Last week, in the Ivy League’s annual Preseason Softball Poll, a panel of media members selected Yale as the fifth best team in the conference. The Bulldogs tied Dartmouth with 59 points, behind Columbia, Penn, Harvard and Princeton.

This weekend, Yale will participate in its first official game in almost two years. In 2020, the Bulldogs had yet to enter conference play when its season was canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The Ivy League has not named a softball conference champion since Harvard went 16–5 en route to the title in 2019.

“It’s been extremely exciting to get back on the field as a full team again and to get to actually interact with all of your teammates in the weight room and at practice as a whole,” pitcher Miranda Papes ’22 said. “We also have a lot of young talent this year so everyone is super ready to go and experience Ivies for the first time so I think it’s going to be a good season.”

This year, the Eli roster includes 14 first or second-year players. The rest of the roster is rounded out by only one junior and two seniors.

Despite the squad’s inexperience, the Bulldogs are hopeful that they will be able to perform better than expected.

“We are truly enjoying being back out on the field,” head coach Jen Goodwin told Yale Athletics. “I’ve been impressed with how the team returned in the fall, having been apart from us for so long. They showed they are hungry and have a desire to compete at a high level. With such a young squad, we might surprise some folks.”

Four different Ivy teams received first place votes in this year’s poll, a sign of the conference’s relative unpredictability after the two-year hiatus.

“We saw that we were ranked fifth this year and I think, in all, it really just lit a fire under us to prove them wrong and to come out and win Ivies,” Papes said. “I think they are underestimating us a lot.”

Only seven of the team’s 16 players have any experience playing college softball. The roster’s young average age has inspired its veterans to step up in a leadership role. Papes and infielder Kortney Ponce ’22 are the only seniors listed on the roster. They are joined by pitcher Nicole Conway ’23 as the team’s only upperclassmen. The trio are the only players on the team to have played an Ivy League opponent.

“I’ve been just amazed with [the underclassmen’s] determination and will to work as hard as they need to get the job done,” Conway said. “It’s just been kind of amazing to see how far they’ve come.”

Yale will play its first game since March 8, 2020 when it travels to Denton for the North Texas classic this weekend. The Bulldogs will face off against South Dakota State (6–4, 0–0 Summit), North Texas (7–2, 0–0 Conference USA) and Creighton (7–3, 0–0 Big East) over a three-day span. 

The three opponents will be the first true test for the Elis. SDSU went 43–8 last season, including 21–1 in conference play. After sweeping second seeded Omaha in a two game series to win the Summit League Championship, the Jack Rabbits lost in the second round of the NCAA Softball Championship. The Mean Green went 38–12 (18–2 in conference play) last year while Creighton struggled and ended the 2021 season at 14–14 (8–7 in conference play).

“Oh yeah, this weekend is definitely the return,” Conway said emphatically.

Yale’s last official softball game took place on March 8, 2020, over 700 days ago.

Nader Granmayeh '23 is a former staff writer who covered football and softball for the Yale Daily News.