As the 2001 season approaches, the women’s lacrosse team has taken on a fresh look — but with some familiar faces.

The No. 16 Bulldogs return an impressive corps of five seniors, which head coach Amanda O’Leary names as their biggest strength. And although they will lack the dominant scoring forces they relied on for the past two seasons, the Elis boast a talented crop of underclassmen that will provide them with more depth throughout the lineup.

The Bulldogs will look to captain Liz Gardner ’01, a gutsy defender and a vocal leader, to set the tone for the season. Joining Gardner as a stalwart on the defensive end will be All-American Megan Strenski ’02.

“I think our strength will start in the backfield,” said Gardner, who, with Strenski will anchor one of the best defenses in the Ivy League.

Goaltender Amanda Sisley ’03, who is retaining her spot between the posts after proving herself Yale’s preeminent netminder last season, will also shore up the Bulldog backfield.

Midfielders Katherine Myers ’01 and Kate Flatley ’01, who returns as the second-leading scorer, join assist-leader and housemate Clara Gillespie ’01 to form an attack rich in chemistry. The playmaker Gillespie tallied half of the team’s assists in 2000.

“They bring a lot of valuable experience to the team,” O’Leary said of the threesome.

Yale’s offense will miss its top scoring threats from last season. Former captain and All-American Heather Bentley ’00 graduated last May, and first team All-Ivy attacker Amanda Walton ’02 sustained severe injuries resulting from an automobile accident at the end of last school year.

“The loss of Amanda Walton leaves some shoes that I don’t think we’ll ever be able to fill,” O’Leary said.

Although the duo of Bentley and Walton accounted for 40 percent of the Elis’ goals last season, there are plenty of underclassmen ready to pitch in, including a host of talented freshmen.

“We may not have that dominant goal scorer, but we’re much more balanced this year,” Gardner said. “Seven people go into the attacking end, and literally anyone of those people is capable of scoring for us. That makes us a much different team than we have been in the past.”

Attacker Clarissa Clarke ’03 was the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer as a freshman with 22 goals and should prove to be a potent offensive weapon this season. Midfielders Anne Graf ’03 and Ali Cobbett ’03 will also be threats along with Kaitlin O’Brien ’03, who rejoins the Elis after taking a year off from Yale.

Making her Yale debut is midfielder Miles Whitman ’04, who hails from the lacrosse mecca of Maryland. Coming out of Baltimore’s Bryn Mawr, Whitman was one of the top high school recruits last year.

“Miles Whitman will do a great job controlling the midfield with her speed,” Strenski said.

The preseason polls put Yale behind three other Ivy League powers. To vie for the title, Yale will need to be competitive against traditional juggernauts No. 11 Dartmouth and No. 2 Princeton. And just ahead of Yale, No. 15 Cornell has become an Ivy contender in recent years.

But the defending Ivy League champion Big Green lost some of its key seniors including Kate Graw and 2000 Ivy League Player of the Year Jacque Weizel, both First Team All-Ivy selections.

The Tigers and Big Green will likely vie for league dominance, but if the Bulldogs can come away with a win in at least one of their games against these teams, Yale will have a legitimate shot at the Ivy title — and an elusive NCAA playoff berth, which the Bulldogs have narrowly missed the past two seasons.

“We’re really looking to break through and beat some of our tougher opponents like the Princetons, the Dartmouths and the Dukes,” Gardner said.

But that may change this season as the Elis will face both Princeton and Duke at home on their new artificial turf field.

“It’s more than I could have ever asked for in a facility,” O’Leary said.

The artificial turf not only speeds up the game, but also reduces the number of injuries the players suffer.

“It is going to cater to us incredibly well,” Gardner said. “We have a very fast midfield.”

The new playing surface also gives the lacrosse team a great advantage in giving them a practice surface even in inclement weather.

O’Leary said the Bulldogs were a bit disappointed by being ranked all the way at No. 16 in the preseason poll. But the expansion of the NCAA tournament — now including 16 teams, four more than in years past — means the Bulldogs have an even better shot at being invited to the Big Dance.

The Bulldogs’ first test will come March 12 as Yale hosts Hofstra — which finished last season ranked at No. 18, just one spot below then-No. 17 Yale. The Bulldogs will also take on the University of Connecticut and Pennsylvania over spring break.