Last spring, only 10 strokes separated the women’s golf team from Princeton and the 2004 Ivy League Championship. When the Elis begin their campaign to close that distance at the Hanover Country Club this weekend, the Bulldogs will be gunning for their sixth title in nine years.

The second-best team in the Ivy League enters this season ranked in the national Top 100 by Golfweek and, while young, is experienced. The three Eli juniors have memories of winning an Ivy championship in 2003 and losing one in 2004. In addition, competition to be in the team’s top five should keep the 10 Eli golfers on top of their games.

While the Tigers will be returning all golfers from its league championship squad, the Elis lose one player from last year’s squad, former captain Stephanie Wei ’05. Wei was selected to the All-Ivy team the final three years of her collegiate golf career, but had to withdraw from the team due to recurring back injury.

“Stephanie [Wei] will definitely be missed,” head coach Mary Moan said. “But I do think we have the ability to contend and play as well or better than we did last year.”

The 2003-04 team put together a winning season, grabbing one first place finish at the Harvard Invitational and four second-place finishes. The Elis’ average team score of 316.5 should go down this season with a more experienced group of golfers swinging the woods and irons for the Bulldogs.

This season’s Elis feature a talented group of young golfers and will rely on junior captain Lauren Ressler ’06 for leadership. Ressler helped her team achieve success at the Harvard Invitational in fall 2003, shooting a tournament-low 159. The Elis have looked to Ressler for support in the past, awarding her two consecutive MVP awards.

“Lauren [Ressler] has a real good feel for people and how to motivate,” Moan said.

Ressler’s will be the glue holding the squad’s 10 members together. The team aspect of golf is commonly overlooked, but the Bulldogs have taken steps to solidify team chemistry by organizing more training for the whole squad, not just individuals.

“I try to inspire us to play together, win and have a good time doing it,” Ressler said.

Two of last year’s leading scorers — Cindy Shin ’07 and January Romero ’06 — return to help the Elis overcome the Tigers at this upcoming spring’s league championship tournament. Shin posted one of the Bulldogs’ two lowest scores in every competition last season, including six top team scores. She averaged 77 strokes per 18 holes over 109 rounds of golf and finished second individually at the Ivy League Championship.

Romero shot a program-record 145 at last season’s William and Mary Invitational March 28, 2004, and averaged just over 78 shots per round, second best on the team behind Shin.

Complementing these veterans will be three freshmen — Ellie Brophy ’08, Lindsay Hong ’08 and Lauren Pappas ’08. All three are on the traveling squad and will have an early impact for the Elis. Despite their lack of collegiate playing experience, Ressler believes they will still be able to contribute.

“Golf is an individual sport — you bring your own game,” Ressler said. “Golf is still the same game in college, so freshmen are able to step up to the plate.”

Moan enters her fifth season at the helm. Elis squads under Moan’s tutelage have captured two Ivy League titles and made two national championship appearances. The Bulldogs said that they are sold on Moan’s coaching methods and should reap benefits from their work.

“There is a real eagerness to learn and dedication to the program,” Moan said. “[The players] are buying into the system. They want to compete and make sacrifices.”

While the Bulldogs are in good shape on paper, they still have to perform on the links to bring home the hardware. The squad cannot allow its high level of talent to become a source of complacency. Last season, many individuals turned in strong performances, but never at the same tournament.

Ressler said the key to improvement will be for all its members to “catch fire at the same time.”

“We have to play to our potential,” Ressler said. “You can always play better in golf.”

This season’s action gets started today in Hanover, N.H., as the Elis take on Dartmouth. The fall season will end with the Georgia State Invitational in Atlanta Oct. 26. The squad will go on a hiatus until the weather turns favorable again in March for the Peggy Kirk Invitational.