In two strong performances this weekend, the women’s cross country team showed it has the talent and depth to challenge the top teams in the Ivy League. The Bulldogs also learned how far they still have to go in their quest to regain the Heptagonals title and qualify for nationals.

On Saturday, the top Bulldog runners made the short trip to the Bronx to compete in the Iona Meet of Champions at Van Cortland Park. The Bulldogs finished second out of 18 teams, losing only to Ivy League rival Princeton. The day before, the Eli women demolished the field at the Quinnipiac Invitational, grabbing places two through eight for a score of 20 points, easily beating second place Northeastern.

Captain Rebecca Hunter ’04 was very pleased with her teammates’ performance this weekend.

“In general, it was a terrific weekend,” she said.

Saturday’s meet served as a preview of the Heptagonal Championship which will take place on the 5-K course at Van Cortland Park Oct. 31. Ivy League teams took four of the top five spots and six of the top nine. Emily Kroshus and Cack Ferrell finished first and second, respectively, to lead Princeton’s first place squad. The Tigers scored 36 points, well ahead of the Bulldogs’ 119, with all five scoring runners finishing in the top 15. Pittsburgh was a distant third with 181 points, and Dartmouth edged No. 38 Brown by one point to claim fourth place.

Melissa Donais ’06 led the Eli women, finishing ninth overall in 22:14. Cara Kiernan ’07, 14th at the Footlocker High School Nationals last year, showed again that her success has carried over to college as she finished second for the Bulldogs and 13th overall, only 13 seconds behind Donais. Hunter and Nadia Sawicki ’04 finished two seconds apart in 29th and 31st respectively. Alexandra Sawicki ’04 was the last Bulldog to score, placing 37th with a time of 23:13. Only 59 seconds separated the first and fifth Bulldog finishers.

Hunter expressed pleasure with the results of the race and also a hope to improve.

“Melissa ran a great race coming back from injury and Cara ran very well,” she said.

Equally important were the third, fourth and fifth runners who finished within nine seconds of each other and cemented the Elis’ second place finish.

“We’d like to move that pack up a little bit closer to the front two runners,” Hunter said.

Friday at Quinnipiac, the Bulldogs showed that their talent is not limited to their top few runners. The first hint of fall was in the air and the cool weather was almost ideal for cross country. The start was a confusing mass of runners, but by the time the pack hit the hills before the two-mile mark, it had thinned out substantially and the Elis had established their dominance. Susan Chan ’05 led the race by a few meters, and her teammates were close on her heels.

As the runners rounded the last turn, Carolyn Robin of Quinnipiac had seized the lead, but after her, it was all Yale as blue-and-white uniforms came in twos and threes. On the slight downhill to the finish, seven consecutive Bulldogs sprinted the last 100 meters to claim the team title. Chan finished second in a time of 19:11, three seconds ahead of Katie McKinstry ’07. Several meters behind, Ashley Campbell ’07, Vanessa Everding ’05, and Madeleine Meek ’04 finished within a span of three seconds and completed the scoring for the Bulldogs. Their dominance did not end with the top five as Katie Matlack ’06 and Claire Hamilton ’07 finished within one second of each other, taking seventh and eighth overall.

A slim 18-second margin separated the first and fifth Eli runners and a mere 28 seconds separated the first and seventh runners.

The women who competed Saturday were at Quinnipiac Friday to cheer on their teammates.

“Those girls definitely got the ball rolling,” Hunter said. “The pack running was just phenomenal and was something the rest of us would do well to emulate.”

Friday’s meet was the first college race for many of the freshmen, including McKinstry.

“It was great,” she said. “It was the same distance as in high school, but it was different for me because my teammates were much faster.”

In the previously murky picture of who will challenge No. 12 Columbia for the Heps title, an underrated Princeton team emerged as the front-runner, and the Bulldogs showed that they far outdistance the rest of the Ivy League at this point in the season. They will get another chance to run against Princeton next weekend in Boston at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet.

Donais said she thinks that as the season progresses, the Bulldogs should close in on the Tigers.

“Even though Princeton won by a lot, they’re definitely within our reach,” she said.

Hunter agreed, saying that the Tigers have a strong team, but that the Bulldogs have an excellent shot at beating them. If Julia Pudlin ’06 returns from injury in the next few weeks and the top Eli runners continue to improve, the Bulldogs might find themselves in a position to challenge Princeton and Columbia for the Heptagonals title.