When junior Mitch Belisle first picked up the game of lacrosse back home in Severna Park, Md., his father, Richard, bought him his first stick – a long pole.
Belisle was puzzled. For one thing, he planned on playing attacking midfielder. So, he cut the stick in half and made two short sticks.
Years later, Belisle laughs when he recalls that memory.
“My dad always makes fun of me … He said [back then], ‘You should get used to this, I have a feeling in college you’re going to be playing defense,'” Belisle said.
Indeed in this case, father knows best. Today, Belisle not only plays close defense, but is also the leader of a Cornell unit that has only conceded 4.86 goals per game this season – good for second-best in the nation. After starting as a sophomore last year, with the departures of Kyle Georgalas ’05 and Casey Stevenson ’05, Belisle has been tasked with covering the opposing team’s most dangerous offensive threat this season.
“This year, he’s really turned out to be one of our top defensemen and has filled the shoes of some of the great defensemen who have played here in the past,” said assistant coach Ben DeLuca ’98. “He’s really stepped his game up through off-season work … and it’s paying off for him in the spring.”
Although his name will probably not be found on the score sheet at the end of the day, Belisle has played a crucial role in the No. 5 Red’s 6-1, 1-1 Ivy start this season. He limited Duke’s All-American Matt Danowski to a single assist in Cornell’s 11-7 win over the then-No. 2-ranked team and helped to hold Army to one score in a 13-1 trouncing at Schoellkopf Field earlier this season.
Belisle’s emergence is relatively surprising considering he had never even played with a long stick prior to coming to Cornell because of his high school experience on the attacking end. Along with learning the nuances of a new position, it would generally have been difficult task mentally for a player to sacrifice a role of greater prominence for the whole team. However, Belisle did it eagerly and willingly.
“For me, it was no problem at all. I’ll do whatever I can to help the team and if it gets me on the field, it’s even better,” he said. “I could tell right away that I didn’t have what [senior All-American Joe] Boulukos or the other offensive middies had, so it was an easy decision to make.”
Belisle self-admittedly considers his style of play “not exactly pretty but gets the job done.” Aside from this, however, according to his coaches and teammates, it is his heart and determination which sets him apart as they laud his bulldog nature on the field.
“I remember watching him back [in the summer] between his junior and senior years,” said head coach Jeff Tambroni. “He just played with so much heart and one of the things we saw was that he was that he was a little bit raw, but we felt like he was either going to grow into that position in the midfield because he tries so hard or he’s just the kind of guy you need on your team because he brings so many intangibles to the locker room, to the field.”
One of those intangibles is his vocal nature both on and off the field. As opposed to former teammate and now assistant coach Georgalas, who was more reserved as the 2005 team’s undoubted leader, Belisle is constantly shouting instructions and encouragement at his teammates – some of whom are less experienced than him. Belisle said he is sometimes teased for talking too much, but his guidance is appreciated.
“There’s never a day out there when he’s quiet,” said sophomore defenseman Danny Nathan. “Everyday you go out, there are some guys that get you playing, and he’s one of those people who you see the energy in him and the kind of energy from him that goes through everyone in practice.”
Tambroni said that Belisle came into the season in “superior shape” and that the defenseman, worked out practically everyday over the summer and fall with one thought in mind.
“I just made sure to know and think about that every time I was training, there would be someone on a team we’re going to be facing that’s probably training just as hard, so that pushed me to work harder and play as much lacrosse as I could,” he said.
Off the field, Belisle is a happy-go-lucky guy who naturally deflects praise to his other teammates. When asked about his emergence as a leader, he brushes that compliment off to junior goaltender Matt McMonagle. When asked about his role in stopping Danowski and other top attackers, Belisle credits Cornell’s scout team, which mimics the opposition in practice.
However, his contribution to the team over the Red’s first seven games is unquestioned. And shouldering the load of being the main cover guy is a challenge he relishes.
“It’s something I love. It puts a little bit of pressure on me, and I think that’s something that will either make you or break you, and I love that challenge,” Belisle said. “It’s something I look forward to every week, and I can’t wait to match up against Harvard’s top guy [this Saturday].”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Writer