When asked what it will take in the coming weeks to get to the medal dock at the Eastern Sprints, Pat Purdy ’07 had a savage answer.

“We need to be absolute animals whenever we row in terms of the type of intensity that we bring to every stroke that we take,” Purdy said. “Just being rabid on the oar and trying to break it every time we take a stroke.”

Purdy and the rest of the heavyweight crew team faced No. 1 Princeton and Cornell this weekend at the Carnegie Cup, pulling out all the stops to keep it close. After falling behind in the second 500 meters of the race, the first varsity 8 was able to hold seats or move up on the Tigers for the rest of the race. The varsity boat finished in 5:40.8, 4.8 seconds behind Princeton’s time of 5:36.0. The results were even tighter in the second varsity race. A photo finish was required to determine that Princeton had won by a margin of 1.5 feet, clocking in at 5:45.0 to the Elis’ 5:45.1. In each race, Cornell came in third, posting times of 5:46.1 and 5:56.9, respectively.

The close finishes in each race show how much speed the heavyweights have gained as a team this spring. While the 2V boat has been strong all season, defeating Stanford straight out of the blocks at the Windermere, the varsity has slowly picked up speed all season long. In the weeks after losing to No. 3 California and No. 2 Stanford at the Windermere, the varsity boat blew out a series of unranked opponents before being tested by the top ranked Tigers.

The 4.8 second margin is the closest the Bulldogs have been in any of their three losses. On the other hand, this weekend’s loss to Princeton is only the 2V’s second loss of the season. The results for both crews are encouraging going into the final weeks of preparation for the Sprints.

“Princeton is definitely a really tough crew to beat,” Yale head coach John Pescatore said. “I think our crew rowed a race somewhere between OK and good — I think they have a little bit more in them.”

Along with Pescatore, many members of the crew said they feel that the boat had more potential. Crew members said they expect the 1V to be able to challenge for the Ivy League title at the Eastern sprints. Purdy said although being five seconds off was on the low end of the range of acceptable outcomes for the race, the result has nonetheless motivated the team to seek greater heights.

“The varsity boat still has a lot of speed that it can get,” Purdy said. “We’re not rowing all that well together yet, but in every race that we’ve had we’ve gotten a little more of the whole race together.”

Pescatore said Princeton built most of its margin in the second 500 meters of the race, although from his vantage point behind the racing, it was difficult to tell the distance separating the boats. To help build speed in this part of the race, Pescatore said practices in the coming weeks will have an emphasis on high intensity, short interval pieces with the goal of acclimating rowers to the intense, burning muscle pains they experience in races. Practice races will be focused on stronger and more determined rowing in the middle of the race, he said.

At this point in the season, picking up an extra five seconds is no easy task, as the rowers have shaken off the rust from the winter and gotten used to each other on the water. Rowers said any increase in speed will require an intensely focused group effort.

“Right now, we’re all rowing pretty well — there’s an intense focus to get everything perfect, on rowing with precision, and executing the race plan,” Pascal Noel ’06 said. “We must combine all this with rowing like animals.”