With an NCAA tournament berth hanging in the balance, the women’s lacrosse team travels to Ithaca, N.Y., for a Saturday afternoon showdown with Cornell.

The No. 8 Bulldogs (10-3, 5-1 Ivy) and the No. 6 Bid Red (9-1, 4-1) are both vying for an invitation to the 16-team NCAA tournament. With No. 1 Princeton in the driver’s seat for an Ivy title and the automatic berth that comes with it, Saturday’s game is for second place and an at-large berth. The winner can be almost assured of a bid — the loser will have to hold its breath and hope.

“You can’t ask for a bigger opportunity for us,” head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “It’s exciting, and we are going to have to thrive on that.”

Both teams come into the game with positive momentum. The Bid Red has won four games in a row since its lone loss this season — a 16-12 defeat at the hands of Princeton. The Bulldogs have won three of their last four since losing to Princeton, including a 22-10 domination of Brown Wednesday.

With the postseason implications of the game, Yale does not need any extra motivation — but it is there. The Elis are looking to end a two-game losing streak to the Big Red. Last year, the Elis struggled in an 11-7 loss in New Haven. A year earlier, the Elis were routed 10-4 at Cornell.

“We need to beat Cornell, if not just for personal revenge,” captain Megan Strenski ’02 said.

The Bulldogs, undefeated at home this year, also need to overcome the road woes they have suffered this season. A victory at No. 13 Dartmouth is their best road win, but the team has suffered letdowns visiting No. 11 James Madison and No. 9 Notre Dame, on top of its loss at Princeton. Cornell is 4-0 at home this year and has the added incentive of Saturday being Senior Day.

“We need to know what is on the line and put everything behind us for 60 minutes,” O’Leary said. “If you do make it to the tournament, the first game will probably be on the road, so it is real important to show that you can win on the road.”

To do so, the Eli attack will have to be at its sharpest against a stifling Cornell defense. Taking out the 16 scores the Big Red gave up against Princeton — the only time the team has allowed double-digit goals this season — and Cornell has given up only 61 goals in nine games, an average of 6.78 goals per contest.

“They play an aggressive, high pressure defense — If you beat one player on their team, there are usually three more waiting for you at the 8-meter mark,” O’Leary said. “Hopefully, we have played against enough teams, like Notre Dame and Duke, that play that kind of high-pressure defense that we are prepared.”

The Eli offense should be prepared, as evidenced by the 61 goals it has exploded for in its last four games. Miles Whitman ’04 leads the team with 35 goals scored this season, and Katie Sargent ’05 is coming into her own with 27 goals. Add in offensive threats Clarissa Clarke ’03, Sarah Queener ’03, Sophie Melniker ’04 and Sarah Driscoll ’05, and the Big Red defense will have its hands full.

Cornell, too, has a potent attack, featuring three 20-goal scorers.

“It is No. 6 against No. 8 — I don’t think there is very much splitting the two of us,” O’Leary said.

After Saturday, though, there will be one key difference between the two teams: One will have all but punched a ticket to tournament.