SINCE her Hockeyroos debut on January 18, 2016, Gerringong’s Grace Stewart has quickly became a main stay of the national side.
So much so, that she will chalk up her 50th cap at the 2018 FIH Women’s World Cup, when her Hockeyroos battle Belgium in their second match on July 24.
Making the achievement even more remarkable is her age.
Stewart only turned 21 in April, putting her among the youngest Hockeyroos to ever bring up the 50 game milestone.
“I can still remember my debut and it’s been a crazy two years since then,” Stewart said.
“I’m sitting on 48 games and to bring up 50, at such a young age, is very special – I didn’t think I’d be in this position at my age.
“At 21, most girls are just trying to push to be in the squad, let alone about to bring up their 50th cap.”
During those 48 caps, in which she has found the back of the net on 17 occasions, Stewart has played in nearly all the big tournaments on the hockey calendar.
“This year marks my first World Cup, which I’m really excited for,” she said.
This tournament will complete the big three on the calendar – the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and World Cup.
“It’s a dream to play at any of these tournaments and to have done so at 21, I’m feel very honoured and am very grateful,” she said
In saying that, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Stewart, who acknowledges that 2017 was a ‘lean year’.
“Last year wasn’t my best year, being out of the squad for a little bit,” she said.
“But with the help of certain coaches and self belief, I got my confidence back and started playing solid hockey again.
“It all started to click at the end of last year and I haven’t looked back – it’s helped me become the player I am today.”
Stewart and her team mates, which includes Mollymook’s Kalindi Commerford, left for London on Wednesday to prepare for the tournament, which runs from July 21 to August 5.
When they arrive, they will play two practice matches, against India (July 16) and Great Britain (July 18), before their tournament opener against Japan on July 22.
“We go into the tournament as the fifth-placed side but are going in with a very positive frame of mind,” she said.
“We know we have a tough pool, against Japan, Belgium and New Zealand but we aren’t ruling out anything.
“We proved at the Commonwealth Games and in the recent tri-series in New Zealand, where we finished second and first respectively, that if things go our way, anything is possible.”
Despite finishing second to the Netherlands at the 2014 tournament, Stewart explained this is a vastly different squad.
“Since Paul [Gaudoin] and the new coaching group took over at the start of last year, we have been gradually building,” Stewart said.
“Although it’s a new group, recent results have shown that we are starting to click and I have faith those connections are only going to improve the more we play together.
“In this game plan, as a striker, my role is have a high work rate, press the play and obviously finish chances when they present themselves.”