In a race in which one woman ran off the course into a spectator’s arms and another stopped mid-race in tears before restarting, the women’s cross country team managed to overcome a near-disastrous fall of its own.

The Bulldogs competed in the NCAA Pre-Nationals meet, one of the biggest and most intense races in the country, at University of Northern Iowa on Saturday. The Bulldogs finished 16th out of 31 teams in the their race. No. 1 Brigham Young won, and No. 23 Princeton placed sixth. The unranked Eli women defeated No. 24 William and Mary and No. 30 Toledo.

If the two varsity races had been scored together, the Bulldogs would have placed 26th out of 65 teams, ahead of schools in the other race such as Dartmouth and Harvard.

The Bulldogs had some trouble dealing with the large size of the race, which had 210 participants. Donais said the number of good runners combined with a downhill start led to a fast race. She was trapped in the middle of the huge pack and had trouble finding room to pass people or even to get into a good rhythm. Kiernan fell down, but was protected by her teammates as some of them stopped behind her to prevent her from being trampled by dozens of spike-clad runners.

“In the first 150 meters of the race, there were something like 210 or 215 girls converging,” Kiernan said. “I hopped up pretty quickly because there wasn’t anything else to do.”

Cara Kiernan ’07 and Melissa Donais ’06 finished first and second for the Bulldogs for the second consecutive meet. Kiernan placed 45th with a time of 21:22 for six kilometers, and Donais placed 64th with a time of 21:43. Susan Chan ’05 ran 21:55 to finish third for the Bulldogs and 78th overall. Anne Martin ’05 and Emily Vince ’06 were the Eli’s last two scorers, placing 101st and 105th respectively, only two seconds apart.

“For most people on the team, it was a solid race,” head coach Mark Young ’68 said.

Captain Rebecca Hunter ’04, who finished seventh for the Bulldogs, said that the size of the race affected the team scores.

“Part of the thrill of big races is very few places and very few seconds separate [teams],” Hunter said.

The Bulldogs, who scored 393 points, were only 16 points behind 13th place Virginia. In a race of this size, a mere five or 10 seconds off one runner’s time could have erased the deficit.

Young said the Bulldogs drew the tougher race in terms of the quality of the teams competing.

“After I looked at the bracket we were in, I thought [placing in the] top 10 would probably be a stretch,” Young said.

The Elis placement is deceptive. For example, 12th place Duke’s first runner clocked in with a time of 21:21 and Blue Devil’s fifth runner recorded a time of 22:06. The Elis’ corresponding harriers were one and two seconds behind, respectively. The difference between the two teams was just the placing of the second, third and fourth runners. The Bulldog’s pack was quite close, as only 25 seconds separated their second and fifth runners.

“As we continue to put it together, one can see that aiming a little higher is doable,” Young said.

The Bulldogs also managed to break up Princeton’s top five, something they were unable to do at the HYP meet. Kiernan finished before the Tigers’ fourth runner, and Donais finished before their fifth runner.

“I think we’re making inroads in that direction,” Young said.

The Bulldogs have two weeks off before the Heptagonal Championships on Oct. 31. Hunter said the team will get a solid week of training this week and then taper slightly for Heps.