One step at a time for Black Sticks rookie

The Southland Times - - Front Page - Hockey

What a time to be called in to the Black Sticks.

A month ago they won gold at the Com­mon­wealth Games, four months af­ter they over­took Aus­tralia in the world rank­ings for the first time to sit in fourth place.

Roll in Auck­land’s Lulu Tuilo­tolava who will make her de­but against Japan in Cromwell to­day.

The 21-year-old was shocked when she was called in to the side as she was only ‘‘filling in’’ for the de­vel­op­ment squad.

Coach Mark Hager must have had a dif­fer­ent idea for the fast mid­fielder/striker, call­ing her into the squad named this week.

‘‘It was a sur­prise for me. It’s so ex­cit­ing,’’ Tuilo­tolava said.

Tuilo­tolava first picked up a hockey stick when she was five and over the last few years mod­elled her own game off her favourite Black Stick, Auck­land mid­fielder Liz Thomp­son.

Thomp­son won’t be avail­able for the se­ries against both Aus­tralia and Japan (ranked 12th), but Tuilo­tolava was given ad­vice by the vet­eran.

‘‘She said just to play my nat­u­ral game and just en­joy it,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s good for me be­cause I am still learn­ing, so it is good to have these girls around and teach­ing me as well.’’

Each team will play each other twice dur­ing a round robin phase, with the top seed au­to­mat­i­cally pro­gress­ing to the fi­nal to play the win­ner of a sec­ond ver­sus third play­off.

Keep­ing a level head, Tuilo­tolava isn’t look­ing any fur­ther than her first match in the black dress. The nerves are yet to kick in.

‘‘I haven’t quite thought about it yet, I will give it time to sink in. I bet I won’t sleep. Then to­mor­row when I put on the uni­form I prob­a­bly will be ex­cited.’’

The Black Sticks head to Lon­don at the end of July to play in the UK’s big­gest women’s only sport­ing event, where al­ready 100,000 tick­ets have been sold.

Af­ter that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is an­other big op­por­tu­nity that could await her, if she per­forms in Cromwell.

‘‘It is some­thing I want to be part of but it’s not some­thing I think about too much. It will be one step at a time, each game at a time and keep learn­ing. That’s a long-term goal that i’ll try and achieve, but it’ll just be the lit­tle steps to get there.’’

Aside from hockey, Tuilo­tolava is study­ing a bach­e­lor in com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Massey Univer­sity with the aim of be­com­ing a sports jour­nal­ist.

Tuilo­tolava was play­ing club hockey dur­ing the breath­tak­ing gold medal fi­nal against Aus­tralia, but said watch­ing the re­play gave her hunger to be a part of the side. Now se­lected she re­alises there is a long way to go be­fore be­com­ing a house­hold name.

‘‘I’ll prob­a­bly be the one to carry the hockey balls or the team drink bot­tles.’’

Five gold medal win­ners haven’t been in­cluded in the se­ries with cap­tain Stacey Michelsen, Sam Charl­ton, Thomp­son and Amy Robin­son in­jured and Pippa Hayward re­tired.

New Zealand play Japan to­day at 4.30pm.

STUFF

Auck­land striker Lulu Tuilo­tolava is in the Black Sticks to play the tri-se­ries against Aus­tralia and Japan in Cromwell.

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