The field hockey team hardly needed to go a week into the season before encountering its version of “The Game.”

The Elis head to the Garden State Saturday afternoon to square off against a Tiger squad that has more or less dominated the Ivy League over the last decade. Yale, which has split its first two games of the season, sees tomorrow’s affair as something more than an ordinary early-season matchup.

“This is definitely one of the most important games of the year,” midfielder Ali Rotondo ’09 said. “Princeton is a big rival, as is Harvard, and for that matter, every other Ivy League team.”

The Bulldogs have had nearly a week to recover from Sunday’s loss, in which a Northwestern squad rallied from a one-goal deficit to edge the Elis, 2-1. Forward Cat Lindroth ’07 put the ball in the net with just under nine minutes to go in the first half, but the lead would barely last three minutes. Despite a remarkable 15 saves by Elizabeth Friedlander ’07, Northwestern’s Meghan Small notched her second goal of the night midway through the second half to nail down the win for the Wildcats.

“We played well against Northwestern, but a couple calls didn’t go our way,” Friedlander said.

Still, at the top of the team’s list of concerns this week was the tendency to lose energy midway through games after blasting out of the gate.

“It’s hard to play a full 70 minutes, but you have to,” Friedlander said. “We are working on it, and hopefully we won’t see [the mid-game slump] again.”

Despite an offseason shakeup that left the squad with a new coach and saw two star seniors graduate, the confidence level has never been higher at Johnson Field. Coach Pam Stuper has brought a fresh attitude to a team that went through a less-than-spectacular 2004, which included a 7-10 record and 2-7 mark in the Ancient Eight.

“Since the new coach stepped in around February, the team has just responded amazingly. She’s really picked up the program,” Rotondo said. “Pam motivates us not only to work for ourselves, but to work for the team.”

The team cannot forget last year’s ugly ordeal against Princeton, where the Tigers stormed into New Haven and handed the Elis their biggest loss of the season, a 6-0 shutout. The memories will no doubt drive the Bulldogs when they take the field at Class of 1952 Stadium tomorrow at noon.

“We’ve had a tough week of practice and preparation, and we are going to have the same mental preparation regardless of where the game is held,” Rotondo said. “It would be that much sweeter to beat Princeton at their home turf, and it will get us that much more psyched up”

The Tigers have undoubtedly been the elite of the Ancient Eight through the last 10 years, holding at least a share of the Ivy League crown every year but one since 1993. But even Princeton has had their share of problems recently. After finishing third behind Harvard and Penn last season, the New Jersey denizens stumbled through their first two games this year, dropping decisions to American and Penn State last week. With the Tigers vulnerable, Yale knows they have their best opportunity in years to put Princeton in the rear view mirror.

“This is an entirely different team this year compared to last year, and we’re confident about how things have turned out,” Friedlander said. “I think this team is playing better than any team ever at Yale. We are going to go to Princeton and make a statement.”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”15827″ ]