Off to its best season start in 11 years, the volleyball team returns home after three away tournaments for its highly anticipated Ivy League opener.

Tonight’s match against Brown at 7 p.m. in the John J. Lee Amphitheater will give the Bulldogs an opportunity to take the first step towards an Ivy League championship and avenge last season’s league-opening loss to the Bears.

The Bulldogs (7-2) still remember the five-game marathon loss (30-32, 43-45, 30-26, 30-20, 16-14) at Brown last October. Although the Bears (1-7) arrive in New Haven with an unimpressive record, they showed last year the limited significance of preseason play, defeating the 6-4 Bulldogs after the Bears started the season 2-8. Although the two teams will meet this year under similar terms, the Bulldogs are hoping they can avoid a repeat of last fall’s result.

When asked whether her squad looked ready for a title run, head coach Erin Appleman quickly stated that an Ivy League title is not the team’s immediate goal.

“Our goal is to beat Brown,” Appleman said, sticking with her one match at a time philosophy. “If we achieve the minor goals, there will be some big dividends at the end.”

Despite the strong start, Appleman said she is still looking for individuals to earn their starting spots and take on leadership roles.

“The team needs people to prove they should be starters,” she said Wednesday while putting the team through an intense defensive drill. “We really need for someone to step up, to be able to push the team — the team needs to be able to push themselves.”

While team members might not have provided the vocal leadership Appleman seeks, several players have stepped up their games to lead by example.

Since earning all-tournament team honors at the Maine Invitational two weeks ago, Jana Freeman ’05 was named Ivy League Player of the Week and Jacqueline Becker ’06 moved up to sixth in program history for career assists.

Still, it may have been the lack of vocal leadership that led to Yale’s 0-3 (24-30, 19-30, 26-30) loss to Stony Brook (9-8) last weekend at the Wagner Tournament. Becker’s 22 assists and Freeman’s team-leading 10 kills were not enough to stop the Seawolves from winning the fifth of what has become an eight-match winning streak. Despite Yale’s preparation for Stony Brook star Rachel Goldsmith, the Bulldogs had no answer for the lefty outside hitter. Goldsmith had a match-high 17 kills and was named tournament MVP.

Team captain Taryn Gallup ’04 said the team had a serious talk after the match.

“We all came to the conclusion that we needed more discipline and focus,” she said.

The Bulldogs turned things around the second day of the tournament, sweeping Wagner (30-18, 30-17, 30-14) and Morgan State (30-14, 30-20, 30-19).

Everyone on the roster played in both matches, including outside hitter Anja Perlebach ’07, who saw her first playing time since injuring her ankle three weeks ago against Marist.

Kelly McAlearney ’05 and Kelly Cooper ’06 each came off the bench with four kills against Wagner, while Lauren Burke ’05 had 10 kills over the last two matches.

“When we had people come off the bench, our team didn’t miss a beat,” Gallup said. “We have the skills, the coaching, and the talent. It’s all a matter of our team preparation and focus.”