One step at a time for Black Sticks rookie
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.
Auckland striker Lulu Tuilotolava is in the Black Sticks to play the tri-series against Australia and Japan in Cromwell.