After improving throughout the course of the 2002-2003 season, the women’s ice hockey team is ready to continue the upward trend this year.

The Bulldogs open their 2003-2004 campaign against the University of Maine (1-2-1) with back-to-back games at Ingalls Rink this weekend.

Last season, the Bulldogs picked up their first Ivy League win in two years and reached the quarterfinals of the Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament. The Elis finished with a 9-20-2 conference record including two Ivy League victories.

But one of the problems that dogged Yale was confidence.

“Last year, there were a few games that we should’ve won but didn’t,” captain Kristin Kattleman ’04 said. “I don’t know if we had the right mindset.”

One such game was the playoff loss to Princeton that eliminated Yale from the ECAC Tournament on March 7. The Elis thoroughly dominated then-ranked No. 8 Princeton in their Feb. 15 regular season match. But the Bulldogs looked flat and exhausted en route to an 8-0 whitewash at the tournament. The Elis know they must produce a consistent effort to advance further in the tournament this season.

“I strongly believe that if we wanted the playoff game with Princeton, then we could have taken it,” forward Natalie Babony ’06 said. “However, I don’t think we had enough girls on the team with the mind set of really wanting to go all the way. This year is not like a whole new chapter, it’s a new book.”

With eight new faces on the roster, this “book” better include an index. This year’s freshmen class has already made an impact in the preseason scrimmages against Princeton and McGill. The new-bloods will seek to match the success of last year’s rookies who combined to score more than half the entire team’s total goals, head coach Hillary Witt said.

Witt — who was honored as ECAC Coach of the Year last season thanks to her commitment to a defense-first system — said she is optimistic about Yale’s chances this year.

“I expect us to win a lot of games and be at least over .500,” she said. “We’d like to get home ice advantage [for the playoffs]. We have one of the toughest leagues in women’s hockey. Two years ago we finished eighth, last year it was sixth. We’d like to get up to at least fourth.”

But to meet their goals, the Bulldogs will have to score some along the way. Despite outshooting McGill 53-24 last Sunday, Yale lost 2-1 in overtime.

“We just couldn’t put the puck in the net,” Kattleman said. “We have so many people who are wonderful skaters and have great shots. I know once we get our systems down to a tee, the shots will go in.”

The Elis will try to make the most of their chances this weekend against Maine, which plays a similar grind-it-out style as Yale does, Witt said.

“For the most part, we’re going to bang and crash the net,” Witt said. “I feel like our advantage will be our special teams. I think our goaltending is also very strong.”

Thanks to developing chemistry between rookies and veterans, commitment to an aggressive forecheck, and rising confidence, some players are a little less reserved about Yale’s prospects.

“There is no way that we are not going to come out on top,” Babony said. “Losing is not our concern. We only have eyes for the wins. I’m confident we can take it to them.”