Even without their top runners, the UCSB women’s cross country team apparently has what it takes to rule the Big West. The team finished fifth out of 33 teams at the Stanford Invitational Saturday, ahead of Big West rivals Irvine and Long Beach State. Senior Seanna Martin paced the Gauchos, finishing 20th in the 6,000-meter race with a time of 22:24.

Top seniors Stephanie Rothstein and Lindsay Christman ran unattached to preserve their red-shirt status and finished fifth and seventh, respectively, raising the question of how much higher the Gauchos would have finished if they had had their full squad. Sophomore junior Bethany Nickless, senior Leslie Alexander and freshman Liza Hitchner held down the fort for UCSB, finishing 25th, 40th and 52nd to carry the Gauchos past their Big West rivals. Junior Hadas Moser was the fifth scorer for UCSB, finishing 71st overall.

While it is becoming more and more likely that both Christman sisters, Rothstein and junior Megan Lewis will sit out the 2005 season in order to run together next year for a top-10 ranking, Head Coach Pete Dolan said he is confident in his younger runners. Freshmen Hitchner, Danielle Dominichelli, Kristina Moore and Erin Schuyler will all be expected to step up for the Gauchos, as will Martin and Moser.

“Even missing our front four, this team still has a lot of depth,” Dolan said. “We have some freshmen coming up who are going to be very valuable to our squad.”

The Gauchos proved Dolan right on Saturday, making another stride toward their third consecutive Big West title. With byes the next two weeks, the squad must now prepare for its Oct. 15 meet in Terre Haute, Ind., where it will face most of the nation’s top teams in the NCAA Pre-Nationals. Invitationals at Cal Poly and Fullerton will pit the Gauchos against other Big West rivals before the Big West Championship on Oct. 29.

“With the depth we have, I feel like we can still win the Big West,” Dolan said.