The Yale women’s volleyball team is set to begin its season Friday on its home court at the Yale Invitational.

Backed by a talented crew of returning players, the Elis plan to improve upon last season’s bittersweet ending and make a legitimate bid for the Ancient Eight championship.

Last year, Yale finished 18-8 with a 4-3 mark in league play. The team lost to Princeton, the eventual league champion, in the semifinals of the Ivy tournament. But prior to its season-ending loss, Yale had won five in a row and seven of its final eight matches — with crushing victories over Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard.

This season, the Ivy League has eliminated its post-season tournament. Instead, teams will face each other twice, and the team atop the regular season standings will be crowned league champion.

“In the back of our minds is the Ivy League title,” defensive specialist Joey Lee ’03 said. “But we’re taking it one game at a time.”

At the Invitational, Yale will face Marist, Hartford and Hofstra. The Bulldogs blanked Marist 3-0 last year but did not face Hartford or Hofstra.

The team looks to use the weekend as a litmus test for potential starting lineups because three key starters graduated in 2001.

This group included Stephanie McMahon ’01, a first team All-Ivy selection, Colette Fitzgerald, a three-time All-Ivy honorable mention, and Aileen Daly, the team’s starting setter.

Despite these losses, the foundation of the team is still intact. Yale returns six starters, led by its team captain and starting middle blocker Carissa Abbott ’02. Abbott was second in the Ivy League in blocks with 104 and was named second team All-Ivy.

“It will be important for [Abbott] to be going strong and hitting a lot of good balls,” Lee said. “Because if she’s on, I don’t think there’s anyone in the league can stop her.”

Other seniors coming back are Vanessa Herald ’02, last season’s team leader in kills, service aces and digs, and Candace Green ’02, an outside hitter who earned all-tournament honors at the Nanook Classic last year and was fifth on the team in kills with 116.

Lee and fellow junior Dana Loberg ’03 hope to turn the valuable experience they gained during the second half of last year into improved results on the court.

Jeannie Davis ’04 also saw steady time last year and is heralded by Scofield as one of the most powerful hitters in the league.

The team feels it has the depth and talent to overtake the rest of the Ivy League and the players are ready to prove themselves against regular season competition.

“Our level of play is just so much further ahead of what was last year,” Herald said. “Our passing and our defense has increased, we’re watching the ball better, and things are clicking more smoothly than they have in the past.”