FORT SMITH, Ark. – Fresh off a successful season a year ago, the UAFS women’s cross country team will look to build on that strong performance as they begin their sixth season of competition.

The Lady Lions posted five Top 10 finishes and three Top 5 finishes this past season, including the first-ever win in the program’s history.

UAFS won the University of the Ozarks Eagles Invitational and was third in the Oklahoma Baptist Bison Invitational, fourth in the Heartland Conference Meet, sixth in the University of Central Oklahoma Land Run and ninth in the Missouri Southern State University Stampede.

"We had some successes last year throughout the season, which are great accomplishments to build on," UAFS coach Lauren Unger said. "However, all the meets prior to the conference meet are merely practices. We did not perform the way we should have at the conference meet last year, and that will not be forgotten by me or my runners. This season we will be running every practice and every meet with a purpose and goal in mind."

Unger has higher expectations this season considering the number of runners returning and their experience level.

Seven runners will return from last season’s team — senior Kelsea Geschwentner from McCook, Neb.; senior Danielle Brecht from Rogers; senior Lydia Humphrey from Ozark; junior Katy Carter from Magazine; sophomore Natalie Flippo from Pea Ridge; sophomore Hannah Holstein from Mansfield; and sophomore Jaycee Mayfield from Sallisaw, Okla.

"The expectations are definitely raised. I have some very talented seniors who want to give their all and go out on top. I expect each of my runners to have the best year of their running career and lead this team to a Top 3 finish at the conference meet," Unger said.

Geschwentner, who transferred from Garden City (Kan.) Community College prior to last season, quickly etched her name in the program’s record book. She won the University of the Ozarks Eagles Invitation, becoming the first Lady Lion to win a meet. She posted four Top 15 finishes.

She also earned Heartland Conference Runner of the Week honors and was Honorable Mention All-Conference.

"I couldn’t be more excited to see what this season will hold for her. Kelsea has expressed to me numerous times how bad she wants to be the best in conference and be the first runner in our program to qualify for regionals," Unger said. "I have the upmost belief that she can and will accomplish this goal. She is a competitor and will work hard every day. She leads by her actions, and I respect that about her," Unger said.

During the offseason, Unger added three newcomers – sophomore Isabel Chavez from Rogers; freshman Krysten Fagan from Acorn; and freshman Jasmine Jackson, also from Acorn.

"I think they will all be great additions to our team. I am expecting them to come in and make an immediate impact for our program, which is a tall order for freshman runners. However, I feel Krysten, Jasmine, and Bella all have the maturity and skills to do it. It’s not a secret that last year we were struggling to have a strong three-, four-, and five-spot runner due to some injuries. However, with the return of Danielle Brecht and the additions of these three girls, I feel we have a solid team," Unger said.

The Lady Lions will begin the regular season on Sept. 12 when they compete in the Forest Park Cross Country Festival in St. Louis, Mo. It will be the first of five regular-season meets for UAFS.

UAFS was picked to finish seventh in the conference by the league’s coaches and sports information directors in the preseason poll. The conference meet will be Nov. 8 at Wichita, Kan.

"I expect improvement from last year from my runners individually and as a team. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t finish in the top 3 at the conference meet and have at least three runners place in the top 10 individually," Unger said.