Mac on a mission

Determined to stay after ‘shock’ selection

Determined to stay after ‘shock’ selection

BACK IN BLACK: Mac Wilcox in action for the Black Sticks against Pakistan in 2017. A hip labral tear and torn hamstring sidelined him for much of 2018 but he’s a regular in the national men’s hockey team this year. Picture supplied
A team huddle with Wilcox wearing the No.32 shirt, coincidentally the same number that was on a Black Sticks player’s training jersey Wilcox was given several years ago.

MOTIVATION is not an issue for one of the country’s newest Black Sticks.

Mac Wilcox is the first to acknowledge his elevation to the New Zealand men’s team this year was “a shock”.

“If you’d told me at the start of the year that this would happen, I wouldn’t have believed it at all.”

But now the Tolaga Bay-raised 20-year-old is there, his intention is to add plenty more caps to the eight he has earned so far.

The former Poverty Bay age group representative heads to the Gold Coast next week for a training camp in build-up to the Hockey World League semifinals in Johannesburg in July.

Wilcox is part of a 28-strong squad that includes several senior players who were unavailable for the home test series against Pakistan in March, followed by the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.

The door was opened for the striker/midfielder and other developing players to enter the Black Sticks environment earlier than expected.

Wilcox subsequently impressed coach Darren Smith, capping his Pakistan series performances with a goal on debut, but knows he needs to up his game to retain his spot as others come back into the fold.

“I was definitely shocked when I was selected,” he said. “I was aware of the upcoming home series (against Pakistan) but hadn’t really thought I’d be in with a chance to play — only recently being selected in the development squad and not being based in Auckland.”

He was originally told to remain in Palmerston North and continue with his ag-science university studies, which he took to mean his debut for his country “could be a while off”.

That all changed last year when he spent six months in the big smoke and made the New Zealand team for the junior (under-20) world cup in India in November-December.

Just three months later he ran on to the pitch as a senior Black Sticks player, and wearing No.32 — which has a story to go with it.

Nick Wilson, who has played 170 games for his country and is currently on a year-long break from the game, gave Wilcox his Black Sticks training top several years ago. It bore Wilson’s number — 32.

Wilcox said putting on the Black Sticks shirt for the first time was “a dream come true”.

“At the time I really tried not to think about it too much; just treat it like another game to make sure I didn’t get overwhelmed.”

Having played a lot of hockey over the years with younger players in the team helped him settle, and he highlighted the 2-all draw with a goal in the third quarter.

Coach full of praise

Coach Smith was full of praise, saying it was a moment that typified Wilcox’s potential.

For Wilcox, though, his best performance came in the last game of the five-match series — a 1-all draw.

The test series was a significant step up and the Azlan Shah Cup, at which New Zealand finished fourth, was another level altogether.

“There is an extreme difference in standard in speed, intensity and skill.”

Support of his teammates helped him hugely.

“The Black Sticks’ environment is really positive and enjoyable — extremely competitive and professional. All the guys have a different back story and different interests.”

The Gold Coast camp will be a chance to push his case for selection for the world league semifinals but he is well aware of how difficult it is going to be.

“This will be a very hard team to make, with all the older players returning from Europe where they have been playing club hockey.”

Remaining relatively injury-free and improving his game are key.

“Over the years, at many different levels of hockey, I’ve seen injuries seriously affect a player’s development, not just short-term but long-term.

“Continuous improvement is another challenge. Remaining the same player isn’t good enough. To be the best, I need to make sure as a player I really drive myself and get better and better — develop new skills and knowledge all the time.”

But while he looks forward, the former Tolaga Bay Area School and Napier Boys’ High student will never forget how he got there.

“My experiences with Poverty Bay definitely moulded the player and person I am today. Respecting the sport and the chance to play on turf, as well as the different skill-set grass hockey requires, was a base from where I started when going away to boarding school.

“Family support has been everything to me,” said the son of Tauwhareparae farmer Neil and Tolaga Bay Area School teacher Marsha.

“Without my family I wouldn’t be playing hockey today. With funding for hockey in New Zealand being so low, without my parents’ support there would be no way I could continue to play.”

MOTIVATION is not an issue for one of the country’s newest Black Sticks.

Mac Wilcox is the first to acknowledge his elevation to the New Zealand men’s team this year was “a shock”.

“If you’d told me at the start of the year that this would happen, I wouldn’t have believed it at all.”

But now the Tolaga Bay-raised 20-year-old is there, his intention is to add plenty more caps to the eight he has earned so far.

The former Poverty Bay age group representative heads to the Gold Coast next week for a training camp in build-up to the Hockey World League semifinals in Johannesburg in July.

Wilcox is part of a 28-strong squad that includes several senior players who were unavailable for the home test series against Pakistan in March, followed by the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.

The door was opened for the striker/midfielder and other developing players to enter the Black Sticks environment earlier than expected.

Wilcox subsequently impressed coach Darren Smith, capping his Pakistan series performances with a goal on debut, but knows he needs to up his game to retain his spot as others come back into the fold.

“I was definitely shocked when I was selected,” he said. “I was aware of the upcoming home series (against Pakistan) but hadn’t really thought I’d be in with a chance to play — only recently being selected in the development squad and not being based in Auckland.”

He was originally told to remain in Palmerston North and continue with his ag-science university studies, which he took to mean his debut for his country “could be a while off”.

That all changed last year when he spent six months in the big smoke and made the New Zealand team for the junior (under-20) world cup in India in November-December.

Just three months later he ran on to the pitch as a senior Black Sticks player, and wearing No.32 — which has a story to go with it.

Nick Wilson, who has played 170 games for his country and is currently on a year-long break from the game, gave Wilcox his Black Sticks training top several years ago. It bore Wilson’s number — 32.

Wilcox said putting on the Black Sticks shirt for the first time was “a dream come true”.

“At the time I really tried not to think about it too much; just treat it like another game to make sure I didn’t get overwhelmed.”

Having played a lot of hockey over the years with younger players in the team helped him settle, and he highlighted the 2-all draw with a goal in the third quarter.

Coach full of praise

Coach Smith was full of praise, saying it was a moment that typified Wilcox’s potential.

For Wilcox, though, his best performance came in the last game of the five-match series — a 1-all draw.

The test series was a significant step up and the Azlan Shah Cup, at which New Zealand finished fourth, was another level altogether.

“There is an extreme difference in standard in speed, intensity and skill.”

Support of his teammates helped him hugely.

“The Black Sticks’ environment is really positive and enjoyable — extremely competitive and professional. All the guys have a different back story and different interests.”

The Gold Coast camp will be a chance to push his case for selection for the world league semifinals but he is well aware of how difficult it is going to be.

“This will be a very hard team to make, with all the older players returning from Europe where they have been playing club hockey.”

Remaining relatively injury-free and improving his game are key.

“Over the years, at many different levels of hockey, I’ve seen injuries seriously affect a player’s development, not just short-term but long-term.

“Continuous improvement is another challenge. Remaining the same player isn’t good enough. To be the best, I need to make sure as a player I really drive myself and get better and better — develop new skills and knowledge all the time.”

But while he looks forward, the former Tolaga Bay Area School and Napier Boys’ High student will never forget how he got there.

“My experiences with Poverty Bay definitely moulded the player and person I am today. Respecting the sport and the chance to play on turf, as well as the different skill-set grass hockey requires, was a base from where I started when going away to boarding school.

“Family support has been everything to me,” said the son of Tauwhareparae farmer Neil and Tolaga Bay Area School teacher Marsha.

“Without my family I wouldn’t be playing hockey today. With funding for hockey in New Zealand being so low, without my parents’ support there would be no way I could continue to play.”

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