An Ivy League season opener might not generate the same excited anticipation as the release of the new iPhone, but it’s certainly a major stepping stone for the women’s soccer team.

After a non-conference season during which Yale (4-3-1) has faced a few national powers, the Elis are ready to take their game to the Ancient Eight in search of an automatic NCAA tournament bid. The Bulldogs will start their conference campaign against Princeton (3-1-1) on Saturday.

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Over the course of the past few games, the Bulldogs have emerged as a strong team characterized by tight, relentless defense and a sprawling, meticulous offense. The high level of play has led to two Bulldogs’ being named the Ivy League Player of the Week — Maggie Westfal ’09 earned the honors this week and goalkeeper Ayana Sumiyasu ’11 was the player of the week on Sept. 8.

The key to the past several games has been the Elis’ ability to improve on a game-to-game basis. The Bulldogs had solid performances against No. 6 Stanford and No. 24 Santa Clara on the road. In what Coach Rudy Meredith called their “most complete effort,” the Bulldogs earned a scoreless tie against Santa Clara by fighting through two overtimes and putting up a consistent performance throughout the game.

Meanwhile, Princeton has also enjoyed a strong season thus far. Although the Tigers are relatively young — with eight freshmen on their roster — they are also led by a strong core of returning seniors. Yale will have to keep an eye out for the offensive play of senior Sarah Peteraf and freshman Kalie Bartholomew, both of whom have been instrumental in the Princeton attack.

The Tigers currently have a better record than the Elis, although that may be because Hurricane Ike rained out a Texas road trip that would have pitted the Tigers against Texas A&M and Rice. The Bulldogs will have the advantage of home turf, as Princeton will travel to Reese Stadium for the contest. Yale will face the Tigers at 7 p.m. Saturday.

By John Song

Contributing Reporter

BROWN (2-2-2)

Brown has shown that it can look great by relying on junior goalkeeper Brenna Hogue, who has been dominant of late with an Ivy League-leading 0.922 save percentage. The Bears have been able to earn two shutouts against No. 11 Penn State and No. 1 UCLA earlier this season, with a combined total of 34 saves over the two games. However, Brown’s inconsistencies on defense and offense could lead to its downfall.

Columbia (4-2-1)

The Lions have seemed to mesh of late, scoring nine goals and notching two shutouts in their last two games. Led by the stellar play of Sophie Reiser and complemented by strong performances from their freshmen, Columbia is a serious contender for the Ivy title if it continues its outstanding play.

Cornell (1-4-1)

With eight freshmen on the roster, Cornell seems to be in another year of rebuilding. The team is extremely young — with only one senior — and that lack of experience is keeping the Big Red from taking the next step into Ivy League contention. However, they’re still a feisty team with young talent and should not be taken lightly.

Dartmouth (3-2-0)

Loaded with a team of experienced upperclassmen, the Big Green could be a major obstacle for the Elis. Behind the strong play of senior goalkeeper Laurel Peak, Dartmouth’s losses have been close while its wins have been convincing. The mentally strong team could pose a challenge for Yale.

Harvard (3-2-3)

Undefeated in its last six games, Harvard is coming off its second straight double-overtime draw. Boasting both youth and experienced veterans, the Crimson will sport a dynamic offense with last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year Katherine Sheeleigh. At the same time, Harvard will need strong leadership from its veterans to win the Ivy title.

Penn (2-3-1)

Don’t let Penn’s mediocre record fool you — the Quakers played an extremely difficult slate of non-conference games in preparation for the Ivy season. In fact, their last four opponents boast a combined record of 24-5-3 so far this season. Sophomore Sarah Friedman is a player to watch out for, having a hand in nine of the 11 Quaker goals this year. With a very talented sophomore and junior class, Penn has the youth and the experience to go all the way.

Princeton (3-1-1)

Because of Hurricane Ike, the Tigers are still largely untested this season, while many other Ancient Eight teams have faced nationally ranked foes. Although it does not have a high-scoring offense, Princeton has a good defense and seems to score at just the right time to eke out victories.