For the men’s and women’s cross country teams, this past weekend’s NCAA Pre-Nationals meet was more about learning from the best than actually being the best.

The Bulldogs traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete Saturday. The men finished in 35th place with 913 points, and the women came in 20th place with 518 points.

With the top teams in the nation competing at the Pre-Nationals race, the Bulldogs were able to run alongside the country’s top runners and gauge their performance against the best. UTEP won the men’s white race with 129 points.

Yale’s top runner, Jake Gallagher ’09, completed the 8,000-meter course in 24:42 to earn a 120th place finish. Jared Bell ’09, who finished 133rd in 24:52, was the next Bulldog to cross the line. The Eli pack was rounded out by Joe Kingsbery ’08 in 215th, John Hinkle ’09 in 222nd and captain Tadhg O’Callaghan ’08 in 223rd.

Several non-varsity runners were given the opportunity to participate in the open race later the same day. Chris Labosky ’10 led the Bulldogs with a 59th place finish in 25:43 and was followed by Maxwell Brown ’10 in 79th and Johnny Van Deventer in 105th.

Although the results were not what the team hoped for, Bell said the squad could not have done anything differently to prepare for a race with runners of this caliber.

“It was a good experience for us to go even though we didn’t do very well as a team,” he said. “We had a good plan, and we took a chance, but it just didn’t follow through. Coach [Daniel] Ireland did everything to prepare us, but we weren’t on the same page mentally.”

The women’s cross country team also competed in the Pre-Nationals race, finishing the 6,000-meter course in 20th place overall. Princeton — ranked No. 8 in the nation — won the women’s white race with 149 points, despite the presence of higher-ranked teams, such as No. 2 Colorado and No. 6 Arizona State.

Captain Lindsay Donaldson ’08 led the Elis with a 28th place finish in 20:59.1. She was followed by Stephanie Pearl ’10 in 85th and Allyson Rinderle ’10 in 114th place. Ingrid Sproll ’08 finished close behind in 133rd place in 22:06.3, and Meredith Leenhouts ’08 rounded out the Elis’ scoring in 158th place.

“We were hoping to do better overall, but I think we did well compared to Dartmouth and Penn,” Leenhouts said. “Princeton has a really strong team, but we do too. We just need to work on getting our girls behind Lindsay closer together.”

The race provided the women with an opportunity to determine their weak areas and see how well they could match up against other Ivy League teams. With temperatures in the mid 60s and little wind, runners were not distracted by weather conditions. The condition of the course was also good preparation for the approaching Ivy League Championship.

“The course had some hills,” Leenhouts said. “Though we are used to training with hills at the golf course, the course for the Ivy League is particularly hilly, so this was good training for us.”

The Heptagonal Championships will bring all the Ancient Eight teams together in two weeks at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The Elis feel confident preparing for the race in the weeks ahead after catching a glimpse of their competition over the weekend, Leenhouts said.

“This meet let us look at the Ivy League as a whole and their top runners,” she said. “We know that even if we can’t beat them, we can definitely try to stay with them.”

The men’s team recovered last year from a disappointing performance at Pre-Nationals to finish in the top four at the Heptagonal Championships. They intend to do so again, Bell said.

“I think as the day of the race approaches, we all get more excited,” Bell said. “We have been there before and we have the opportunity to disprove a lot of people who don’t expect us to do well. We just have to tune up our bodies and get mentally prepared to run our best.”

Using the Pre-Nationals experience with a few intensified workouts in the coming week, the Elis should be on their way to accomplishing that goal, Gallagher said.

“This weekend was definitely a wake-up call with us losing to a few Ivy League teams,” Gallagher said. “We are going to have to put on our best performance in two weeks. We cannot take for granted what happened at the Championship last year. We have to approach it with the same amount of intensity as we did before.”