The Black Sticks are home from London with plaudits and respect, but also regret.
Anita Punt of Red Beach and the rest of the New Zealand women's hockey team just missed a medal at the Olympics after a storming run into the last four, a thrilling loss in the semifinals and a disappointing finish in the bronze medal match.
Punt, 24, who was selected in the 2011 World All Stars team, was a key member of that side in London. And she talks about an amazing experience tinged with a sense of "what could have been".
"We're kicking ourselves because it was such a missed opportunity.
"Gold, awesome, silver, you're stoked because you got a medal but you've lost your last game. Bronze, you're stoked because you won your last game, but fourth you get nothing."
The popular forward was hurting more than most as she was one of the players to miss in the shootout against The Netherlands in the semifinal.
That match was tied 2-2 and despite Punt being the Black Sticks' regular game-time stroke taker, the shootout is different, with a dribble and shoot format.
Punt missed her shot in the pressure of the moment. The Netherlands went through to the final and won.
The Black Sticks were confined to the bronze medal match, but wilted against hosts Great Britain.
"We were absolutely gutted after the semifinal, but before the third and fourth playoff I thought we'd dropped that. I thought ‘it's happened, we're done, we're going to get ourselves a bronze medal'. But for some reason when we got out there, I think the crowd and the atmosphere got to us a little bit, and we didn't play our game."
Now the Black Sticks are ranked third in the world. But Punt says that did not console team members and it hit home further when they were presented with a certificate for fourth.
But the team impressed many at home and abroad with their performances, especially after beating Australia in the opening game.
Punt says the Olympics was unlike anything she had experienced before.
the Black Sticks were away for nearly six weeks.
Despite being largely tied up with competition, they did have some time to enjoy the games.
Team members watched a handball match, which she says was "crazy", and also saw the men's Black Sticks team play.
They also enjoyed life in the Olympic Village.
One highlight for Punt was getting a photo with US basketballer LeBron James, while she recalls another of the team having a contrasting celebrity encounter.
Two team members noticed Prince William in the Olympic Village and rushed after him. One was whisked away by security, while the other turned around to find herself face-to-face with Kate Middleton.
Punt says one good piece of news came when the team gathered for the announcement that Valerie Adams' silver medal had been upgraded to gold.
Punt says the team can now reflect on a good campaign and has hopefully inspired young players.
But for now, feeling drained, she will sit out the upcoming national championships.
She would have played for the Capital side, as she originally comes from Nelson and those teams are selected on a "State of Origin"-style basis.
She is not sure what will come next, aside from catching up on her veterinary nurse studies.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are likely.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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