A versatile New Zealand women's hockey team has been named for the London Olympic Games starting next month.
The Black Sticks women's team selected by the New Zealand Olympic Committee today features a side with players able to take on numerous positions with its speed and counter attack being a key part of the team's repertoire.
"We have selected a well-rounded team that is versatile, quick and has players that have a high work ethic," says Black Sticks Women's coach Mark Hager.
"They're also probably the most united group of players I've worked with. What's best for the team always comes well above any personal goals."
Hager, with fellow selectors Chris Leslie and Di Te Awa, said there were a number of difficult selections. These included which of the two top goalkeepers to take, and a battle between some talented defenders and midfielders.
Tauranga based Samantha Charlton is a welcome inclusion in the team after she performed well at the National Under-21 Championships and also during the recent Asia Tour.
"Sam has the ability to cover a number of positions. She's now one of the fittest and fastest in the squad and is also a very smart defensive runner at penalty corners."
The side is not short of speed with 2011 FIH Young Player of the Year Stacey Michelsen named alongside Anita Punt, Cat Finlayson, Charlotte Harrison, Katie Glynn and Krystal Forgesson.
Hager said Bianca Russell got the nod in goal after a number of consistent performances this year, while Alana Millington and the experienced Melody Cooper fill the defensive roles alongside stalwart Emily Naylor. Cooper returned from her home in Adelaide to play for her country of birth.
The team includes two three-time Olympians - captain Kayla Sharland and Naylor -and two others - Krystal Forgesson and Gemma Flynn - who will making their second appearance at an Olympics.
Hager said the Black Sticks women, ranked sixth in the world, were realistic about their medal chances in London despite winning bronze at last year's Champions Trophy.
"We're under no illusions about how tough it will be to win a medal. They're calling our pool the 'pool of death.' The girls know they will have to play consistently well to win a medal."
Joining New Zealand in Pool B is Argentina, Germany, Australia, United States and South Africa.
Midfielder Julia King and goalkeeper Sally Rutherford will both head to London with the team but will be based outside the Olympic village as P-accredited players. This means that if one of the 16 Olympic team members is injured, either Rutherford or the versatile King will be called on as a permanent replacement for the injured player.
The Black Sticks women, ranked sixth in the world, head to Europe on 9 July for a series of Olympic warm-up matches.
Today's selection announcement brings the New Zealand Olympic team to 134 with approximately 185 athletes expected to join the team before the games open on 27 July. The team has the largest contingent of women in history with 47% being female.
The first women's Olympic hockey competition was held in 1980 in Moscow. New Zealand has competed at five Olympics in women's hockey but is yet to win a medal - Los Angeles 1984 (sixth), Barcelona 1992 (eighth), Sydney 2000 (sixth), Athens 2004 (sixth) and Beijing 2008 (12th).
High Performance Sport New Zealand Chief Executive Alex Bauman congratulated the women's hockey team on their selection. "We've put in more than $1.2 million in funding this year into the team's high performance programme, as well as providing specialists to work with the team on strength and conditioning, nutrition and other aspects of their training and preparation. I'm delighted to hear of their selection today."
The turf for London 2012 brings another first to the sport of Olympic hockey. The artificial turf will not be the traditional green but instead will be coloured blue with a yellow ball providing high colour contrast and visibility. The pink surround adds to the vivid colour scheme.
The Black Sticks women feature in the first hockey match of the London Olympics taking on Australia on 29 July.
Blacks Sticks: Kayla Sharland (c), Emily Naylor, Krystal Forgesson, Katie Glynn, Alana Millington, Ella Gunson, Sam Charlton, Clarissa Eshuis, Sam Harrison, Cathryn Finlayson, Gemma Flynn, Charlotte Harrison, Melody Cooper, Bianca Russell, Stacey Michelson, Anita Punt.