The women’s cross country team, whose roster lists nearly 30 girls, faces a test of its depth this weekend: it is dividing its squad for two invitationals.

The Bulldogs’ top runners will compete against 21 teams on Saturday at the Iona Meet of Champions held at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, N.Y. A group comprised mostly of younger runners will compete this afternoon at the Quinnipiac Invitational in Hamden.

Only nine runners from each team are permitted to run in the Iona meet. Entries for the Bulldogs include their top five from the Sept. 13 tri-meet with Georgetown and Arkansas: Cara Kiernan ’07, Anne Martin ’05, captain Rebecca Hunter ’04, Alexandra Sawicki ’04 and Nadia Sawicki ’04. Melissa Donais ’06, the Bulldogs’ top runner at last year’s Heptagonal Championships, will compete in her first meet of the season after sitting out the first meet two weeks ago.

The Bulldogs will face stiff competition in No. 8 Villanova. Other nationally-ranked teams in the race include No. 31 Pittsburgh, No. 36 Auburn and No. 38 Brown. Head coach Mark Young expects the Eli women to hold their own against the other high-caliber teams.

“If everyone who is planning to run is able to run, we should do well,” Young said.

Four other Ivy League teams will join Brown and Yale. Only the University of Pennsylvania and No. 12 Columbia will be absent, so the Invitational should preview the Heptagonal Championship later this fall.

“I’m anxious to see how we stack up,” Young said. “Saturday will be our first real measurement.”

This afternoon’s Quinnipiac Invitational will give the Bulldogs a chance to show their depth beyond their top nine runners.

“At this point in the year, we’re the deepest we’ve ever been,” Young said. “We’re sending what I think is probably the best team we’ve sent in a couple of years.”

Hunter said the race will serve as a learning experience for the younger runners.

“[The meet] will be a 5K and a good opportunity for many of our freshmen to get their feet wet in their first college race,” Hunter said.

Young said dividing the team allows more runners to compete and does not mean too much at this point in the season.

“There are definitely kids in [today]’s race [who] will be in the top seven later this year,” he said.

This weekend will allow the Eli women to further improve their teamwork and ability to run in a tight pack, something Hunter has stressed as key to a successful season. The races also should prepare for next weekend’s Yale-Princeton-Harvard meet in Boston.

“We should learn a lot about where we are this weekend,” Young said.