Hawke's Bay softball pitcher Rita Hokianga describes Olympic qualification as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
"This is the last chance to qualify for the Olympics ... it means so much to me," left-hander Hokianga said before the White Sox left the country earlier this month.
The EIT liaison adviser is one of three Hawke's Bay players in the White Sox side which will take on China from 7pm today in their first outing at the Olympic Games Asia-Oceania qualifying tournament in Shanghai. The Gettins sisters, catcher Melanie and pitcher Courtney are the others in the side which is coached by the sisters father Kevin Gettins.
Melanie Gettins and Hutt Valley infielder Lara Andrews are the co-captains. They boast more than 100 caps between them and have both played at five world championships with the White Sox.
The pair made their White Sox debuts in 2009 after graduating from the Junior White Sox side which played in the 2007 under-19 world championships in Holland.
Before arriving in Shanghai this week the White Sox completed an eight-day, nine-game tour of Japan. Only the winner of this week's eight-team tournament, which is being played at a purpose built $25 million stadium, will qualify for Tokyo.
After the White Sox, who are ranked 11th in the world take on the eighth-ranked Chinese today they will take on the 23rd ranked Koreans from 9.30pm tomorrow and the 13th ranked Philippines from 4.30pm on Thursday. The top two teams from this pool and the other pool which has the sixth-ranked Chinese Taipei, the seventh ranked Australia, who are the tournament favourites, the 37th-ranked Indonesia and 43rd-ranked Hong Kong will progress through to the Super Round on Friday.
Points accumulated in pool play will be carried through to the Super Round. Should the White Sox qualify for the Olympics it will be their first appearance since their only previous appearance at Sydney in 2000.
Coach Gettins believes the short turnaround format tournament being used this week may work in the New Zealanders favour.
"The format, with its short turnaround, suits us better than a 10-day tournament."
The astute Gettins has plenty of knowledge on key players in this week's opponents. China's top pitcher Wang Lan commands plenty of respect while Chinese Taipei's pitching roster includes left hander Lin Su-Hua who played at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games.
Australia's pitching roster includes the formidable Kaia Parnaby and Gabby Pain, an all-American selection in her first season at the University of Washington.
Expect Andrews and Auckland outfielder Kingsley Avery to again feature at the top of the White Sox batting statistics. They led their offence at last year's world championship in Japan.
United States-based short stop Hailey Breakwell and Wellington infielder Mereana Makea, a daughter of former Hawke's Bay and Black Sox utility Fabian Makea, are other capable batters on the international stage.
Breakwell, who was based in Hawke's Bay for a training stint, a couple of years ago, is hoping to complete a family Olympic double. Her father, Peter Breakwell, represented New Zealand as an equestrian dressage rider at the Sydney Olympics.
The full New Zealand White Sox team:
Zoe Tolhopf, Krysta Hoani, Kingsley Avery, Jennifer Feret-Brear (Auckland), Rita Hokianga , Melanie Gettins (Hawke's Bay), Lara Andrews, Ashley Johnston (Hutt Valley), Mereana Makea (Wellington), Mikayla Werahiko (Canterbury), Ancelle van Molendorff (Brisbane/Auckland), Courtney Gettins (Alabama/Hawke's Bay), Stefanie Smith, Hailey Breakwell (California, USA), Pallas Potter (Florida/Hutt Valley)