After a 2015 season that began with high hopes and ended in sullen faces, the Yale women’s soccer team enters the new season looking to return to the top of the Ivy League.

Three games into the 2016 campaign, the Bulldogs looked close to unstoppable, defeating Bryant, Sacred Heart and Stony Brook by a combined 10-–1 margin. However, this past weekend saw the Elis lose to defending Big East regular season champion St. John’s and only manage a draw against previously 0–5 Iona, giving the team a reality check midway through its nonconference slate. Now, with a 3–1–1 record, the Bulldogs have just four more games to iron out the creases before the anticipated Ivy League season kicks off.

“I like this team because of their depth and how hard they work together,” Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said. “I think if we can keep this going — the hard work and playing together — we can be successful this season.”

The team is coming off a brutal end to its 2015 season. After two opening losses, the Elis roared back to a 3–2 record with three consecutive shutouts, giving hope that the team might capture its first Ivy title since 2005. However, the decade of frustration continued when the wheels came off midseason; six conference losses pushed a young Yale team into last place in the Ancient Eight for the first time in team history.

Players and coaches alike have pointed to the need to create a new identity in the wake of last season’s disappointment. This year, captain and defender Colleen McCormack ’17 said that unity has been a main focus among the team’s 27 players.

That new mentality was on display from the get-go this season. In the final minutes of a tense season opener against Bryant, the Bulldogs put their faith on the shoulders of a freshman. Giving up her own opportunity to play the ball, forward Michelle Alozie ’19 instead trusted Aerial Chavarin ’20 to coral a long pass from McCormack. Seeing Alozie’s signal, Chavarin gathered the ball and crushed a shot past the Bryant keeper, giving the Elis a 2–1 victory.

“This team in years past might not have been up to the challenge, either due to fitness levels or pure desire,” midfielder Geneva Decker ’17 said. “This year we were able to garner the fortitude to push us 2–1 in the last two minutes of the game. That day made me proud to be a Bulldog.”

Chavarin, who has three goals through her first five games, has proven herself a crucial part of a Yale team driven by underclassmen. Last year, 15 of the Bulldogs’ 18 goals were scored by freshmen. This year, the team’s freshmen and sophomores have already accounted for nine of Yale’s 11 tallies.

The young squad has proven its ability to create chances early in the season but must still show that it can capitalize consistently. This past weekend against Iona, Yale took a whopping 30 shots, yet only found the back of the net once. If that trend continues, the Bulldogs will be in for another long season.

“Us getting a little bit tired was a factor — after 5 games in 10 days, we were a little fatigued.” Meredith said. “When you’re tired, it’s a little harder to get your shots. Plus there was a little unluckiness. It happens; it’s soccer. But I’m encouraged that we created that many chances.”

Even if Yale can return to its goal-scoring ways, the rest of the schedule is packed with tough opponents, including the seven Ivy League rivals that await them in the coming two months. Princeton, which went 14–4–1 last season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Women’s College Cup, has already come out swinging with a 4–0 start to its season.

With talented teams around every corner and the weight of expectation pushing down on them, the Bulldogs have an immense challenge laid out for them. That said, they do not seem to mind.

“Honestly, we’re having the most fun I’ve ever seen [our team] have out on the field,” McCormack said. “I’m excited for the season to continue like this.”

The Elis continue their season Friday against 2–1–2 Colgate. Yale’s sixth consecutive home match will begin at 7 p.m. inside Reese Stadium.