For the third year in a row, there is little time for the women’s soccer team to overcome its early-season jitters.

With just one game under their belts, the Bulldogs (1-0) will head down to North Carolina today to face two formidable opponents, Duke (0-0-2) and No. 6 University of North Carolina (0-1) in the Carolina Nike Classic. The road trip marks the beginning of a series of challenging games in the 2007 schedule, which features two recent NCAA College Cup winners and several other postseason contenders in the first few weeks.

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“We’re used to this challenge early in the season,” captain Mary Kuder ’08 said. “You have no other choice but to bring your best game.”

The Elis have played the two rival squads from North Carolina in the same weekend for the past three years. In 2005, when the Bulldogs last made the trip down south, they dropped both games by narrow 1-0 decisions — but then went on to topple Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Last year they suffered more definitive losses, 3-0 to Duke and 4-0 to UNC, in their opening weekend at home.

But the Elis will go into today’s match against Duke — their first opponent each of the past two seasons — with valuable game experience after last week’s home opener against Bucknell. And unlike the Blue Devils, who drew to 0-0 ties against Pepperdine and San Diego last weekend, the Bulldogs seem to have had an easier time adjusting offensively so far. The squad connected three times in the 3-1 victory over the Bison, a feat that earned Yale votes in the Sept. 4 NSCAA polls.

“Duke is a very similar team to us and we can really do some damage against them,” goalie Susan Starr ’08 said. “We are just looking to compete, finish our chances and really execute what we have worked on in practice.”

The harder test of the weekend will come on Sunday, when the Bulldogs face off against defending College Cup champion UNC. The Tar Heels were unanimously predicted to repeat as champions this summer, although last weekend’s first-ever home opener loss to South Carolina has many in the soccer world reconsidering that opinion. Even so, the squad still boasts a strong roster that includes two preseason All-Americans, defender Jessica Maxwell and midfielder Yael Averbuch.

Head coach Rudy Meredith said his team recognizes the difficulty of an upset against such a highly-touted squad, but that Bulldogs’ approach to the game could make the difference.

“If you play well and compete then you have a chance to win, but if you don’t bring your A-game you don’t stand a chance,” he said.

This weekend’s road trip is the first of two that highlight the Bulldogs’ September schedule. Just a few days after its return to New Haven, the team will travel across country for the Nike Portland Invitational, during which it will have to face 2005 NCAA Champion Portland. The Bulldogs will also host Boston University on Sept. 25, just five days before their Ivy opener against rival Harvard.

“It’s a very tough schedule,” Meredith said. “We want to get better each game, [to the point] where we can play a full 90 minutes well.”

Despite the challenge that lies ahead, the Bulldogs are excited about facing two nationally acclaimed teams in the same weekend. The road trip offers the 13 returning letterwinners and the seven rookies on the Yale roster a chance to push the boundaries of their potential as a squad.

“It’s so much fun to play against both teams,” Starr said. “[Two years ago] the environment was really exciting to be in and so many people come to watch us play. Our game is elevated to a higher level.”