After a long winter, women’s crew opens its competitive spring season this weekend against Ivy League rivals Columbia and Penn in New York.

The Bulldogs, who will be competing for the first time since last October, are looking to repeat last season’s first-place finish and recapture the Connell Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the race.

“We’ve worked hard indoors since the conclusion of our fall racing season and are excited to start spring racing,” captain Kathleen O’Keefe ’12 said.

The Elis enjoyed a series of strong performances during their unofficial season in the fall. Yale opened the season with a first-place finish at the Head of the Housatonic and followed by placing fourth at the Head of the Charles and third at the Princeton Chase.

“We had a quietly good fall,” head coach Will Porter said. “I think we were sort of establishing a work ethic for this year, and I thought they did well.”

The Elis compete in head races during the fall, which are three-mile competitions where crews follow a single file format and row against the clock. But during the spring, crews compete in sprint races, which are 2,000 meter competitions where crews row side by side for the entire race. The spring is crew’s official competitive season, since those results determine eligibility for the NCAA Championships held in late May.

The Bulldogs will look to earn a berth at the NCAA Championship for the eleventh consecutive year. Yale finished in eleventh place last season at the championships.

To prepare for the spring season, the team spent the winter logging long hours in the gym working on fitness in order to improve team speed.

Though the Bulldogs were recently ranked seventh in the nation in a CRCA/US Rowing preseason poll, Porter said he does not “have much faith” in preseason polls because they are not based on any competition.

“It’s an honor for us to be in the top ten nationally,” Porter said. “We’ll see how things play out over the next ten weeks… The only poll that really matters is the last one like every other sport.”

The Elis have a challenging spring schedule ahead of them that will pit them against eight crews that also earned national rankings in the CRCA/US Rowing preseason poll.

“It is important to get highly competitive racing experience during the season so that every boat is comfortable with intense, physical racing,” Cathy McDermott ’12 said.

Saturday’s battle for the Connell Cup is slated to begin at 12:30 p.m. The varsity eights are scheduled to row at 1:30 p.m.