In the first race of the year, the Yale varsity heavyweights made their case for a successful season.

The Bulldogs finished first at the Head of the Housatonic Regatta this weekend in Derby, Conn. With race-day conditions near perfect — sunshine and calm wind — the Yale rowers were able to go out and perform at peak levels.

In the fall season, eight-man crew teams race against the clock with starts for each boat occurring in 10-second intervals. The multi-boat races are saved for the spring. As a result, rowers do not have the distractions provided by other teams on the course.

Coach John Pescatore called the race “a really good indication of what our team’s true speed is.”

Pescatore said he was particularly pleased with his team’s performance against second-place finisher Dowling College.

“[Dowling] usually fields a pretty good crew. Finishing ahead of them represents a good accomplishment,” Pescatore said.

If this regatta is any indication, this year’s crew team has a lot of potential. Team captain John Hopkins ’05 cited the fitness of the team as a reason for the early success.

“We’ve only been around here a month after the summer, and already a lot of guys are getting in good shape,” he said.

Physical fitness is a key aspect of the sport — the more fit a rower is, the easier it is for him to row technically correctly, Pescatore said. Indeed, technical form was another boon for the Yale heavyweights this weekend.

“Our guys row a long stroke with more power,” Pescatore said. “Dowling had more strokes per minute.”

The long strokes generate a higher average speed than the quick acceleration gained from the shorter strokes. Quick acceleration is more important in the match racing of the spring, but in the time trials of the fall, slow and steady usually wins out.

Part of the reason for the team’s early fitness is because of the team’s competitive drive. The current roster includes a core of rowers battling every week for a spot on the varsity-eight boat.

“Our team is a very cohesive unit — there is no room for individual standouts,” Hopkins noted. “We have an awesome team dynamic; it doesn’t matter what the lineup is.”

Hopkins said that spending time on the water is the best way to get better at rowing, and with more events coming up this fall, he believes the team will continue to improve as it prepares for the next race.

“The team is psyched,” he said, “We’re feeling good about the Head of the Charles Regatta.”

Harvard figures as the team to beat at the regatta, which is scheduled for Oct. 24.

“Last year, Harvard was really good,” Pescatore said. “Some seniors graduated, but they regularly come back with good crews,” he added.

But Hopkins expressed optimism about the Elis’ chances at the regatta.

“We’re geared up,” Hopkins said. “It’s good to improve from last year.”

At the 2003 event, the team finished 12th out of a field of 41. The regatta typically boasts international teams and is regarded as one of the most prestigious races in the world.

“We’re psyched to get more races under our belt and see what happens,” Hopkins said.

With a win already, the Yale heavyweights’ prospects seem strong.

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