Winning isn’t everything … or is it? For the UCSB women’s cross country team, it just might be.

The Gauchos have the talent, experience and dedication to do better than any UCSB cross country team in history. Last year, the team was ranked 29th in the nation, the highest ranking ever for UCSB women’s cross country.

“This season is about winning. There are times to talk about experience, but this team needs to win,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Dolan said.

UCSB returns its top seven competitors from last season, but lost Desiree DeJesus and Tiffany Armel, who ran in the eighth and ninth spots, respectively. Four 2003 All-Conference runners will lead the team, including defending All-Conference champion junior Stephanie Rothstein. Fifth-year senior Cosette Smith will bring experience and leadership to the team, as will 2003 NCAA national qualifier senior Desiree Leek. Junior twins Lauren and Lindsay Christman also comprise the top nine, and good things are expected from sophomore Megan Lewis.

“A major strength for this team is that we have good backup all the way to the ninth position with sophomore Hadas Moser and senior Rebecca Zamolo. Last year, we had no real backup,” Dolan said. “You always want to be five deep – that’s critical to cross country. This year we’re deeper and stronger.”

In the preseason polls, UCSB is ranked 34th in the nation and was picked by the Coaches’ Poll to win the Big West Championship. At the Fresno State Invitational, the first race of the season, the women proved they are deeper, stronger and faster than in years past. The women won the meet, beating cross country powerhouse Cal Poly 29-26.

The team is already preparing for the NCAA Pre-Nationals scheduled for mid-October, a race that can make or break a team on the national scene.

“This is the year I expect a lot from the team. It comes with the territory [of a national ranking],” Dolan said.

UCSB will see its toughest competition from rival University of Idaho. UCSB triumphed over Idaho last season, but Idaho got the best of the Gauchos in 2002. Idaho is ranked 19th in the nation and poses a major threat to Gaucho success. However, Dolan is confident the ladies have what it takes.

“This team belongs at the highest level of Division I cross country,” Dolan said.