The Yale women’s swimming team begins its 2004-2005 season tonight when it hosts the Columbia Lions at the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool. The contest is the first dual meet for both teams — the third year in a row the Bulldogs kick things off against the Lions.

The last time the two teams faced off was at the 2004 Ivy Championships. Yale placed third with 1,211 points, while Columbia took fifth with 937 points — barely more than three-fourths of the Eli total.

But while Columbia traditionally has a weaker squad than the Bulldogs, the Lions have proven very competitive in the early stages of the season. The last time the Bulldogs and Lions faced off head-to-head — Nov. 14, 2003 — Columbia came out on top 177-123, winning 10 of the 16 events.

Several Bulldogs said that the large discrepancy in the results is because the Lions often stop training to rest before this dual meet.

“I think they have to be doing something — resting, shaving,” Cristina Hession ’07 said. “It doesn’t make sense to taper or rest at the beginning of the year. Usually it’s the meet at the end of the year that most teams focus on.”

Despite the fact the Lions may come to the pool a little more rested than the Bulldogs, the Elis feel that they still have the talent to win tomorrow. Columbia graduated many strong swimmers, including several sprinters, last year and the Bulldogs believe that they have more talent.

“They lost a lot of fast swimmers,” Holly Mazar ’06 said. “Our freshman class is stronger; our whole team is stronger, and, no, we’re not shaved and tapered, but we have fast swimmers and confidence under our belt. It should add up to a better result than last year.”

The closest matchup tonight may come on the diving board. Melanie Loftus ’05, first-team All-Ivy as a sophomore in the 1-meter competition and most recently a fifth-place finisher at NCAA Zones last spring, leads a pack of five Bulldog divers this weekend. The Lions will have Grace Coyle, who placed second in the 1-meter diving event at last year’s Ivy Championships.

In the pool, Columbia will challenge the Elis most in the distance events. Sophomore Lauren Morford won the 1,000-yard freestyle at last season’s Ivy Championships and also placed seventh in the 500-yard freestyle.

Hession, last year’s Eli distance specialist, will not be swimming the 1,000-yard distance so that she can swim the 200-yard freestyle and the 200-yard butterfly, but the combination of Laura Aronsson ’08, Nicole Swaney ’08 and Allison Rogers ’05 should give Morford plenty of competition in the 1,000.

In general, the Bulldogs will be looking to their newest swimmers tomorrow.

“They’re strong competitors in a bunch of different events,” Mazar said. “They’ve got a lot of diversity, a lot of talent, and they can move this team forward.”

And while the Elis have not stopped to rest — they are still swimming roughly 7,000 meters a day in practice — they are confident in their ability to be competitive tomorrow.

“At this point, we’re training really hard, and we’re not really expected to go our best times,” Aronsson said. “But we’re ready to get up and race and see what we have.”