In the past few years, the women’s ice hockey team has struggled. Coming off a season in which they amassed a record of 2-21-1, the Bulldogs have much that they can improve upon, and they are already well on their way after beginning the season 3-0-1.

“Our team is much improved going into this season,” said captain Katie Hirte ’02, one of the team’s goaltenders. “We are a younger team with more talent.”

With only two seniors and a class of six entering freshmen, the Bulldogs are inexperienced, but head coach John Marchetti explained that the setup of their schedule will benefit them.

“We have the schedule in our advantage, because we only have three league games in the first half of the year and the others are non-league where the younger players can gain valuable game experience,” he said. “It will be an opportunity for the freshmen to see what it’s like to play Division I hockey.”

So far, the newcomers have been impressive. Nicole Symington ’05 and Erin Duggan ’05 have been a large part of the Bulldog offense, with each of them scoring four goals last weekend against Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“The freshmen bring a great deal of energy and fun to the table, which really contributes to the general spirit of the team,” forward Wallis Finger ’04 said.

Their presence will be necessary to make up for the loss of Lisa Meyers ’01, last year’s leading scorer who recorded 13 goals and 25 points. “We’re looking to fill the void left by our graduated senior class,” said Marchetti. “My initial concern would be, ‘how much will our inexperience cost us?'”

Symington and Duggan, along with Keely Macmillan ’05 who scored a goal in each game this weekend, join an offensive corps that is looking to build on last year’s performance. Deanna McDevitt ’03 and Sara Wood ’02, last year’s second and third leading scorers with 19 and 16 points, hope to improve their output.

“Once we get the chemistry going between players we’ll be good,” Marchetti said. “We feel we can equal or pass our goals scored last year, but we are especially concerned about increasing the number of goals scored in our league games.”

Finger, who had three goals and four assists last year, will also play a big offensive role for the Bulldogs.

“I think that the team wants to turn some heads in terms of our play,” she said.

Two of last year’s forwards, Erika Hockinson ’04 and Kristin Kattleman ’04, have been converted to defenders for this season, and freshmen Kristin Wick and Ali Turney will join them as defensive rookies. The defense will be anchored by Kaitlin Porcaro ’03 and Amy LeClair ’03, who will provide leadership on an inexperienced blue line.

“We’re comfortable with the idea of our adjustment defensively,” Marchetti said. “We’re hoping to keep the number in the goals-against column down. We made huge improvements in that last year, so we want to build on that.”

Goaltending duties, shared last year by captain Katie Hirte ’02 and Nicolette Franck ’04, will most likely be split again this year. Last year, the two had nearly identical save percentages, with Franck’s being 0.884 and Hirte’s at 0.880. Both girls have been just as strong so far this season, recording a combined 25 saves last weekend.

With only 19 girls on the roster, the Elis are a very small team, and that has its drawbacks and benefits.

Small numbers mean less depth.

“It’s almost imperative that we stay as close to injury free as we can,” said Marchetti. “In this business, however, injuries are a part of the game, so we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed.”

The Bulldogs, however, have also been able to adjust better to one another.

“We have fewer people on the bench, but I think that has been a positive factor in bringing our team closer together,” said Hirte, echoing the thoughts of teammates who noted that practices also seem to be more constructive with less players on the ice.

“The attitude in the dressing room has changed [from previous years] and we have high expectations of one another,” Duggan said.

The two seniors on the team, Hirte and Wood, will hope to maintain the team’s positive outlook throughout the winter.

“We expect them to really help us and step it up and put a more competitive team on the ice this year than we did last year,” Marchetti said. “It’s just a question of how quickly our freshmen can adjust to the pace of this game,” he said.

While Yale is currently 3-0-1, its level of competition thus far has not been as challenging as this this weekend’s contest against Princeton will be.

“This Sunday’s game against Princeton will be a good indicator as to where we stand and what we need to work on,” said Macmillan.

Hirte agreed that the game could motivate the team.

“Princeton will be a good team, better than the teams we have played so far, and it will be a great feat for us to come away with that win moving into the rest of our season,” she said.

With the schedule in their favor, the Elis are hoping to gel at the right time and finish their season with a winning record.

“It’s important that as a team we are moving forward in the beginning of January and playing our peak hockey then,” Marchetti said. “That’s when we will face the brunt of our league games.”