Despite losing last year’s number one runner Katie Appenrodt to graduation, the 2003 women’s cross country squad enters the season with the promise of being one of the strongest in Gaucho history.

“This may be the best team ever to wear the Gaucho uniform,” Head Coach Pete Dolan said. “The team is scary right now, they don’t need to improve much to be the best, but if they do improve a lot, that’s when we are going to bring home some pride to the university.”

With a bevy of talent on the roster, Santa Barbara is looking for a shot at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships.

“This year we know we can go to nationals. It used to be a dream, now it’s a realistic goal,” junior Cosette Smith said.

The Gauchos are young, deep and experienced. The top eight runners consist of two seniors, two juniors and four sophomores.

“The women’s team is very strong one through eight,” Assistant Coach Jeff Jacobs said. “They are all returners, and some are pretty experienced.”

The team is led by junior Desiree Leek. She has helped lead the Gauchos in their first two races by placing first (17:50) at the UCSB Lagoon Open and third (17:38) at the Riverside Invitational.

“We have to keep working hard to maintain what we’ve done. If we keep it up good things will happen.” Leek said. “I’m proud of everyone. They’re a very positive group.”

Leek earned Big West All-Conference honors last season by placing fifth at the 2002 Big West Championships. She went on to place 51st at the NCAA West Region Championships.

Sophomore Stephanie Rothstein has run well this season. She placed third (18:04) at the Lagoon Open and sixth (17:42.50) at Riverside. As a freshman, she placed 15th at conference and 89th at regionals.

Sophomore Lauren Christman has been a strong contributor for the Gauchos. She placed second (18:03) at the Lagoon Open and seventh (17:48.40) at Riverside. Last season she placed 16th at conference and 68th at regionals.

Smith returns for the cross country season after missing last year due to injury. She earned All-Conference honors in 2001. This season she placed sixth (18:11) at the Lagoon Open, and ninth (17:54.60) at Riverside.

Fifth-year senior Desiree DeJesus will provide leadership and experience. She placed fourth (18:07) at the Lagoon Open and 13th (18:13.90) at Riverside. In 2002 she placed 17th at conference and 83rd at regionals.

This past year, fifth-year senior Tiffany Armel got married and had a baby. She has worked her way back into shape and will provide added depth and leadership. Armel placed fifth (18:09) at the Lagoon Open and 15th (18:21.70) at Riverside. She is DeJesus’s twin sister.

The Gauchos were not content with one pair of twins. They had to have two. Sophomore Lindsay Christman completes the second set. She is Lauren’s sister. She placed eighth (18:19) at the Lagoon Open and 17th (18:26) at Riverside. Last year she placed 24th at conference and 123rd at regionals.

Sophomore Seanna Martin rounds out the top eight runners. She placed 11th (18:38) at the Lagoon Open and 25th (18:43.90) at Riverside. She placed 54th at conference last season.

“They made a real commitment in the summer in getting together, organizing and preparing for the season,” Jacobs said.

Last season Santa Barbara placed second at the Big West Championship behind Idaho.

“We’re hoping to improve on our Big West place,” DeJesus said. “Our ultimate goal is nationals. We just need to stay focused and take it one race at a time.”

The Gauchos finished the 2003 year with an eighth place finish at the NCAA West Region Championships.