The women’s crew team, ranked second in the nation, sprang back into action Saturday after a five-month hiatus from competition by nabbing the Connell Cup on an unusually calm Housatonic River. The Eli boats put on an encouraging opening show against visiting Columbia and Penn, with both first and second varsity eights coasting to victory in their races.

In their first major event since Boston’s Head of the Charles back in October, the first varsity boat set an impressive tone for the second leg of the crew season, clearing the finish line over eight seconds before second-place Columbia. Yale’s top eight finished with a time of 6:41, easily beating the Lions’ 6:59.8 finish and well ahead of the Quakers’ 6:58.5. The second varsity eight fared just as well, handily defeating Penn by 10 seconds.

“We had a good piece overall,” rower Charlotte Taft ’05 said. “As our first piece, it was important to lay down an aggressive attitude and set a base we can easily work from for the rest of the season.”

The Connell Cup, which alternates annually between home sites in Derby, Conn., Philadelphia and New York, is unique both for being the first major event of the spring season, and for being an all-points meet. As opposed to most meets, where only first varsity boats factor into scoring, all classes — both varsity and novice — had bearing in the overall points total Saturday.

“Having an all-points trophy makes the event more a team thing,” Taft said. “Unlike some meets, it isn’t just about the varsity race.”

Yale has had great success in past years at the cup, as this year’s seniors claimed their fourth trophy in four years. Still, teammates agreed that past performance did not have any bearing coming into Saturday’s races.

“We shook any preconceived notions,” Joanna Hess ’06 said. “We set out to row with the mind frame that we would just race our best possible piece.”

Taft agreed with Hess.

“We have the history in the back of our minds, but we don’t expect to win easily,” she said.

The novice boat, which included several freshmen competing in their first spring race in a Yale uniform, came in with high hopes for a powerful showing. Their 7:00 time was good enough for first place, thanks in part to Columbia, who had finished four seconds earlier but were subsequently disqualified for missing a buoy. While an encouraging place, there were glimmers of disappointment amongst the team.

“They had a pretty good time, but some expected them to be a bit better then they did,” Taft said. “Still, these races are mostly about reaching end-of-season speed and about keeping a positive and good mindset.”

The Bulldogs were lucky with conditions in Derby Saturday. After a week of high winds and choppy waters in practice, the weather calmed down just in time for the afternoon starts.

“We had a slight tail wind, but the water was pretty calm, not doing anything [similar to] what it had done all week,” Hess said. “Overall, conditions were great.”

Cornell comes to town next Saturday, still waiting for their first spring race after poor conditions forced them to cancel a Saturday home meet. The Elis defeated Cornell in Ithaca the first weekend last April, and hope to replicate their success next weekend.