Even after running through such daunting passages as the “Wilderness” and the “Bear Cage” in Boston’s Franklin Park, the women’s cross country team had a sublime race over the hill and through the woods this weekend.

In their first competition of 2006, the Bulldogs posted a second place finish at the Boston College Invite on Friday. Lindsay Donaldson ’08 headed up the pack with a first-place finish at 17:27. She was followed by Ashley Campbell ’07 and Katherine McKinstry ’07, both with sub-18-minute, top-10 finishes. Bevin Peters ’09 and Claire Leatherwood ’09 rounded out the top five, with 13th- and 16th-place finishes, respectively.

Pack mentality held strong throughout the race. Teammates ran within their workout groups, especially for the first mile, to make sure they were keeping pace. Team members said the strategy worked well.

“The start was good,” Peters said. “There were only five or six teams, so it wasn’t all that crowded. It started evenly. Most of the teams stayed pretty close together for the first mile. There were 10 seconds from the main pack to the leaders.”

Even as the pack broke apart and the Bulldogs gutted it out to the finish, they stayed solid, the result of weeks of solid base building and difficult workouts paired with a strong game plan. And team members said Friday’s results are only the beginning.

“The times were really strong, especially for the first meet,” Meredith Leenhouts ’08 said. “We’ve had a lot of hard workouts up until this race, so everyone is still getting in the swing of it, balancing classes and workouts. Next week we’ll be even better.”

That mentality is echoed throughout the entire team; several Elis said they are excited by the strong placing over Boston College and a meet that matches their best-case scenario. The Invite is a spark to ignite what is looking to be a very competitive season, not only considering the strong performances of the top five, but also considering that there were women who have not yet run who could place within the top 10, most notably Cara Kiernan ’07.

The Invite marks not only a good starting place, but a good starting location. Franklin Park is the site of next week’s matchup against Harvard and Princeton, ranked 11th in the nation. The Bulldogs plan to use their experience with the course to their advantage in what is certainly going to be a very competitive meet. Team members said they have used the invite to learn the course and how to run together as a team, especially incorporating the new freshmen. Likewise, they have the advantage of knowing their strong and weak points on the course and will be able to run accordingly.

As for the rest of the season, the outlook is good. The Bulldogs hope to build off this first team victory to go on to nationals later in the fall.

“Our goal is to go to nationals,” Jaclyn Myers ’07 said. “It’s the best year we’ve had in a while to do that. If people can stay in their groups and maintain a certain speed, we can meet that goal.”