Black Sticks women's coach full of pride

JONATHAN MILLMOW IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 08/08/2012
Mark Hager
Lawrence Smith/Fairfax Media
WINNING MOMENT: Mark Hager (right) congratulates Charlotte Harrison after the Black Sticks win over the USA at the London Olympics.

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Hockey

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They say a coach is never happy.

But the coach of the Black Sticks women, Mark Hager, can't speak highly enough of his team heading into tomorrow's Olympic hockey semifinal against the Netherlands.

The Black Sticks might not be doing everything perfectly, but it is hard to imagine there is a more resilient, hard-working and successful hockey team currently in London.

Hence, the pride Hager is feeling.

“I am pretty happy for the girls,” he said.

“Just being able to coach a team like this, a team that is unified.

“My biggest love of this group is that they try so hard and sometimes I have to check myself because I am pretty hard on them.”

The Black Sticks get two bites at a medal now. If they can't knock over the world No 1 Dutch side, then they drop to the bronze medal playoff against either Great Britain or Argentina.

Before these Olympics, the best finish by any Black Sticks side was sixth. Captain Kayla Sharland was in Beijing when the team finished 12th and last. Expect her to play a storming game tomorrow morning (NZ time).

“This is huge,” said Sharland.

“Coming last in Beijing wasn't good for me and that is why I am back here and that is why I wanted to change it around and do something special.”

Belief in themselves and converting their chances are the key areas if the Black Sticks are to continue their record-breaking run. Since the Beijing Olympics, the Black Sticks have played the Netherlands five times for four losses and a scoreless draw.

Hager admits beating the Netherlands is a mental hurdle his young side has to overcome.

“We have nothing to lose, they are No 1 in the world and we just have to go out play and hopefully play well and make the final.

“It is always a hurdle because we haven't [beaten them] but this team has achieved a lot of firsts.” Coming here the Black Sticks were regarded as a side that scored goals but also conceded their fair share. Right now, the roles are almost reversed, partly because of some outstanding goalkeeping by Bianca Russell.

“We aren't renowned as a defensive group but they are defending pretty well,” Hager said. “It is the best we have defended in a tournament ever and we need to continue that."

Like Sharland, Emily Naylor is playing in her third Olympics. Others like Gemma Flynn and Krystal Forgesson were in Beijing when it went horribly wrong.

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You get the impression the team has another trick or two up its sleeve yet.

- Fairfax Media

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