HANOVER, N.H. - At the end of this week, the Dartmouth field hockey team will return to action as the 2012 season kicks off against UMass. When the Big Green take to the field against the Minutewomen Friday night they will have a different look and feel than the team that last took to the field against Cornell the previous November.

Head coach Amy Fowler, now in her 13th season, knows that many will look at what is missing from last year's team, rather than what is here now, and understands the sentiment as her team heads into the 2012 campaign. 

"We're going to be underestimated because people are going to see that our top scorer, and other key starters from a year ago are gone," Fowler said. "Every year we have a new dynamic, and we add in the talent of five skilled rookies. We look at this new dynamic as an opportunity, one on which we will capitalize."

New to the staff is Pattie Gillern, a former All-American and All-Big Ten player at Iowa. In the past several seasons, Gillern has been a part of the Rutgers staff as well as West Chester University, helping lead the Rams to the 2011 Division II National Championship. She joins Kristine Stigas on the sidelines as the former BC Eagle begins her second season as an assistant with the Big Green.

Up front, Dartmouth will have a similar look as it did a year ago. Sophomore Ali Savage (Orange, New South Wales, Australia) returns after earning a spot on the All-Ivy Second Team in her first season. Senior Samantha McPherson (Ventura, Calif.) and juniors Sam Anderson (Wilton, Conn.) and Maggie Scanlon (Shaker Heights, Ohio) will add veteran leadership to the position that will also feature sophomore Phoebe Hoffmann (Lake Forest, Ill.) and newcomers Jessica Barfield (Chapel Hill, N.C.) and Brooke Van Valkenburg (Garden City, N.Y.).

"We return all but one from last year's forward line, and we add two new faces. We have an even greater number of players with a developed knowledge of pressing and how to be effective in our attacking half, so I feel very confident heading into our 2012 campaign. Our returning players have made huge strides this past winter and spring and we're very pleased with our starting point as we head into this year."

"In terms of finishing, I think we are further along than we were last year at this point. The players are so smart and know what they need to do to excel this season," the Dartmouth head coach added.

A player that will contribute as both a forward and a midfielder is co-captain Maya Herm (Bethesda, Md.). A seasoned vet, Herm brings a good deal of experience to both positions and can help give Fowler and the Big Green more options in game planning.

Fellow senior and co-captain Lisa Masini (Ann Arbor, Mich.), a 2011 All-Ivy Second Teamer and Second Team All-Northeast Region player, enters her final season in the Green and White with a good deal of expectations, anchoring the team's midfield. Sophomores Janine Leger (Johannesburg, South Africa) and Rebecca Hu (Skillman, N.J.) should continue to develop after freshmen campaigns that impressed many in 2011. Leger's efforts earned her All-Ivy Honorable Mention recognition in her first season in the Upper Valley. Rookie Eliza Becker (Lawrenceville, N.J.) will be able to help out on all lines, but will primarily focus her time in the midfield.

"I think we have some flexibility to have different looks in our midfield; different than what we've had in the past. We have a lot of confidence in our returning group and in what we've gained with our incoming class. With each season, comes new leadership and new roles for all of our players. Our team believes we can have a strong year and they are ready to follow through on those beliefs." Fowler pointed out.

On defense, the Big Green once again returns all but one from our 2011 lineup. Senior Liz Blanken (Short Hills, N.J.) will be complimented by juniors Olivia Quaglia (Los Altos, Calif.), Victoria Tersigni (Bloomsbury, N.J.) and Jenn Weissbach (North Caldwell, N.J.). Newcomers Clare Detrick-Yee (Wilton, Conn.) and Tabby Sabky (Skillman, N.J.) will round out the team's defensive unit.

"We'll start this season with even more depth in the backfield, which will allow us greater flexibility and a potential rotation of defensive players," Fowler stated.

The position that often makes or breaks the team is the goalkeeper. Outsiders will look to this as Dartmouth's most enigmatic position as Meagan Vakiener '12 had held the starting spot for four seasons.

However, with an injury to Vakiener late in the 2011 campaign, both Ellen Meyer (Prospect, Ky.) and Jenna Stearns (Thornton, N.H.) had the opportunity to step up and gain valuable experience down the stretch. Now a senior, Stearns is looking to leave her mark on the team in her final season, while Meyer, a sophomore, hopes her experience gained last season will translate into continued development and growth this fall.

"As long as they're healthy, they will be competing for that spot," Fowler said of her two keepers leading up to the preseason. "I was pleased with both of their performances this spring with each stepping up their games. They both have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, just like any player does, but I am happy with how they worked to minimize those weaknesses and grow as players who are much better with their decision making.

"Seeing more significant action late last season has boosted their confidence. This will help make the transition to a new season and new role much easier for them both," she added.

So with the right pieces in place for a strong 2012 season, the team is now faced with the task of taking on some of the country's top teams this fall. A tough schedule that ranks as one of the most challenging for any team will feature perennial national powers Maryland (Away, Sept. 9), North Carolina (in Boston, Oct. 7) and Ivy foe Princeton (Away, Sept. 15).

Fowler understands that for her team to take the next step and continue to improve, she must make sure that the slate of competition features teams that will not only challenge Dartmouth, but make it better for having played those games.

"If we want to be the best and compete with the top teams in our league and region then we have to play the best programs. Now that we have kids on the team that know what winning is like on a consistent basis, the mentality of the program needs to shift to one that incorporates winning against the best opponents."

After knocking off Princeton last season and snapping the Tiger's 24-game unbeaten streak against Ivy opponents, Dartmouth would go on to finish tied for third. Fowler knows that success cannot be measured in beating one particular Ivy opponent, but that the team must find a way to build a level of consistency and momentum over the entire season, allowing it to legitimately challenge for an Ivy Championship.

"You can't just beat the team in the league that everyone chases and hope that a championship falls into your lap. You have to work hard to beat each opponent, Ivy and non-Ivy. We want to control our own destiny, rather than be at the mercy of other scenarios playing out."

That goal of a championship season gets underway on Friday, August 31 in Amherst, Mass., and will continue through early November in Ithaca, N.Y.