After strong spring seasons, several of Yale’s varsity sports teams will compete in NCAA championships this coming May. But they will not be the first teams wearing the Yale “Y” to compete at national events this year, as several of Yale’s club sports teams have already made waves on the national stage in 2018.

Over the last three months, nine club teams have competed in national championships and, three have traveled around the world for training trips that allowed them to showcase their skills.

Director of Club Sports Tom Migdalski said that does not evaluate club teams based on their results, but rather on participation, enjoyment, sportsmanship and the leadership skills participants gain. Many of these traits are acquired on these trips, and he attributed the teams’ ability to compete in out-of-state and international tournaments to increased interest in the program, as well as distinctive qualities that set Yale’s club sports apart from their varsity counterparts.

“One of the many unique things about club sports is that for some national championships, a team must qualify, while others are open to any official collegiate club sport who would like to participate; in other words, any school can attend,” Migdalski said. “That makes the value of the program special because our students are able to compete against many of the other colleges and universities around the nation, which they would not otherwise have had the opportunity to do.”

The tennis team, which competes as a coed unit, saw its best performance in club history at its national tournament, finishing 24th out of 64 teams in attendance, compared to its 31st-place ranking the previous year. The championship took place two weekends ago in Orlando, Florida, with the top-five players on the team competing after placing fourth in a sectional qualifier at Harvard. The Bulldogs qualified for nationals for the sixth consecutive year.

The national tournament features a total of five sets: one set of men’s singles, one set of women’s singles, one set of men’s doubles, one set of women’s doubles and one mixed doubles set. On the first day of the tournament, the team placed second in its pool of four teams, losing to North Carolina but qualifying to compete for rankings between 17th and 32nd place. The team was able to compete in that bracket because of a crucial victory against Northwestern. Down by nine games going into the final set, Yale’s mixed double pair won its match 11–1, rallying to clinch the overall victory in overtime, 25 games to 24.

According to men’s captain Jackson Leipzig ’19, success at the tournament and the trip in general boosted team spirit and camaraderie.

“Whenever you’re spending so much time together, living in a rented Airbnb house, it’s a great opportunity to focus on something athletic and get close with each other,” Leipzig said. “When you’re put in a competitive setting like that, and just constantly thinking about how we’re competing together as a team, what we can do to improve from one match to the next or one day to the next, it’s always good for team chemistry for sure.”

The women’s team captain Stephanie Levine ’19 noted that the team has grown from 31 members last year to 41 this year after an increasingly competitive tryout field, supporting Migdalski’s belief that national tournaments help boost interest in club teams on campus.

In return, the increased participation has boosted the team’s performance on the court, according to Leipzig. The men’s captain also credited the spirit of the junior class with helping mentor the influx of younger players.

“The junior class has always been really invested in the team and that’s something that Steph and I have really enjoyed having,” Leipzig said. “We really were fortunate to get a bunch of underclassmen who are just as enthusiastic about being members, about competing with us. From a captain’s perspective, I think Stephanie and I really had a few clear-cut goals about what we wanted to do this year in terms of being more disciplined about practices and about the choice we were making when we were at these tournaments.”

In addition to out-of-state tournaments, the men’s rugby team took part in an international tour, where it not only trained but also competed against the Hong Kong Warriors in Hong Kong and Meiji University in Japan. The team had the opportunity to live in the Olympic Village while staying in Japan. The rugby team has done international trips for decades, but this tour marked the club’s debut in Asia.

Captain of the men’s rugby team Joseph Goode ’19 remarked that the sport’s presence in the countries the team visited was crucial to training and improvement.

“We definitely grew closer as a team and we got to see some really high levels of rugby,” Goode said. “Especially in Tokyo, we played one of the best teams in the country — a lot of them play professionally or on a national level after they graduate. So it was really, really good for our team to be together for two weeks traveling. It was a really great cultural experience for us too, rugby aside.”

The rugby training trip was funded by alumni and parent contributions, as well as through a Gofundme the team set up.

The men’s basketball, cricket, cycling, men’s rugby, skeet and trap, tennis, triathlon, men’s and women’s volleyball, water polo and wrestling club teams all traveled to either national or international tournaments in recent months.

Gaby Mencio | gaby.mencio@yale.edu