Compared to last Friday’s affair, the women’s cross country team’s prior two meets at Boston’s Franklin Park seemed like close and intimate gatherings. Both the Boston College Invitational and the Harvard-Princeton-Yale events fielded roughly 50 contestants, but when the Eli squad sidled up to the starting line at Lehigh last weekend, they found themselves among a mob of no fewer than 236 challengers.

And the Bulldogs still found a way to edge their way into the elite.

Lindsay Donaldson ’08 finished second, a mere 12 seconds off the top time of 20:16 from Villanova’s Frances Koons, and the Yale delegation ended the day an impressive fifth in the 35-school Paul Short Invitational. Freshman-dominated Princeton, fresh from soundly topping the Elis last weekend in the Bay State, nudged past Wisconsin to take another team crown.

The top five runners are the sole consideration for the overall team score, and a convincing Yale showing saw all five placing in the top quarter of the field. Ashley Campbell ’07 had the second best Eli presentation at 27th place with a 21:33 mark, and Bevin Peters ’09 crossed the finish line seven seconds later for a 35th-place finish. Katherine McKinstry ’07 and Claire Leatherwood ’09 rounded out the Eli endeavor with 48th and 66th place finishes, respectively.

McKinstry said the massive herd of runners that wound through the Bethlehem, Penn., campus was hardly a hindrance, and oftentimes actually worked to her advantage.

“You’re looking to pass just one team, but you can’t just pick out a color and work with it,” she said. “You compete internally and get yourself moving when you don’t have that singular rival the whole race. Overall, it’s much better to race in these bigger meets.”

The rolling fields of eastern Pennsylvania were also a relief after navigating the maze-like Franklin Park for the last two weekends.

“The course was all grass, and not too demanding in terms of hills,” Campbell said. “There was one big loop, one course to run. Franklin Park gets a little loopy, so this was a refreshing change.”

The Bulldogs last hit the course at Paul Short two years ago, and as the third official meet this season and the last fashioned as a more casual “invite,” the squad treats the event as a good opportunity to begin sizing up some of the top-tier programs.

Weaker programs — most notably a Temple Owls effort that failed to place a runner in the top 200 — accounted for a sizable number of the 35 colleges represented, but the Elis also managed a helpful glimpse of some of the cross-country titans they will meet again at Pre-Nationals and Heps in the coming weeks.

“There were some very strong teams in the field, like Princeton and Wisconsin,” Donaldson said. “It was good to get some experience running against nationally ranked teams early on in the season.”

The meet was a landmark of sorts in that it was the first-ever competitive 6K race for many of the rookies on the team. The two meets in Boston, as well as most high school meets, are run in a five-kilometer format, but the additional 1,000 meters is the norm for most of the more important meets through October and November.

“The mentality of running a 6K isn’t very much different from the 5K,” Donaldson said. “We train all fall for the 6K because that is what we will be running at Pre-Nationals and NCAA Regionals, so it is good to get in a 6K before those races.”

Depending on the runner, either a third trip up to Franklin Park or a longer haul to Terre Haute, Ind., is next on the docket. The top 10 on the Yale squad have two weeks to train before heading to the Hoosier State for Pre-Nats on Oct. 14, while the rest of the crew will skip back up to Boston for the New Englands on Saturday.

“New Englands are a big and competitive race, going up against some of the top D-II and D-III teams, but we … don’t stress about it as much for our rankings,” McKinstry said. “In order to get to nationals through an at-large bid, we need to collect points throughout the season, and at Pre-Nationals is a great chance to build up these points racing a bunch of different teams at the same time.”