The rowers on the men’s heavyweight crew team are looking for a fresh start after last year’s combination of a solid fall but disappointing spring.

The Bulldogs rattled off a string of good finishes and made improvements at each weekend’s regatta, culminating in a third place finish among college teams at the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta Nov. 2004. But the momentum from the team’s respectable finish did not carry them farther than their first few regattas of spring 2005.

After winning early races against Ivy rivals Dartmouth, Columbia and UPenn, the heavyweights placed last in the May 15 EARC Sprints Grand Final and in the IRA National Championship Petite Final in early June. A week later, the team faced Harvard in the 140th Yale-Harvard Regatta. The Crimson, the winners of the IRA Regatta, cruised to their sixth straight victory with only the Bulldogs’ 2V boat preventing a Saturday sweep. It was the Elis’ first win over Harvard’s 2V since 1996.

The Bulldogs have something to prove. Since the team graduated 14 seniors last season, the Class of 2006 has big shoes to fill as they try to take the team to the next level.

“This year’s senior class, in recognition of losing so many seniors, has stepped it up a notch in a way,” head coach John Pescatore said. “Right from the very first day, kids started arriving on campus to make up for last year — that’s definitely coming from the seniors.”

According to Pescatore, the seniors have inspired a higher level of motivation and discipline.

“The expectation about what we can do this season is very high,” he said. “These guys came back with an attitude prepared to do something this year.”

For many of the seniors, the tradition of 140 years of Yale rowing has imbued them with a sense of urgency.

“A lot of the seniors are taking on a more personal responsibility for what will happen this season,” captain John Peterson ’06 said. “We feel like our backs are against the wall — we will do everything it takes to win, to bring back the glory that heavyweight crew used to have.”

Peterson said the first step has been to foster a greater degree of team unity. To that end, the team’s seniors set up team barbeques at the boathouse every Friday that help bring the team together and build the bonds necessary for teamwork, he said. Still, the team’s underclassmen know that much is expected of them.

“We’ve held a couple more meetings discussing what we want out of this year,” Peterson said. “We’ve set a standard in tone for the rest of the guys.”

Although it is still too early to have expectations about the 2006 spring season, Pescatore said that a top finish at the Head of the Charles Regatta is the team’s immediate goal.

“Our goal is to match or surpass the results from last fall, especially at the Head of the Charles,” Pescatore said. “The team believes they can perform even better than last year.”

Peterson was even more explicit.

“We definitely want to be the number one college crew at the Head of the Charles,” he said.

This weekend, the Bulldogs have their first regatta, the Head of the Housatonic, at home. While acknowledging that he expects the team will be gunning for the win, Pescatore said the main drive will be in the spring season, with its two championships and the Yale-Harvard Regatta. The Head of the Housatonic will give the team the chance to measure itself and set goals for the coming weeks.

“Even though it will be mostly inter-squad competition with some other smaller schools, the Head of the Housatonic will be a good head-racing piece to help us get ready for the Head of the Charles,” Pat Purdy ’07 said.

But the race will also be the team’s first test, and Peterson said that the higher expectations have put some pressure on the team.

“A lot of guys expect a lot from each other and from the team. There’s an urgency now to set ourselves up for a good spring,” Peterson said. “We’re emphasizing the fall as much as the spring; working hard in the fall puts us a step closer to doing well in the spring.”