Midfielder Tom Schreiber led Princeton in goals (32) and assists… (Princeton Athletics )
For three weeks in June 2009, Tom Schreiber was in a bit of limbo about his status as Princeton's most prized men's lacrosse recruit.
Bill Tierney had just resigned as coach after 22 seasons, and Schreiber, a midfielder, was growing worried.
Then the university named Chris Bates from Drexel as Tierney's successor.
Bates dispelled Schreiber's anxiety quickly, driving to the family home in East Meadow, N.Y., the day after he was hired to meet with Doug and Liz Schreiber, and then spend a few hours with their son.
"I kind of had a unique recruiting experience," Tom Schreiber recalled. "Because I committed to Coach Tierney at Princeton and then when he left for Denver, the job was vacant for a little while. When Coach Bates got that job, that reaffirmed my decision. The day after Coach Bates got the job, he came to my house and met my family, and we talked for about two or three hours. So Coach Bates really made the difference for me."
Added Bates: "He came to win at the highest level, and my goal as the coach at Princeton was to do the same. So I wanted him to see and feel that face-to-face, and help him understand that his initial decision was a good one and a right one. Even with the coaching change, I wanted him to have a comfort that going forward, we were going to be on the same page. It was a good meeting, and thankfully, he decided to hold true to the orange and black."
No. 14 Princeton (1-0) — which will meet No. 5 Johns Hopkins (3-0) on Friday night at Homewood Field — has been reaping the benefits of Bates' forethought for the past three seasons. In 2011, Schreiber was tabbed by the Ivy League as the Rookie of the Year after becoming the first freshman to lead the Tigers in both goals (16) and assists (13).
Last season, Schreiber paced the team in goals (32) and assists (28) again en route to being named a first-team All-American. That's why ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich has no qualms about calling the 6-foot, 190-pound Schreiber the best midfielder in the country.
"A tremendous playmaker," the former All-American Johns Hopkins goalkeeper said. "He's really versatile in the way he can attack the goal and attack the defense — whether it be left-handed or right-handed or off the dodge. Exceptional vision, incorporates his teammates. Has the ball in his stick an awful lot, but he just puts up huge numbers and can hurt teams in so many different ways. He's one of the more dangerous players in the country from the midfield position, and I think he presents a pretty big test for Hopkins."
Schreiber's indoctrination to college lacrosse was sudden. In the fall before his first spring season, sophomore midfielder Mike Chanenchuk — the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2010 — broke his collarbone; he would not play in 2011. Senior attackman Jack McBride played just two games before injuring his groin and sitting out the rest of the 2011 season. (Chanenchuk eventually transferred to Maryland, while McBride completed his last year of eligibility at North Carolina.)
Schreiber fared well under the scrutiny, but his supporting cast this season appears to be more diverse. Freshman attackman Ryan Ambler posted a game-high four points in Princeton's season-opening 10-7 victory over Hofstra, and sophomore attackman Mike MacDonald scored three goals.
"Our offense this year makes it hard to key on one player," said Schreiber, who recorded two goals and one assist against the Pride. "We have so many guys that can make plays — whether it's from behind the goal line or at 'X' [behind the net] or at the wings or up top."
Bates said Schreiber understands he will still draw a generous amount of attention from opponents, but he doesn't want Schreiber to feel like he has to don a cape for every contest.
"I think he's added layers to his game and I think you'll see him really develop that much more this year," Bates said. "I think you'll see more defense, more wings on faceoffs, distributing the ball even more. But we say it often, that he doesn't need to carry the load. There are times when he will, but more times than not, we're trying to help him facilitate our offense and not feel like he's got to be the offense."
Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said the dilemma in crafting a defensive game plan against Schreiber is trying to determine whether he's more dangerous as a scorer or a distributor.