With half of its members newly moved into the boat, the first varsity eight left Dartmouth in its wake on Saturday to take the Olympic Axe for the eighth consecutive year.

By the end of the 2000 meter race, the Bulldogs were around five seconds ahead of the Big Green. That number — five — was also the total number of Yale boats that tasted victory on the Housatonic River over the weekend, as the home team enjoyed a clean sweep.

“All of our boats had strong performances,” captain Derek Johnson ’11 said. “We enjoyed the victory today, but we’ll go out on the water tomorrow determined to get faster.”

The successful result was no different from last year, when all four Yale boats out-rowed Dartmouth to victory.

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Still, the win came despite major changes to the makeup of the first varsity boat over the past week, which Johnson said was part of an ongoing process until the team finds its best combination.

Half the rowers on the first varsity boat were changed, with a new stern section in particular, because having the most developed eight is more important than a fixed “best” group of eight, explained head coach Steve Gladstone.

By allowing for inter-squad competition and giving rowers the chance to move up to a higher boat, the team is able to field the best crews it can on race day, he said.

“There are going to be variations, movements in the boats, but I was particularly pleased with the rhythm the stern section produced,” he said. “When some of your most competitive days are in the workouts, by race day [the rowers will] be well prepared.”

Alex Mastroyannis ’11, another oarsman in the varsity boat, said technique, fitness and racing mentality were three areas the team was working on, adding that the goal is to “improve every day.”

While Gladstone said the team was working to develop greater ease at race pace, Tom Dethlefs ’12 said the current focus of the team was to establish a strong race midsection, explaining that Saturday’s race was not won at the start or finish but through the body of the piece.

“Later, when the championship season gets underway we’ll look to fine tune our speed at pace so that we can put together a complete race,” Dethlefs said.

The Elis still have a month to go before the May 15 Eastern Sprints that mark the start of the championship season.

Next Saturday, they will race crews from Columbia and Penn on the Housatonic for the Blackwell Cup, a contest that team members said would likely not be easy.

“Penn and Columbia are solid teams,” Mastroyannis said. “We’ll spend the week working to make our boats as fast as possible with the intent of winning all the races, again.”

While Penn has been a “bit off the pace recently,” Gladstone said that although such predictions are not particularly useful, he expects Columbia to be strong based on the development of their rowing program in the last five to six years.

“Projecting other teams’ speed is not really interesting — what is interesting is the potential for development in our squad,” he said.

The Bulldogs took out the Blackwell Cup last year by a 2.5 second margin.

Yale’s boats will take to the water from 9.00 a.m. Saturday, and spectators can look on from the Glider Boathouse.