The Yale lightweight crew team’s quest to regain its 2002 National Champions status got off to a rocky start.

The National Preseason No. 3 ranked Bulldogs fell to No. 4 Navy at the Inaugural Johnson Cup Saturday. The Midshipmen finished 5:53.3 to Yale’s 5:56.9 on Mercer Lake in New Jersey.

Despite the result, the Elis hope to work on the kinks during practices this week.

“All crews raced hard with mixed results [this past weekend],” Brendon Hill ’05 said. “It’s just another week of banging out good hardworking practices [this coming week].”

The Bulldogs did find some success in the lower ranks, including a strong victory in the JV competition, as Yale clocked in at 6:05.0 to Navy’s 6:07.6.

Yale’s group of promising freshman could not hold off the Midshipmen’s Class of ’07 as Navy took the first freshman race 6:05.6 to 6:14.3.

But the Bulldogs know that this opening loss should not damper their lofty spring season goal. Yale looks to build off a solid fall season — including a collegiate victory at the famed Head of the Charles competition in October 2003 — to regain the National Championship they lost last spring.

There are significant differences between the fall and spring sessions. Besides obvious discrepancies in race conditions, the fall results do not determine the national championship.

One way in which the fall schedule does affect the spring season, however, is the development of the underclassmen, especially the freshmen.

The Eli Class of ’07 flashed signs of potential last November in its fourth place finish at the Yale Freshman Invitational and its solid seventh place finish at the 2003 Belly of the Carnegie.

The development of the younger rowers is especially important, due to the lost of key rowers from last year’s team. Yale not only lost its 2002-2003 season captain Ben Hamilton but also 2003 World Championships Silver Medalist Eric Feins.

Despite those losses, the Bulldogs do not have a shortage of strong senior leadership. Captain Tamas Toro ’04, Evan Gibson ’04 and the rest of the seniors hope to capitalize on their last chance to bring the National Championship back to New Haven.

Rookie Peter Barkett ’07 could not overstate the important influence that the veteran members of the team has had on himself.

“The varsity seniors have provided very positive leadership throughout the season,” Barkett said.

The Elis must rebound from the loss to Navy and look ahead to next weekend’s competition against MIT and Boston College.

The opener against Navy may not have gone as planned, but the Bulldogs understand that the spring season is still young.