The five shortlisted players for the International Hockey Federation (FIH) women's Player of the Year have lit up the hockey scene in 2017 with their skill, work rate, commitment to the game and sheer talent. All five nominees are also shining examples to others on and off the field and are deservedly seen as inspirational role models. Below is a snap-shot of each nominee's achievements. These are in alphabetical order by surname.
Recently appointed Great Britain and England captain, Alex Danson has represented her country since she was a 16-year-old back in 2000. Since then she has represented Great Britain and England more than 290 times, scoring a combined 106 goal in the process. Her medal tally includes five European bronze medals, EuroHockey silver in 2013 and EuroHockey gold in 2015, a bronze at the 2010 Hockey World Cup, bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games, plus Olympic gold at Rio 2016. Danson's commitment to the game remains as strong now as it ever has been and she is also a great advocate for the game, putting in hours of work for charities in Great Britain. Her leadership at the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final saw England finish in fourth place.
Melissa Gonzalez led the USA women's team to a first place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg, South Africa which not only guaranteed qualification for the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018 but also sent the team, ranked seventh in the world, to their first Hockey World League Final, where they finished seventh in Auckland, New Zealand. With more than 220 caps to her name, Gonzalez has been at the heart of the USA resurgence as they have moved up the rankings and earned respect as one of the top teams in the world. Gonzalez was Player of the Tournament at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals and took that form to Auckland, where she received plaudits for her fitness, tenacity and skill levels.
Argentina's Delfina Merino is the iconic striker who has all the makings of becoming a Las Leonas legend in the style of Luciana Aymar and Carla Rebecchi. With Merino at the helm, Argentina this year won their fifth successive Pan American Cup, qualified for the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup in London by virtue of a fourth place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg, and maintained their position as third ranked team in the world in the FIH Hero Hockey World Rankings. Merino is the stand-out player in a team of talented individuals, not least because of her impressive leadership skills on and off the pitch. She was also joint top scorer at the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final in Auckland.
When New Zealand faced Argentina in the quarter-finals in Auckland at the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final, it was captain and current highest capped player (235) Stacey Michelsen who led from the front, cajoling and pushing her teammates to dig deep. Whether it was bravely chasing down a penalty corner, driving forward from midfield or getting on the end of a penalty corner deflection to score, Michelsen was everywhere. Just that performance highlighted her greatness but this is the story of Michelsen every time she walks on the pitch – tenacious, hard-working, brave and an inspirational and popular leader. New Zealand lost in the final of the Hockey World League to the Netherlands but there was consolation for Michelsen as she was named Player of the Tournament.
Netherlands women have changed markedly since Rio 2016 but one of its enduring stars is the midfield dynamo Lidewij Welten. The double Olympic gold medallist continues to spearhead the Dutch attack and was key to the 2017 EuroHockey success which saw Oranje announce that they were back to winning ways. Welten was also key in the Netherlands barnstorming win at the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League as they beat New Zealand in the final. The Netherlands have played some spell-binding hockey this year and Welten has been at the heart of maintaining their number one position in the FIH Hero World Rankings.
All photos from Getty Images and World Sports Pics