Savage ’15 sparks turnaround year
By Noah Reichblum
Published on Thursday, October 13, 2011
Undefeated after its first three Ivy League contests, the Dartmouth field hockey team is within reach of a League championship for the first time in 21 years. While the team’s rise is the result of several factors — including a newfound defensive focus and a strong senior class — forward Ali Savage ’15 has been a revelation for the Big Green, placing among the conference’s leaders in offense even as a freshman.
The 5’9” Savage has outhustled and outwitted her opponents en route to nine goals and 21 points in Dartmouth’s first 12 games. She ranks second in both categories, trailing only co-captain Kelly Hood ’12, the Big Green’s all-time leader in goals.
Perhaps more than her athletic prowess, it is Savage’s ability to read defenses and anticipate developing plays that has given her an edge over her opponents.
“She has an incredible field hockey mind,” head coach Amy Fowler said. “She reads the game really well. A lot of players know what to do with the ball. Ali knows how to play without the ball.”
Savage, who grew up in field hockey-crazed Australia, said she can barely remember a time when she did not have a field hockey stick in her hand. A strong overall athlete, she said she preferred field hockey because of its team-first nature, even though she was more talented at other sports.
“My favorite thing about this game is day-in and day-out being with this amazing group of girls,” Savage said. “We get to experience every win and loss, every emotion together. We’re one, and that’s what I love.”
Savage’s history with field hockey runs deep. Her earliest memories are of her mother — a former field hockey player herself — teaching Savage the game.
“She watches all the games,” Savage said, explaining how her mother looks on via live streaming internet videos. “They’re not great hours, mostly 2 a.m. But she’s my biggest fan.”
Despite having solidified her spot on the team, Savage remains humble, and said she still sometimes feels nervous stepping onto the field.
“I still get butterflies whenever I get put on,” she said.
Savage credits her teammates with her early offensive success.
“The best feeling about scoring a goal is when it gets built up from the whole team,” she said.
Fowler said Savage’s scoring gift goes beyond just slamming the ball to the back of the goal board.
“Ali gets herself into the right spots, and has a great way of being elusive in the defensive zone,” Fowler said. “She has the ability to shoot and score, but also just her touch around the net, that’s hard to teach.”
More than her superb offense, it is Savage’s dogmatic defense that Fowler most values, Fowler said. As a forward, Savage must apply the team’s first level of defensive pressure.
“She never stops going after the ball,” Fowler said. “She’s aggressive and physical, but in a composed way.”
Savage said her experience playing in advanced field hockey leagues in Australia, where the pace of the game is similar to that in American collegiate field hockey, has given her an advantage over her competition.
Savage said she did not originally plan on playing in the United States, let alone at Dartmouth. She initially applied to universities in and around Sydney, but after various email exchanges and phone conversations, traveled to the College for an official visit last February.
Despite arriving to negative temperatures and several feet of snow on the ground, Savage said she was sold.
“I’m not ready for cold,” Savage said, laughing. “I wake up every morning and pray for sun. I still need to stock up for winter clothes.”
Although intensely competitive, Savage said she manages to keep the game in perspective, adding that she attempts to “focus on one game at a time.” Savage is constantly her own critic, saying she must work to improve her defense if she wants to take her game to the next level.
Hood, Dartmouth’s current record-setter, said she wants Savage “to break every record I set.”
“I truly mean that,” Hood said. “Because doing so means that our program is going in the right direction.”
For now, Savage and the field hockey team are focusing on continuing their campaign to capture their first League championship since the 1980s.
“I never could have known where field hockey would take me,” Savage said. “It’s taken me [from Australia] to Hanover, New Hampshire. So there’s so many places it could take me after.”