After posting some strong times in the past few weeks — including sweeping the Cayuga Cup despite the first varsity eight running into a bridge — the No. 4 women’s crew team came up short this Saturday against No. 6 Princeton and No. 1 Virginia on Lake Carnegie in New Jersey. The Bulldogs had won their first five regattas of the spring — and were ranked No. 1 in the nation at one point — but finished third overall without winning a race. The second varsity eight and second varsity four each finished in second place in their respective races.

“This weekend was a setback as far as race results are concerned, but we can learn from it,” head coach Will Porter said. “A good hard beating is sometimes a good thing, it can wake you up.”

Yale took third in the first varsity race with a time of 6:30.3, four seconds after UVA and seven behind Princeton. The second varsity boat did better, taking second with a 6:55.2 time, still a full 10 seconds behind the Princeton varsity second.

“We know we can do better,” said Eliza Hastings ’13, the stroke for the second varsity boat. “This past weekend was our first truly competitive race and I think we were caught off guard.”

Players on the team were disappointed with the outcome of the regatta but optimistic toward the rest of the season.

“It was a humbling experience that will help us in the long run,” Mel Weigel ’13 said of the regatta.

Rosie Torney ’13 said the team has already stepped up its workouts and practice routines since Saturday.

And in the larger perspective of the entire season, Weigel said the loss on Saturday was not dream shattering.

“Better to lose now rather than later,” Weigel said, referring to the Eastern Sprints against Princeton on May 16 and to the NCAA Tournament, which begins on May 28.

Although Porter declined to comment on past races, Hastings noted that the team has suffered from numerous injuries and sicknesses this season, one injured rower, Katherine Adams ’10, is out for the season with a neck injury. Players said the rowing lineup has changed frequently during the season because of the sicknesses and injuries.

“The odds were against us this season, but we’ve risen to the occasion so far,” Hastings said.

Porter said he is hopeful about the first varsity team’s potential to improve this season.

“I like this team, we are not at top speed yet, not close and we are learning every time we go out,” he said. “We are not done and we have more to figure out but I like this team.”

Yale’s first varsity eight won the NCAA Championship in 2007 and 2008.

This weekend the Bulldogs face Harvard on their home turf. The Harvard women’s team races under the name Radcliffe and wears black-and-white instead of the traditional crimson-and-white, players said.

The battle for the Case Cup against Harvard begins Saturday at the Gilder Boathouse.

Correction: April 20, 2010

An earlier version of this article misstated when the Yale women’s crew first varsity boat won the NCAA championship. They won in 2007 and 2008, but not 2009.