With matches against some of the nation’s toughest field hockey teams already under their belts, the Bulldogs will endeavor to recapture the intensity of last weekend as they take the field tonight for their first conference game in almost two weeks.

The Bulldogs (1-4, 0-1 Ivy) take on league rival Cornell (3-2, 1-1) at 7:00 p.m. tonight at Johnson Field seeking to make a strong showing in what is only their second Ivy match of the year. Then on Sunday, they will wrap up their three-game home stretch in a non-conference event against Fairfield University (1-6).

The Elis are coming off of an explosive pair of matches last weekend. After a slow start to the season offensively, the squad suddenly found its stride in last Friday’s face-off against Hofstra (4-4). Led by a phenomenal four goals from forward Ashley McCauley ’10, the Bulldogs seized control of the match, annihilating the Pride 6-2.

But Sunday proved to be a tough slog, as in spite of the Elis’ best efforts, they fell 6-1 to No. 6 Michigan State in the face of a 33-shot bombardment. The Spartans were the third ranked team the Bulldogs have faced already this season — a demanding string of games, but one which has helped the team identify its weaknesses and ready itself for conference play, head coach Pam Stuper said.

“The schedule is preparing us exactly the way I wanted it to,” she said. “We wanted stiff competition from the start, and I couldn’t be happier with the way we’re playing and where the team’s headed.”

The Big Red have a small but painful losing streak to contend with in the game ahead — they dropped both their last two matches in overtime, including one against Penn (2-4, 1-1) in which they held the lead for much of the game but caved minutes before the final whistle. Beating Cornell’s defense will still require some hard, intense play, as the Big Red is ranked 14th in the nation for goals-against average at 1.13 and 15th for save percentage, at 80.6 percent. But after the series of highly ranked teams the Bulldogs have already battled, the squad has high hopes that it will be able to utilize those experiences to great advantage against their Ivy foes, goalie Charlotte Goins ’10 said.

“Cornell being a conference game is huge after playing the powerhouses we’ve been up against,” she said. “Hopefully the success we had against the best teams will translate into a huge win against a conference team like Cornell.”

Fairfield enters play this weekend on a three-game losing streak, including a strong bid against No. 3 University of Iowa (7-1) in which the score was tied 1-1 until two goals late in the second half put the game out of reach. The Stags, like the Big Red, have a strong defensive presence. The team is ranked eighth in the nation for saves per game, at 9.43, and goaltender Elizabeth Thomas was recently named Co-Player of the Week in the America East Conference. But Stuper says she knows the squad is capable of recapturing the same offensive power that blasted through Hofstra’s lines.

“That energy is definitely there, and the team is definitely capable of it,” she said. “It’s just a matter of whether we stick to the game plan and play to our strengths. If we do those things, the attack will generate.”

And after last weekend’s matches, which back Julia Weiser ’10 considered a “turning point” of the season, this weekend’s play could be the starting point for a strong conference showing as the Bulldogs hit their stride, midfielder Ali Rotondo ’09 said.

“In terms of the game today, we’re really excited,” she said. “We had a solid week of practice, and we’re looking to go into the remainder of our season sweeping the Ivy League and ending up with a W tomorrow.”