Ivy rivalries cross club divisions

If the men’s club water polo team takes the Ivy club championship, it will compete against varsity teams from Harvard, Princeton and Brown.
If the men’s club water polo team takes the Ivy club championship, it will compete against varsity teams from Harvard, Princeton and Brown. Photo by Joyce Xi.


While Yale football fans spend much of the year looking forward to the team’s annual matchup against Harvard, some Yale teams go several seasons without playing Harvard — or other Ivy rivals.

Unlike Yale varsity sports, which compete with all of their Ivy rivals in yearly Division I play, club sport divisions vary by sport and often include teams from beyond the Ancient Eight. While a team’s primary league may feature only a few Ivy teams, club sports often schedule out-of-league matches to accommodate the school’s traditional rivalries. Since some counterparts of Yale club sports compete at the varsity level at their schools, Elis who play on club teams often find themselves taking on varsity squads throughout their seasons.Over the past few years, Ivy League club rugby teams broke away from traditional regional groupings in order to form the Ivy Rugby Conference, a conference classified by USA Rugby as a I-AA conference.

Along with Dartmouth, Brown and Harvard, Yale competes in the North division of the conference, whereas the other Ivy teams play in the South division.

“It’s pretty nice to play an Ivy schedule because you’re playing a similar competition where all the schools are recruiting people more for academic abilities than athletic,” said men’s rugby team captain John Lesnewich ’13.

Lesnewich added that Yale remains competitive against schools it plays outside the Ivy conference.

Like men’s rugby, the women’s club rugby team also recently transitioned into an all-Ivy club league. According to captain Sarah Kelley ’13, the Bulldogs’ division features teams from Cornell, Penn and Columbia. While noting that the quality of the Ivy teams fluctuates significantly from year to year, Kelley said the team typically fares well against all of its Ivy opponents.

In men’s club water polo, the Ivy teams normally finish first or second within their division, player-coach Dominic Kwok ’13 said. The level of play among Ivy club water polo teams is fairly even — and high, he added.

Because of New Haven’s geographic location, the men’s club water polo competes in the New England Division with only one other Ivy team — Dartmouth. But Yale competes against the other Ivy programs in an annual Ivy championship tournament. As Harvard, Brown and Princeton sponsor varsity programs, the club Ivy champion plays against these three varsity teams to determine an overall Ivy champion.

Harvard is home to 41 intercollegiate varsity sports for men and women, more than any Division I college, so Yale club teams take on Harvard varsity squads for some sports. Yale offers 48 club teams and 34 varsity teams.

In men’s volleyball, Yale’s program does not match up against Ivy rivals Harvard and Princeton. While Princeton and Harvard both have varsity men’s volleyball programs as well as club teams, Yale does not face any of them.

The Elis play in Division I of the New England Collegiate Volleyball League, which also includes Brown, Columbia and Dartmouth. Princeton also plays in the Middle Atlantic Club Volleyball Conference, while Harvard’s team plays in Yankee League tournaments. Penn competes in both the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association and the Middle Atlantic Club Volleyball Conference.

While the Bulldogs compete against some varsity Division III programs in tournaments, they do not play the Ivy varsity programs. On the club level, however, Yale often outshines its Ivy opponents.

“Typically we’ve been undefeated against the Ivies,” captain Martin Shapiro ’14 said.

Some of the club sports at Yale, like soccer or basketball, have parallel teams at the varsity level, so the club teams will never transition to varsity. But for those that lack a counterpart, such as men’s water polo, men’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s rugby, some team members envision a future in varsity athletics.

For men’s water polo and volleyball, other schools throughout the country have varsity programs, and the NCAA has classified women’s rugby as an “Emerging Sport.”

When asked if their teams are considering turning varsity, team members expressed different opinions.

Kwok said the club model works well for men’s water polo. For one, he enjoys that the team is student-run.

For men’s rugby, very few collegiate varsity teams exist, and there is little discussion among team members about making the jump to varsity.

But Shapiro said he was interested in exploring the idea of adding a varsity men’s volleyball program.

“It’s hard to say. I feel like it’s such a different vibe,” he said, adding, “I definitely think Yale could support both a club and a varsity team.”

With its new “Emerging Sport” status, Harvard’s women’s rugby squad will transition from club to varsity next year, a possibility that Kelley said the Yale team is considering.

“There hasn’t really been a huge amount of discussion about making us varsity, but I think that’s the direction that college rugby is going in,” Kelley said.

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