Coming off a first weekend during which the volleyball team went 2-2 against steady competition, the Bulldogs will face an even stiffer test at the American Invitational, which begins tonight in Washington, D.C.

In the first round, the Elis will challenge American University, the host school, and will go up against one of two perennial national powerhouses, University of Florida or Penn State, on Sunday.

Building on the momentum of the team’s first tournament will be difficult, coach Peg Scofield said. But the competition will provide invaluable experience before the beginning of the Ivy League schedule.

“These teams are at a much higher level than what we see in the league,” Scofield said. “American is very good and always has a good record. With Florida and Penn State, whomever we get the pleasure of playing will be quite a bit better than we are. If we can get up to speed and play with them, we’ll be much more prepared for playing in the Ivies.”

Scofield said that unlike in some other sports, the gap in talent levels is especially pronounced in volleyball, where recruiting and money make a huge difference.

Florida finished last season 23-1 and earned the No. 1 final ranking in the Division 1 South Region. Penn State went 22-8 and finished third in the Big 10 conference.

Nonetheless, Scofield said she is hoping to build on the team’s wins over Marist College and Sacred Heart University, and even their losses to Lehigh University and the University of Memphis.

“We had excellent games against both Lehigh and Memphis,” Scofield said. “Our lineup is not set in any way, but I think I have a pretty good general sense of what will take shape.”

Jessica Kronstadt ’04 turned in an exceptional performance during Yale’s first several games. Kronstadt played libero — a new defensive position created by the NCAA this past offseason — and was one of the weekend’s national leaders in digs per game with a 5.36 average.

Scofield also said she was impressed by the development of the team’s freshmen. Jacqueline Becker ’06, the team’s setter, had 155 assists the first weekend, while Renee Lopes ’06 and Christy Paluf ’06 were among the team leaders in kills.

“They all stepped up from the preseason,” Scofield said. “Now, they’re full team members. They’ve seen college ball, and they’re ready for it.”

For the team to have success against some of the best talent in the country, continued development of the freshman class will be essential.

But in any case, as the season progresses, the Bulldogs should benefit from tough early-season competition.