LEWISBURG, PA – Bucknell women’s cross country was voted second in the 2012 Patriot League Preseason Poll on Thursday, just days before it kicks off the new campaign with the Bison Open and Harry Lang Invitational in Hamilton, N.Y., this weekend. The women’s race at the Bison is slated for a 6 p.m. start on Friday at West Fields, featuring opponents from Saint Francis (Pa.), Bloomsburg, Susquehanna and Juniata. Bucknell’s top runners will compete at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday at Colgate.

The Bison were picked second with 82 points and three first-place votes in Thursday’s preseason poll, coming in just behind defending champion Navy, which earned 95 points and 11 first-place votes. Army was third with 71 points and two first-place votes. Completing the poll were Colgate (58 points), Lehigh (57) and American (39). Lafayette and Holy Cross tied with 23. The eight squads will square off at the conference championships Oct. 27 with Colgate serving as host on the same course the Bison will be competing on this Saturday.

Bucknell also made its first appearance of the year in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Mid-Atlantic Regional Poll this week. The Bison were selected eighth.

Below is a more in-depth look at Bucknell women’s cross country’s upcoming 2012 season.

It’s hard to imagine that development would be the biggest challenge of a team that was just three points shy of a ninth Patriot League Championship, but that is the case for Bucknell women’s cross country in 2012. The Bison return many of their top runners, including First Team All-League selection and two-time Patriot League Track & Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year Caroline Tolli. Where development comes into play, however, will be the team’s reliance on middle-distance runners who have proved themselves in spades on the track.

“Although we graduated five of our top seven runners, we do have a tremendous amount of depth and there are a lot of good young runners coming through the pipeline,” said Kevin Donner, who is entering his 12th season as Bucknell’s head coach. “Many of our top runners are very good middle-distance runners on the track, so our biggest challenge will be developing a plan to prepare them for the variables of cross country.

“I do believe that we will be a factor within the Patriot League as well as the Mid-Atlantic Region.”

Bucknell captured three All-Patriot League citations last fall, including four-time first-team honoree Stephanie Fulmer, but only Tolli returns in 2012. She led the Bison with a fifth-place finish overall at the championships, making her the team’s top runner in the field, and placed among the top 10 at two other meets. Even with this success the senior, who will be sharing captain’s duties with classmate Leah Goeke, is still known primarily as a key member of Bucknell’s middle-distance unit. Tolli claimed Patriot League titles in the 1,000 and outdoor 4×800 relay in which the Bison set school and conference records.

Hana Casalnova and Beth Braunegg, who made up half of the record-setting 4×800 team, will also be called upon to step up to the longer distances and hilly courses featured on Bucknell’s 2012 schedule. The top 1,000-meter runners in program history – Braunegg broke the school record in January only to be bested by Casalnova a week later – both claimed top-40 finishes at last year’s Patriot League Cross Country Championships. Casalnova was the faster of the two, placing seventh on the team and 23rd overall. She was later Bucknell’s No. 1 finisher a few weeks later at the ECAC Championships, jump-starting her successful track campaign that included two conference titles, points in six events at league meets and two trips to the ECACs.

Braunegg posted similar credentials, scoring at the Patriot League Championships in the 1,000 and 4×800 indoors and the 800 and 4×800 outdoors. She capped off her year with trips to the ECAC meets in the 1,000 meters, distance medley relay and 4×800.

Goeke, Betsy Edinger, Maddie Dulac and Katie Jessee bring depth and a variety of success stories to the cross country course. Although Goeke has not raced at a Patriot League Championship meet in the fall since her freshman campaign, the senior has solidified her place as one of the top steeplechase runners in the conference by earning all-league honors in the event each of the last two years.

Edinger and Jessee were among Bucknell’s top seven at the conference cross country meet as freshmen last fall. Both took some time to get warmed up in their rookie campaign. After winning at Saint Francis (Pa.), Edinger just missed out on all-league honors with a 15th-place finish and eventually took 78th at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals. Jessee, who was sixth on the team and 21st overall at the Patriot League Championships, finished among the team’s varsity seven in three meets at the end of the year and went on to a solid 11th-place performance in the 5,000 meters at the outdoor league meet.

The Bison will also look for good things from the return of Dulac. A Baltimore, Md., native, Dulac was 51st at the Patriot League Cross Country Championships before going on to a very strong indoor track season. She saw her year cut short by injury, however, missing all of the spring season.

Joining the Bison will be a group of seven newcomers. Highlighting the incoming freshmen will be Alison Billas of nearby Danville Area High School and Meghan Carroll.