After ups and downs on the road to start out their 2005 season, the chance to beat up on some non-conference rivals in their home opener may be just what the Yale volleyball team needs.

The Bulldogs (2-1, 0-0 Ivy) host the Yale Invitational this weekend and will try to shake off offseason rust against some weaker opponents. The Elis will play Quinnipiac (0-6) on Friday night and St. Francis (1-6) and Holy Cross (2-6) on Saturday.

“We are really excited to play at home, since we have been on the road lately, so the first factor is that the excitement level is a lot higher,” middle blocker Adele Sweetnam ’06 said. “The teams [this weekend] are challenging, but we are looking to refine our offense and get things oiled correctly. When we are good we are really good, but we have tended to break down at times.”

The Bulldogs will look to the usual slew of veterans to get the job done. Renee Lopes ’06, the team leader in attack percentage and blocks, and Jacqueline Becker ’06, who has already amassed 113 assists, are coming off All-Tournament team performances at the Georgetown Classic last weekend.

Outside hitters Kali Nelson ’08 and Shannon Farrell ’07 lead the Elis with 30 kills each, and libero Anja Perlebach ’07 is holding down the defense with 6.30 digs per game.

While the team leaders are starting to make statements, the Bulldogs still have some work to do. Despite leading the Elis in kills, Nelson and Farrell have hitting percentages of .140 and .109. While the Bulldogs have committed 10 fewer errors than their opponents, they trail by 15 in kills and currently boast a .182 team hitting percentage.

Captain Christy Paluf ’06 said the low numbers are a poor representation of how the hitters have been playing.

“Kali and Shannon obviously demonstrated through the time they have been here that they are definitely key players, and numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt,” Paluf said. “We have only played three games, and watching those games is different than looking at the numbers. They had great games, and everyone is always looking to improve their stats. As we settle in, I’m sure they will be just fine.”

The Bulldogs have also produced fewer blocks than their opponents, 15 to 18. But libero Kristin Smith ’09 said the defense showed marked improvement in the Elis’ most recent match against the University of Connecticut.

“In the last game, our defense played really well and blocking improved, which is important for our overall success, and obviously putting the ball down too,” Smith said. “Hopefully that will continue this weekend.”

Individual adjustments aside, several Bulldogs said their main goal for the weekend is to continue to gel as a squad.

“We want to get more comfortable with everyone playing together,” Paluf said. “We have some new freshmen that are extremely talented, and we will get better the more experience we have playing together.”

While teams like the Bobcats may not have a direct impact on how the entire season ends up, the Bulldogs know that every game will allow them to build the skills they need to repeat as Ivy League Championships. To help remind the Elis of what another title run will take, Yale head coach Erin Appleman had large banners hung in the locker room that read “Yale Bulldogs 2004 Ivy League Champions.”

“I think [the banners] are great,” Paluf said. “Obviously when you go in there every day and look at them you are reminded of, ‘Oh, it’s nice to celebrate last season, and then we really have something to defend now.’ They are congratulatory and commemorative but also motivating.”