A decade ago, Tarryn Davey was running around in circles – travelling the globe as a talented 800m runner, competing at world meets with future New Zealand track and field stars Zoe Hobbs and Eliza McCartney.

The trio were team-mates at the world youth athletics championships in Ukraine in 2013. And at the Australian Youth Olympics that same year, sprinter Hobbs won gold in the 100m while Davey brought home silver in the 800m.

But not long after, Davey began veering away from the track. While McCartney went on to win pole vault bronze at the Rio Olympics, and Hobbs became the fastest Kiwi woman on two legs, Davey got serious about her hockey career.

Since she was a kid running barefoot in the Waikato township of Te Aroha, Davey had been able to mix athletics and hockey, right into her early years at the University of Auckland, where she studied fulltime to become a pharmacist.

* What’s behind Zoe Hobbs’ need for speed
* From gaol to goal – a Black Sticks’ double life

“I loved both sports, and they really both helped each other,” Davey says. “I like that I didn’t choose one over the other when I was young. All the international opportunities were with athletics back then, so I would have chosen that over hockey.

“In my first year of uni I was trying to do both, but I started getting picked in more hockey age-group teams for New Zealand. With trips away over the Kiwi summer, I suddenly wasn’t around for the athletics season. So it just happened naturally. In the end, hockey it was.”

Now, the 86-test cap Black Sticks defender, renowned for her speed and fitness, is focused on the 2024 Paris Olympics – where she could once again be in the same New Zealand team as Hobbs and McCartney.

Tarryn Davey (third from right) in a Black Sticks huddle during this year’s Pro League. Photo: Simon Watts/BW Media

Davey has just reunited with her Black Sticks team-mates in Antwerp, after she spent the past four months playing club hockey in the Netherlands alongside her friend and fellow Kiwi Olympian Frances Davies. Like a number of experienced Black Sticks, they missed the Pro League matches against Australia and Great Britain at home in April. 

The Black Sticks resume their Pro League season with an intense European leg starting this weekend, playing Argentina on Sunday (NZ time) and Belgium on Monday. And Davey can’t wait.

After two seasons playing in the home of arguably the best club hockey in the world, the 27-year-old says it’s sharpened her game. “It’s definitely helped. It increases your basic skill level and your decision-making.”

Initially, it was a simple decision. Back in 2021, when Davey was working as a locum pharmacist in Auckland and training for the Tokyo Olympics, she got the itch to play club hockey overseas.

“Some of the Black Sticks had already done it and you could see it was an awesome experience and their hockey improved significantly because of it,” she says. “I’d always wanted to play in the Netherlands, who have the best club hockey for women in the world.”

So straight after those Olympics, when the Black Sticks fell short of their medal goal, Davey and Davies headed to the Hague and joined the Klein Zwitserland Dames in the Hoofdklasse, the Dutch premier hockey league. They went flatting together, along with Davey’s boyfriend, Jonty.

“Moving to another country with a different culture and language isn’t easy, but having Fran in the team was really good, and really fun,” she says.

The Kiwis decided to stay on in the Netherlands after that first season, and scout out other club opportunities – signing with THC Hurley and moving to Amsterdam this year.

“We’ve had a pretty special season,” Davey says. “We didn’t have high expectations, but we ended up making the top four. That’s the best the club has ever done – men or women. So the club made a big deal out of it.

THC Hurley Dames celebrate making the top 4 teams in the Netherlands’ Hoofdklasse premier league

“It’s definitely helped my hockey. You have high-level games every week, and they’re must-win games. You get used to preparing yourself to play consistently at that level.

“As an international coming in, they have high expectations of you, too, so you get used to having to perform every week.  So it’s really helped, with game time and when the high-quality opposition and your team-mates are some of the best Dutch players.”

The Netherlands are, of course, the reigning Olympic champions. And Davey will come up against some of those women next weekend, when the Black Sticks move to Amsterdam to play first the Netherlands, then Germany, in the space of four days.

It was the Dutch side who knocked the Black Sticks out of the Tokyo Olympics at the quarterfinal stage, and Germany who ended their World Cup hopes last year, also in the quarterfinals.

Davey has only been home to New Zealand for short summer breaks in the past two years, when Dutch club hockey has gone on pause. “It gets so cold, the turfs freeze over,” Davey says.

Last summer she was home to play the first four tests of the Pro League year, spending time back on the family farm in Te Aroha, and working at a pharmacy in neighbouring Morrinsville.

“That’s the great thing about being a locum pharmacist, you have the flexibility to work wherever you are,” she says. Except in Amsterdam, where she’d have to sit an exam, be registered, and speak Dutch (“which I have a very limited ability in”).

Instead, she’s been working for a pharmaceutical company there, getting an insight into “the other side of pharmacy… They needed extra hands-on-deck with documentation, making sure their products were meeting new legislation,” she says.

It was while she was at Elstow-Waihou School, on the outskirts of the Te Aroha township (roll then 160), Davey first played netball, athletics and basketball before picking up a hockey stick, following her mum and eldest brother.

“It was a typical Kiwi country upbringing,” Davey says. “We had a small school, but this amazing opportunity to play all these sports – and develop that mentality you can punch above your weight. If you’re running on a grass track, you can foot it with the kids on the synthetic track.

“That helps when you’re playing for New Zealand, and you have that underdog mentality.”

Tarryn Davey on the move against the USA in the 2023 Pro League in Wellington. Photo: Simon Watts/BW Media

In her high school years at Waikato Diocesan, Davey continued in multiple sports, playing hockey alongside future Black Sticks Alia Jacques and Alex Lukin.

She began making New Zealand age-group track and field teams in 2008, specialising in the challenging 800m distance. “You have to pace yourself, but basically you’re running as fast as you can twice around the track. It was such an interesting, difficult race, and I loved that,” she says.

“But to be honest, I don’t miss it. I get that physical aspect of high performance sport in the Black Sticks now. I love being in a team sport, training together and working towards a common goal. I’m really happy with where it’s ended up.”

Davey’s athletics background is obvious on the hockey turf.

“Growing up learning how to run properly and move your body properly has really helped me,” she says. “Hockey is such a fast game and there’s a lot of physical output. With a background in 800m, you have the fitness ability.

“If we have a running session now, I mostly enjoy it.”

Davey loves watching the growing success of her old team-mate Hobbs – who this year became the first Kiwi woman to break the 11s barrier and make the semifinals of the 100m at the world champs. They were both part of the NZ Team at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. 

“Zoe is doing incredible things. Everyone in athletics knows you come into your best form in your mid to late 20s. So it’s a really long journey to get there, but she’s worked so hard for it,” she says.

Zoe Hobbs (#7) in the 100m heats of the 2022 world track champs. Photo: Alisha Lovrich.

Would Davey ever return to running? “I always thought I’d never be that athlete who starts running half-marathons after they’ve finished hockey. But my brother does ultramarathons, and I’ve been for a few longer runs with him, and the older I get I think that could be cool. So I’ll do a bit of that,” she says.

She’s still got hockey goals to meet – first, to get New Zealand into the Paris Olympics, with their first chance in August, against Australia in the Oceania Cup. “Chance B is in January, but we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” she says.

“My goal is to make the Paris team and have a successful campaign with the girls. I’ve signed on for another season with Hurley, so I’ll be moving between Amsterdam and home, but spending as much time as I can with the [Black Sticks] girls.”

She’s fast closing in on playing 100 tests for New Zealand, too. “It would be amazing to reach that milestone for your country. We have girls in the team now who were born in 2005 – that really makes you feel older,” she laughs.

* All of the Black Sticks men’s and women’s Pro League matches in Europe will screen live and free on Spark Sport. The NZ women play Argentina on Sunday at 12am, and Belgium Monday, 12am. 

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

Leave a comment