There’s a real sense of unfinished business in the ranks of the New Zealand women’s hockey team as they prepare for their Commonwealth Games campaign.
Coach Mark Hager’s team have had an extraordinary run of near misses at recent Games tournaments:
2010: Reached Commonwealth Games final in Delhi, then were denied gold when they lost to Australia on penalty strokes.
2012: Missed out on a place in the final of the London Olympics when they were beaten in the semi-finals by the Netherlands in a shootout after scores were level at 2-2 at fulltime. To rub salt into the wound, they were denied the bronze medal when they lost 3-1 to Great Britain.
2014: Squandered the chance to make the Glasgow Commonwealth Games final when they were beaten in a shootout by England after it was 1-1 at fulltime. They then beat South Africa to claim the bronze medal.
2016: Lost to Great Britain 3-0 in Rio Olympics semi-final and then lost 2-1 to Germany to miss out on even a bronze medal.
It is obvious the New Zealand women have performed consistently well at various Games, but frustratingly they have dipped out when medals were at stake. It’s a habit Hager would said he would love to break.
New Zealand had a good showing in the World League in Auckland late last year, beating Argentina 2-1 in the quarter-final and England 1-0 in the semi-final before dipping out to the Netherlands in the final. However, they didn’t begin 2018 too propitiously when they were beaten 4-1 by Argentina in a five-test series in Buenos Aires.
Hager seemed very upbeat looking ahead to the next fortnight on the Gold Coast.
He has named a vastly experienced team – Anita McLaren (252), captain Stacey Michelsen (248), Sam Charlton (213), Olivia Merry (186), Ella Gunson (179), Rose Keddell (164), Liz Thompson (160), Sally Rutherford (155), Pippa Hayward (152), Sam Harrison (137) and Brooke Neal (135) have all played more than 100 tests.
“We have a good squad here, with a strong leadership group,” he said. “The senior players have been very inclusive in trying to help the younger ones. Unless you’ve experienced the real pressure moments, it’s difficult to prepare.”
Given how even the leading teams are heading into the Games, Hager said the New Zealanders had set their sights high.
“We’ve put pressure ourselves – we are after a gold medal.”
A particular focus had been defence.
“We’ve leaked a few too many goals lately and haven’t been able to put scoreboard pressure on our opposition.”
The New Zealanders meet Scotland on April 5 in their first outing in Pool B. Other teams in their pool are Australia, Canada and Ghana. The teams in Pool A are England, India, South Africa, Malaysia and Wales.Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Samantha Charlton Ella Gunson Sam Harrison Pippa Hayward Rose Keddell Anita McLaren Olivia Merry Stacey Michelsen Brooke Neal Sally Rutherford Liz Thompson Hockey