FORT SMITH, Ark. – Since becoming an active member of NCAA Division II three seasons ago, the UAFS women’s cross country team has continued to make strides in becoming a contender for the Heartland Conference title.

This year, the Lady Lions, which features a roster including Katy Carter of Magazine, will look to challenge the conference’s elite teams after finishing seventh in 2011 and fourth last year in the conference meet. UAFS will be one of 10 teams competing in the 6k event, which is hosted by Dallas Baptist and begins at 8:30 a.m. at Mansfield, Texas.

All conference schools will be allowed to compete in the meet, including provisional NCAA Division II members. However, provisional NCAA Division II members – Lubbock Christian, McMurry, Oklahoma Christian and Rogers State – are not eligible to win the conference title, so their runners’ times will be kept but not counted toward the final points for the championship.

Dallas Baptist is the six-time defending conference champion and boasts last year’s Conference Player of the Year in Kelsey Bruce and last year’s Conference Freshman of the Year in Anna Salazar.

Dallas Baptist and Newman, which has finished runner-up the past three seasons, are the likely favorites to win the title, but UAFS has made great strides this season and could factor into the Top 2 spots.

The Lady Lions haven’t competed since Oct. 12 when they finished third in the Oklahoma Baptist Invitational at the Gordon Cooper Vo-Tech Center in Shawnee, Okla., but they have been training rigorously in the meantime for the conference meet.

UAFS has enjoyed its most successful season in the program’s five-year history with Top 10 finishes in each of its four meets, including the program’s first win. The Lady Lions won the University of the Ozarks Invitational, topping a field of six in-state schools from the NCAA Division II and III and NAIA ranks.

Junior Kelsea Geschwentner and Carter, a sophomore, have set the pace for the Lady Lions this season.

Geschwentner led UAFS during each of the four meets and made history this season by becoming the first Lady Lion runner to win a meet – the University of the Ozarks Invitational. Carter, who earned All-Conference honors as a freshman, was second on the team in three of the four meets and third in the other.