NEW YORK – Columbia head field hockey coach Marybeth Freeman and the Lions field hockey program has released its 2012 schedule.

“We have nice balance in the schedule playing a variety of conferences like the CAA, Atlantic 10, Patriot League, Big East, America East, NEC and of course our Ivy League foes,” said Freeman, who enters her third season leading the Columbia field hockey program. “It's going to be competitive and fun season. We're looking forward to our Columbia supporters continuing to follow us, making our team one of the best "fan following" programs in the league!”

The Lions are coming off an exciting 2011 season in which the team went 9-8 and tied for the program’s all-time best Ivy League record at 5-2 while staying in contention for the conference title through the final week of the season. Last year’s squad produced two NFHCA All-Region honorees in Gabby Kozlowski and Christie O’Hara and a program-record six All-Ivy League selections.

The 2012 Columbia field hockey team will have 16 returners from last season’s squad and six exciting newcomers in its incoming group of first-years. The Lions 2012 schedule will provide a tough test as it features two 2011 NCAA Tournament participants and six teams that were either ranked or receiving votes in the final NFHCA Coaches Poll of the year.

“Opening with Richmond and VCU will set the competitive tone for the season and opening at home against Bucknell and LaSalle will be a good start to our home schedule,” Freeman said. “Rider and Fairfield are new additions to the schedule this year. After looking at their programs’ histories, they will be a nice matchup for us. Albany's top 15 finish last year will be a good battle and a solid measure as to how far we have come in our season, providing us a chance to showcase our technical and tactical development. Yale and Rutgers will be a challenging back-to-back game weekend, but will help us prepare to finish strong against Harvard.”

For the second-straight year, the Lions open their season on the road. Columbia starts things off with a weekend road trip to Richmond, Va., where it will face Richmond and VCU. The Lions’ 2012 season opener is Aug. 31 at 2011 Atlantic 10 champion Richmond (16-7 in 2011). The Spyders, who fell to Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, return two of their three 10-goal scorers in Rebecca Barry and Chelsea Davies.

Two days later, Columbia faces a familiar foe in VCU. Last season, the Lions took a 2-1 home win over the Rams thanks to a late rebound goal by Leti Freaney.

The Lions open their home schedule the following weekend with games against Bucknell (Sept. 8) and La Salle (Sept. 9). Bucknell went 8-12 in 2011 and tied for third in the Patriot League. Columbia defeated La Salle, 4-2, when the teams played in Philadelphia last year. Kozlowski scored two goals and O’Hara tallied 11 saves in the win.

Columbia renews its series with local rival Hofstra on Sept. 12 at home. Hofstra (13-9 in 2011) and Columbia have traded wins and losses over each of the last four seasons with the Pride taking a 4-2 win in Hempstead, N.Y., last year. Hofstra has not won at the Columbia Field Hockey Venue since 2006.

On Sept. 16, Columbia begins Ivy League play at Brown. The Lions won last season’s game at home, 3-1. The Bears return the 2011 Ivy League saves leader in sophomore Shannon McSweeney (160 saves, 9.41 saves per game).

Columbia’s conference home opener is the following Friday, Sept. 21, against Cornell. The Lions topped the Big Red, 3-1, in last season’s meeting, ending a six-year Cornell winning streak. The Cornell game starts a four-game home stretch that also includes contests against Fairfield (Sept. 23), Princeton (Sept. 28) and Rider (Oct. 3).

The Fairfield game ends a two-year hiatus in the all-time series, which Columbia leads, 6-3. The Lions have won the last four meetings and have not lost to Fairfield since 2002.

One of the Lions’ most thrilling games of 2011 was against eventual Ivy League co-champion Princeton. The Tigers slipped past Columbia with a 3-2 win in double overtime. This game could be pivotal for both teams in the early conference season standings.

2012 NEC champ Rider is one of Columbia’s oldest foes, dating back to the Lions’ inaugural season in 1996. The Broncs lead the all-time series 3-2.

On Oct. 7, the Lions will face a tough Albany team on the road. Albany went 13-7 in 2011 and was ranked No. 14 in the nation in the final NFHCA Coaches Poll of the year. The Great Danes are also one of the Lions’ oldest foes from their inaugural year. The all-time series is tied at 2-2 and Columbia won the last meeting, 1-0, in overtime in 2005.

Columbia faces a pair of teams from Philadelphia the following weekend in Penn and Drexel. The Lions play the Quakers on the road on Oct. 12 and will hope for a repeat of last year’s performance when Columbia scored a season-high five goals to win, 5-1. Columbia takes on Drexel two days later in a re-match of the 2011 season opener when the Lions played hard against a then-No. 18 Dragons squad before falling, 5-3.

On Oct. 21, the Lions close out their home schedule against Dartmouth. In last year’s 4-2 Columbia win, Kozlowski scored two key first-half goals and assisted on another in the second half.

Columbia’s season concludes with a three-game road swing. The Lions play games in Connecticut and New Jersey on the weekend of Oct. 27. That Saturday’s game at defending Ivy League co-champ Yale could have late-season conference title implications. The Bulldogs were the top scoring team in the league last season with 69 goals scored over 17 games.

After playing Yale, the Lions will bus down to Piscataway, N.J., to take on Rutgers the next day. Columbia edged the Scarlet Knights, 2-1, last year in New York thanks to a stellar defensive effort from its back line and goals by Kozlowski and Liz Malone.

For the 12th-straight year, Columbia will close its regular season against conference rival Harvard. The Lions face the Crimson on Nov. 3 in Cambridge, Mass., and will look to continue Columbia’s five-year winning streak in the series.