An entire offseason of work and preparation is finally about to be put to the test with the start of the 2009 season for the Yale women’s soccer team. The Bulldogs will begin their home and season opener against Wagner on Friday before taking on Hofstra on Sunday.

“I am really looking forward to this season and excited about our prospects,” head coach Rudy Meredith said. “We can compete with anybody this year and I can’t wait for our season opener.”

That confidence and anticipation comes from a great spring of practice and exhibitions, when the team was able to garner several shutouts, including its most recent 4–0 exhibition win against McGill last week.

“Our defense is going to be very solid this year — we’re returning a lot of defenders and we’ve got a lot of experience in the goal too,” Meredith said. “That should be a very good positive for us.”

The defense will have to hold up because the Bulldogs lost two anchors of their offense to graduation, former captain Emma Whitfield ’09 and Maggie Westfal ’09. However, a new class of eight freshmen will join returning offensive players to offset the loss of those attackers.

“Last year, Becky [Brown ’11] was only two assists shy of breaking Yale’s single season assist record [10], so I think she can definitely help with both scoring goals and assisting this season,” Meredith said. “The sophomores this year are also stepping up and taking more of a leadership role on the field. The freshmen this year have also played well and will have a chance to earn significant playing time.”

Captain and four-year starting defender Sophia Merrifield ’10 added, “Our freshmen all come from very strong soccer backgrounds and they’re fitting into the team very well. They’ve all got a great attitude and work ethic and we expect them all to contribute right away.”

This opening weekend will be an indication of the Bulldogs’ current progress. Wagner (0–1) heads into the weekend after dropping a 2–0 decision to Saint Peter’s College, even though the Seahawks dominated most offensive statistics in the game. Their patient offensive style will be an early test for the Yale defense.

Meanwhile, Hofstra comes into the weekend with a 1–1 record after defeating Richmond in overtime before falling in a blowout to 10th-ranked UVA. Although Hofstra has been shaky against its opponents thus far, the Pride handed the 2008 Ivy League champion, Princeton, one of its three losses last season. Hofstra will also play three other Ivy League opponents this season, so the Bulldogs’ performance against the team will be an important measure of their chances in conference play.

Kickoff in the season opener against Wagner is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, followed by a 3 p.m. start on Sunday against Hofstra.