The best women’s squash teams in the country came to New Haven this past weekend to compete in the 2002 Howe Cup, the season-ending national championship.

After three days of top-notch competition, Yale earned the No. 3 ranking in the country — a significant improvement over last year’s seventh-place finish.

Yale defeated Princeton 8-1 in the third-place match Sunday. The win was the Bulldogs’ second of the year over the Tigers. Yale won 7-2 in Princeton on Feb. 2.

Francis Ho ’05 started the Bulldogs on the right foot against Princeton, defeating the Tiger’s No. 1 Annie Rein-Weston 9-0, 9-1, 9-1. Five other Elis won in straight games, including Gina Wilkinson ’03, Sarah Coleman ’05, Kate Sands ’02, Lindsay Schroll ’05, and Ruth Kelley ’05. Sands’ 3-0 victory avenged her loss to the Tigers’ Courtenay Green in the teams’ last meeting.

Yale’s No. 2 Devon Dalzell ’04 and No. 3 Lauren Doline ’05 played exciting matches. Dalzell dropped her first two games before winning three straight to earn a point for her team. Doline also went five games before dispatching her Tiger opponent.

Sunday’s win over Princeton solidified Yale’s standing as a juggernaut in the world of collegiate squash.

“The stratification of teams showed us that we’re only one step away from the first and second teams,” Wilkinson said. “No one [else] is close to us.”

Earlier in the tournament, the Bulldogs registered their second 9-0 win over the Bears in less than a week. In the semifinals Saturday, however, the Elis suffered a 9-0 defeat at the hands of the Crimson.

Harvard — last year’s champion — ultimately took second in the competition behind Trinity. But before falling to the Bantams 5-4, the Crimson handed the Elis their worst loss of the year.

“The [Harvard] match was actually a lot closer than the score suggests,” captain Miriam Fishman ’02 said. “We were a little nervous and tight, and I know we will do better against them [next time].”

Yale faces Harvard Wednesday at Payne Whitney. The meeting will decide the Ivy title.

“We have nothing to lose in that match,” Dalzell said. “Harvard’s an extremely strong team, but we have a shot.”

The Bulldogs were ecstatic about their strong showing in this year’s tournament.

“I’m so proud of what our team has done this year — especially the freshmen, five of whom are in the top nine,” Fishman said.

The team attributed much of its newfound success to head coach Mark Talbott.

“Mark’s unconditional support for every member of the team has really helped to improve this season,” Wilkinson said.