Western Wildcat Kaz looks to drive Scotland towards World Cup spot

Kareena Cuthbert of Western Wildcats and Scotland (pic courtesy of Scottish Hockey)
Kareena Cuthbert of Western Wildcats and Scotland (pic courtesy of Scottish Hockey)

Western Wildcats player-coach Kareena Cuthbert has set her sights on leading Scotland to an appearance at next year’s World Cup.

Cuthbert is one of three co-captains in the Scotland squad which will head out to Belgium later this month for the World League semi-finals.

It’s the first time the Scots have got to this stage of global competition - but the 30-year-old doesn’t want the campaign to stop there.

The top eight teams from the tournament - being held in Brussels from June 21 to July 2 - will go through to next year’s World Cup.

Scotland have tough opposition in their group in the shape of the Netherlands - number one ranked team in the world - and China. They also have Korea and Italy to play - and it’s the encounter with the Italians that is likely to prove key.

She said: “The World League semi-finals, or World League 3, is a tournament in itself.

“But it’s also qualification for the World Cup and where all the big teams come in.

“We’ve done well, we’ve never qualified for World League 3 before so we’ve never got this far in the competition.

“The biggest aim for us is to finish top eight so we can qualify for the World Cup next year, which we’ve not been to for a long time.

“Holland and China are ranked significantly higher in the world, Korea we’re going to look to see what we can do against them and Italy is basically the game we’re targeting.

“If we beat Italy we’ll finish in the top four of our section, we’ll then go into play-offs which should put us in a position to qualify for the World Cup.”

The Scots squad has been undergoing something of a rebuilding process after a number of retirements following the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

With over 100 caps Cuthbert is one of the most experienced remaining members and is optimistic the side is heading in the right directiom.

She said: “Over the last couple of years we’ve beaten some higher ranked teams so it’s bumped our world ranking up.

“The coaches have been working really hard to get us as many internationals over the past two years because we had such a drop out and influx of new players.

“We’ve been really building a lot, we’ve played a lot of test matches and friendlies, home internationals etc to get as much experience in the girls as possible, basically for this year’s programme and next year.

“This is the start of a massive year for us. We have World League 3 this month and the European Championships in August at which we’ll again be aiming to make top six, if not top five.

“You’re then following into next year and in March/April it’s the Commonwealth Games and then we’d be hoping to play in the World Cup next summer.”

Kareena said the work done with the squad over the last two years has been aimed at building towards the next two summers of tournaments.

She said: “We have a squad of 30 all training together at the moment, which is great. We’ve had massive changes financially as well in the last four or five years.

“We get massive backing from SportScotland and from Scottish Hockey which allows us to go full-time for blocks of the year.

“At the moment we’re in a full-time phase so we’re going to be full-time from May until September and that means that basically we don’t work.

“Instead of doing the good old nine to five job and training at seven o’clock in the morning and again at seven o’clock at night, which is what we do out of season, over the summer or when we have big tournaments we can quit our jobs and go into just being full-time hockey players. We just never had that opportunity before.

“It very much depends on the employer. There are a few girls in the squad unable to commit to it because they won’t be given the time off or they won’t have the job there at the end of September.

“Fortunately enough, as a physio I work for myself and therefore I just give up my contracts and hopefully in September I can pick up work again.

“But we’re not going to be playing hockey for the rest of our lives, so this is as professional as we’re going to be.

“The only difference between ranking five and 15 in the world is consistency.

“These other countries are all full-time hockey players, 24/7 full year, so if we can emulate that as best as we can, even if it is only for three or four months, at least it gives us a fighting chance.”

Scotland faced Wales in a three-test series in Glasgow last weekend, losing each match by the narrowest of margins.

But Kareena said: “We only started our full-time training block on May 16 so we had weeks of full-time training and then we went into the Wales games which we had mixed teams for each games.

“Wales were very well organised but the matches were also used as a selection tool and over the past week everyone’s become a lot more focussed, so it’s coming together quite nicely.”