Bring on the heat! That is the call from defender Sophie Taylor as the Hockeyroos prepare to launch into their best-of-three Olympic qualifiers against New Zealand in Rockhampton.
Taylor and the rest of the Hockeyroos team touched down in the regional Queensland city on Sunday confident of a positive result but at the same time fully aware of the magnitude of the task in front of them.
Overcoming the Black Sticks Women will be one thing, but the ability to perform under pressure in the hot early September conditions of Central Queensland adds another layer to the challenge.
However, with the Hockeyroos having recently returned from an Olympic Test Event in Tokyo where they played in high humidity and hot temperatures, Taylor says that experience was invaluable heading into the Oceania Cup.
“Considering we had that Test Event in Tokyo, the conditions there have prepared us perfectly for Rockhampton,” said Taylor.
“We’re ready to embrace the conditions in Rockhampton and make it an advantage, so bring on the heat.”
The fact the Hockeyroos played four matches in five days in Tokyo is also a plus, considering they face three games in four days against the Black Sticks Women.
Further to being match hardened, Taylor says another key take away from the Test Event was how fine the line is between the top 15 women’s hockey nations in the world.
The Hockeyroos recorded a win, two draws and a loss in their four matches in Tokyo against India (ranked 10), China (ranked 11) and Japan (ranked 14). The Black Sticks Women currently sit sixth in the rankings, just four places below the second ranked Hockeyroos, and Taylor knows bringing anything less than their ‘A’ game could have dire consequences.
“From the Test Event we learnt how close every country in the top 15 are in the world at the moment and that you need to be on top of your game in every match you play,” said Taylor.
The 24 year old, who is in the final stages of a degree in physiotherapy, says the Hockeyroos have been building all year towards these three matches considering what is on the line. While there has been more than due diligence done in reviewing and researching their opponents, Taylor says the Hockeyroos’ emphasis has been primarily on ensuring they do everything in their power to be the ones booking their ticket to Tokyo 2020.
“We have been focussing a lot on ourselves. We have spent a lot of time analysing NZ and how they play, but mostly the focus has been on ourselves in order to get the desired outcomes,” said Taylor, who made her Hockeyroos debut just under a year ago.
“There has been an emphasis among the group that all 18 players who are playing at the Oceania Cup will be needed and everyone will need to fulfil their roles if we are to qualify.”
The Hockeyroos head into Thursday’s opening match off the back of a 3-1 win over China in their last hit out, followed by a thorough training load to have the team in the best possible shape, both physically and mentally, to perform in Rockhampton.
“Since we returned from the Test Event, training has been very sharp and intense,” said Taylor.
“There have been lots of challenging hockey sessions, both physically and mentally. We’ve done everything we can to best prepare ourselves for the qualifiers.”
Now all that is left to do is get the job done. The first of the matches between the Hockeyroos and Black Sticks Women begins at 6pm AEST this Thursday following the Kookaburras’ match against the Black Sticks which commences at 4pm.
All of the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras’ Oceania Cup matches against New Zealand will be LIVE streamed on the Oceania Hockey Federation Facebook page or by going to https://livestream.com/accounts/9457344/events/8747921