With demanding practices, weekly games and a full set of classes, in-season athletes have some of the most grueling schedules at Yale. However, Bulldogs Jason Alessi ’18 and Kiwi Comizio ’18 do not commit to this for just one season out of the year. Instead, they do it for two.
Alessi and Comizio are among just a handful of athletes that have the athletic ability and dedication to play multiple sports at the college level. Both are currently in the midst of the spring lacrosse season, yet they dedicate themselves to different sports in the fall: football for Alessi and field hockey for Comizio.
For both of these first-year athletes, committing large amounts of time to two different varsity teams is an overwhelming burden at times.
“I knew it’d be tough, but I didn’t know to what extent,” Alessi said. “It’s pretty insane.”
Until his senior year of high school, Alessi had not considered either Yale or playing two sports as a possible future plan. He played football, basketball and lacrosse in high school, but only expected to play lacrosse on the college level.
As a sophomore, Alessi committed to play lacrosse at Michigan. With a family legacy of Wolverine athletes and a lifelong dream of playing in Ann Arbor, he described it as a dream scenario. After a strong junior football season, however, Alessi began to receive attention from Ivy League football coaches. The next fall, Yale invited him to campus for a visit.
“I didn’t know what to expect … I did it just to be nice,” Alessi said. “We were blown away by the whole experience. I saw the opportunity I’d have, and we knew this what where I should go.”
Following a spinal cord injury to fellow defensive back Spencer Rymiszewski ’17 in Yale’s Oct. 25 game against Penn, Alessi immediately stepped in and starred, recording two interceptions in the next week’s game against Columbia and finishing the year with 35 tackles.
But after the conclusion of the football season and Thanksgiving break, Alessi began to yearn for the lacrosse field once again. Once he successfully convinced his football coaches to let him play, Alessi came out for the lacrosse team this winter and began splitting his time between the two teams.
“He’s been a welcome surprise for us,” lacrosse teammate Michael Keasey ’16 said. “He does his football workouts at 5 a.m. and then comes to our practices in the afternoon and never complains. We expected him to be good, but he’s exceeded all expectations and become a big part of our offense.”
Unlike Alessi, on the other hand, Comizio came to Yale expecting to deal with the challenges of balancing two different sports.
Comizio started playing lacrosse when she was roughly eight years old and joined a travel league after seventh grade; by contrast, she did not pick up field hockey until about a year later. She was recruited by Yale for lacrosse and verbally committed in the fall of her junior year.
Comizio never considered that she would have the opportunity to play both sports after high school and was surprised when she received a phone call from field hockey coach Pam Stuper asking her to consider accepting a spot on the roster in January of her senior year. With support from Stuper and women’s lacrosse head coach Anne Phillips, whose offices are across the hall from each other, she was happy to get the chance to give both sports the college try.
“In season, I made an agreement that when I’m in season, you have all my attention,” Comizio said. “In the fall, field hockey takes precedence. In spring, lacrosse does. It’s hard to adjust sometimes. Teams do things differently.”
Comizio trains throughout summer and winter breaks to get back into practice with both sports, although lacrosse comes more easily for her.
That said, her biggest impact has been for the field hockey team. The New Vernon, New Jersey native tied for sixth on the team with three points and played in all 17 games last season.
According to teammates, Comizio has proved her dedication to both teams with her work ethic and preparation.
“Being a two-sport athlete doesn’t affect her play in each season,” field hockey teammate Emmy Reinwald ’17 said. “When she steps on Johnson Field, she isn’t a two-sport athlete, she’s a field hockey player. Kiwi brings a high level of athleticism and competitiveness which makes it easy to see why both teams wanted her.”
Despite the fact that both lacrosse and field hockey involve stick handling skills, Comizio says that sports are quite different. Because lacrosse is played in the air and field hockey is played on the ground, the skill set is largely dissimilar, according to Comizio. Furthermore, she plays attacker in lacrosse and defenseman in field hockey, positions that require opposite mentalities.
Alessi acknowledges the differences, but he sees his two sports as complementary. As a midfielder in lacrosse and a defensive back in football, both positions put a premium on good footwork. In addition, both sports are extremely demanding physically, so many of the workouts and exercises from one sport also help him improve in the other.
For Alessi, the biggest difference between the two is the preparation involved from game to game.
“Football is really time-consuming because we do so much film study and scouting … it’s crazy how much film we watch,” Alessi said. “Lacrosse is less scouting, and more just going out and playing. At the end of the day, if you have the skills and play well enough, you should win.”
Being a dual-sport athlete is tough and requires a large time commitment, according to Comizio. However, she believes that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. She has learned how to manage her time and she is constantly in shape in order to be ready for both seasons. She also credits the time she spends with the players, coaches and alumni of both teams as a major benefit of belonging to both rosters.
“I’m taking it year by year, but I already know that next year I’m playing both,” Comizio said. “I guess I can’t really imagine a life here where I’m not always playing a sport. I’m definitely [happy]. I don’t think there’s any time I really regretted it.”
Alessi, on the other hand, admits that he struggles some with juggling the two teams, having to attend multiple workouts, meetings or practices for both teams every day, even in the offseason. Nonetheless, he will definitely be playing football next year before re-evaluating his future.
“As I get older, I should gain respect in both sports and hopefully have more leeway,” Alessi said. “To be honest, I have no idea [about future plans].”