For most teams, the first competition of the season is a chance to shake off rust, re-establish team chemistry and get reacquainted with the intensity of events that actually count. It is not usually an indication of the team’s performance at its peak, but rather a foundation on which the team can build and improve throughout the season.

Unfortunately for women’s crew teams throughout the Ivy League, that means they don’t have much of a chance with Yale’s crew lurking.

The Yale women’s crew team, led by the defending national champion and pre-season national No. 1 Varsity Eight boat, dominated Ivy League rivals Columbia and Penn at the Connell Cup on Saturday, sweeping all of the varsity, second varsity, varsity four and novice eight races by at least 11 seconds. Yale also took the top two spots in the varsity 4B race, with the Yale C boat finishing 9 seconds ahead of third-place Penn.

The performances of the freshmen participating in spring competition for the first time were even more encouraging for the team’s future. It is said of great teams that they don’t rebuild but reload, and the Bulldogs seem to have done just that.

“The freshmen especially transitioned smoothly into spring racing,” captain Christina Person ’09 said. “I am very proud of their maturity. I would go so far as to say that uncommon valor is a common virtue for our novice boat.”

Yet the freshmen were not the only ones taking on new roles Saturday. When her team found itself short of coxswains, rower Steph Madner ’11 stepped up to fill the void.

“She showed true team spirit by coxing when we needed her, despite having never coxed before,” said Person.

Her efforts, along with those of her teammates, paid off in a big way.

“This weekend all of our boats performed admirably,” Person said. “The first race of the spring season is always a wake-up call; it’s wonderful to be competing against other teams again.”

Head coach William Porter agreed the victory was a good start.

“Penn and Columbia are both good Ivy League programs,” he said. “The conditions were tough, but they were fair. This is a new year and a new team. We needed to get started racing, and now we need to work on getting better.”

Both coach and captain understand that despite the strong statement made Saturday, there is a long road ahead of the Bulldogs as they seek to duplicate and surpass last year’s success.

“We by no means had perfect races, but we have made our first mark on the season,” Person said. “It’s a mark we can be proud of because Penn and Columbia are tough teams, but one that we have to leave behind us as we march on through the season facing different challenges on and off the water.”