October 7, 2012

Princeton, Schreiber Impress at Play for Parkinson's

New-look Virginia and Georgetown on display too

by Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com

"I think this is the year where the offense finally explodes," Princeton midfielder Tom Schreiber said. "We're cautiously optimistic."
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – It is important to note that it's still fall ball, a time when scores aren't kept and coaches mix up lineups, divvy playing time out more equally, and have far different aims than in season.

Asterisks aside, as LaxMagazine.com's resident "hot airicisit," my job is less to wax about the problems of fall ball speculation and more to provide some filler before spring. Here are some general thoughts on each team that participated in Saturday's third annual Play for Parkinson's tournament – established by former Princeton star Christian Cook and his sister Lauren as a way to benefit ProjectSpark and support efforts to fight Parkinson's disease.

Princeton

This isn't your older brother's Princeton. In scrimmages against Virginia and Georgetown (both games were about even when each team's starters were in), the Tigers showed that they were more transition-friendly offensive juggernaut than defensive grinders.

"If you come to one of our practices, coach [Chris] Bates will be yelling 'Pace, pace,' He's always pushing us to play faster," sophomore Kip Orban said.

The strength of the team lies on their first midfield. Junior phenom Tom Schreiber looks every bit ready to join Rob Pannell, Marcus Holman, Mike Sawyer and co. in the Preseason Player of the Year discussion. Aggressively working from an extended arc above the cage, Schreiber used on-ball picks to shoot on the run or effortlessly draw a double and dump it to the cadre of willing Princeton cutters (he is probably the best player in Division I at keeping his head up with a full head of steam).

"I've always felt a lot more comfortable up top," said Schreiber, who played attack in 2011. "I'm hoping that I play strictly midfield this year."

Linemate Orban is a big, versatile kid who can shoot with both hands and looks primed to take a leap from his freshman year. Tucker Shanley can get just about anywhere he wants to when matched up against a shortstick, but needs to improve his shooting. Moreover, Princeton's box-infused two-man games (called "Oceans" now) still give opponents' headaches.

Even with last year's second-leading scorer Jeff Frocarro sidelined by injury, the attack looked deeper than last season. Canuck Mike MacDonald has expanded his game — Schreiber said he is the best riding attackman in the game — and is the quintessential crafty Canadian complement down low. Freshman quarterback Ryan Ambler (Colin's younger brother) looks confident and game-ready.

"I think this is the year where the offense finally explodes. We're cautiously optimistic," Schreiber said.

Princeton struggles at the face-off (having Froccaro back will help) and lack of a bonafide between-the stripes long pole remains a concern. But the biggest surprise may have been at the defensive end, where despite the loss of longtime defensive staples Tyler Fiorito, Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham, the Tigers looked solid. Rob Costello and Derek Raabe and a host of hyper-athletic defensive-middies (Chris White, Nick Fernandez and Jack Strabo) led the way. Only a freshman, Lawrenceville product and southpaw netminder Matt O'Connor, played most of the game against Virginia and looked rock-solid — save the few times he struggled clearing.

"Were mixing and matching and aren't totally sure who we are down there," Princeton coach Chris Bates said about the Tiger back line. "We grew up a decent amount defensively which is what we really needed to put under a microscope today."

Virginia

Virginia coach Dom Starsia said the Cavaliers are "very much a work in progress."
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

On Saturday, the Wahoos used the scrimmages to remind people that they're still as athletic an outfit as there is in Division I. Whereas the past two seasons, Virginia has looked forward to grinding away in half-field slugfests, Steele Stanwick'a graduation and the rule changes have led UVA to revert back to their usual up-tempo form.

"On this year's team we have a good group of middies. We're a little bit uncertain on the attack. I think the rule changes for us this year suits us on both the personality and the personnel side of things. We're a team that can play a bunch of two-way middies, can push the pace of the play and get up-and-down the field. We don't really want to fight you in box on offense," Starsia said.

The group of end-to-end midfielders includes sophomore Tyler German, "pepper pot" Pat Harbeson and rangy, hard shooting California native Rob Emery, who hurt himself playing summer lacrosse and was on the sideline in a hand cast. Ryan Tucker consistently asserted himself off the dodge, and is probably going to be one of the best midfielders in the country sooner rather than later. Maybe most intriguing, Chris LaPierre ran on UVA's first midfield. Division I's resident plough horse, LaPierre played some defense, took some wings and cleared the ball (at one point running over four Princeton riders), but will probably be focusing more on offense. He scored one goal blowing by a helpless Princeton shortstick.

On attack, Virginia is working by committee. Nick O'Reilly, back from being suspended all of last season, had his moments working from behind the cage. Lefty Mark Cockerton looked like he has regained his 2011 postseason mojo, scoring goals, carrying the ball some more and plucking out tough ground balls. Matt White missed some shots, but is proven gamer. James Pannell has the bloodlines and the ability to break defenders down.

Playing fast will be made easier with a stable full of hyper-athletic defenders who can press to the edge of the boxes and handle the ball. Long pole Tanner Ottenbreit looked like a between-the-lines savant who was equally mean on defense as he was skilled carrying the ball. Scott McWilliams was even better than last year matching-up with attackers.

The biggest question may be in net. Rhody Heller played most of the Princeton game as Austin Geisler and first-year Dan Marino recover from injuries.

"We're still very much a work in progress," Starsia said. "Graduating the likes of Stanwick, Bocklet, Briggs and not having Emery and a bunch of other guys missing, you have to expect some growing pains. But it's been a good fall overall."

Georgetown

Less than a couple months after coach Kevin Warne took over coaching duties on the Hilltop, Georgetown showed early positive returns against Princeton. The former Maryland assistant brought over a bit of that patented Maryland sideline intensity (you could hear his hoarse voice booming from across the sideline) and on-field scrappiness to a program badly needing a shot of adrenaline.

On attack, sophomore Bo Stafford takes over the quarterbacking role from X. A right-hander, the Connecticut native's sweet spot seems to be driving from behind the cage to the five-and-five. Stafford will benefit from junior Travis Comeau and sophomore Reilly O'Connor: two no-frills lefty Canadians with quick releases and a nose for the goal.

At the midfield, Georgetown returns plenty of hardened veterans. Redshirt senior Francis McDonough is a versatile end-to-end guy. Seniors Travis Guy and Jason McFadden are converted attackmen who aren't traditional alley-dodgers but may provide a savvier presence. McFadden scored the first goal against Princeton when he caught and fished a tough interior pass. Sophomore Charles McCormick looks like a potential surprise. Last year's leading scorer Brian Casey wore a boot.

Seniors Chris Nourse and converted shortstick Patrick Murray are athletic close defenders who give the Hoyas some attitude on the back line. Long-stick Tyler Knarr faced off well and is an interesting, C.J. Costabile-like option at the dot. Jake Haley looks like the starter in net.

Air Force

Coach Eric Seremet has done some housecleaning at Air Force, and the work on the recruiting trail has transformed the Falcons into an up-tempo, altitude-friendly squad that no team in Division I wants to play.

The strength of the Falcons is at the attack. Sophomore Keith Dreyer is the table-setter. Jitterbug Mike Crampton was a bit hamstrung finding twine against Towson (he could have had ten goals), but is a crafty, creative finisher who can fill it up. Midfielder Kyle Cassaday can do a bit of everything. Long-stick middie Kyle O'Brien did effective work between the stripes.

Towson

Pesky if not overaggressive at times, Towson looked in some ways like the team we've come to expect from the Tigers, but also as having some nice pieces that could potentially breakout in 2013. The heartbeat of the team is at the midfield. Robby Zoppo may be best Towson's best all-around player since Casey Cittadino donned the black and yellow at the early parts of the century. Matt Hughes, a natural attackman who has been converted to midfield, might be the answer for an offense where there aren't a plethora of guys who can break a defense down.


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