The heavyweight crew team managed to come back from a slow start in the varsity race on Saturday to beat Columbia and Penn and retain the annually-contested Blackwell Cup for the third straight year.

The Bulldogs — undefeated this season in the F 8+, JV 8+ and V8+ categories — continued their Ivy League winning streak in their third regatta of the season. Yale defeated Brown and Dartmouth at home earlier in the spring, and this weekend’s victory at Overpeck County State Park in New Jersey was the first of two consecutive away regattas.

“We’re improving and getting faster and more cohesive as a team,” head coach Stephen Gladstone said, adding that he was happy with the team’s performance in Saturday’s race.

Team captain Tom Dethlefs ’12 said that the water and weather were calm, relative to the rougher and winder conditions experienced this season at home on the Housatonic River.

Dethlefs added that racing on an unfamiliar course — like Overpeck County State Park this weekend — helps oarsmen improve their focus and gives the coxswains a chance to adapt to a new environment.

As usual, the F 8+ boats were the first to race on Saturday, and Yale’s newest team members managed to pull ahead of their Columbia and Penn counterparts about half-way through the 2000m course. The freshmen won with a time of 6:03.3 — beating second-place Columbia by 4.3 seconds — to be undefeated thus far in their Bulldog careers.

The JV 8+ race was a contest between Yale and Penn, as Columbia’s roster is too small to race a second varsity boat this year. The Bulldogs took an early lead and managed to hold off attacks by the Penn crew throughout the course to win the race by 3.1 seconds with a time of 6:01.3.

However, in the all-important V 8+ race, which determines the winner of the Blackwell Cup, Yale fell behind Penn and Columbia early on due to a slow start.

“[At the start,] Columbia jumped us out of the blocks by a good half boat length, and clearly putting ourselves at that kind of disadvantage early on in the race is not what we want to be doing,” varsity coxswain Oliver Fletcher ’14 said.

But the Blue and White fought for the race and by the 1000m mark had the bow of its boat ahead of both its competitors. Yale ultimately crossed the finish line at 5:48.2 — 6.4 seconds ahead of next-best Columbia.

Gladstone said he was pleased with the race and that the team will work on improving its starts before next weekend’s race and the Eastern Sprints in mid-May.

Dethlefs noted that Yale is one of only a few varsity rowing programs in the country to be undefeated at all levels at this point in the season.

“The varsity eight is starting to mesh together well, and we’ve been able to take a forward step every week … so we are excited to push this momentum onwards,” he said.

Varsity oarsman Zach Johnson ’14 said that he expects next weekend’s race against Cornell and Princeton — the last race of the season before the championship part of the season — to be the toughest thus far.

The winner of the upcoming race in Ithaca, N.Y., will take home the Carnegie Cup. It will serve as the last opportunity for Yale to face its regional rivals before the Eastern Sprints, the Yale-Harvard Boat Race and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championships.

“Having these wins under our belt does give us a measure of confidence going into Sprints, however, I don’t like to make predictions about results,” Johnson said. “You can only impact the speed of your own boat, the time we spend thinking about what the other crews are doing and how fast they are going is wasted. It could have been spent thinking about what our own crew needs to do to get faster.”

Last year the team finished 10th in the IRA National Championships.