At Friday’s Heptagonal championship in the Bronx, the women’s cross country team will defend its two-year title while a young men’s team hopes for a better performance than last year’s.

Although the meet — which includes all eight Ivy squads and Navy — is important for both teams, the outcome at Van Cortlandt Park will not have any effect on the Bulldogs’ efforts to qualify for the regional meet in two weeks.

At the forefront of the women’s team’s efforts to defend its title are twin sisters Kate O’Neill ’03 and Laura O’Neill ’03. Captain Lindsay Mitchell ’03 said she expected the O’Neill sisters to capture the top two individual places.

“Kate and Laura O’Neill should get first and second, but that doesn’t automatically guarantee the Bulldogs’ victory,” Mitchell said.

Because each team will add up the finishes of its top five runners for its meet score, the Bulldogs cannot rely on the O’Neill sisters’ performance alone.

With temperatures forecast to be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend, Mitchell believes the cold weather and the hilly terrain will benefit the Bulldogs.

“Some teams fall apart when the weather is cold,” Mitchell said. “If anything, we run better.”

As far as competition from other schools, Columbia should present the biggest challenge to Yale’s efforts for a three-peat.

“At this point, Columbia is looking the best in the league [other than Yale],” Mitchell said. “They did well at the pre-national meet.”

Mitchell said although Brown had a strong team for the last few years, they have graduated many of last year’s top runners.

While the women will be concerned with defending their title this weekend, head coach Dan Ireland said the men will try to improve on last year’s performance, where they finished seventh in the conference. If the Elis finish higher than seventh, it would be their best regional performance since 1997.

But it will not be easy for the Bulldogs, who will send eight underclassmen to the Bronx.

Despite the Bulldogs’ inexperience — six of the 12 harriers competing this weekend have never raced in Heptagonals before — the Elis are ready, Ireland said. Lucas Meyer ’05, who has set two course records this year as a sophomore, and captain John Reindl ’03 will lead the Bulldogs’ relatively inexperienced squad this weekend.

“We’ve been training really well,” Ireland said. “It all depends on how the day goes.”

Although the Bulldogs will have a difficult time this weekend besting two-time defending champion Dartmouth and Ivy rivals Brown and Princeton, the Bulldogs hope that the hilly course will be an asset in their efforts to improve upon last year’s finish.

After Heptagonals, both the men and women will return to Van Cortlandt Park for the NCAA regional meet Nov. 16, where the top two teams and top three individuals in each race will advance to the national meet Nov. 23 at Van Cortlandt Park.