Although most athletes have a “one game at a time” mentality, the women of the cross-country team are not afraid to look ahead.

One race into the season, the Bulldogs have their sights set on Heptagonals on Oct. 29, when they hope to improve upon last year’s third-place finish and qualify for the NCAA Championship.

“Heps is the main focus of the season,” Rachel Harrington ’06 said. “We try to do well in all our other races. They help us prepare for Heps and, hopefully, for Nationals.”

The Bulldogs placed second in its first meet of the year, the Fordham Invitational held Sept. 11 at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City. This weekend, they continue their quest toward Heps as half the squad heads to Lehigh Sunday for the Paul Short Invitational while the other half will run Saturday at the Quinnipiac Invitational in Hamden, Conn.

“They’re going to be two very competitive meets, but everyone’s been looking really good,” Lindsay Donaldson ’08 said. “We’ve been training well and I think we’re going to have a great season.”

Donaldson, who finished fourth in her collegiate debut at Fordham, headlines a stellar class of freshmen. Along with Betsy Boucher ’08 and Liz Calle ’08, she will help fill in the holes left by recent graduates Nadia Sawiki ’04, Alex Sawiki ’04 and Rebecca Hunter ’04.

The Bulldogs are additionally bolstered by a strong group of veterans. Cara Kiernan ’07, Yale’s fastest runner last year, qualified as an individual for the 2003 NCAAs and, as evidenced by a third place finish at Fordham, looks to be in top form this fall.

Emily Vince ’06, Ashley Campbell ’07, Vanessa Everding ’05, Katie McKinstry ’07 and Claire Hamilton ’07 performed well last weekend as well and are expected to be key contributors this season.

“We’re really deep this year,” Harrington said. “We lost some good runners, but we have a great group of freshmen.”

One concern for the Bulldogs this season is health. Captain Anne Martin ’05, who has been nursing a leg injury, missed the Fordham meet and will likely be sidelined this weekend as well. Harrington, too, has been hurt, but will return to action this weekend at Quinnipiac.

Although the Bulldogs’ depth may be better than in years past, if they entertain thoughts of an Ivy League Championship, the team will need to be intact.

“As long as everyone is healthy, I think we definitely have a shot,” Harrington said. “Princeton and Columbia are going to be really good, but I think winning Heps is a very reasonable goal.”