The Wisconsin women’s cross country team has excelled as expected in early competition. With a tight grip on the No. 5 spot nationally, the team hopes to push itself as high as possible. It’s not out of the question for Wisconsin to catch Big Ten foe Michigan (No. 2) or reigning national champion Stanford (No. 1). “It’s too early to have expectations,” head coach Jim Stintzi said. “But I’m excited to see how the season unfolds.” Stintzi certainly knows a thing or two about winning. He was a seven-time All-American and six-time Big Ten Champion with the Badgers. After taking home its third-straight Pioneer Invitational two weeks ago, the team looks forward to its next challenge at the Paul Short Invitational Friday at Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa. “It is my goal to help lead athletes to outstanding success,” Stintzi said.Freshman Cassie Hintz and sophomore Hanna Grinaker (2006 All-America Honors) led the way as they finished first and second respectively in the 5,000-meter course. Freshman Leah Coyle of Middleton, Wis., also placed seventh after winning the UW-Platteville Open Sept. 8. With the underclassmen doing their part to contribute, it has left Stintzi beaming. “Sophomore Hanna Grinaker is filling the role of team leader,” Stintzi said. As the 2006 Big Ten Freshman of the year and All-American status, she will be counted on as a key runner in the Badgers’ success. An exceptional fountain of youth can always be appreciated, especially when its contributions include results in real competition. Because last weekend was only something of a tune-up, the underclassmen’s accomplishments cannot really be gauged yet, but their strong time results are telling and hopefully will improve as the season continues.While this youth movement has certainly thrived, the senior members of the team should not be overlooked. Junior Sarah Hurley, a native of Appleton, Wis., placed third with only 14 seconds separating her and teammate Grinaker in the Carroll College Invitational. Fourth, fifth and sixth place went to senior Amanda Ganser, junior Gwen Jorgensen, and senior-transfer student Kait Hurley, who arrived from William and Mary to join Wisconsin’s squad. Without All-American graduate Katrina Rundhaug, the upperclassmen will need to step up their leadership in order to keep the team focused on success. “The personnel is a little bit different, but the people who were role players last season have gained tons of experience the last couple of years,” Stintzi said.Holding the No. 2 spot in the Great Lakes region, behind No. 1 Michigan and just ahead of No. 3 Michigan State, the struggle within the Big Ten certainly sparks their competitive fire. “Our goal is to return Wisconsin cross country to the top of the Big Ten and be a contender on the national level,” Stintzi said. Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa hold down the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the Midwest region. With hefty competition, the Badgers will be forced to buckle down as they move in to tougher upcoming tournaments in preparation for the Big Ten Championships, the Great Lakes regional and the NCAA Championships in the coming months.