Making the jump to National Lacrosse League (NLL) as a rookie is never easy, especially when box lacrosse isn’t the game you grew up playing.
But Cornell’s former All-American defender Mitch Belisle (pronounced Bell-ile) seems to be making the adjustment well with the New York Titans.
In this edition of our weekly Rookie Q&A, Mitch talks about how he’s handled making the cross-over from field to box, and his advice to other young field players hoping to make the pro ranks.
You were actually named the NCAA’s Best Defender in 2007. Do you have aspirations to play at the 2010 Worlds and what are your plans to continue playing field lacrosse?
“Yeah, that would definitely be a dream come true (to play for Team USA at the World Field Lacrosse Championships)… Eventually I’d like to be a veteran in this league and keep playing, make some All-Star games and make a good run of it. Win the Champion’s Cup.”
What’s been your favorite lacrosse moment?
“As far as lacrosse in general, it would have to be coming out in front of 52,000 people at the Final Four this past Spring (for Cornell). In terms of box lacrosse, I think it was actually seeing the whole workings of Rory Smith fighting Snider this year. The crowd just got so into it. The way it went down, it was a lot of fun to have front row tickets to that.”
How about Rory and Jordan Hall? How are you rookies gelling?
“It’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun to get to hang out with those guys. We’ve got several rookie duties that we take care of, including awarding the player of the game – so that’s one of the fun things we get to do together. Jordan actually lives right down the street from me in Manhattan so we get to hang out quite a bit. And then Rory it’s always good to see him every weekend.”
At what point did you consider giving the NLL game a serious look?
“I’d say probably my senior year is when I really started thinking about it, and kind of hoped I could play. Guys who have come out of Cornell before, like Sean Greenhalgh (NLL Buffalo), really led the way for me and kind of let me know what the deal was. Ian Rosenburger (NLL Wings ‘07) also told me a little about the league and that got me excited about it.”
In the February edition of Inside Lacrosse, there’s a few great stories from Americans who’ve recently made the cross-over to box. Zach Heffner, now in his second season with the Stealth, said: “One of my very first shifts in a training camp scrimmage, I was down on the defensive end cross-checking a guy on the crease, a totally legal move… As I gave him a few jabs he turned to me and said, ‘cross check me one more time and we’re gonna go, eh’.
“Again, not being someone to back down and also not understanding the severity of his threat, I gave him one more quick hello from my shaft. As soon as it touched his back, he spun around and planted his fist right on my kisser. It was a pretty hard punch, driving my facemask into my chin and cutting me pretty good. I think that was my first official introduction to the indoor game – and it was awesome!”
Do you have a story about your first experience in the NLL?
(laughs) “Yeah, I still get made fun of all the time for it… I guess after one of my first shifts against Portland - it was just our first game and there was probably 12-13,000 people there – I came running off and the door was crowded so I jumped all the way over the boards and looked around and said ‘this is awesome!’, and was just freaking out.
“So every time I get excited the guys are like ‘this is awesome!’ That was kind of my welcome to the NLL moment, just being so excited to be out there I was jumping over the boards and looking for anyone beside me to talk to.”
Right on. Now you’re beginning to get more floor time. Are you starting to feel more comfortable out there?
“Yeah, definitely. It’s been nice to get out there and kind of play the last couple games in a row. Definitely as the season’s gone on I’ve felt more and more comfortable with my role on the floor, when to push it and when not to. You know, just how to play the indoor game. It’s been a learning experience, but it’s been good.”
What sort of advice have guys been giving you?
“We talk about working through picks and really communication has been big. Guys like Matt Alrich, Rich Brzeski, and a lot of the veteran defenders on the team have been really helpful. Playing with Patty Merrill has been awesome. He’s such a great defender, good scraper and great guy. So he’s been a huge help with the transition.”
What would you tell a young field player who also wants to make the NLL, or is considering it?
“I think it’s definitely something to aspire to. I’d tell him to just try his best and just get out there and take every opportunity he has to try and play, and talk to people about breaking into the league or about what he needs to do to get better. I think it’s definitely different for American offensive players and defensive players getting into the league. But I’d say take every opportunity you can to learn the game and try to play, ’cause it’s a great time.”
Finally, as a team you’ve got a serious shot at playoffs after winning four of your last five. What’s the feeling like in your dressing room right now?
“It’s good. It’s one that we’re starting to build a little bit of confidence, a little bit of swagger. We have confidence that we know we can win every game, that we should win some games down the stretch. We’re really working on coming together as a team and making everything happen here at the end when it counts.”
New York (5-5) currently sits a half game back of the fourth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Division. They will play the league’s top team in Philadelphia (7-1) this weekend.
Note: NLL coverage is also in your regular Inside Lacrosse (IL) Magazine. It’s a great read so definitely consider subscribing if you haven’t already. For more stories on Americans Surviving the NLL Game, check Volume 12, Issue 2 of IL. In the March issue of IL, there’s a feature on 6 Rising NLL Stars, including interviews with the two guys who currently lead the league in goals scored, Athan Iannucci and Jeff Zywicki.
And if you want to take Mitch’s advice and try out some box lacrosse, the New York Titans are actually hosting a Titans Twilight Tournament in Manhattan on Friday, March 28. The indoor tournament is for post-collegiate players and teams and will be a four-on-four box format with goalies. For more information, check out nytitanslacrosse.com.An All-America at Simon Fraser and a decorated Jr. A player for Coquitlam, Kojima began covering lacrosse in 2003 and started working for Inside Lacrosse in 2007. Email him at email@example.com or go to www.laxfuj.com.
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