March 29, 2007

Ten Questions with Mitch Belisle

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After being named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance in two wins against then-No. 5 Duke and Yale, senior co-captain Mitch Belisle of the men’s lacrosse team sat down with Paul Testa to compare the lengths of their sticks.

1. How was your Spring Break?

It was good. It was very good to get away with the team and have a good couple of games.

You took a trip down to Durham, N.C., where you beat then-No. 5 Duke, 7-6. Was that better than a Carnival booze cruise in the Caribbean?

It was. It was big, especially with last year, where there was a question of the legitimacy of the win because of the situation that they had. It was nice to solidify the fact that we beat them because we outplayed them and not because of any other reason.

Wasn’t Duke ranked No. 1 in the nation earlier in the year?

They were until they lost to Loyola.

It seems like every team this year, except for Cornell, has had trouble holding on to the No. 1 spot. How does it feel to be the first Cornell lacrosse team to hold the No. 1 ranking since 1978?

It’s exciting, but I think it’s definitely something we hope for later in the year rather than right now. It’s a nice thing to have, and it motivates us every day to get better, but we can’t look too much into it. It’s something we’re looking to have at the end of the season rather than in the middle.

Is there added pressure now as the No. 1 team in the nation?

Definitely, I think just having that No. 1 on your back is huge for other teams because that could be their ticket to the playoffs. The past two times we’ve been beaten by Penn, both times they got to go the playoffs.

2. You’re playing Penn at home this Saturday at 3 p.m. The Quakers scored an 8-6 upset against you guys last season. Can you guarantee a win for the Red this year?

[Laughs] I can’t do that, no. I can guarantee that we’ll play hard and try to win.

I see Athletic Communications has put you through the Bull Durham school of interviewing. Fine. But what is it about Penn these past couple of years that has given the team trouble?

Both times we’ve lost have been at Penn’s Franklin Field. I don’t think it’s a specific field that can cause you to lose but it could be overconfidence or overlooking them. We’ve had a problem coming out and just getting up for the game. Last year, we were also 6-0 and maybe we felt a little too good about ourselves. This year, we’ve made a conscious effort to ground ourselves in knowing that every game is important, especially in the Ivy League.

3. You’re a close defender and sometimes play the pole for Cornell. Do you have a longer stick?

Yeah, I have a 6-0 stick. I’m a close defenseman for the most part, and the pole is usually [senior] Ethan Vedder, but depending on the match-ups, like against Yale, I’ll go up to the wing and play pole.

Let’s talk about your stick. Is it nice to have one of the biggest sticks on the team?

It definitely makes defending easier, that’s for sure.

Are the other guys jealous in the locker room?

[Laughs] I think there are enough of us with long poles on the team that no one has to get too jealous.

Does it ever get in the way?

I think we’ve all learned how to handle them.

4. Long stick and all, you’re arguably the cornerstone of a very solid Red defense and are often the guy who has to match up against an opposing team’s best scorer. How do you prepare yourself for such responsibilities?

It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but it’s something I look forward to and enjoy. Especially when you have a good game. It feels good to know that you were able to stop their best attacker and help your team get the victory. It’s a lot of pressure, but I enjoy having it on my shoulders.

These people, like Duke’s Matt Danowski, are used to scoring at will. What does it take to shut someone like that down?

I think one of the biggest things is that our scout guys give me a great look every week. Guys like [freshman] Ryan Hurley and [sophomore] Christian Pasitirik, who might not be in the games on Saturdays every time, but Mondays through Thursdays they’re giving me a look of how this attackman is going to play, and how he’s going to shoot. It helps unbelievably because they can mimic how they play.

You were also a scout guy your freshman year. Is this just part of the Cornell program’s process?

Definitely. It’s something that people outside the locker room really have a hard time appreciating. Getting that look on the other teams offense or defense is key to getting the victory on Saturday. They play just as much of a part in the victory on Saturday as we do. It’s a tough position, but it’s something that greatly helps our team.

5. In your other game over Spring Break, a 19-8 victory over Yale, you scored your first career goal. How did it feel?

It was exciting. I was just glad to help the team put some points on the board.

Describe the moment for me.

It was a face off. I was on the wing and [sophomore] Tommy Schmicker won the ball back. He picked it up and two guys doubled to him and he threw to [senior] Ethan Vedder and he passed it off to me. I was running down, and I saw a slide coming at me out of control from the crease. I rolled back to try and get open. When I looked in front of me, there was a wide open net and so I went down, shot it, and it went in. I was pumped.

It sounds like it was over pretty quickly.

It was.

Were you nervous at all?

Not really, because I wasn’t counting on it. It was just something that kind of fell into my lap.

Is it something you plan on doing more often or are you going to save yourself for the right occasion?

I’m still going to be the defensive guy, but if I get the chance to run one over I’ll take my shots selectively.

6. The last lacrosse player to do a 10 Questions interview, Joe Boulukos [’06] is currently playing in Major League Lacrosse. Is that something you see in your future?

I’d love to if I could be able to. I’m not exactly the stereotypical MLL defensemen in that I’m not a take-away guy. I’m more of a position player, which would definitely make it tough for me. If I had the opportunity, I would love to play, and indoor lacrosse too.

I’ve seen box lacrosse on TV. It seems like the most vicious sport I’ve ever seen after MTV’s Next. I remember one play in particular, where the action was headed back downfield and this defenseman turns to an attacker who had fallen down and just slams him in the facemask with his stick. Is that normal?

It’s definitely one of the grimiest and dirtiest sports, but it’s all in good fun. It’s not meant to hurt people. It’s tough play and hardnosed lacrosse, which I think is always fun. In the winter we play indoor as a team up in Lansing and that gets a little chippy sometimes, but usually it’s pretty good.

7. It’s been a year since the Duke lacrosse story broke. What is your take now on the whole affair and what it means for lacrosse?

I think it was a frustrating experience because I don’t think anyone got a fair deal —anyone on any side of the equation. It seems like [district attorney Mike] Nifong made a lot of mistakes and kind of went on a witch-hunt, which was frustrating. But you can’t jump to conclusions. [Duke’s players] definitely did things that were not smart and they’re obviously going to have to pay for those things. It’s unfortunate because it seems like it drew in a lot of things that didn’t happen or things that put them in a spot much tougher than they should have been in.

Do you feel like the sport of lacrosse has been able to recover from this story?

I don’t think it’s bad or good. I think people are starting to realize that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about any group of people, not so much just lacrosse players. I think in the end, now that the facts have come out that it was a big misunderstanding or that it was blown out of proportion.

Is it time to put this story away?

As soon as these kids get full justice it will be. They are still in the hornets’ nest with a lot ongoing things. Only time will tell, but I think as all the facts come out it will be fixed and I think people will be all right.

8. Across the board it seems like Cornell sports have had to overcome some tremendous tragedies. The men’s lacrosse team lost No. 21 George Bioardi [’04] during a tragic accident in a game against Binghamton on March 17, 2004. How did such a terrible loss change the dynamic of Cornell’s program?

It makes you take a step back and think about caring more about each other rather than just wins and losses. You really see it in someone who was just that dedicated to the team and that dedicated to the program. It inspires you to play hard every game. Every game we talk about getting “21 stats” or “Bioardi stats,” and those aren’t goals or assists or the things that go on the stats sheet. They’re hustle plays, big hits, and something that gets the team going intangibly. Those are somethings we strive for in practice and it carries over into games. That’s what Cornell lacrosse is all about now and I think that’s huge.

It seems like there really is a Cornell lacrosse family that spans classes and generations. How important is that network of support?

It’s awesome. Over Spring Break at Duke, the alumni from the band came, and they had their red-striped polo shirts. When we came out and heard them playing, we all went nuts and after the game we all ran over and gave them a salute. Those are the kind of things and having our families come to every single game is something you can’t describe how important it is to us.

9. It’s come to my attention that you are sort of the starving orphan on the team. Senior co-captain Matt McMonagle claims you owe him over 400 free meals for the food you’ve taken. Is this true?

This is true. I’m probably the biggest mooch on the team, in terms of food. I think it was past down to me by Joe Boulukos, the food tax, and I exercise my food tax pretty much every time someone around me is eating something that looks delicious.

What are some of your favorite items?

I’m not a picky eater so everything looks good to me, a bite of sandwich here and chip there.

Who are your favorite targets?

Whoever’s closest to me and has food.

I respect a good raccoon. On the team, who has the potential to fill your role next year?

That’s tough. There are a lot of good candidates, a lot of hungry people. I think [sophomore] George Calvert is a very nice kid, but he also eats more food than I’ve ever seen anyone before. Then again, he’s also the one who has food so I don’t know if he’ll be mooching off people.

10. As a sort of preliminary 10th question for full disclosure, you have a girlfriend who’s out of the country correct?

I do. She’s in Barcelona.

How’s she doing?

She’s doing great.

Is she going to read this?

I don’t know. I’ll probably have to send it to her.

Let’s assume she’s not going to read it. What’s the hottest women’s varsity team at Cornell?

I knew this was coming, and I got a lot of pressure from [sophomore] Nick Gradinger to say the women’s track team.

Woah, you know the rules. This has to be your own opinion.

Well, I’ve got to give you my reason. He’s got a big crush on “Shannon C.” on the women’s track team, so he put a lot of pressure on me, but I had to make my own decision. The fencing team is pretty mysterious. Women’s fencing doesn’t get much love in 10 Questions so maybe I’ll have to give it to them.

The masks are intriguing.

And the full body costume. It’s different, but I don’t know maybe women’s soccer. They’re always a safe bet.

I need a final answer.

I’ll have to buckle under the pressure and go with the women’s track team. I’m going to stand by my boy Nick Gradinger.

You got my hopes up with women’s fencing.

They’re maybe a little too mysterious. You can’t see their faces.

That’s never stopped me before.

Paul Testa is a Sun senior writer. 10 Questions will appear every Thursday this semeser, unless Testa is too busy watching one of his Assistant Sports Editors fight Nick Gradinger for the affections of a certain “Shannon C.” Questions and comments may be sent to pft4@cornell.edu.