Georgia Barnett aiming to cement herself in Black Sticks ahead of big 2018
A refreshed Georgia Barnett is looking forward to getting back on the hockey turf.
The 22-year-old Black Sticks goalkeeper plans to get back into training in the next couple of weeks, having not played a game since July.
She was left out of the team that went to the Rio Olympics, so opted to take a break and have surgery on a niggling tail-bone injury.
Now fully recovered, she was one of 21 players named in the initial Black Sticks squad for 2017.
But the surprise of the squad was four goalkeepers were picked, despite Black Sticks coach Mark Hager only taking one to the Rio Olympics.
Sally Rutherford, 35, is the team's senior goalkeeper with 129 caps ahead of Amelia Gibson, 24, with 60 caps.
Barnett has played 22 matches since her debut in 2012 and has been hot on their heels.
But there is a new challenger this year with 24-year-old Australian Grace O'Hanlon pledging her allegiance to New Zealand.
Barnett admitted it was unusual to see so many goalkeepers in the squad.
"There is quite a few," she said. "Four is a bit different.
"The men have historically only had two and the women historically three, so game time is going to be harder to come by. But at the end of the day there is only one goalie on the field anyway so you have to be in that No 1 spot."
Being the youngest of the group, Barnett has time on her side.
And she believed her time away from hockey at the end of last year was an advantage as well.
"I do feel quite refreshed now which is good. It was such a big year last year.
"You do sometimes feel that you need a break, so I think having the time off has helped me mentally more than anything."
While the Black Sticks don't return to training until February, Barnett said her training would start next week.
"I think that I will get going a wee bit earlier just because I have had such a big break, whereas the other girls haven't. My footwork will be quite a big focus for the next two weeks for me and just the basic techniques - getting back into my movement patterns.
"After that, the following two-three weeks I will start getting back into more game play, working with players a bit more."
From there she was hoping to launch herself into the Black Sticks trainings and stake a claim for a starting role.
"My biggest goal is cementing my place in the squad, preferably as No 1, but if not, No 2. I have not really done that.
"I have been in and out of that position for a wee while now, so getting that set is my big focus for the year and that will put me in good stead leading into next year with Commonwealth Games and World Cup."
Hager will name a further five players in his squad after the Black Sticks' tour to Argentina next month.
Manawatu striker Michaela Curtis was named in the 2017 development squad, alongside North Harbour-based former Feilding High School student Stephanie Dickins.
Defender Pippa Norman, who debuted for Black Sticks in late 2016 against Malaysia, was a surprise omission from both squads.
Even though Curtis and Dickins were only named in the development squad for the year, both were picked in the Black Sticks team for the test series against Argentina.
Barnett is also in the squad going to Argentina.