Hockey: Women's Olympic squad named

One of the most experienced players selected is co-captain Emily Naylor, who represented New Zealand at the Athens and Beijing Games. Photo / Getty Images.
One of the most experienced players selected is co-captain Emily Naylor, who represented New Zealand at the Athens and Beijing Games. Photo / Getty Images.

The women's Black Sticks Olympic squad may be lacking in experience but coach Mark Hager thinks that will help, not hinder, their pursuit of the podium.

Hager today announced his 16-strong squad for the London Games where the side will seek to become the first women's hockey team to claim an Olympic medal.

They will commence that quest with a team containing only four players with Olympic experience and an average age of 24, but Hager painted that as positive rather than detrimental to the Black Sticks' prospects.

"We are full of youth and not a lot of experience, but I think that's the real bonus for us because we have nothing to lose," he said. "The nerves will be there but I don't think this group gets too overawed that often.

"They've got a 'no fear' attitude - they don't know what to expect so they don't know what to fear."

Among the select few who do know what to expect are captain Kayla Sharland and co-captain Emily Naylor, both of whom represented New Zealand at the Athens and Beijing Games.

Hager saw the experiences of the pair as a perfect complement for the youth predominant in his side.

"They've had a sixth place finish and a 12th place finish, so they know how close they can get and also how far away it can be. I'm sure they'll feed the girls and let them know what works and what doesn't.

"We haven't really spoken about the past or the learnings from the Olympics they've been to, so that's something we want to really tap into over the next seven weeks and try and learn from the experiences they had."

Striker Krystal Forgesson is another who has performed at the greatest show in sport, and she concurred with her coach's sentiments about the importance of the role she had to play in London.

"I think our experience plays quite a big part in terms of just telling the girls what they can expect," she said. "Some of the girls still ask us lots of questions about it, and for us to provide that information is pretty valuable."

The 29-year-old striker said, having been part of an unsuccessful side with a heavy veteran presence, she saw the merits in trying a different approach this time around, especially as the team wasn't naive as to the demands of international hockey.

"In Beijing, we had a few more experienced players in terms of age and caps, and we obviously didn't do well there. I think just having a bit of youth in the team, people aren't scared to use their speed and skill.

"Most of the girls have played at either World Cups, Commonwealth Games or the Champions Trophy, and they're all really big tournaments as well so the girls have a rough idea of what to expect."

Forgesson said the blend of youth and familiarity in the squad left her confident of medalling, a task made difficult by both the competition and the format of the tournament. The sixth-ranked Black Sticks will need to finish in the top two of a pool including hockey heavyweights Argentina and Germany, but Hager was bullish about their chances of knocking out the favourites.

"Like every team, we want to medal," he said. "For us to be in the top two we'll have to play exceptionally well - we're not kidding ourselves there. But we believe if we can get some good results early on then we're a real chance at that medal playoff."

The team departs for Europe on July 9 for a series of warm-up matches before opening the tournament against Australia on July 29.

Women's Black Sticks squad to compete at the London Olympics:

Kayla Sharland (c), Emily Naylor, Krystal Forgesson, Katie Glynn, Alana Millington, Ella Gunson, Sam Charlton, Clarissa Eshuis, Sam Harrison, Cathryn Finlayson, Gemma Flynn, Charlotte Harrison, Melody Cooper, Bianca Russell, Stacey Michelson, Anita Punt.

- APNZ

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