Expectations are running high for the Yale softball team this season.

The Elis, who return five starters and nine letter-winners from last year’s squad, have their sights set on a league title.

“Our goal is to be Ivy League champs,” team captain Monica Lebron ’01 said. “We’re going to have to learn to play together as a team during our pre-Ivy schedule, and hopefully by the time our league games start, we’ll be at the top of our game.”

The Bulldogs will most likely need some time to develop, since underclassmen dominate the roster. The squad is led by only three seniors — first baseman Lebron, catcher Kristen Maturo ’01 and center fielder Alice Liu ’01 — but each has started since her freshman year.

“[Liu] and [Maturo] will be key in helping lead the team,” Lebron said. “They have a lot of experience and they know what it takes to win.”

The other returning starters are third baseman Jesseka Bartholomew ’03, who started all 43 games last season, and infielder Laura Beckert ’03.

Despite the team’s youth, Maturo remains confident that players’ individual talent should compensate for their relative inexperience.

“We’re young, but we’ll be good,” Maturo said. “We have a lot of talented underclassmen who will really help the team this year.”

Those underclassmen will look to improve on last season’s 19-23-1 overall record, and a 5-7 fifth place finish in the Ivy League. Offensively, the team will rely heavily on its seasoned senior core. Lebron led the team in hitting with a .314 batting average, was second on the team in runs scored, with 25, and added 16 RBIs. Liu hit .304 last season and scored 17 runs. Maturo returns as the team’s leader in RBIs with 21, and hit .250 last year.

“Offensively, we should be pretty strong,” Maturo said. “Monica and Alice do a great job of getting on base and we have a lot of people with power to drive them in.”

The pitching duties will be handled by junior Cara Denver and freshmen Shayna Filson and Jillian Miles. Last season, Denver ranked second on the team with an ERA of 2.12, striking out 23 batters in 70 innings.

Unfortunately, the Elis’ ace pitcher Mariah Fike ’03 will not play this year. Fike led the team with a 1.98 ERA and 81 innings pitched last season, and her absence will place a lot of responsibility on Filson’s and Miles’ rookie shoulders.

The freshmen pitchers are just two of seven freshmen on the team this year, but the Bulldogs are positive about their youth.

“Our number of freshmen will only be a benefit to the team,” Lebron said. “They have tremendous enthusiasm and are always ready to play and prove themselves.”

If the team can come together and gain enough experience before league play starts, it should have a lot of success in Ivy competition.

The team is spending its spring break in Florida, and opens the season March 5 against Indiana State.