After a four-game winning streak and a tournament championship at last week’s Courtyard by Marriott Classic, the volleyball team (5-3) heads to Providence, R.I. to open its Ivy season against Brown tonight.

The Bulldogs — who were just ranked ninth in the Northeast in the first Division I regional rankings of the season — went undefeated against the Bears (2-8) in 2003 and are enjoying one of their strongest starts in years.

Despite the Elis’ recent upswing and regional ranking, setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 said Yale must still be prepared to play its top game against the Bears.

“We can always expect a very competitive match against Brown, and this time it will be no different, especially since it is our first Ivy match,” Becker said. “Both teams will be very fired up for this Ivy opener, and I expect this match to be very competitive.”

Brown hosts both offensive and defensive threats that the Elis will have to counteract in order to come out on top tonight.

“Brown has the ability to challenge us from many different directions,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “They are a good, solid team on both ends, and whether or not we will rise to the challenge will determine the outcome on Friday.”

On the defensive end, senior libero Elvina Kung is currently ranked second in Division-I for digs per game (6.70) and was named the Ivy League Player of the Week earlier this season. Kung and rookie middle-blocker Julie Mandolini-Trummel, who has recorded 35 blocks to date, will be the major defensive obstacles that Yale will be forced to work around.

On the offensive end, a number of Brown’s hitters could cause problems for the Bulldogs. Middle blockers Lauren Gibbs and Elizabeth Cvitan, as well as ouside hitter Rikki Baldwin have led the Bears’ frontline in 2004, combining for 306 kills and 52 blocks.

“Brown has some hard hitters,” outside hitter Nicole Perkins ’08 said. “We will need to up our defensive game to beat them and eliminate unforced errors on our side, forcing them to earn every point.

After a tough preseason that included some well-contested losses against top teams like nationally-ranked No. 23 Long Beach State and No. 36 University of California-Irvine, Yale players said it was encouraging to receive some recognition from the volleyball world in the form of a regional ranking.

“I think it is a great team accomplishment that we were ranked No. 9, and I feel that with [it] comes the responsibility to perform,” outside hitter Nicole Perkins ’08 said. “In the preseason we went up against nationally ranked teams with All-Americans on them, and we competed and gained respect. Now that we have that respect we have to continue to prove we deserve it.”

Despite the recognition, however, the Bulldogs know they must still focus on the concrete aspects of the game in order to continue on a good path.

“As always, the bulk of our concentration is focusing on what happens on our side of the net,” outside hitter Christy Paluf ’06 said. “If we continue to improve on the basic aspects of the game, which we can control, such as serving, passing and all around ball control, we will be successful.”

Match play between Yale and Brown will kick off at 7 p.m. at Brown’s homecourt, the Pizzitola Center.