Friday evening will mark the season opener for the Yale women’s basketball team as the Elis square off against Sacred Heart at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.

After defeating Spartak Moscow in their exhibition match last Sunday, the Bulldogs are extremely hyped as they prepare to face their first foe of the regular season.

Tomorrow’s game against the Pioneers will truly test the potential the Elis possess. Sacred Heart finished the season last year with a 20-7 overall record, including a perfect 14-0 record at home. The Pioneers, who play in the Northeast Conference (NEC), are led by sophomore standout Amanda Pape. The native of Stamford was the NEC Rookie of the Year last season.

“[Sacred Heart] has a lot of good perimeter players on the team,” Eli forward Tory Mauseth ’05 said. “So this year we’ve worked a lot on perimeter and zone defense.”

Last year’s battle between Yale and Sacred Heart favored the Pioneers as the Elis’ second-half rally fell short in the 79-68 loss. The defeat left the Bulldogs with a rough 0-5 start in the 2003-04 season where they finished with an overall record of 8-19. The Elis’ 5-9 record in the Ivy League put them in fifth place in the Ancient Eight.

This year, the Elis look towards a much brighter future ahead of them. Although the Bulldogs were picked to finish fifth overall in Ivy play in the preseason polls, the team sees the potential for a better finish.

“We can only go up from where we were last year,” guard Morgan Richards ’05 said. “Besides, I prefer to be the underdog; it give us more to fight for.”

Despite a slow start last season, the Elis ended strong, winning their last three games and five of their last seven of the season, which included wins over Dartmouth and Harvard — the top two projected teams this season.

With many of the young athletes returning this year, Yale is expected to start the season as strong as it ended last year. Some of the returning Bulldogs include Richards, the team captain this year; Mauseth, last year’s team MVP’ and Erica Davis ’07, who made great strides during last season and was the team’s most improved player.

The Bulldogs also have four new additions to the pack as freshmen Alexandra Chen, Stephanie Marciano, Sara McCollum and Sarah Zoubek put on the White and Blue to contribute their talent to the team.

“All of the freshman girls have adjusted to the team very well,” Eli forward Lindsay Page ’05 said. “They all bring a lot of chemistry to the team.”

Unfortunately, many of the freshman recruits have sustained injuries and may not be able to play Friday.

With the team’s injuries, it will be important for those Elis on the court to step up their game against Sacred Heart.

Last year, it was the huge surge early in the game that gave the win to the Pioneers. The Elis know they have to prepare for anything Friday night, but they also know that they are not playing the same team as last season, either. Sacred Heart has lost some key players and has gained five freshman recruits.

The Bulldogs will be sporting a new look as well Friday.

“We have a different dynamic of players on the team,” said Richards. “All of the players have changed and grown since last year.”

With a re-energized team and a batch of improving Elis, the game against Sacred Heart will be the first chance for the team to reverse last season’s misfortunes.