The heavyweight crew team will start its spring racing season on Friday morning as Yale takes on Brown, the defending Eastern Sprints champion, in Providence, R.I.

Each team will race one four- and three eights-person boats, with the varsity eights race providing the finale for the regatta. Last year, the Bulldogs hosted the Bears at the Gilder Boathouse and swept all the events in the matchup. But the team expects Brown to be a formidable opponent after the Bears bested Harvard in the final race of the Eastern Sprints championship last May.

“This opening race will be exciting and interesting,” head coach Stephen Gladstone said. “It will give us a sense of where we are as a team early on since we are racing arguably the fastest squad on the East Coast.”

The regatta, unusually scheduled on a weekday, will take place on the Seekonk River — the only tidal river on which the Bulldogs will row this spring. The team traveled to Providence Thursday afternoon to practice on the course before the race. Gladstone said that races on a tidal course must be timed to start at high tide, and team captain Jon Morgan ’13 said that the changeable currents can make the course difficult for coxswains steering the boats.

This season is the first in the history of collegiate rowing in which freshmen are eligible to race in the varsity boats. Previously, freshmen would race in their own category and move up to the varsity or junior varsity boats in their sophomore year. Three Yale freshmen — Adam Smith ’16, Hubert Trzybinski ’16 and David DeVries ’16 — will be racing with the varsity this weekend.

“We’ve got talented new guys, and it’s been great to have them contribute to the varsity program right away,” Morgan said.

The Bulldogs face four cup races before the crucial Eastern Sprints, IRA National Championship and Yale-Harvard regatta scheduled throughout May and June. Gladstone said the team’s goal is, like any sports team, to have its best performances at these important championship races this season.

In the fall season, the Bulldogs competed in two head races, or time trials: the Head of the Housatonic and the Head of the Charles. The Elis entered three boats in the collegiate eight event at the Head of the Housatonic and earned second, fourth and seventh-place finishes. Two weeks later at the Head of the Charles, the Bulldogs took 13th place in the championship eight event.

Since then, the team has been dry-land training as part of its winter regimen and spent spring break practicing at its home course at the Gilder Boathouse.

Gladstone added that he is happy with the timing of the team’s winter and spring training and that he feels the team’s preparation is on course for the spring season.

“Training throughout this year has been on a higher level than my other years here, and I think we’ll see that reflected on the racecourse,” coxswain Oliver Fletcher ’14 said. “We tend not to set any goals other than to be as fast as we can possibly be and let everything else take care of itself.”

Friday’s regatta will begin at 10 a.m.