Plenty of captaincy options for Black Sticks in Rio

By Rikki Swannell

Kayla Whitelock. Photo / Greg Bowker
Kayla Whitelock. Photo / Greg Bowker

Coach Mark Hager has more than one selection dilemma as he works to finalise his women's Black Sticks squad for the Rio Olympics.

Hager is yet to decide on a captain, with long-time leader Kayla Whitelock back in the squad after more than a year out of international hockey following the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Anita Punt led the team in 2015, while Sam Charlton and Stacey Michelsen have also worn the captain's armband during various home series this summer. Throw in Whitelock and veteran defender Emily Gaddum (nee Naylor) and Hager has an abundance of players to call on.

"We have so many good options there, and we'll probably still experiment over the next couple of tours. They all lead in their own special way. None of them are saying they want the letter C beside their name, they all just want to make the Olympic squad and will lead the way they do on and off the field."

Whitelock returned to the squad in February, eight months after having baby Addison, and is more concerned about fitting in and earning her place at a fourth Olympics, rather than regaining the captaincy.

"I'll do it if they want me to do it, but I didn't want to come back in and say give me the captaincy," she said.

Few, if any players, have tackled the rigours of international hockey and its demanding schedule with a baby in tow, but Hager says 31-year old Whitelock is a player of unique ability.

"Kayla leads by her example. She's a fearless player on the field, and has a desire to win every contest she's in and that really spills over into the group."

Says Whitelock: "I just wanted to play, fit back into the group and get my groove going. Naturally, I'm going to help out as a leader, but the girls have been doing a great job so I'm just happy doing what I'm doing."

The Black Sticks are in the second week of having the full national squad centralised in Auckland. With 25 players vying for 16 places in the Rio squad, Hager has been impressed with the attitude and work ethic.

"There's been no complaints, they've dug in and got into the business."

The selectors will name a squad in a couple of weeks to head to Darwin for a Four Nations and then the Champions Trophy in London in June. The final squad of 16 to go to Rio will be announced in early July.

- NZ Herald

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