The heavyweight crew team will kick off its spring season this weekend with the first of two consecutive home regattas at the Gilder Boathouse in Derby, Conn.

Yale’s varsity 8+, junior varsity 8+ and freshman 8+ boats will race against Brown on the Housatonic River, starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday. They intend to defend their home turf.

“[The home river advantage] adds a personal aspect to the race, it gives you an edge,” varsity 8+ rower Zach Johnson ’14 said. “You’ll be damned if you’re going to let another crew come to your course and beat you in front of your friends and family. Our goal for this race is to make a statement.”

Johnson and teammate Joe Alagna ’12 both noted that while being familiar with the course and recognizing landmarks can help, “at the end of the day, the faster crew always wins.”

Four team members interviewed said that they expect a tough race against Brown, as against any Eastern Sprints league opponent, but that they feel Yale is capable of coming away with a win.

Alagna said the team is training harder and more effectively than prior seasons and focusing on speed, partially because of fewer oarsmen on the roster than in previous years.

Johnson added, “Even at this early point in the season, we can tell that we are much faster than we were last year. All we need to do is prove it.”

This time last year, the Bulldogs raced the Bears in Providence, R.I., losing the varsity 8+ by 0.43 seconds and the freshman 8+ by 1.02 seconds. However, Yale’s second, third and fourth varsity 8+ boats won their races.

Even though the contentious Eastern Sprints are scheduled for May 13 and May 31, and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships is not until June 2, team captain Tom Dethlefs ’12 said that the early races are important for gaining experience and establishing Yale’s speed in the Eastern Sprints league. He added that tough competition early in the season is good preparation for the championships in May and June.

“The rowing season goes all the way through June, so plenty of things can change, but it’s always good to start out on a strong note,” Dethlefs said. “Everyone gets faster over the next few months, so it’s a good indicator if we can start the season at a higher base level than other crews in the field.”

Last year, Yale’s varsity 8+ boat finished 10th in the nation at the IRA Regatta — a marginal improvement from the 11th place finish in 2010.