Gemma Flynn:

Age: 24.

School: Tauranga Girls' College.

Achievements: 190 games for Black Sticks; New Zealand representative at two Olympics - Beijing 2008 and London 2012; and member of gold medallist team at 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

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Goal: medal at next year's Rio Olympics.

Tauranga is home to three of our national women's hockey team, including the side's most experienced player, Gemma Flynn.

The former Tauranga Girls' College student and girlfriend of All Black captain Richie McCaw has played 190 games for the Black Sticks and is only one of three players on the team to have played more than 150 matches.

Flynn is currently overseas but shares her thoughts on being the team's most capped player in an email to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

"It's been a great honour to represent the Black Sticks in my career to date and I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of this team," she writes.

"What is most important though, is that we as a group do well and win medals on the world stage."

The Black Sticks are ranked fourth in the world behind the Netherlands, Australia and Argentina, and Flynn says she and the rest of the team are determined to shine at next year's Rio Olympics.

"My major focus is on the Rio Olympics, where the goal is to win a medal."

The 24-year-old is a veteran of two Olympics - Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.

She rates her career highlights as winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 and reaching the semifinals of the London Olympics.

Flynn completed a degree in sport and exercise science last year and is also keen to grow her business, The 100% Project, which she runs with former Silver Fern Maree Bowden and high-performance trainer John Quinn.

"We work with individuals, groups, schools and businesses educating and inspiring people to live a healthier and more sustainable life."

Flynn has been dating McCaw for 2 1/2 years but is reluctant to respond to questions about her relationship with the rugby star.

However, she is not so reticent when it comes to her love of Tauranga and the Bay.

"There really is no place like home," she says. "It is one of the best places to grow up. You have the beach and outdoors right on your doorstep and the ability to play a variety of sport."

Samantha (Sam) Charlton:
Age: 23.
School: Otumoetai College.
Achievements:118 games for Black Sticks; and member of London Olympics team 2012.
Goals: Rio Olympics next year and Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Sam Charlton

, who went to Otumoetai College, has played 118 games for the Black Sticks.

Like the rest of the national team, Charlton is focused on next year's Rio Olympics and says the Black Sticks face tough qualifying competitions this year to make the cut.

But Charlton, who played at the London Olympics, is hopeful of success and would like to still be playing at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The 23-year-old says New Zealand struggles to retain older players, compared with the world's other top teams, which can have players as old as 36.

"I'm already one of the old ones," she says on the phone from Auckland, where the Black Sticks train, "and I'm not even that old."

Part of the reason is low pay, she says, adding that it is a situation Hockey NZ is working hard to remedy.

Charlton, who has a Bachelor of Science in psychology, says the lack of more mature players is a pity because hockey players reach their peak in their late 20s.

"You can be pretty physical at a young age, but you probably don't have that top game skill and awareness."

She loves hockey for its speed and different components - "You need to be fit, fast, strong, skilful, have good game awareness and hand/eye co-ordination" - and her last 20 or so games for the Black Sticks she has played in the midfield, a change from her usual role as defender.

"It's a good step up. It's a bit more challenging than being a wing-half. There's a lot more involvement."

Charlton spent her primary school years in Auckland, moving to Tauranga when she was 12, and says she was fortunate at Otumoetai College to have a brilliant coach, Alan Galletly, who pushed her to excel.

She says she still calls the Bay home, and loves to visit whenever she can.

Rose Keddell:
Age: 21.
School: Bethlehem College.
Achievements: 70 games for Black Sticks.
Goal: Rio Olympics next year.

Former Bethlehem College pupil Rose Keddell balances the Black Sticks' tough training schedule with study and a busy life in Auckland.

"I'm actually in a Glassons changing room right now, just juggling life," she jokes over the phone this week.

The 21-year-old, who has played 70 games for the Black Sticks, is doing communications extramurally at Massey University, switching from full-time study at Auckland University of Technology at the end of her first year when she made the senior squad. The Black Sticks train six days a week, including two sessions on Mondays, and the rest of the week alternates between time on the turf and work in the gym.

Keddell says she and her teammates "live like professional athletes" in terms of their training, but many need to work because "hockey doesn't pay much".

Keddell is interested in doing television sports presenting in the future, but for now her main focus is hockey - and the Rio Olympics.

Her desire to be an Olympian blossomed after she went to London in 2012 to watch her cousin, world champion rower Mahe Drysdale, compete and bring home gold.

Keddell has played hockey since she was 5 or 6, and says it was making the top teams at each level that motivated her to choose the sport over others she played at school.

"It's just always been part of my life, like going to school, and eating and sleeping," she says.

Keddell grew up in Omokoroa and still calls upon her "home group" when she needs support.

Her rise to the Black Sticks forced her to grow up quickly, she says, and she has worked hard to improve the mental side of her performance as a midfielder.

She says taking on the best players in the world requires confidence, with mental strength just as important as physical talent when playing among hockey's elite.

She is aware her sport takes sacrifice, but Keddell seems to have no trouble seeing the bigger picture.

"You miss out on the party scene but it's a sacrifice you don't mind making ...
"It's the pathway my life's gone down and it's been really cool."