Tokyo Olympics: Black Sticks blend youth, experience in Games squads

  • 10/06/2021

The Black Sticks have named a mixture of youth and experience in their men's and women's squads for the Tokyo Olympics.

Newcomer Sean Findlay, who's made four test appearances, has been selected alongside 314-test veteran Shea McAleese, who'll compete at his fourth Olympic Games.

The women’s squad features the promising young trio of Olivia Shannon, Katie Doar and Hope Ralph next to the experienced duo of Stacey Michelsen and Samantha Charlton, who will both head to their third Olympic Games.

The squads of 16 feature five women (Ella Gunson, Michelsen, Charlton, Rose Keddell and Olivia Merry) and five men (Steve Edwards, McAleese, Stephen Jenness, Hugo Inglis and Blair Tarrant) with more than 200 caps in black, while Edwards, Inglis, Nick Wilson and Jenness will also attend their third Olympics.

Men's coach Darren Smith is pleased with the balance within his squad.

"It's a pretty experienced group, but it’s also the first pinnacle event for players like Sam Lane, who have previously missed out through injury, or Jacob Smith and Nick Ross, who have been rewarded for their perseverance," Smith notes. "They’ve shown they’re really determined to be there."

Meanwhile, women's coach Graham Shaw is confident he has a highly competitive group of players, despite the loss of veteran Kayla Whitelock.

The 260-test international hobbled from the field during the final test of the trans-Tasman series against Australia and was later diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, ruling her out of contention for an historic fifth Games appearance.

The lack of recent international play also made the selection challenging, notes Shaw, with only four tests in the past 15 months to assess his players.

"With the lack of opportunities we've had, it was a difficult squad to select," says Shaw. "It's certainly been very unusual circumstances, but we've got a balanced squad that poses a massive threat on attack, alongside a strong defensive unit.

"We have some exciting young talent in our ranks especially Olivia, Katie and Hope, who have stood up in recent years and all have huge futures in the black dress."

Michelsen - the most capped NZ women's player ever (291) - will lead the women, while Tarrant retains the reins for the men.

The Black Sticks women have never reached an Olympics podium, finishing fourth in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016.

The men famously won gold at the Montreal Games in 1976, but have failed to medal since.

The men open their campaign against India on July 24, while the women take on Argentina in their first game on July 25.