As far as the women’s soccer team is concerned, Sacred Heart and Ohio University might as well be No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 9 Connecticut — the biggest tests on the Bulldogs’ schedule. At least that’s the uncompromising attitude the Elis are taking into this weekend’s season openers.

Yale begins play at home against crosstown foe Sacred Heart (0-2) at 7 p.m. tonight and takes on Ohio University (0-1) Sunday at 1 p.m. While the Bulldogs will be without several injured starters, captain Sara Ruiz ’02 said the remaining core of healthy veterans has mixed very well with the new rookies, and the team is executing well.

“Since we’ve been missing some players for a while now, [the healthy players have] had a lot of time to play together, and we’ve become a really cohesive group,” Ruiz said.

The Elis have never faced these teams before and are preparing for a tough fight. Winning the first few games of the season would not only bolster freshman confidence but also provide the team with much needed momentum as players slowly heal and rejoin the lineup.

This is only the third season of Division I soccer for the Sacred Heart Pioneers, and although the program is young, the team is not. The Pioneers return all but three players from their 2000 squad. After two early season losses, the Pioneers will be gunning for their first win of the season against the Bulldogs.

But win or lose tonight, the Elis won’t have much time to dwell on the outcome before they take on the Ohio Bobcats Sunday.

One key to an Eli win over Ohio will be a strong, aggressive defense. The Bobcats have an explosive trio of attackers in senior Jen Barber, junior Rachel Najjar and sophomore Christel Schiering. These three combined for 53 points last season, a testament to their powerful offensive potential.

But with the addition of Maureen Metzger ’05 to the Yale backfield and with a new trap-style defense, the Bulldogs should fare well. Four-year veteran goalie Sarah Peterson ’02 will be missing in the cage because of pre-season knee surgery, but backup Lindsay Sabel ’03 had a 4-0 record last season in a reserve roll and has preformed well in preseason action.

“[Sabel] has two years of experience under her belt and she knows what to do,” defender Ritha Belizaire ’02 said. “She’s a big talker and does really well in the net. One important thing is for the goalie to communicate with the defense and both [Sabel and Sarah Walker ’05] do that really well.”

On the other side of the ball, the quick and agile Eli midfield should be able to capitalize on a weaker Ohio defense. In the Bobcats’ season-opening 2-0 loss to Evansville, both goals came in the last third of the match. But the Elis, too, have had a tendency to let up late in the game, and especially with a truncated bench, mental stamina will be a priority for Yale.

“We especially need to work on our finishing,” Ruiz said.

While Ohio may have power up front, Yale is no slouch in the offensive category either. Last year’s Ivy League leader in scoring, Chandra King ’03, is arguably one of the best attackers in the region. There will be a lot of pressure on her shoulders to lead the Eli attack, but it will be the contribution of the supporting attackers that can bring the squad to the next level.

“We have a really strong senior class on and off the field and that makes the team really strong,” Ruiz said. “There isn’t one person who has to lead. We all make the effort.”