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Black Sticks midfielder Tessa Jopp has pulled out of National Hockey League.
The former Storm captain has secured a playing contract in Belgium and is unavailable for the domestic tournament which gets under way in Tauranga tomorrow.
Her absence will leave a big gap in the side.
The Storm has mastered the art of losing throughout the years. The team has amassed 26 consecutive losses since 2014 and can ill-afford to be without a player of Jopp's calibre.
Jopp has been replaced in the squad by Taylor Duffy, who is a promising young player "making her way through the ranks", coach Matt Ling said.
"It is definitely a blow losing the experience and leadership of Tessa. But we've got a good leadership group with Millie Cowan and Dayna Holland named as co-captains."
The Storm is in pool A and will open its campaign against a strong North Harbour side which won the 2018 title and has the majority of the crew back.
It also has games against Auckland and Canterbury. The top two sides from each pool will contest the top four later in the week, while the remaining sides will compete for the minor places.
Realistically, the Storm's best hope is in that bottom four. The team is targetting the playoff for fifth and sixth.
That would represent tremendous progress but Ling is ever hopeful.
"We will try to upset a couple if we can and use those early games to prepare with the whole squad again," he said.
There are some good reasons to feel more confident about this Storm side compared with previous editions. There are more players based in Dunedin this season which means the build-up has been significantly better.
The Storm has tended to stumble into tournament week with very little quality preparation behind it. Its other major issue has been scoring goals.
But the team has more experience up front than it had in the past. The trio of Claudia Peyroux, Tegan Buchanan and Ellie Duncan will be hoping to find some form and slot the ball into the net.
They will need to if the Storm is going to snap its long losing streak in what will be the last regional-based National Hockey League.
It is switching to an association-based tournament next year.
National Hockey League
Tauranga, September 14-22
September 14: North Harbour, 12.30pm
September 15: Auckland, 11:45am
September 16: Canterbury, 3.30pm
Southern Storm: Brooke Eddie, Claudia Peyroux, Tegan Buchanan, Dayna Holland, Kendall Holland, Ellie Duncan, Paige Waddington, Nicole Strawbridge, Annabelle Lee, Millie Cowan, Claire Bamford, Caitlin Hughes, Ruby Evans, Joanna Bell, Kelly Carline, Maddie Wotton, Thomasina Loeffen, Taylor Duffy.
Coach: Matt Ling