When the field hockey team takes Johnson Field tonight, it will have a lot to think about.

The Elis open their 2004 campaign in a rematch of last season’s opening-day match-up against Sacred Heart, a loss for the Bulldogs the last time around.

Tonight also marks the beginning of the Elis’ bid to defend two consecutive ECAC Championships, made more difficult without six graduated seniors. As if all that was not enough to chew on, the team will also be the first Yale varsity team to host a game this year.

But the Bulldogs are not thinking about any of that.

“We have set three goals for ourselves this season,” captain Chrissy Hall ’05 said. “To win the Ivy league, make NCAAs and become a ranked team. We’re taking things one game at a time and we’re not looking past any of our opponents.”

This year’s version of the team returns to the field with higher expectations, but not without reason. While they lost a skilled senior class, the Elis all believe that they are well on its way to recreating a powerful, unified team.

“We did lose a strong senior class last year and definitely have big shoes to fill,” forward Elizabeth Topp ’05 said. “[But] we have some freshmen that are stepping up to fill some of the holes. Overall, the team shows very little weakness.”

One of the major holes left at the end of last season was in net, due to the departure of two-time All-Ivy goalkeeper Krissy Nesburg ’04. But the combination of Kate Crandall ’06, who will start, and Elizabeth Friedlander ’07 is expected to fill Nesburg’s shoes nicely.

“I feel very blessed to be in this position,” Crandall said. “It is a great honor to play behind such a skilled team and for my coaches who have worked hard to shape me as a player.”

Crandall is a staff reporter for the Yale Daily News.

Finally, the Bulldogs have a great deal of faith in their new freshmen. The new Elis are Kelsey Alloo, Alexandra Ebling, Lorrie Kiger, Catherine Lindroth, Beth Raveche and Harriet Thayer. While the rookies are expected to perform at an extremely high level, they feel ready to perform and are anxious to make their debuts.

“We aren’t feeling really pressured,” Ebling said. “We’re just excited to get out there.”

The Bulldogs come off a spring and summer that saw both intense training and a unique chance to bond with their teammates.

After a tough offseason, the Elis ended their summer vacation with a nine-day trip to Italy and Greece. Aside from playing against two club teams, the Bulldogs also traveled to Athens, where they watched six Olympic field hockey games.

“[Seeing] Olympic field hockey was extremely inspiration[al],” Topp said. “I think that seeing the game at such a high level motivated us further to achieve our season goals.”

The Elis have two home bouts this weekend. Tonight’s contest against Sacred Heart is a repeat of last year’s home opener, when the Pioneers eked by Yale with an overtime goal to win 3-2.

“Last year we lost against Sacred Heart in an agonizing game,” forward Trish Bissett ’07 said. “We’re still hurting from that one, so we’re prepared to bring it to them in full force.”

On Sunday, the Bulldogs take on Holy Cross, and hope to share last year’s success against the Crusaders — a 4-1 win. But regardless of who the Elis square off against this season, the team seeks to maintain the same philosophy throughout.

“No matter who you play, it’s always a good game,” Hall said. “We’re not looking past any opponents this year and we want to get things started from the beginning. As long as we play as hard as we have been in practice we should do just fine.”