Coming off a strong 2000 season, the women’s cross country team is looking to push ahead in its quest for regional and national success.

Led by captain Millie Grinstead ’02 and junior All-American twins Kate O’Neill ’03 and Laura O’Neill ’03, the team returns five of the top seven runners from last year’s nationally ranked team. The squad finished seventh at the NCAA National Championships — their best finish since 1987, when they placed third. The Bulldogs will attempt to defend the New England Championship, the H-Y-P Championship and the Heptagonal Championship.

With the top three runners back and two of the next four, the Elis chances look strong and, as a result, expectations are high.

“Last year’s strong performance gives us confidence that we can achieve more this year,” Grinstead said. “Almost all of our runners have improved since last season.”

The indoor and outdoor track seasons since last fall have given the Bulldogs an added chance to quicken their stride, as the majority of the team trains and competes together for the entire year.

Rebecca Hunter ’04, a standout freshman last year who continued her strong season in the spring and ran a personal best in the 1,500 meters, will look to move further up the Bulldog pack. Amanda Brewster ’03 also showed signs of future fast times when she finished third in the 10K at the Outdoor Heptagonal Championships last spring.

The O’Neill twins will once again lead the team off the starting line. After Kate and Laura finished 31st and 32nd, respectively, at last year’s NCAA Championships, the twins look poised to climb even higher.

“Kate and Laura are better than last year and project to be in the top 25 or so in the nation,” head coach Mark Young said.

Grinstead believes that the twins are in as good shape as they have ever been.

“Both of the twins have shaved seconds off their top performances,” Grinstead said. “They are the most reliable and mature college runners I have met. They have consistently improved since their first race freshman year.”

Along with a strong corps of veterans, the Bulldogs have also added eight freshmen to the roster to add depth to the team.

“The freshman class has looked strong in practices. The team is going to be very deep this season,” Kate O’Neill said.

The team’s depth will be key as the Bulldogs attempt to dig into the 2001 season and find a successful stride.

The first of a string of title defenses for the Elis will come at the H-Y-P meet Oct. 6 at Princeton, followed a week later by the New England Championships in Boston and the Heptagonal Championships Oct. 26.

“We want to win Heptagonals, qualify for Nationals and improve our finish from last year,” Laura O’Neill said.

Brown and Columbia both return most of the their top runners and should stand as the Elis’ toughest opponents at the Heptagonal Championships. The Bears, Yale’s closest competition in the Ivy League last year, finished 15th at the NCAA Championships.

“We’re hungry for more success, but we know last year’s performance means nothing when you get to the line,” Grinstead said. “We expect to approach every meet with the goal of improvement.”

In order to qualify again for the NCAA Championships the Bulldogs will need to place in the top two at the NCAA Regional race or receive an at-large bid. Boston College, ranked second in the nation in preseason polls, should provide the stiffest challenge at the regional.

The Bulldogs first meet of the season — scheduled for this Saturday against Army, Boston University and Cornell in Boston — has been cancelled. Grinstead said she and the rest of the team support the decision to cancel the meet.

“It seems appropriate for Yale to postpone competitions that require a focused energy that all of us are presently unable to give,” Grinstead said.