Olivia Merry’s return to goalscoring form could scarcely have been more timely for the women’s Vantage Black Sticks.
Her hat-trick in the 5-1 thumping of the world second-ranked team Britain in Christchurch not only earned the Vantage Black Sticks their first points in the inaugural season of the global Pro League, but maintained Merry’s standing as among the most important figures in the side. It also lifted her to the top of the goalscoring chart in the Pro League so far.
The Christchurch born-and-bred attacker is now up to 83 international goals in 208 games.
Only the recently-retired Anita McLaren, with 105 goals, has scored more for the Vantage Black Sticks than Merry. Not bad for someone who only made her international debut six years ago.
She has scored six of the last 11 goals for the national team and it’s hard to overstate her significance to the world No 6 side, especially given the relatively recent departures of the likes of McLaren, Gemma McCaw and Charlotte Harrison from the attack department.
Merry acknowledged she has taken on a greater leadership role within the squad but is reluctant to play up her part in the group at the expense of others.
‘’I have had to take more of a leadership role in the striking group but other players have as well. We are moving towards everyone taking personal ownership for their performances,’’ Merry, 26, said.
‘’We’ve got younger players coming in, and they are exciting. We have to give them time and they can be great attackers.’’
Merry, who has a solid physical presence to her play, has clever stick skills and if the Vantage Black Sticks are to make an impact in the inaugural Pro League season, she will have a big part to play.
Having lost their first two games, both 1-0, to Belgium and the Netherlands at North Harbour, bagging the points against the No 2-ranked British team coached by their longterm former mentor Mark Hager was satisfying.
‘’It was looking a bit grim,’’ Merry said. ‘’So it definitely takes some pressure off but we still want to be performing week in, week out. Having one good game isn’t good enough. We have to make a goal of winning all our games.’’
Merry scored one of the Vantage Black Sticks goals in their thrilling 4-1 Commonwealth Games gold medal win over Australia on the Gold Coast last April, but the Pro League, with its emphasis on consistency, is a different type of challenge.
‘’I’ve really enjoyed the fact it’s like one-off games. The format allows you to put more into one game, as opposed to saving yourself for a tournament format.
‘’The days off in between really give us an opportunity to work on what hasn’t gone so well.’’
A big difference between the first two games and the British match in Christchurch was ‘’trusting our processes,’’ Merry said.
‘’We’ve done a lot of work on our goalscoring, trusting we’ve done all the work and fixing up a few things that hadn’t gone so well in the two previous games.’’
Next up are world No 5 Germany and No 10 China, both in Christchurch on Friday and Sunday respectively.
Germany deprived the Vantage Black Sticks of what would have been a cherished first Olympic medal in Rio three years ago in the bronze medal clash.
However Merry said they appeared to have changed their strategic approach, based on watching them draw 2-2 with Australia in Hobart last weekend.
‘’There was a lot of go-forward. In the past we’ve seen them hold the ball round the back more and be a bit more defensive.’’
Another challenge ahead for the New Zealand women but a fresh jolt of confidence is running through a squad who have now made their presence felt on the points table.