The youngest ever Black Stick ...

By Peter Thorley

Could this be the new Mandy Smith?
She's blonde, she's pretty, she's a formidable striker, she's just been named to play in the New Zealand women's hockey team - but she's just 16.
Charlotte Harrison was still coming to terms with being New Zealand's youngest ever Black Stick when she arrived home at Whangarei airport yesterday to a vocal crowd of well-wishers.
The Whangarei Girls' High School fifth-former found out on Sunday evening after Northland's final game at the National Hockey League play-offs in Christchurch.
Black Sticks coach Ian Rutledge was talking to Northland coach Donna Edlington-Ford in a Christchurch restaurant and they beckoned for Harrison to join them.
"Ian told me I'd be coming to Australia with him," she said. "I thought he meant I'd been picked for the development team at first."
Playing at the Beijing Olympics, once a day-dream, is now a very real goal.
Rutledge was effusive about Harrison's abilities: "She's a genuine goal scorer, she has fantastic elimination and evasion skills and has an innate awareness of how to play the game. She's a special player and, to be honest, she gave us little choice but to pick her."
The selectors balanced Harrison's tender age against her value as a player for the future.
"It's one of those tough decisions, she's good enough right now to play at this level but we're also very conscious of her age."
Rutledge indicated Harrison might not take too much part in the coming series against Australia for World Cup qualification.
"What's more important for New Zealand Hockey is that Charlotte is at the Beijing Olympics," he said.
Developing an outstanding strike force has been a long-term aim of the Black Sticks.
The Whangarei teen can look forward to enjoying a certain amount of international travel with the team but, ironically, her first official training will be a five-day session in Whangarei next week.
The 18-strong squad will prepare her for the coming three-match series against the Australians.

The winner goes through to the World Cup tournament in Madrid and the loser will face a further qualifying series in Rome next year.
Northland Hockey chief executive Grant McLeod said it had been just a matter of time until she was selected. Northland has been well represented at the national level over the years and Mr McLeod said that was due to the high level of coaching throughout the grades.
The news is all good for the Harrison family, with only father Steve in any way pensive.
"Dad said I'll get a Mini Cooper if I get selected into the Beijing Olympic team," Charlotte said.
When Mr Harrison recently told Black Sticks selector Suzette Eastmond about his "bribe", he was told he'd better start paying it off.

- Northern Advocate

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