The Elis will kick off their 2012 preseason this weekend with a scrimmage against Siena. Despite a relatively late start to the official season, the team has been toiling away in unofficial practices since the beginning of the semester. Official practices with head coach Andy Shay began last Wednesday.

Last season’s overall record was 10–4, 3–3, Ivy, putting the Bulldogs in third place in the league behind Cornell and Penn. The last time the team took the Ivy League title was in 2010, when they finished in a four-way tie for first.

The team gained and lost some key players this season. The most apparent deficit is the 2011 All-New England first team goalkeeper Johnathan Falcone ’11. However, with 12 new freshman recruits, the team is now 41 strong. One of the key players to watch is midfielder Gregory Mahony ’12. Mahony, who scored 16 goals and eight assists last season, was a Second Team All-Ivy and First Team All-New England pick in 2011.

“I have built my reputation over the past several years as a shooter, but I would like to see that translate more into opening up the field for other people,” Mahony said in an email to the News. “I don’t think I will ever stray from my shoot first [mentality], but I would like to see my assist game evolve, especially because our offense has enough chemistry that there will often be someone open with a better shot. That being said, I have no problem pulling the trigger at any time.”

Shay said the veteran leadership on the team has kept up its camaraderie from last season. However, Mahony said this year’s team has more of an underdog mentality and will not take any win for granted.

Captain Michael Pratt ’12 said the week of two-hour practices at the Reese Stadium has been very productive so far. He added Shay makes practices extremely difficult, putting high pace and intensity into the mix so that his players can better equip themselves when met with high-pressure situations in upcoming matches.

“The practices have been very competitive since many of the players are fighting for spots,” Pratt said. “We are really excited that we finally have a team to compete [against] besides [ourselves].”

Shay said the goalkeeper spot will be the biggest hole to fill, as all of the other positions have returning players. Currently, three players are vying for the position: Peter Spaulding ’13, Jack Meyer ’14 and Eric Natale ’15. Pratt added Shay will choose the goalie based on the number of saves each player makes during the upcoming three scrimmages, and the selected player will start the season’s official match against St. John’s on February 25.

Pratt said the Elis have a formidable defensive lineup.

“Three junior starters, Phil Gross, Peter Johnson and Michael McCormack, who started in every game ever since they were here, are returning and sophomores Jack Ambrose and Jimmy Craft are also returning. Freshman players like David Better and Harry Kucharczyk have been playing well.”

At midfield, in addition to Pratt, Matt Miller ’12, Colin Still ’12 and Mahony are returning. Pratt said that underclassmen Ryan McCarthy ’14, Shane Thornton’15 and Colin Flaherty ’15 are also competing for spots

On offense, there are four players vying for three spots: Matt Gibson ’12, Andrew Cordia ’13, Brandon Mangan’14 and Conrad Oberbeck ’15.

“This year’s offense has enough savvy and poise that we will likely become a group that thrives on ball movement and off-ball play,” Mahony said. “We need to improve on our efficiency. Last year our shooting percentage was too low and our turnovers too high to allow us to win in some of the bigger games.”

Depending on the opponent, game plans change week to week since different teams have different strategies. Pratt said Cornell is heavy on attack so the team has to concentrate on defense, but Princeton, constantly in the spotlight for having one of the best defenses in the league with several All-Americans, plays an “exotic” offense. Consequently, the team has to formulate special defensive strategies.

The team is certainly shooting for the Ivy League title this season, which would earn it a spot in the NCAA tournament. Ambrose said Cornell is Yale’s biggest rival and obstacle for the title since it has retained its offensive power from last year, including the Ivy League Player of the Year Rob Pannell.

“Our biggest goal is to dominate on a day to day basis,” Mahony said. “We lack a lot of the marquee out of conference matches that other teams have, so our biggest competition is going to be internal. Our sport has a ridiculous amount of parity, and with only 13 games, we need to make sure we push ourselves and be ready for all 13 of those games. If we do that, our season will not end before we’re ready to end it.”

The Elis will face Siena on Sunday at Reese Stadium at 1 p.m.