Though a fourth-place finish may seem average, for last year’s women’s basketball team, it was something to be celebrated, as that finish represented the team’s best in the Ivy League since the 1997-98 season. This year, the team aims to build on that success and take the program to new heights.

The Bulldogs open their 2010-11 campaign on the road this Friday, when they travel to Worcester, Mass. to face Holy Cross in a non-league contest. The start of the season comes as a relief to captain and guard Yoyo Greenfield ’11, who said she is eager to get back on the court.

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“We’ve had like a month of practice every day with no games, so we’re ready to go, ready to take it out on some other people,” Greenfield said.

The Elis have ambitious goals for the 2010-11 campaign, specifically contending for their first Ivy League championship since 1979. Nonetheless, head coach Chris Gobrecht believes that this year’s Bulldogs are up to the challenge.

“I’ve probably enjoyed coaching this team as much or more as any team I’ve ever coached,” Gobrecht said. “They’re very coachable, they learn quickly, [and] they’re really hard workers. They just want to get better, so I have a lot of enthusiasm about how good they’re capable of being.”

Though the team lost three players to graduation, this season’s roster features nine returning players, including four returning starters. Greenfield and guard Megan Vasquez ’13 will once again anchor the team’s backcourt, while forwards Mady Gobrecht ’11 and Michelle Cashen ’12 return as mainstays in the front court.

Vasquez and Greenfield were last year’s two most prolific scorers, averaging 11.5 and 9.6 points per game, respectively. Vasquez also led the team with 2.3 assists per game and 41 steals in her rookie season.

Under the basket, Cashen averaged a team-best 6.9 rebounds per game, while also accumulating 39 steals. Mady Gobrecht also returns as an impact post player and was the team leader in blocks last year.

However, Chris Gobrecht said Greenfield, Cashen and M. Gobrecht will add more to the team than just points, steals and blocks. She believes their veteran presence will form the team’s core this year.

“I’m really excited about the leadership of the upperclassmen,” Chris Gobrecht said. “I think they are our rocks that hold right now. Those three are a great foundation.”

In addition to strong upperclassmen, the squad also features four freshmen that are expected to contribute to the team this season. Chris Gobrecht highlighted forward Janna Graf ’14 and guard Amanda Tyson ’14 in particular as potential impact players.

One of the key strategies the Bulldogs will use this season will be outpacing their opponents. The Elis employ a fast-paced style of play that Chris Gobrecht compared to that of the Oregon football team.

“People stay with them for a while, but they can’t stay with them the whole game, and that’s our goal,” Chris Gobrecht said. “We want to make it hard for people to stay with us the whole game. We want it to be one of our trademarks. That and our pressure defense.”

Chris Gobrecht added that she expects this approach to be especially effective against bigger teams, because it will help negate their size advantage. She explained that because the team plays so fast, she hopes opposing players will be forced to keep up with the Bulldogs and guard many quick players, which is usually more difficult for bigger players to do.

The Elis expect this strategy to translate into success on the court. In a preseason poll, Yale was picked to repeat its fourth place finish this season, but Chris Gobrecht said she believes her team is fully capable of exceeding those expectations.

One speed bump in the road to contending for a championship, however, will be losing players to injury. Chris Gobrecht said that the team is already shorthanded, since two of its starters, Cashen and Graf, are currently hurt.

“I think if we get healthy and we’re whole, we’re going to be in the mix,” she said. “We’re going to be right up there fighting for the title. We just need to get healthy.”

Greenfield agreed that the team is equipped with the necessary tools to compete for the title. She said that the team has returned with a stronger work ethic, which she believes will show on the court.

“I think we’re a really hardworking bunch, I think the hardest working we’ve been since I’ve been here,” Greenfield said. “Everyone is really committed and focused, and we have a bunch of people who are willing to listen and work their butts off. I think that’s going to be the difference.”

Tip-off against Holy Cross is slated for 7 p.m. in Worcester.