This fall, the University of Wisconsin women's cross-country team would love nothing more than to crack into the upper echelon of Big Ten competition.

Under second-year coach Jim Stintzi, the women's team will be anchored by five returning distance runners who qualified for the NCAA Regional meet for the women's track team this past spring.

Even with seniors Linsey Smith, 'A Havahla Haynes and junior Katrina Rundhaug leading the way, lack of experience could still be an obstacle for the team to overcome. With 12 freshmen and two transfer students joining the squad, UW looks to build on new legs and attempt to rebound from an eighth-place finish at last year's Big Ten Championships.

The Badgers will begin their season this Saturday, Sept. 10, competing at the Carroll College Invite in Waukesha.

After Waukesha, the girls will proceed to invitational runs on the following three weekends in September. The team will get to do some traveling, leaving for Minnesota and Indiana later this month.

When the Badgers return, they will begin Big Ten and National meets, with the season culminating at the 2005 NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 21.

Rundhaug was the only Badger to receive an invitation to last year's NCAA run. This season, Stintzi hopes to send her back, accompanied by other UW teammates.

Smith, who redshirted the 2004 campaign after an appearance in the '03 NCAA championship meet, is one of several possible runners looking to travel to Terre Haute. Haynes is the other top senior at UW, after being named to the all-Big Ten second team.

Senior Maggie Grabow and sophomore Christina Fiduccia are the two transfer students for UW this year. Grabow, like Smith, is a fifth-year senior, and joins the team from Washington University in St. Louis for her last year of collegiate competition. Fiduccia redshirted at North Carolina State in '04, but is coming off an appearance at the United States Junior Cross Country Championships.

Also new to the team are incoming freshmen Alicia Pabich and Melissa Manke. Pabich and Manke bring impressive high school results to the squad, as do 10 other freshman hopefuls for this year's team.