The course of play at the Class of 1952 Stadium’s Sherrerd Field had visiting Rutgers (7-4 overall, 2-2 Big East) leading 6-3 through one and a half quarters. Princeton’s faceoff unit failed to produce a win in the first frame, leading to a possession disparity frustrating for the home side. However, with a top-down complete effort the Tigers (5-4, 1-2 Ivy League) took control and earned a 15-11 victory over their local rivals.
In fact, it would have taken a miracle for the Scarlett Knights to overcome the form of midfielder and senior captain Tom Schreiber and company. Schreiber, perhaps the greatest player in college lacrosse today, supplied four goals and three assists in a master class performance that saw him notch his 98th, 99th, 100th and 101st career goals. Additionally worthy of note, now having tallied a prolific 92 assists, he is the first Ivy League midfielder to ever reach 100 and 90 in the goal and assist columns.
Career numbers have some intrinsic value. There’s a beauty to a round 100. However, the meaning of the captain’s achievements became manifest in the sheer level of energy that propelled this Princeton side. The Class of 1952 Stadium’s crowd roared when the century announcement came over the loudspeakers. Characteristically humble, he turned for a quick wave to the cheering fans before getting right back into the action.
“It’s a testament to who he is,” head coach Chris Bates said of the crowd showing their support. “You just see a genuine appreciation, respect and love for his accomplishments. Because he’s earned it. And he’s just such a wonderful young man that people are happy for him. The air’s rare. He’s putting up some historic numbers. At the end of the day, he’s proud of it, we’re proud of it, but he’d be the first to tell you that the win is the most important thing.”
There’s a narrative trope in epic known as an aristeia, etymologized to the word arête meaning excellence. The term describes the moment when a warrior becomes more or less unstoppable in battle. While the attribution may be hyperbolic in a sense, those watching the game witnessed an athlete’s moment of excellence.
No Tiger or Knight could match the senior’s sheer drive. There was an abundance of plays which demonstrated his talent and poise. For example, with less than thirty seconds left in the first half, the midfielder took the ball in his stick behind the goal, dodged once and then again to get the best of his defender and fed his partner-in-crime, junior attackman Mike MacDonald, perfectly for a finishing goal at the :07 mark. Although not often a behind-the-crease player, Schreiber feels discomfort nowhere on Sherrerd Field. With the 8-6 lead going into the locker room and all the energy in the world, the Tigers had acquired enough confidence to power past this opponent.
“This is the time for him to take the next step and help lead this team,” Bates said of his senior standout. “He can carry a team on his back, and in essence we’re asking him to do that in some ways. He’s got the full command of his team and their respect. His voice goes a long way. We’re challenging him to push his teammates around and finish this thing the way we want to.”
Sophomore attackman Ryan Ambler, whose five goals surpassed even Schreiber’s, noted that the leadership from all three captains — seniors long stick midfielder Derick Raabe and defensive midfielder Jack Strabo — had been indispensable in shaping this team.
“They do a great job leading our guys,” Ambler said. “I think the best thing they do is lead by example. All three of them — Derick, Tom and Jack — they’re the hardest workers. They show us the right way to do things and they really lead us in the right direction.”
If the Tigers hoped to realize their early-season ambitions, they knew this contest had to go their way. And this Rutgers team was no pushover. Though unranked, the Knights play in a strong Big East conference that features the likes of former Princeton head coach Bill Tierney’s Denver Pioneers. Their scoring rate of 13.18 goals per game coming into the game ranked among the nation’s most prolific. On Saturday they managed a perfect 12 of 12 clears, an impressive 20 of 30 faceoff wins and a balanced offense with nine different scorers.
In order to overcome the visitors from Piscataway, coach Bates commented that the practices leading up to the game had focused on honing fundamentals.
“We focused on playing the body,” he began. “We focused on getting low and picking up ground balls with two hands. We [the coaches] challenged them this week and they responded. I don’t think we’re all the way there yet. But this was good to get kind of a gritty win against a good team.”
Bates and his staff made a number of bold moves that helped secure success for their team. Junior goalkeeper Eric Sanschagrin earned his first start and win of the season. Additionally, the offensive lineup saw some tweaking, with junior midfielder Kip Orban migrating down to attack and senior Tucker Shanley taking his place on the first middie line.
With junior faceoff specialist Justin Murphy still sidelined, freshman Jack O’Brien took much of the load at the X. Only nine wins in 25 attempts came to the first-year player, but he was battling against one of the country’s very best in Joseph Nardella. Additionally, a number of O’Brien’s wins were timely, correlating with successful offensive possessions for Princeton.
“In the second half, the difference was Jack,” Bates remarked. “He fought and he clawed and picked up big ground balls. I would have thought the stats would have been a little better than they were, but it clearly shifted the tide.”
This team effort featured contributions from deep into the roster. Senior attackman Will Himler took a number of runs on offense and tallied his first goal of the season. His score came under two minutes after Schreiber’s hundredth, as Himler simply out-willed his defender on a dodge from behind to finish with a low bounce shot.
Sophomore defenseman Luke Brugger, also usually absent from the stat sheet, took a run on defense. The Massachusetts native often receives praise from teammates for being a fantastic locker room presence, and was highlighted by the hot-handed sophomore attackman Ryan Ambler postgame as one of the players who help push the team forward in practice.
“I don’t even want to call them bench guys,” Ambler said. “They beat us up pretty good every day and they make us earn everything that we can get. They push us forward every single day. Luke Brugger, in particular, he guards me every day in practice, and it is not easy getting past him.”
Three of Ambler’s career-high five goals came consecutively within under 90 seconds. Usually prolific in the assist column, the Pennsylvania native got the best of Rutgers’ Kris Alleyne time and time again.
“Ryan’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Bates said “We’re challenging him to evolve and be more assertive. Last year he was, at times, playing second fiddle. Now he’s not.”
There was a great deal to be said about this return to form for Princeton. After this win, the pressure will remain on high as they compete for a shot at the Ivy League tournament.
“You always think ahead: if you don’t win it, what are you going to say to your team?” coach Bates said of his team’s rebound victory. “And I think it would have been challenging. My message either way is that I think we’re on the right path. What we’ve learned is you can’t just put the jersey on. You’ve got to be more accountable. We’ve got to be better teammates day in and day out. And that’s not always easy.”