The women’s ice hockey team is back with high expectations and a rejuvenated roster full of talent and experience.

The Bulldogs came up just short of the ECAC playoffs last year, finishing four points behind Colgate for the final playoff spot. Despite this, the team has made significant strides since the 2011–2012 season, when it won only one game. Yale returns its starting goaltender and its top five scorers from last year. These salty veterans will be joined by a promising crop of freshman players as the Elis set out to make a run to the playoffs.

“Our team has improved a lot in terms of speed and decision-making since last year,” said captain and defenseman Tara Tomimoto ’14. “Practices have been faster-paced and we all seem to be making better decisions with and without the puck.”

The captain added that the team’s new strength and conditioning coach, Emil Johnson, helped the teamwork out during the summer and has improved the team’s conditioning.

Tomimoto led the Elis with 12 assists last season and finished second with 14 points.

Along with the team’s returning veterans, several Bulldogs said that they are excited about the potential of the incoming freshman class.

“The freshmen are definitely a step ahead of the game,” said goalie Jaimie Leonoff ’15. “They’re all talented and hard-working. The team has a good atmosphere right now. All the upperclassmen are impressed. The freshmen have good attitudes, and they are all good at different things.”

Among the several talented freshmen is forward Phoebe Staenz ’17 from Zurich, Switzerland. Staenz was the Division 1 Player of the Year at Choate Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford, Conn., last year. Additionally, she played for Switzerland’s national team in the past three World Championships and is expected to play in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Although the team will look to its freshmen, the Bulldogs will rely on the steady Leonoff in net. The junior goalie had a 0.925 save percentage and 944 saves last season, which ranked 15th and fourth in the nation last year, respectively. Leonoff’s strong performance last season garnered her a second-team All-Ivy League selection and team MVP honors.

As the start of the season approaches, the Bulldogs have made their goals clear. The players not only want to make the playoffs; they want to compete at the top.

“There are twelve teams in the ECAC league,” defenseman Madi Murray ’15 said. “Our team was voted to be ranked 10th out of the 12 teams this season. We want to change that. Our goal is to be a top-four team and make the playoffs. The top eight teams make the playoffs, but we want to be in the top four in the conference.”

Such ambitious goals, however, will not be easy to achieve. This season, the Bulldogs will play 10 games against teams ranked in the top eight nationally last season. These teams include defending NCAA champion No. 1 Minnesota, as well as No. 3 Boston College.

The Bulldogs kick off the regular season at Boston College on Oct. 19th.