On Saturday, men’s cross country showcased its full squad for the first time this season. The result was a fifth-place finish in a field of 36 teams at the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Penn.

Yale’s early success is a positive first step in its quest for the Ivy League title.

“This weekend was the first race with our varsity runners, the first time we opened up with everybody,” Yale head coach Daniel Ireland said. “We got some first-race jitters out of the way, and we beat key opponents in Penn and Princeton. It was a good weekend. We could have run a little better, but it was a solid start overall.”

Saturday’s race in Bethlehem featured a strong individual performance from captain Lucas Meyer ’05, who placed third out of 250 runners with a time of 23:59.99. His finishing time was the eighth best ever recorded on the course.

Bulldog veteran Casey Moriarty ’05 finished 12th with a time of 24:21.00. Three more Eli runners — Patrick Dantzer ’06, Josh Yelsey ’05 and Nathan Clute ’07 — cracked the top 50 in Saturday’s race. Andrew Pitts ’07 finished second overall in the open (JV) race.

Yale finished with 141 points, fifth behind Georgetown (103), Villanova (108), Auburn (129), and LaSalle (138). The field of 36 teams included 24 Div. I squads. The Bulldogs were the top Ivy League finisher in the race, four points ahead of UPenn and 10 ahead of Princeton.

“We’re better because we all have another year’s worth of race experience and training behind us,” Meyer said. “All the upperclassmen are faster and stronger than last year, and we have a bunch of great freshmen who have fit in very well with the team and are already contributing.”

Yale faces high expectations this year. Ireland leads a squad that finished third at last year’s Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and fourth at the NCAA District Qualifier. The Elis are returning six of their top seven runners from last year, more than any other Ivy team.

“This year’s team is easily the best team Yale has had since I’ve been here,” Patrick Dantzer ’05 said. “We’ve got a chance to push the Yale program to a new level. The league is as strong and deep as usual, so it’s going to be a dogfight, and we expect to be right in the thick of things. The meet this weekend was a good way to start off the season and is a good sign that we’re doing the right things in workouts.”

Ireland arrived at Yale four years ago to rescue a program that had fallen upon hard times. In Ireland’s first year as coach, the Bulldogs finished last. By 2003, the Elis were the third-best team in the Ivy League. Now they are ready to challenge for a championship. This year marks the first time in Ireland’s tenure that all his runners, from freshmen to seniors, were recruited by Ireland and coached by him every step of the way.

“When Coach Ireland came to Yale five years ago, this team was at the bottom of the league,” Moriarty said. “To be in the mix for a league title now is really a testament to his coaching skills.”

The Elis’ next race is next Friday against Harvard in Franklin Park.

“The Meet” has been decided by a single point in each of the last two years. The Bulldogs are excited to face their archrivals and optimistic about the rest of the season.

“The goals are to challenge for an Ivy League title and make a run at the Nationals as a team,” Moriarty said. “As long as we can stay confident, healthy and relaxed these goals are very attainable.”