A standout 2004 season saw the women’s soccer team post a program-record 5-0 start. A trip down South might make the same start a little more difficult in 2005.

The Bulldogs kick off their 2005 campaign this weekend at the North Carolina Soccer Classic. The Elis take on No. 8 Duke on Friday before playing No. 2 University of North Carolina Sunday. While the Bulldogs are unranked, they did receive votes in the NSCAA Preseason Top 25 poll.

Duke returns 10 of 11 starters from last season’s team, which posted a 15-8 record en route to an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen of last year’s NCAA tournament. Among the Blue Devils’ returning players are last year’s leading scorers, forwards Sarah Riggs and Sarah McCabe, and goalkeeper Allison Lipsher, who tied the Duke single-season record with nine shutouts last year.

Life doesn’t get any easier for the Elis on Sunday. UNC welcomes back 11 players with starting experience, including former national Player of the Year winner Lindsay Tarpley and first-team All-American Heather O’Reilly at forward. The Tarheels went 20-1-2 last year, but the 18-time national champions lost in the third round of last year’s NCAA tournament.

“Both Duke and UNC are ACC teams that play at an extremely high level of soccer and have a commitment to their sport that I think goes unmatched in most other Division I leagues for soccer,” defender Christina Huang ’07 said. “It’s exciting to see where we stand and to play against unquestionably the top teams in the United States.”

But the Bulldogs say they will be playing to win.

“They will both be very, very good, and we are by far the underdogs,” captain Eleni Benson ’06 said. “However, we showed last season that we can play at the level of the top teams in the country, and we’re looking to come home with a win, and to turn some heads in the process.”

Despite the caliber of their opposition, the Bulldogs’ biggest struggle this weekend may be internal, as a new set of starters attempt to get comfortable with each other. The Elis’ greatest weakness is on defense, where in spite of the return of Benson and Huang, a first-team All-Region selection, there are some depth issues. Maureen Metzger ’05 and Lindsay Demaree ’05 were lost to graduation, and Talia DiPanfilo ’08, who started all 18 games last season, is out for the year with a knee injury.

The Elis will have to shuffle positions to fill the vacated starting spots. Huang said rookie Hayley Zevenbergen ’09 may move back from center midfielder to center back to replace Metzger.

The other major hole to be filled is in goal. With the departure of first-team All-Ivy and team MVP Sarah Walker ’05, Susan Starr ’08 and Chloe Beiser ’07 will start the season splitting time.

“Sarah had an amazing season last year, but both Chloe and Susie are playing really well so far this season,” forward Alicia Fujii ’08 said. “I don’t have any doubts of their capabilities. I think they’ll be just as good as Sarah.”

Several Bulldogs said they are looking forward to playing well and adjusting their game to prepare for Ivy play.

“Flat out, I think that our primary goal is to win Ivies,” Huang said. “This is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here and I’m really looking forward to see what we can do with our talent.”

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