From the beginning of the season it’s been all about the Ivies, and now Yale has a chance to prove itself.

The women’s volleyball team (6-3) will face off against Brown (2-8), the Elis’ first opponent from the Ancient Eight, on Saturday at John J. Lee Amphitheater. With a home court advantage and strong fan support on their side, the players hope to start off conference play with a win in order to move one step closer to that Ivy League title.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”13525″ ]

“The game plan going into the Brown match is to play hard and use our preseason schedule as motivation to go into the season,” outside hitter Alexis Crusey ’10 said. “Conference play is starting, and this is when it matters.”

Last season, the Bulldogs defeated the Bears in both matches to begin conference play with a 2-0 record. A victory against Brown this weekend would start the team off in a good position among conference competitors. The team has said all season that the No. 1 goal has been to win the Ivy League.

“It is important to take each match individually, but winning Ivies is always a main motivation for us,” captain Maribeth Martens ’08 said.

Brown returns last season’s first team All-Ivy libero Katie Lapinski, who should put up a strong defensive fight for the Bears and force Yale’s top hitters to earn each kill. The Bears squad also features 13 other returning players as well as four freshmen.

“We plan on playing well against Brown, who is always a tough team,” Martens said. “We have been preparing all week and getting focused for the match.”

Players to watch in the upcoming match are last weekend’s Long Island University all-tournament team players Crusey and libero Kelly Ozurovich ’11. Crusey led the team in last year’s matches against Brown after scoring double-doubles in both matches. Always dangerous at the net, she slammed down an impressive 33 kills against the Bears last year.

Ozurovich, last week’s Ivy League Rookie of the Week, has proven to be a strong defensive force in her first year of college play. What she lacks in experience, she makes up for in constant effort. She leads the team with 99 season digs thus far, and scored a season-high 20 digs against Long Island last Saturday.

“We are just going to focus on what we need to do to control the game,” Ozurovich said. “We need to play our game and build upon what we have been working on all year.”

The Elis have recently had strong performances from setter Ally Mendenhall ’09, outside hitter Julia Mailander ’10 and outside hitter Kali Nelson ’08. Mendenhall posted a career-high 20 digs last weekend against Long Island. In the same match, Mailander picked up her fourth double-double of the season with 10 kills and 16 digs. Nelson was just shy of her own double-double with 9 kills and 8 digs in the match.

The Bulldogs kick off their conference play at Payne Whitney Gymnasium this Saturday at 4 p.m. against Brown.