At the season’s start, two goals loomed above all others: an Ivy League title and a bid to Nationals.

Now, two months later, a fifth-place finish at Regionals this weekend in Boston, Mass., left the women’s cross country team with neither, despite several strong individual performances and Lindsay Donaldson’s ’08 selection to the Nationals field.

Thirty eight teams gathered at Franklin Park Saturday in pursuit of the two automatic bids to NCAAs, held at Terre Haute, Ind. Nov. 21. Boston College and Columbia took the top two spots, securing their own places at Nationals and all but eliminating the Elis from team national championship contention.

Boston College squeaked past the favorite Columbia, edging the Lions by a single point, 87-88. Providence and Boston University took 3rd and 4th, respectively, with the Bulldogs next in 5th. Providence, by way of its impressive showing in Boston, earned an at-large selection Sunday night.

Fiona Crombie of Providence won the individual championship, completing the 6K course in 20:27.7. She was followed by Columbia’s top two runners, Lisa Stublic and Caroline Bierbaum, the reigning two-time Ivy League champion.

Lindsay Donaldson ’08, who has finished second to Bierbaum at Heps in each of her first two collegiate seasons, ran a strong race and finished 8th in 20:54.6. Not far behind, Katie McKinstry ’07 placed 11th in 21:10.9. Donaldson and McKinstry were followed by Bevin Peters ’09 (45th, 22:10.8), Kelli Buck ’09 (61st, 22:37.9) and Elizabeth Calle ’08 (73rd, 22:37.9).

Donaldson was selected to run at Nationals for the second year in a row. In addition to the runners who are members of qualifying teams, the NCAA selects 38 individuals from the nine regional championships. Despite being the fifth-best individual in the Northeast, McKinstry was not named as one of the individual qualifiers. She missed the cut by one place.

Several team members said they stood on the starting line knowing nothing worse than second would do if they were going to race in Terre Haute. But given the reality of 3rd-place finishes at Regionals in each of the last two seasons, history was not on the Bulldogs’ side.

Despite the disappointment of missing Nationals, team members said they were pleased with individual performances. Donaldson, who was admitted to and released from the hospital last week with a staph infection due to blisters sustained at Heps, ran a characteristically strong race. Her performance after such a quick recovery left a strong impression on her teammates.

“I was very impressed with the way Lindsay handled herself over the last two weeks,” Peters said.

McKinstry ran what she called “the best race of the season,” beginning conservatively only to pass countless runners as the race progressed. Trailing the experienced runners Donaldson and McKinstry, several young harriers also continued to improve. Peters again finished as the team’s top freshman and Buck built upon her late-season push into the team’s scoring corps.

“It was an accomplishment just for me to be running,” Buck said. “But once I got there, I knew I belonged there.”

Buck and others, including Calle, spent the season slowly working themselves into the team’s upper tier. Calle did not travel with the team last season, and Buck moved up from being a JV member to a consistent varsity scorer in a matter of weeks.

For McKinstry, the team’s ability to step up as others fell to injury was critical.

“There’s no point in being on the team unless you believe in the potential of every member,” she said.

With ECACs next Saturday in familiar Van Cortlandt Park, several runners said they hope to run a strong race to cap the season. McKinstry said that indoor and outdoor track will also provide chances for redemption against familiar Ancient Eight competition.

“I absolutely believe we have so much hope for next year,” she said. “But I am definitely not already thinking about next year, either.”

Among the young team, next year seems a long way off. But many agreed that, given the growth of the freshmen and the experience gained by being in the hunt for a Nationals bid, the team will be ready to compete at an even higher level next fall.

“It was a learning experience all season and I definitely think it will show next year,” Peters said.