Hilary Witt does not equivocate about the dreaded “R”-word.

The women’s ice hockey first-year head coach readily admits her team is rebuilding.

“We’re in a building stage, but we’re looking to change that really quickly,” she said. “It’s a process.”

That process will begin tonight when the Bulldogs open the regular season against Wayne State University at Ingalls Rink.

“We’re very optimistic and excited, and I think we can come out with a win,” Witt said. “We just have to play our game and our systems.”

Last year, the Bulldogs tied and defeated the Warriors in a two-game weekend season opening series on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4. This year, Yale will rely on a potent mix of youth and experience and a renewed commitment to team defense as it looks to repeat its success against Wayne State.

“We are just going to play the best hockey we know how,” captain Kaitlin Porcaro ’03 said.

The Bulldogs boast a talented freshman class that will be immediately tapped for production this weekend.

“The freshmen have to step it up quick,” Witt said. “Deena Caplette ’06 is strong and has all the talent in the world. Natalie Babony ’06 is small, but quick and a fierce competitor and Sarah Love ’06, who has been injured, we’re hoping to have for Saturday.”

On Saturday, the team hosts Findlay.

In addition to the new freshmen, Yale boasts a new game approach. Witt’s coaching philosophy does not center on scoring goals, but instead on team defense.

“We are not going to score a lot of goals,” Witt said. “But we are going to keep other teams from scoring a lot. Team defense — playing when we don’t have the puck — is the biggest thing. It’s not just one defenseman, it’s the whole team.”

According to Witt, Porcaro has a significant role in the new philosophy.

“We need [Porcaro] to be solid back there on defense,” Witt said. “She is a great leader and is key for us to do well.”

Porcaro, who led all Yale defenders in goals last year, does not plan to hold anything back tonight.

“We’re going all out on the ice. We’re going to play some good defensive hockey,” she said.