The Yale men’s heavyweight crew season got underway last weekend with the Windermere Collegiate Crew Classic in Redwood Shores, Calif. The Elis faced top 20 opponents California, Princeton and Stanford during the two days of racing. Despite a rough beginning to the competition, the Bulldogs ended on a positive note, with both varsity boats defeating the No. 16 Cardinal. Princeton and Cal were both ranked third in the USRowing Collegiate Poll.

“This is a good start for the season,” captain Andrew Brennan ’04. “There is still plenty of room for improvement. But its good to know that the hard work from the winter and spring is paying off.”

The Elis first boat got off to a slow start in their first race against Cal, but they were able to put together a good race and finish less than three seconds behind the Bears with a 5:53.05 time on the 2000-meter course.

Yale head coach John Pescatore said he was at fault for the team’s lack of intensity off the line.

“I am supposed to know what needs to be done,” Pescatore said. “The start’s very important. I did not prepare the varsity well enough.”

Pescatore said the flawed race plan put the boat behind in the crucial first 20 strokes but added that the squad’s effort was even more impressive because they were rowing from behind the entire race. The Windermere is a series of two-boat races. During the race, the oarsmen have their back turned to the front of the boat and cannot see how close they are trailing the competition.

“When you don’t see your competitor, it is hard to push yourself,” Pescatore said.

The second varsity boat turned in 6:07.24 time, finishing almost 12 seconds behind the Cal second boat.

The Elis had six hours to relax and regroup before they were back on the water against Princeton. The Bulldogs hit the water, still harboring the mental fatigue from their close loss, and fell to the Tigers, who were coming off a victory earlier that morning against Navy. The Elis’ first boat crossed the finish line in just under six minutes, eight seconds behind Princeton, and the second boat clocked in at 6:17.66.

Though the Elis did not rebound well Saturday, the team was confident going into the final race against Stanford. The Cardinal defeated the Bulldogs soundly at last year’s national championships, but their performance against Cal signified that the Elis can knock off any crew in the country.

The Elis first boat clocked the second fastest time of the day, a blistering 5:49.60, and won by an over 10-second margin. The second boat also closed out the weekend with a win by rowing to a four-second victory.

“It was nice to go out and do something different from Saturday,” coxswain Jason Hsueh ’05 said. “This was good for team morale. Traveling thousands of miles to come back without a win would have been frustrating for everyone.”

Both the Elis’ triumph over the Cardinal and strong race against Cal bode well for the coming weeks of the season. Pescatore maintains that with hard work and sharper focus, his crews can be as fast as any other boats. The early test of three difficult races should provide a solid foundation for the team to build upon throughout the season.

“My experience says we can beat [California and Princeton] later on,” Pescatore said. “It will not be easy, but it can be done.”

The Elis will get their second taste of Ivy League competition April 10, when they visit No. 11 Dartmouth.