Last week, we broke down which Ivy League universities had the top overall athletic programs over the past 10 years. But while a couple of schools, namely Princeton and Harvard, separated themselves from the pack, our first article still left another question on the table: Even if we know which schools were the best, which specific teams stood out as elite?
There are several Ivy League sports teams that have been the definition of the word “dynasty” in recent years. Yet as strong as some of these programs have been, only one can be the best of the best, as we break down the top contenders below.
Columbia men's tennis is the school's only team with more than five Ivy titles in the past decade. This squad has undoubtedly been the league’s juggernaut in its sport; the Lions have finished in the league’s top two every year besides a fluky sixth-place showing in 2011. But the Lions’ dominance is not at all restricted to the Ancient Eight. Columbia owns seven of the conference’s 12 wins in NCAA Tournament play over the past 10 years, having won multiple matches in three separate postseasons.
Grouped together for obvious reasons, Princeton’s pair of men’s track and field teams have been a complete model of consistency. Neither team has finished below second place in the past 10 years, but it’s the indoor team’s total of seven championships that just barely edges the outdoor team’s six. Both teams are even with one national championship to their names; then-senior Donn Cabral won the outdoor steeplechase event in 2012, while the indoor distance medley relay team brought home the crown in 2013. Cabral has stood out as the Tigers’ top recent alumnus in the sport, placing in eighth in the steeplechase in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
Ivy League volleyball has had a solid amount of parity over the past 10 years, with four different Ivy teams winning at least one championship in that time. But even with that caveat, the one constant has been Yale at or near the top every year. The Bulldogs’ most dominant stretch came from 2011 to 2014, when Class of 2015 graduates Maddie Rudnick and four-time first team All-Ivy pick Mollie Rogers led Yale to four consecutive Ivy titles and NCAA Tournament appearances. Despite the pair’s success, though, Yale’s most impressive feat may have been in the fall of 2008, when the Elis topped Ohio in a five-set thriller to become one of only two Ivies to win an NCAA game in the past decade.
Princeton men's swimming's average finish of 1.90 is already stellar, but it could have been even better. The Tigers were suspended from completing its 2016-17 season due to a scandal regarding derogatory comments made privately about the school’s women’s swimming and diving team, causing them to finish in last according to our study. In the nine seasons that the Tigers did complete, their average finish was a stellar 1.22, with seven outright Ivy titles and two second-place finishes. Though Princeton’s reign atop the league has been impressive, it remains to be seen whether the Tigers will be able to resume the success they had prior to the suspension.
Despite Penn women’s basketball surge to prominence under Mike McLaughlin the past few years, Princeton stands out as the league’s best team over the entire decade. In the midst of the Tigers’ six outright Ivy titles came a particularly legendary season in 2015, when Princeton finished the regular season 30-0 and reached as high as No. 13 in the AP poll. But even with all of that success, the Tigers were controversially given a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which remains as the worst seed for any unbeaten men’s or women’s Division I team since 1998. Even with the poor draw, though, the 2015 Tigers became only the second Ivy women’s team to ever win a March Madness game. More recently, 2018 graduate Leslie Robinson became the third Ivy player ever picked in the WNBA Draft.
Since arriving at Penn at the start of the 21st century, coach Karin Corbett has gradually built the Quakers into a powerhouse. Though the program’s peak came in the late 2000s, with three straight Final Four appearances from 2007 to 2009, it’s hard to be too disappointed with where the team has been since. Penn has won at least a share of 11 of the past 12 Ivy titles, and the Quakers have made 12 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. 2010 Tewaaraton Award finalist Ali DeLuca and all-time Ivy League assists leader Nina Corcoran have perhaps been the biggest faces of Penn’s rise to the nation’s top tier. Still, with the likes of Gabby Rosenzweig, Erin Barry, and Zoe Belodeau still in the program, the Red and Blue's reign over the Ivy League looks primed to continue.
As far as traditional team sports go within the Ivy League, it simply doesn’t get better than Princeton field hockey. The Tigers have come away with the outright Ivy title nine times in 10 years, with the only miss coming after an overtime loss to eventual champion Harvard in 2016. As for thriving on the national stage, Princeton has 30 of the league’s 32 all-time NCAA Tournament wins, including all 17 that have come in the past 10 years. The team’s run to the NCAA title in 2012, capped off by a 3-2 win over UNC, stands as the conference’s only national championship ever in the sport. It should come as no surprise that three players from that title-winning squad went on to play in the 2016 Olympics: Kathleen Sharkey and sisters Katie and Julia Reinprecht.
Most other teams listed here have won almost every recent league championship, and have been at or near the top of the league every season. But with Cornell wrestling, there is no “almost” or “near.” The Big Red are the only Ivy team in any sport to have won all of the past 10 conference titles. In fact, Cornell's streak goes all the way back to 2003, with 16 straight outright Ivy championships and 83 straight Ivy dual meets. But perhaps the most impressive part of their run of dominance is that the Big Red have averaged one individual national champion per season in the past decade. Even though the team national title has eluded the Big Red, Cornell did come in second place in both 2010 and 2011.
There are two words that speak louder than any others: national championship. So when a team has done that in seven of the past 10 seasons, it’s hard not to reward it with the top spot. Ironically, the Crimson have more national titles over the past decade than Ivy titles, which speaks equally to the strength of the Ivy League in the sport and to the way Harvard annually raises its game in the postseason. In the eight-team “A” Division of the College Squash Association bracket, Harvard is 27-3 over the past 10 seasons — all three losses coming in their respective season’s national championship match. As for individual talent, the Crimson also have plenty to spare, led by 2015 graduate Amanda Sobhy and her four consecutive CSA individual national titles. The rings don’t lie, and Harvard has been undoubtedly the nation’s top team time and time again.