This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.
Many Dartmouth students played a high school sport competitively – though only around 0.08% of high school athletes go on to play their sport at the collegiate level, and less than two percent of those students play at Division I schools like Dartmouth. Those 99.92%, however, are not left without opportunities to play while at the College: Club sports have bridged the gap between varsity athletes and the large number of incoming students who hope to find the camaraderie that athletics affords.
Dartmouth is home to 33 club sports teams, which range from nationally competitive teams, such as rugby, soccer, tennis, figure skating, squash and men’s hockey, to locally competitive teams and teams primarily based around fitness. Locally competitive teams include lacrosse, basketball, fencing, baseball, taekwondo and table tennis, and fitness-based teams include badminton, golf, boxing and running, to name just a few. Students can find out more about club sports at the annual club fair on the Green during the fall term and on the Dartmouth Engage website, which lists all club sports and their contact information.
After the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted tryouts, practices and games for multiple seasons, the 2021-22 academic year was an important rebuilding period for these student-run groups. Still, several club sports teams found success this past year and will hold tryouts in September in hopes of adding new members, particularly from the Class of 2026, to their teams.
Club tennis is a student-run, co-ed team that holds tryouts to field two teams of approximately 12 players. The A team practices a minimum of three times per week and competes in both regional and national tournaments, while the B team practices two to three times per week and competes in local tournaments and more individual matchups, according to B team captain Sophia Swanson ’23.
Swanson said she has been playing tennis since she was in first grade and feels that her place on the B team makes the commitment manageable while keeping the level of competition high. Swanson said she felt that the most rewarding parts of being on the team were not the matches, but the moments in between.
“This spring we traveled down to [University of Massachusetts, Amherst], and it was early in the morning, so we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts,” Swanson said. “Just sitting there chatting was a ton of fun, and I really loved seeing the team come together.”
The men’s rugby team, which won the Ivy League for thirteen years straight from 2008-2020 and had their sevens squad place fifth in the nation this past spring, leads the way in terms of players and resources. Each year there are anywhere between three and four full squads of 15, and the program is led by a full-time head, assistant and strength and conditioning coach. In addition, the team has access to all of the varsity athletic facilities due to its competitiveness and travels across the country, primarily thanks to the funding of alumni donors.
While this level of competition could make the program feel inaccessible to some, Jaime Chuidian ’23 said that anyone can try out for rugby and see if it’s the right fit.
“There’s a good range of people on the team in terms of whether they’ve played growing up, or if they’re brand new to the sport,” Chuidian said. “Many of those kids who have never played before come out their senior year like they’ve been playing their whole life.”
Chuidian said that while the A team is a major extracurricular commitment, he has found a way to balance school with rugby – adding that for him, school comes first.
In addition to rugby, other club sports with non-student coaching staff are ultimate, women’s soccer, figure skating and men’s hockey. All three of these teams are coming off strong seasons. Last year, women’s soccer took home the Ivy League Championship, while figure skating and men’s hockey were both in the top sixteen teams in the country — sending them across the country to nationals.
While the coaches of both figure skating and men’s hockey receive some compensation from the Department of Physical Education and Recreation’s pot of club sports funding, player dues, donations and other fundraising, women’s soccer coach Stephen Severson ’74 works on a volunteer basis, captain Aislinn Mitcham ’23 said.
“Steve [Severson] is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” Mitcham said. “He organizes practices, but he’s super great about listening to player input. If somebody has a drill that they really want to do that day, or we would rather practice in front of [Baker-Berry Library] instead of going out to Sachem [Fields], he’ll do it.”
Women’s club soccer has fall tryouts but only fields one team of around 25 — which, depending on their turnout at tryouts, can result in significant cuts.
“I was pretty nervous going in, but on the first day the girls on the team made it very clear that even if you were not making the team, you were making friends,” Mitcham said. “It was a very supportive environment, and I knew it was going to be fun.”
Mitcham said the team brings a similar attitude towards attendance at practice and games.
“We’re all competitive, but it feels like a very welcoming place,” Mitcham said. “When you can make the time to show up, everyone’s super excited to see you, but when you can’t, everybody understands that we’re Dartmouth students first.”
Figure skating is unique among many of the club sports in that they do not hold tryouts and have no limit on how many skaters they can take.
“Everyone on the team has some experience skating, but we try to take people of all different levels,” captain David Kaufmann ’23 said. “Not everyone ends up competing, but freshmen are more than welcome to practice with us. We want to create an environment where everyone feels supported no matter how much time they want to commit.”
Members of club figure skating who attend one of the three qualifying events in the fall and winter before nationals have to pay dues for travel and hotels, but like all other club sports there is financial aid available, according to Kaufmann.
For Kaufmann, the decision to join the team has been well worth the cost.
“It’s made me find a love for the sport that I was missing for part of high school, and that’s largely because of the people involved here, who are so incredible,” Kaufmann said. “It’s definitely been the most important experience that I’ve had at Dartmouth.”
Last year, the men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse club teams were able to put together successful seasons as they finished as runner up and champions of the Ivy League, respectively.
For the men’s soccer team, tryouts are in the fall for both the fall and spring seasons, and they field two teams, according to team member Jack Reilly ’24. Practices are student-run and most players make it to two per week, he said.
Reilly explained that this past spring, the team came up just short in the Ivy League championship in Rhode Island, losing to Brown University in penalties, but the loss did little to dampen his experience.
“We played really well despite a ridiculous amount of injuries, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in soccer since high school,” he said.
According to Annie Burton ’24, championship victory for women’s club lacrosse was especially sweet, considering it was over Harvard University and was decided by a last minute goal.
“We were up against a lot of teams who have super intense practice schedules and paid coaches,” Burton said of the Ivy League tournament for women’s club lacrosse. “Since we’re student-run, we can occasionally feel like the underdog, but we have a lot of skilled players on our team, and we proved that.”
According to Burton, the team is still in the process of deciding whether they will make cuts or hold tryouts this year, but exclusivity is not one of their values. Burton explained that this year, the team is bringing back the pre-COVID practice of a “buddy system,” where a freshman will be paired with an upperclassman mentor as a resource for navigating Dartmouth. The team will also be hosting cardio and strength workouts in the winter for anyone who wants to stay in shape regardless of lacrosse skill, she said.
Women’s club lacrosse puts an emphasis on club sports being a social conduit not just amongst teammates, but with other teams as well, Burton said.
“We’ve had socials with club water polo, club field hockey, club soccer and baseball,” she added. “At Dartmouth, Greek life is a big social scene, and when you’re unaffiliated as a freshman, it’s great to have other outlets like club sports.”
To the members of the Class of 2026 who feared your athletic days were over or would never have a chance to begin – worry no more. From fencing to field hockey, badminton to boxing or table tennis to taekwondo, club sports create the opportunity to practice, compete or simply make new friends.