A few short weeks ago, a second-place Ivy finish might have seemed like a pipe dream for the win-starved field hockey team.

But suddenly, it’s not such a distant hope.

After a tough non-league schedule at the beginning of their season that was intended to prepare the Bulldogs for Ivy competition, the squad came out of the starting gate in fighting form. Although they fell to Princeton, which went on to clinch the league crown with a 6-0 record, the Elis then recorded two wins against Cornell and Dartmouth. But those victories seemed like ancient history after the Bulldogs suffered five consecutive losses to Ivy and non-conference foes before downing Columbia, 4-1, last weekend.

Yet with the uneven play of every Ancient Eight team — with the exception of the Tigers — Yale has a chance to finish second in the league this fall, an accomplishment it has achieved only twice in the last 26 years. On Friday night, Princeton must defeat Penn to keep the Elis in the race. The Bulldogs must then eliminate Brown (9-6, 3-3 Ivy) — a team that has allowed just eight goals in six league games this year — the following afternoon in Providence, R.I.

“Not only is it a chance to make a dent in the Ivy League that we haven’t had in the past few years, but it’s also a chance to finish our season strong,” captain Heather Orrico ’07 said.

The Bulldogs are coming off of their best offensive performance this season with their four-goal triumph against the Lions last Saturday, tying their four-tally effort at Cornell on Sept. 23. Midfielder Rachel Lentz ’07, who now leads the team with seven goals, scored two in the game against the Lions and was subsequently recognized as Ivy League Player of the Week.

“The team has played really well the past two games,” forward Ashley McCauley ’10 said. “Hopefully we can come out with that intensity, with the same pressure and the same poise, and come away with the win.”

In last year’s showdown, Yale fell to the Bears, 2-1, ending a series of three straight Yale wins. Brown scored the game-winner with just over 10 minutes left to play. Close matches against the Bears are not unusual — four of the last five games between the two teams have been decided by one goal.

Orrico said the Bulldogs will look to shut down the Bears’ strong forwards and try to maintain their two-touch passing, which helped them to victory last weekend.

The game will also pit goalkeepers Kristen Hodavance and Elizabeth Friedlander ’07 against each other. Hodavance leads the Ancient Eight in goals-against average (1.44) and Friedlander has 146 saves this season, the most in the conference.

Even if the Quakers tame the Tigers Friday night to secure a solo second-place finish, a fourth league win would still be a feat for the Bulldogs. The team has won four or more league games only three times in 27 years of Ivy play entering this season, including its lone Ivy championship in 1980 and its two second-place finishes in 1998 and 2003.

Forward Rachel Lentz said the Bulldogs believe they can achieve this fourth win.

“We’re coming in very confident,” she said. “I think we’re just hoping we can come out with our momentum from the Columbia game and that we’ll be able to pull this one out.”