The New Zealand chef de mission Rob Waddell summed up the gold medal win at the recent 2018 Commonwealth Games perfectly, “The women’s hockey team story has been one of determination and comeback. They missed the top spot at both Delhi and Glasgow Commonwealth Games and by continuing to make changes and improvements to finish on top of the podium is absolutely fantastic”. The New Zealand women’s side (Black Sticks Women) had never won a Commonwealth Games hockey gold medal before Saturday. Over the past five Games, the Black Sticks had collected one silver (at Delhi in 2010) and two bronze after making the medal round each time.
It simply was their time and they definitely produced a quality performance by downing defending champions Australia 4-1 in the final. The world ranked fourth team New Zealand led 1-nil at half-time courtesy of a goal to Shiloh Gloyn and then scored two more in the third quarter through Rose Keddell and Olivia Merry. Australia pegged a goal back in the final quarter to make it 3-1 but the Black Sticks snuffed out any hope of a comeback by the hosts with a fourth goal to Anita McLaren.
Years of preparation went into this win. Building, reflecting, setting KPI’s, more hard work, and of course a never say die self-belief that grows from many setbacks along the way. What were even more special were the long term commitments of Australian born coaches, head coach Mark Hager and assistant coach Sean Dancer.
Black Sticks women coaches – Mark Hager and Sean Dancer
Mark William Hager is a retired Australian field hockey player, who competed in two Summer Olympics for his native country. He won the bronze medal with The Kookaburras at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Following his playing career, Hager has been pursuing a coaching career in hockey. Mark became the Blacksticks head coach in 2008 after a string of successful assistant coach positions with Australia. For ten years he has been at the coaching helm of New Zealand women’s hockey which speaks of his commitment to his position and sheer determination to bring success for those players under his charge. Sean who has been assistant coach since 2014 has lived in New Zealand since 2009. The two adopted Kiwis are very similar when you nail it down to both wanting to be successful and having the drive to play good, aggressive style of hockey. They have endured the setbacks but as a team they have climbed the mountain. Considering the style of game the Black Sticks are now playing and the encouragement they would have received from their gold medal one can surmise that the best is still to come.
Another big plus associated with the gold medal win was the important recognition of Black Sticks Stacey Michelsen who was chosen as New Zealand Commonwealth Games closing ceremony’s flag bearer. This was a great honour for Stacey as a testament to her leadership qualities and inspiring on field performances. For Hockey New Zealand it was a boost the sport always is great full for.
It appears there is exciting times ahead for New Zealand hockey.