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Matt Donovan and Benn Rubeor celebrate a goal

Matt Donovan '15 and Benn Rubeor celebrate a goal late in the fourth quarter of the Chesapeake Bayhawks' 15-13 win over the Charlotte Hounds at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on July 25. Photo by Rob Carr.

No time to relax for Cornell's pro lacrosse players

In the 69-day span between his graduation from Cornell on May 24 and his first day of orientation at the Johnson Graduate School of Management on Aug. 2, Connor Buczek's life was a blur of hotel rooms and airports.

Connor Buczek

Connor Buczek '15 made his Major League Lacrosse debut on the road at Boston, recording one assist and one groundball, on May 30. Photo by Justin Lafleur.

Essentially living out of a bag, and with his lacrosse gear in tow, the second overall pick of the Florida Launch in the 2015 Major League Lacrosse Draft played in eight MLL games and worked five different lacrosse camps in five different states.

A native of Cincinnati, Buczek '15 only made it home for a total of seven days this summer. Three of those days were spent running his lacrosse camp -- The Southern Ohio Shootout -- and three were spent preparing for his move back to Ithaca. One final night was spent in his childhood home when he arrived in Cincinnati following an 18-11 win over the Rochester Rattlers in Florida's home finale. He did laundry, got some sleep, packed his car and then drove the nine hours to Ithaca to work the Cornell Lacrosse Camp the following day.

"It was awesome, but travelling was a pain," says Buczek. "I was just flying everywhere, and it's such a hassle. The MLL sets up the flights and there are always a ton of connecting flights and layovers. If there was a delay or I missed a connection, I was on my own scrambling to find a new flight."

Mitch Belisle

Mitch Belisle '07 just completed his ninth season in the MLL, matching the longest tenure by a Cornell alumnus. Photo by Justin Lafleur.

While his summer was taxing, it was hardly unique for a player in the MLL, the top professional lacrosse league in the nation.

The MLL is comprised of eight teams, but with a salary range of $10,000 to $25,000 per season, most of the players hold full-time jobs or attend graduate school, rarely living in the city where their team is located. That means the teams rarely practice together and players are expected to keep in shape and keep their skills sharp on their own. Depending on the job they hold, it can mean a great deal of travel during the five-month season.

In its 15 years of existence, the MLL has seen its share of Cornell alumni take the field, but this past season was a special one, with six former Big Red players -- Buczek, Mitch Belisle '07, Matt Donovan '15, Jason Noble '13, Rob Pannell '13 and Max Seibald '09 -- seeing significant playing time.

Donovan just completed his rookie season with the Chesapeake Bayhawks and, like Buczek, the 2015 graduate found the adjustment a little tricky.

"I commuted from my hometown of Morristown, New Jersey, either flying out to games on the road, or driving down for home games with a teammate," says Donovan. "The MLL is an entirely different game than college. I was able to play with guys I kind of grew up watching, like Matt Danowski, Joe Walters, and Drew Westervelt … So that was pretty surreal."

Working overtime

Matt Donovan

Matt Donovan '15 works against an Ohio Machine defenseman as the Bayhawks earned a 12-11 overtime victory on June 20 at Selby Stadium in Delaware, Ohio. Photo by Jamie Sabau.

Three of the six pro players -- Belisle, Pannell and Seibald -- hold full-time jobs that keep them submerged in the lacrosse lifestyle. Belisle works as the director of marketing for Trilogy Lacrosse, a company that provides lacrosse education through clinics, camps, and select teams, while Pannell and Seibald run 423Lax, LLC, which sponsors camps and clinics that take them around the country year-round.

"My time at Cornell and my degree have helped me in many different ways when it comes to running a successful lacrosse business," says Seibald. "Many of my classes such as finance, accounting, public speaking, excel, entrepreneurship and others have helped me with the tangible skills and fundamentals of running a business."

The trio supplements their income with various sponsorship deals. Belisle is an Under Armour athlete and is also sponsored by Trilogy Lacrosse, while Seibald signed with Nike when he graduated from Cornell and just recently re-signed for an additional three years. Pannell has his own product line with Brine, RP3 Lacrosse, which features gloves, stick heads and shafts that bear his name, and this winter the company will launch a youth line as well. He also has deals in place with StringKing Lacrosse, 5-Hour Energy, and 5&FIV3, which is his own apparel line.

Jason Noble

After being drafted 10th overall by the now defunct Hamilton Nationals in the 2013 MLL Draft, Jason Noble '13 has played the past two seasons with the Chesapeake Bayhawks. Photo by Rob Carr.

"My sponsorships are extremely beneficial in allowing me to be a full-time professional lacrosse player," says Pannell. "Not only do they help provide me with the financial backing to live in NYC and be able to train full time, but also allow me to grow my brand through various outlets."

Noble, the only one of the six pros with a traditional day job, began working for TD Securities in May. Noble was the 10th overall pick of the now defunct Hamilton Nationals in the 2013 draft and was traded midway through the 2014 season to the Bayhawks, where he was reunited with Donovan. The pair was able to bring a Cornell tradition to their new team.

"Playing with Matt this season was great," says Noble. "He fit in quickly with our team and was a great asset. We carried on the tradition of getting ice cream the night before games a couple times, which was awesome."

For Noble to make his schedule work, he relies heavily on the skills he learned at Cornell.

"Playing in the MLL with a traditional 9-to-5 job is always tough," Noble says. "Playing at Cornell definitely taught me how to manage my time, prioritize, and make the most of every opportunity. For a Saturday night game, I would normally fly out on Fridays right after work, head straight to practice, and then fly home on Sunday mornings.

Rob Pannell

The No. 1 draft pick in 2012, Rob Pannell '13 led the league in scoring this season and helped the Long Island Lizards to its first MLL Championship since the 2003 season. Photo by Tina Chou '12.

Travel and work life is always a hard balance, but I manage to make it work most of the time because I still love playing the game, and I get to see some of my best friends every weekend."

Noble loves playing so much that, like Belisle, he also plays for the Georgia Swarm of the National Lacrosse League, a professional indoor league that runs from January until June, essentially playing lacrosse for eight months of the year.

"There is some overlap between the MLL and NLL seasons so it can be tough to do," Belisle says. "But I think it's great to have the opportunity to play in both leagues. The bottom line is, if you have the ability to play with the best in the world, you have to take it."

But playing professional lacrosse while working a full-time job can be a grind, and the shelf-life of an MLL player is a short one. Still, Buczek hopes to play as long as he can, and has the goal of making the U.S. National Team for the 2018 FIL World Championships to be held in Manchester, England.

With the selection for that team still two years away, Buczek will need to stay in playing shape, and he will need to do so without the benefit of a coach or teammates to push him.

"There's a lot of dedication and self-motivation that goes into it," says Belisle. "You're working for your teammates, even though you're not with them, toward a common goal. Plus, there are always young guys coming out each year trying to take your spot."

Max Seibald

Max Seibald '09, the second overall pick in the 2009 MLL draft, just finished his seventh season in the league, including his first with the Boston Cannons, where he was reunited with Cornell teammate Mitch Belisle '07. Photo by Justin Lafleur.

Belisle has been holding off the young guys the longest of all the Cornellians. With nine seasons under his belt, he matches former Big Red defender Ryan McClay '03 for the longest MLL tenure by a Cornell alumnus. Drafted 12th overall by the now-defunct Los Angeles Riptide, Belisle played two seasons on the West Coast before being picked up by his current team, the Boston Cannons, when the Riptide franchise folded. He served as team captain of the Cannons for four seasons, is a three-time MLL All-Star, won an MLL championship with the team in 2011, and was named to the All-MLL Team that same year.

Last season, Belisle and Seibald, his newly acquired teammate, reached the MLL semifinals, where they fell to Pannell's New York Lizards in overtime. Seibald, the second overall pick in the 2009 MLL Draft played three seasons with the Denver Outlaws before being traded to the Lizards, where he spent three seasons before being traded to Boston prior to the 2015 season. Seibald has been a four-time All-Star and he has been named to the All-MLL Team once during his career.

"Playing with my team at Cornell was so incredibly special," says Belisle. "My whole professional career I've tried to get back to that feeling and having Max on the team with me this year, and the way our team came together with him, was probably as close to that as I've come since leaving Ithaca."

Jason Noble and Mitch Belisle at National Lacrosse League event

Noble and Belisle both play for the Georgia Swarm of the National Lacrosse League, a professional indoor league. Noble was the second overall pick in the 2013 NLL draft. Photo by Abel Images.

After beating the Cannons, Pannell's team went on to win the 2015 MLL Championship, giving the Lizards their first title since 2003, as he scored four goals and handed out one assist in the 15-12 victory over the Rochester Rattlers. The all-time scoring leader in Cornell history, Pannell was the first overall pick in the 2012 MLL Draft, and went on to be named the 2013 MLL Rookie of the Year. He is a three-time All-Star, a two-time All-MLL Team selection, and finished the 2015 campaign as the leading scorer in the league with 68 points in the regular season and 77 overall after the playoffs.

For Pannell, a Long Island native, winning the title with the Lizards was a dream come true.

"I grew up a Lizards fan and it was always a dream of mine to play for them one day," says Pannell. "To win my first-ever championship with the Lizards is so special." He credited the work ethic instilled in him at Cornell by the coaching staff with contributing to much Big Red teams' success, as well as his own.

Like Pannell, Noble also points to his time at Cornell as being crucial to his success as a professional player.

"With lacrosse at Cornell, you only have so much time off-season as a team due to Ivy League rules, and you must make the most of every minute," he says. "With work and lacrosse, you need to make sure you organize your day and make it as efficient as possible to get done what needs to be done, but also spend time with family and friends. Playing at Cornell has helped me balance my work-lacrosse-personal life so that I am able to do all three at a high level."

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