The Columbia field hockey squad is one week into preseason preparations as they set its sights on the season opener against Longwood on September 6.

Head coach Marybeth Freeman, assistant coaches Caroline Nichols and Dani Forword, and captains Liz Malone and Lauren Skudalski spoke with Dalen Cuff ‘06CC in the latest episode of Inside Columbia Athletics. Click the video above to see their thoughts on the upcoming season and read the rest of the story for a preview of what to expect from the Lions this season.

Some of the familiar faces that helped the Lions achieve their sixth consecutive winning season and a third place Ivy League finish in 2012 may be gone, but what head coach Marybeth Freeman has is a strong returning nucleus of experienced players.  Additionally, she has retooled with a talented group of newcomers who have begun preseason with aspirations of not only maintaining the program’s consistency, but also taking it to another level.

"Every year there is change,” said Freeman. “Seniors graduate, formations change and new tactics evolve. This year will surely be an exciting one for Columbia hockey.”

“We have three experienced seniors in each of our lines and they are all strong leaders. We have a solid group of juniors, who will be prominent figures within our playing system. Our sophomores, two of which started each game last season, are experienced and tactically knowledgeable. And rounding out the team are our highly coachable and eager eight newcomers. I know each of our student-athletes are looking forward to taking ownership of learning, applying and adapting throughout the season."

Columbia will aim to counter the loss of all-time leading scorer, Gabby Kozlowski, with the leadership of senior co-captain Liz Malone and a speedy group of forwards. Malone, a savvy front-line player, netted eight goals, good for second on the squad, and ranks seventh on the career list with 12 tallies.

Sophomore Anna Scipioni and junior Kyle Marsh will also be relied on to pick up some of the scoring slack. Scipioni recorded a pair of goals and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week after a game-winning score against Bucknell. Marsh saw her playing time increase as a sophomore, getting into 15 contests.

First-years Taylor Mills and Katie Ruesterholz and sophomore Leah Matthews will also be in the mix at forward. Mills and Ruesterholz both were dynamic scorers during their high school careers, while Matthews joins the Lions after one year at Wake Forest in the ACC.

“We’re excited about our speed up front,” Forword said. “We’re going work on our counter attacking situations and moving forward as a team. We want our midfield contributing to the attack as well which is exciting. We hope to score some exciting goals this season.”

In the midfield, Columbia returns five players that saw significant action in 2012. Sophomore Christina Freibott started all 17 games and posted seven points (1G, 5 A) in her debut season. Columbia also has senior Danielle Cosentino along with juniors Zoe Blake and Ellie Robertson to solidify the position.

Junior captain Lauren Skudalski will anchor the defense once again, having started every game in her two-year career and is regarded as one of the top backs in the Ivy League. Senior Creaghan Peters is coming off her best season in blue and white, seeing action in all 17 games and contributing a goal and an assist.

“We’ve been working hard the first couple days of preseason to set a solid backfield,” Nichols commented. “The experience of our returning players will definitely be a strength for us and our incoming first-years will add to that strength.”

There’s a healthy competition going on to become the Lions goalkeeper with the departure of a four-year starter Christie O’Hara. Junior Marlee Silverstein has a career mark of 2-0 with a 0.95 GAA and sophomore Kimberly Pianucci made two starts in 2012, going 1-1 in those games. First-year Kendall Kuntz comes in after a stellar high school career where she posted a 70-2-3 record in her three varsity seasons at Garrison Forest in Baltimore, Md.

“I think competition builds strength,” Freeman, a former goalkeeper herself, stated. “To have that competition will only help make themselves stronger. Nothing is set in stone for any of our positions, including goalie. It’s up for grabs. Whoever works the hardest is going to earn that spot.”

Columbia’s schedule is a mix of familiar and new foes, all of which should provide a strong test leading up to the always-competitive Ivy League season. The Lions will face five teams for the first time this season, including the season-opener against Longwood on Sep. 6.  Also on the slate, is preseason No. 2 Maryland, who is fresh off another Final Four appearance.

Conference play commences on Sep. 20 at home against Brown and the Lions face off against defending national champions Princeton on Oct. 4 as they look to stay among the Ivy League elite.

“You get better by playing good teams," Freeman stated. "With this group, what we’ve instilled in them on a year-to-year and day-to-day basis is you need to compete as a unit and focus on the details. We are up for it. For us to continue to build and flourish as a program we need to keep challenging ourselves. I want to see how far this team can go.”