of youth and experience.

Naylor, who has more than 200 tests and is eyeing a return to the side early next year, is having a break from internationals.

She has put the disappointment of missing out on a medal behind her. "We had speed, a belief that we could beat some of the world's best teams, so it was pretty gutting to finish fourth.

"It was heartbreaking to lose the semifinal in a shootout and we were pretty flat for the next game [bronze medal playoff with Great Britain] and it was our worst game by far.

"But we can look back now and say overall we did well to create history," Naylor said.

She believes coach Mark Hager is likely to call on a mix of players from the Olympics as well as some new young talent as the team build towards the next world championship and the Scotland Commonwealth Games in 2014. "There're lots of young players who are fast and will be pushing for a long-term place in the team."

Naylor is working as a personal trainer at Snap Fitness in Hastings and is also a youth ambassador for the New Zealand Olympic Committee, a role that requires her to visit schools throughout the central North Island.

Tickets for the Napier tests went on sale yesterday from for the 3pm starts.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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