Even though Saturday may be just a scrimmage of sorts, the Eli runners know that it will be important to come out of the starting blocks explosively.

On Dec. 6, the men’s and women’s track and field teams will compete at the Northeastern Invitational, the first indoor meet of the 2003-2004 season. Although many of the distance runners, who have just finished their cross country season, will not be competing, this meet will be a good showcase for the other events. Both teams are planning strong performances to open the season.

Molly Lederman ’06, a leader among the pole vaulters, said she is ready to compete this weekend.

“So far practice has been going really well,” Lederman said. “Everyone’s been working hard and I know the team is excited for this weekend when we finally get to compete after a full fall of training.”

Lederman was the runner-up in the pole vault at both indoor and outdoor Heps last year. Yale head coach Mark Young is relying on Lederman and Ashley Nolet ’07 to score well in this event.

In the other field events, the Bulldog women are also strong. The jumpers are led by Joslyn Woodard ’06 and Dionna Thomas ’06. The thrower to watch at this meet and throughout the season will be Margo Angelopoulos ’06.

Woodard will also lead the Bulldog sprinters, the strongest group on the team according to Young. Aisha Cort ’05, Candace Arthur ’05, and Katrina Castille ’07 join Woodard as threats in the 100 and 200-meter events. Stephanie Blake ’05 will boost the Bulldogs’ longer sprint power. Katherine Lawson ’06 and Katrina Svoboda ’05 will handle the hurdles events.

The middle distance runners will not be a weak link either. The strongest returning runner is Rebecca Dickens ’04, who scored at both league championships in the 800-meter race last year. Young said he thinks Dickens has a strong chance of being the Ivy champion this year. Vanessa Mazandi ’05, Vanessa Everding ’05, and Katie Greene ’06 will back Dickens up in the 800-meter and 1000-meter events.

Though the long distance runners have lost Kate and Laura O’Neill ’03, the twins’ spirit is still with the entire team.

“The O’Neill sisters are wonderful role models and I know that we will all miss them this season,” Lederman said. “While they are no longer competing for Yale, I think that their determination, work ethic, and overall attitude on and off the track will continue to stand as an important example for all women involved in Yale Track and Field.”

Young still has faith in the scoring abilities of his distance runners, though he accedes that no one can replace the O’Neills. The distance runners will be led by Rebecca Hunter ’04, who came in second at the 2003 outdoor Heps in the 1500-meter race. Though she is resting this weekend before the competition heats up in January, she is anticipating exciting performances from the rest of the team.

“Anything good that happens this week is just a confidence builder — this is the first meet of the season, and only a starting point,” Hunter said.

She will be working with a tough group of distance runners, including Cara Kiernan ’07 and twins Alex and Nadia Sawicki ’04, among others. Young said Kiernan is coming off the best freshman cross country season at Yale and should contribute well to the team.

Finishing out the women’s events are the relays. Many members of last year’s relay squads are returning this year, so the Bulldogs will be competitive.

“This might be the best team we’ve ever had,” Young said. “We were very good last year, but I think that this team is better. Time will tell.”

The men’s team is also ready for the competition at hand. Men’s head coach David Shoehalter, in his 10th year with the Bulldogs, said the team has been training hard this fall preparing for the start of the season.

“We’ve got a very talented group,” Shoehalter said.Ê”They’ve got to believe in themselves and perform to the best of their abilities.”

With the cross country runners, including Luke Meyer ’05 and Casey Moriarty ’05, sitting out this weekend, it will be up to the field athletes and shorter distance runners to score well.

Robert Delaski ’06, who is expected to have a breakout season, will be a leader among the Eli sprinters.

“He’s been training very well this fall,” Shoehalter said.Ê”At the end of last year he had some great performances. He should be a factor in the long sprints.”

Shoehalter is looking to newcomer Russ Kempf ’07 to aid Delaski.

In the middle distance group, captain Robert Lobue ’04 is the foundation and lead returning scorer. Matt Boshart ’06, Nathan Clute ’07 and Brian Gertzen ’07 fill out the key middle distance pack.

The lead hurdlers are Mike Brown ’06 and Shomari Taylor ’06, who both broke the 54-second barrier in their event last season.

Among the field athletes, the Elis have a strong group of competitors. Derin Bray ’04 and Jihad Beauchman ’06 are the best Bulldog jumpers right now. Jordan Chapman ’05 leads the Eli pole vaulters. Eoghan O’Dwyer ’04 and rookie John Langhauser ’07 are the throwers to pay attention to.

Last but not least are the distance runners who will not be competing this weekend. Most of these runners recently wrapped up a successful cross country season, something that Shoehalter said will add to the general confidence of the track and field team. The pivotal contributors are Meyer, Moriarty, David Napper ’07, Josh Yelsey ’05, Robert Dwyer ’04 and Patrick Dantzer ’06.

In order for the men’s team to have a successful year and come back from a last place finish at indoor Heps last year, Shoehalter said the team needs to keep training with a high focus level. Meyer agreed with his coach.

“As always, we need to stay healthy while still training as hard as possible,” Meyer said.

Both teams are looking forward to this meet because it will reveal weak spots. Shoehalter summed up the feelings well.

“The meet this weekend gives [the athletes] a chance to see where they are and what needs to be worked on before January rolls around and the meets become more and more competitive,” Shoehalter said.