After heading into winter break with a 1-7 record, the women’s basketball team focused on putting together a complete 40 minute effort on both sides of the court. Over winter break, the Bulldogs were rewarded with their first two road victories of the year, at the University of Hartford and Central Connecticut State University.

But the Elis also lost games to previously winless Farleigh Dickinson University and at the University of Maine, dropping their record to 3-9. But the Bulldogs are confident that their progress so far will translate into success when the Ivy League season begins Saturday against Brown.

Only two of the team’s first 12 games were played inside the familiar confines of the John J. Lee Amphitheater, and as the games get more important, the schedule becomes friendlier. That, coupled with the team’s rejuvenated play on the court, has the Bulldogs confident that this will be a good stretch for them.

“We’ve been pretty happy with the tempo and the play since we’ve been back from break,” coach Amy Backus said. “In the game against Farleigh Dickinson, we started doing the things we needed to emphasize and that carried over into wins over Hartford and Central Connecticut.”

In the loss to Maine, the Bulldogs played without their starting backcourt of Maria Smear ’03 and Brynn Gingras ’04. Smear has been out since before the break with a leg injury and Gingras was suffering from a sprained ankle.

Gingras has been instrumental in the team’s play recently, not only because of Smear’s injury, but also because of her success in helping revamp the team’s fast break.

“Brynn has been doing a great job with providing leadership, and she has done a great job of emphasizing what we hadn’t been doing before,” Backus said. “Maine is just a better team than we are. We kept pace for the first half of the first half, but our big kids got in foul trouble, and that exacerbated the situation.”

Christina Phillips ’04, who made the Ivy League Honor Roll for her last week of play, led the team with 17 points and three steals against Maine. Tory Mauseth ’05 added 13 points while Lindsay Page ’05 had 12.

Phillips said the team has been playing better since the layoff but still needs to focus on putting together a complete game.

“Regardless or whether we’re up or down, we need to stay mentally focused,” Phillips said. “We’re working on being able to put a good defensive and offensive game together. We’re trying to be consistent on both ends because we’ve had good things going on one side of the ball but we haven’t been able to have the other aspect working at the same time.”

Although the Elis’ two recent wins represent a marked improvement over the beginning of the season, the Bulldogs understand that they still have to make a name for themselves in league play.

Mauseth believes the Elis can also improve in more tangible facets of the game.

“Our morale as a team is up because we have a couple of wins under our belts, but being 3-9, we know we have a lot to prove,” Mauseth said. “We need to keep improving our shooting, and we need to keep playing big down inside. We have big players with good moves but we have to get the ball into them. We have a deep team, so we need to take advantage of that with our fast break.”

Backus said the team would hopefully have Gingras and Smear back for the league opener Saturday, and their presence will be invaluable in what is shaping up to be an interesting league race. Harvard comes in as the preseason pick to repeat as league champions, but Brown and Columbia are both off to strong starts as well.

“There are no sure bets in the league this year,” Backus said. “We have to shoot the ball better and take care of the ball better, but I’m liking some of the things we’ve been executing on offense.”

Without Gingras and Smear, the team only had three guards at Maine. As of now, Gingras leads the Ivy League in three-point shooting percentage at .440, but before her injury, Smear topped that category, shooting over .500 from beyond the arc. As league play begins, the guards’ return to action can only mean good things for a team that is still looking to play up to the level it thinks it can achieve.