Courtesy of Ahsan Iqbal

Currently ranked No. 5 in the most recent Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association national poll, the Yale women’s crew is off to a promising start in its 2016–17 spring season.

After starting the 2017 schedule with a regatta against national powerhouses No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan on March 25, the Elis returned to Ivy League competition in dominant fashion this past weekend. All five Yale boats earned overwhelming victories over Cornell, including a dominant win by the Varsity Eight to clinch the Cayuga Cup for the fifth-straight year.

According to head coach Will Porter, however, the Bulldogs have still yet to reach their potential.

“I don’t think we have gotten off to a strong start,” Porter said. “We are slowly sorting out our lineups, but we have work to do. I think we have much more speed in us. We are at 75 percent, if that.”

Yale’s road to returning to the NCAA championship regatta, where it finished 11th last year, began with success in its brief fall schedule. The Bulldogs placed three crews in the top seven at the Head of the Housatonic, finished first among collegiate crews at the Head of the Charles and came in third at the Princeton Chase.

Following a winter break, the Elis returned to the waters against the juggernaut Buckeyes and Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Though the second Varsity Eight performed impressively, with wins over Ohio State and then Michigan over the two sessions of competition, the Varsity Eight failed to keep pace with its Big Ten counterpart. Yale’s top crew clocked in at 6:42.5 in the two-kilometer race against the Buckeyes, trailing the defending national-champion crew by four seconds.

But the Bulldogs resumed their winning ways with a top-to-bottom beatdown of the Big Red this past weekend at Cayga Lake in New York. Each of the five Yale crews topped their Cornell opposition by at least 15 seconds, with the Varsity Eight crossing the finish nearly 30 seconds ahead of the Big Red’s top crew.

One notable lineup adjustment from Yale’s first regatta of the spring was captain Kate O’Brien’s ’17 move from the second Varsity Eight to the first. The Clare, Ireland native has relished the opportunity to lead the Bulldogs this season as the team embarks on Ivy League and national competition.

“Our goal going into this season was to build off the successes of the 2015–16 season and embrace [this year’s] challenges,” she said. “The standard of female collegiate rowing seems to be rising each year, so the ultimate goal is for Yale to rise with this standard while keeping our positive attitude and love for what we do.”

Yale will enjoy several home regattas in the buildup to the May 14 Ivy League Championship regatta, as four of its remaining five regular-season races are at Gilder Boathouse, where the Bulldogs won 13 of 14 races last season.

The Elis host Dartmouth, Penn and Columbia in a two-race weekend this Saturday and Sunday before taking on a pair of ranked Ivy League opponents in No. 8 Princeton and No. 9 Brown. The Tigers and Bears finished first and second, respectively, in last year’s Ivy League Championship Varsity Eight final.

“I just love racing,” Porter said. “The next race is always our focus. None is bigger than the others because when it is done right, it is not about the opponent. It is about us and how we execute what we are trying to do.”

The NCAA Championships take place from May 26 to May 28 in Mercer County State Park, New Jersey.