Hockey: Black Sticks eye move up rankings

By Michael Brown

Experienced goalkeeper Bianca Russell will enhance the Black Sticks' run-up to the World Cup. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Experienced goalkeeper Bianca Russell will enhance the Black Sticks' run-up to the World Cup. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Zealand's World Cup hockey build-up takes shape next week with a series of internationals against Britain and the US in San Diego.

The intensity will move up a gear with the inaugural six-nation tournament in Hawkes Bay in April, but San Diego is the first step in what the Black Sticks hope will be a return back up the women's rankings.

They slipped to seventh after a disappointing World League finals campaign in Argentina late last year when they finished fifth.

Injuries to key players, notably midfielder Stacey Michelsen - who was initially named for this trip then withdrawn to give her repaired knee more rehabilitation time - and strikers Katie Glynn and Krystal Forgesson have trimmed the strength of the group.

On the flipside, experienced goalkeeper Bianca Russell is back, with top-class defender Emily Naylor, who both missed the World League finals.

In coach Mark Hager's book, one player's misfortune opens the door for another - in this case Canterbury pair Jenny Storey, who missed out in last year's national squad, and midfielder Jordan Grant, after a strong national league and improved fitness levels, get a chance.

Britain are ranked third, the US 10th. New Zealand's last game against Britain was the bronze playoff at the London Olympics, when they were disappointing.

"They're both very physical, tough teams and very hard to play against," Hager said. "It's a different style to what we've been used to playing teams like Australia or Argentina, but they are two teams also building up to the World Cup, so it's an exciting time to see where we're at.

"It [also] gives an opportunity to try some players trying to break in against quality opposition."

So, the players get valuable international activity and Hager has an opportunity to sift through his options for the World Cup, to be played in The Hague in May-June.

The Black Sticks left for San Diego last night and have practice games on Sunday and Monday against Britain and the US respectively.

- NZ Herald

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