The Ivy League softball teams begin to play for keeps on Saturday.

The Bulldogs (12-13) open Ivy League play this weekend when they travel to Columbia (9-11, 0-2 Ivy) Saturday and Cornell (14-11, 2-0) Sunday for doubleheaders at each school.

“All the games we’ve played so far have been in preparation for this weekend,” captain Monica Lebron ’01 said. “Our season really starts Saturday.”

This year, Yale is looking to improve upon its 5-7 Ivy League record and fifth-place finish from a year ago.

With the exception of its most recent loss to Connecticut, Yale has started to get hot of late, winning five of its last eight games. The Bulldogs will look to carry that string of solid performances into these all-important league weekends. The Ivy League softball season begins and ends very quickly, so a quick start is paramount to a team’s success.

“With the way the Ivy League works, the season is over in the blink of an eye,” Lebron said. “We play all of our games within three weekends, so it’s very important to start out well.”

The Bulldogs will get a chance to start off on the right foot when they open up against a relatively inexperienced Columbia squad. This will be the Lions’ first season in the Ivy League and only their second as a varsity team. Still, Columbia will be a formidable opponent since the Lions played two very close games with perennial power Cornell last weekend. The Big Red won both games, but only by scores of 1-0 and 4-1.

The Lions also own the fourth best non-conference winning percentage in the Ivy League — an impressive accomplishment for such a young program.

Yale is third in that category, trailing Cornell and Princeton.

Columbia is led by first baseman Anne-Marie Ebner, whose .388 average, two home runs and 10 RBIs are team highs.

Following the Columbia doubleheader, Yale will travel to Ithaca to take on a strong Cornell squad. The Big Red boasts the Ancient Eight’s best record and has won nine of its last 12 games. Cornell is led by Ivy League pitcher of the week Nicole Zitarelli and shortstop/outfielder Kate Varde. Varde, a freshman, leads the team with a .344 batting average, seven home runs and 19 RBIs, but she has been slumping recently, going 2-15 in her last four games.

The Bulldogs will counter both teams with an offense which focuses on manufacturing runs. At the plate, Yale is led by Jesseka Bartholomew ’02, who is hitting .345. But perhaps The Bulldogs’ greatest asset on the field is their ability to steal bases. Yale has stolen 30 bases in 35 attempts, led by Lebron’s nine thefts. Meanwhile, opposing squads have managed to swipe only 11 bases on 17 chances.

Additionally, Yale has current Ivy League rookie of the week Shayna Filson ’04, who leads the team with 4 home runs and 13 RBIs.

“[The recognition is] great, but everyone had a very good week,” Filson said. “We had several honorable mentions, and it just shows how well we’ve been playing.”

Yale will need to continue that strong play in its most important weekend of this young season.

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