At the end of last spring, the women’s lacrosse team fell short on two hard-fought comebacks against Cornell and Hofstra. The two losses kept the Elis from the NCAA tournament. This season, the Bulldogs hope they will not need to come back.

“We were disappointed last season, because we thought we would have had a shot, but we lost our last game, and that left a huge damper on the season,” midfielder Miles Whitman ’04 said. “We are looking this year to make the NCAA tournament. Our big goal is to be 6-0 after spring break.”

If Yale’s performance so far is any indication of what is to come, the Bulldogs are in good shape. In preseason scrimmages, Yale picked apart Johns Hopkins and played a very tight match against Loyola. Because both games were scrimmages, Yale did not keep score. The Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Poll nationally ranked Yale No. 12 in Division I, with John Hopkins No. 18 and Loyola No. 8.

“In the John Hopkins scrimmage, we scored about 10 goals in 10 minutes against them,” Sarah Queener ’03 said. “John Hopkins wasn’t even able to keep it on the offensive for more than a couple of minutes. That’s a credit to our defense.”

Yale is hoping that its blend of veteran experience and fresh talent will bring them success this season. The Elis only lost two members of last year’s squad to graduation: goalie C.K. Barber ’02 and defender Megan Strenski ’02, who was a First Team All-Ivy pick and Third Team All-American.

In the midfield, Yale returns last year’s All-Ivy first team selection Whitman and second team selection Katie Sargent ’05. Whitman and Sargent brought back-to-back Ivy League Rookie of the Year awards to Yale and accounted for 76 of the Bulldogs’ total goals last season.

On attack, Yale returns last year’s All Ivy second team selection Queener and honorable mention Clarissa Clarke ’03. Together, Queener and Clarke accounted for 91 of the team’s 257 points last season.

“It is really easy for our attackers, because we have everyone back,” Queener said. “We don’t have to do new things, because we have gotten used to each other. Last year, we played really well, and things really came together, and this year, everyone’s skills has been honed a lot more, and the speed has improved.”

In addition to the experience, Yale also will have an injection of new blood. This year’s freshman class includes nine top prospects, including Courtney McNally ’06, who is currently the frontrunner to replace Strenski as a starter on defense.

“As a group, they work so hard every day,” Whitman said. “They continuously push the upper classmen everyday. It’s important to have that kind of motivation and that kind of competition. It can be very tough being a freshman, but they have shown a positive attitude.”

With a winter storm blanketing New Haven Thursday, the Bulldogs will have to wait until Sunday to test their skills. The game against New Hampshire University, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was first postponed for Thursday and finally canceled because of the storm. But when the storm clouds clear, the Bulldogs will head south to face nationally ranked No. 19 James Madison University (1-0).

Despite being ranked above James Madison, Yale cannot underestimate its opponent. On March 1, the Dukes pummeled Lafayette 20-1. Senior Lisa Staedt and junior Gail Decker each scored five goals to pace James Madison. While Yale has yet to see action, James Madison will have played two games by Sunday.

In addition, the Elis will be battling on unfamiliar ground. Because of the snow, Sunday’s game has been moved indoors to Pennsylvania State University’s Bridgeforth Stadium.

“It will certainly be a new experience for us,” Yale head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “We’ve never played a game indoors. I’ve been to the facility, and it’s an incredible facility, and I don’t feel like that will play any significant role. If anything, it will be a big improvement on the awful weather conditions we had [against John Hopkins and Loyola].”

Despite a disappointing finish last year, Yale is channeling its frustration into motivation for the upcoming season.

“The juniors and sophomores walked off the field at Hofstra last year disappointed, and they don’t want to ever have that feeling again,” O’Leary said. “I feel that has worked in a positive way for us. They want to finish this season with a feeling off accomplishment.”