The women of Eli soccer will showcase a more experienced core of sophomores and four of last season’s top five scorers when they start their season on the road tomorrow against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Yale has Ivy championship hopes after losing just two players to graduation last year. The Ivy title would give the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and the Bulldogs think they have the talent to earn just that.

“We want to win the Ivies, period,” forward Vanessa Resnick ’05 said. “It’s always a huge fight in the Ivy Leagues [so] it’s never surprising to win or lose the Ivies, but we would be disappointed.”

Last season Yale finished ninth out of 41 teams in the Northeastern Division with a respectable 9-7-1 record, but a less-than-dazzling 2-4-1 record against Ivy competition. Three of the Bulldogs’ four league losses were by one goal, including a 1-0 overtime loss to Dartmouth, the eventual Ivy champ. The Elis were competitive thanks to a strong defense, led by the All-Ivy goaltending of Sarah Walker ’05, who led a defense that allowed just 18 goals in 17 games.

But the offense struggled to produce consistently. Head coach Rudy Meredith has changed the Bulldog formation to 4-5-1 in order to put more Elis around the opposing goal.

“Hopefully the new formation will create more chances to score,” Meredith said. “It will be a team effort. Last season we relied on individuals to score. [But now] we want everyone to score, to be dangerous to score.”

Meredith expects stiff competition in the Ivies. But now that his players are older and more experienced, he believes they will not make the same mistakes this season.

“We were a very inexperienced team in certain situations [last season],” Meredith said. “You make one mistake, [you have] one bad day, and the Ivies are over.”

The Bulldog offense will also receive added scoring power with the return of Eleni Benson ’06, who took a year off to play in the Olympics for Greece. In 2002, Benson was a consistent offensive threat for the Bulldogs, scoring five goals and four assists while playing in all 19 games.

In Soccer Buzz, an online collegiate women’s soccer magazine that actively tracks the top teams in each NCAA division, Yale was fourth in the Northeastern division, the top ranking of the seven Ivy teams in the region. Princeton is a geographic anomaly.

The Tigers are ranked fifth out of 46 teams in the Mid-Atlantic division, and 26th nationally — the only nationally-ranked Ivy.

Close on the heels of the Bulldogs in the Northeast are Harvard, Brown and Dartmouth, ranked 5th, 6th and 7th, respectively. Above the Bulldogs in the division lay soccer powerhouses University of Connecticut, Boston University and Boston College.

While the Ivy opener is not until Sept. 24, at home against Princeton, the Elis are looking no further than this weekend to test drive their new-look offense.

“We have more people who can go forward with the ball, and who can score,” Resnick said. “It will really be a test in these first few games of how our new offense performs.”

While Yale has not played UMass-Amherst in several years, historically UMass has dominated the Bulldogs.

“I guess we have a history of losing to them,” forward Michelle Gosselin ’07 said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to change that [today].”

The Elis will play Manhattan in the home opener Sunday.

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