“Tom’s that guy!”: What makes Tom Schreiber the best midfielder in the world
Tom Schreiber held the ball roughly five yards from midfield with 1:07 left on the clock and the score tied at 13. The Archers had wrested momentum from the Atlas late in the fourth quarter with a 4-0 run via a Jared Conners two-pointer, a Mac O’Keefe goal, and a Schreiber low-angle lefty score which gave them a one goal advantage in the final minutes.
A Xander Dickson crease-crank evened things up, but a Mike Sisselberger clamp win on the faceoff against Trevor Baptiste and the ensuing push from Baptiste meant that Head Coach Chris Bates could call a timeout to set his offense up for another go-ahead goal.
Out of the timeout the referees gave Schreiber the ball a little more than five yards behind the midfield line with two Atlas attackmen standing in front of him and one behind. When the whistle blew, he uncharacteristically hesitated, and Chris Gray promptly stripped him from behind and won possession back for Mike Pressler’s club.
The Archers defense got a stop and a fortunate string of events led to the team opening overtime with a power play possession off the faceoff. After the failed player-up opportunity, another huge hustle play from O’Keefe where he lit up Danny Logan on the sideline won the club the ball for a full 52 seconds. The ball made its way to Schreiber’s stick and, as it tends to when that happens, it tickled the twine of the back of the net only moments later.
“Tom’s Tom,” commented Bates afterwards. “At the end of the day you’re just witnessing somebody that can put a team on his back and that’s what he did. He was obviously a difference for us today.”
How Schreiber scored Saturday’s game-winner and the Archers’ previous go-ahead goal earlier in the fourth displays what separates him as the best midfielder in the world. Schreiber’s accolades and stats speak for themselves, but the way that he thrives in the pick game up top is purely elite and fits every strength he has into one simple action.
The typical alley dodge or sweep from midfielders that have been the position’s bread and butter for decades are still plenty effective. But the rise of picking and the two-man game in lacrosse in the last decade or so has culminated with Schreiber at the midfielder position.
Rather than the one-on-one dodge up top that is unlikely to create much separation at the professional level, at best generates a five-on-four after a slide and pass, and allows for on-ball defenders to dictate where the dodge goes, utilizing a simple pick at the top of the offense puts defenses in a pickle.
The on-ball defender alone has to navigate the pick, communicate with the picking player’s defender to not lose either midfielder in the process, and still react to whichever dodge the ball carrier uses. That, plus the added spacing down low, the potential four-on-three that’s generated, and a more complicated slide scheme because of the inability for the defense to dictate the dodge, means that using a pick for midfielders up top is always the better option.
The stats back up what the eye test suggests. Entering the weekend the league average shooting percentage on shots generated by a dodge was 24%. Off a two-man game? 31.8%.
The Archers are, unsurprisingly, first in the PLL in total shots generated off the two-man game (75) and second in goals scored off a pick (21). They’re also second in the league in shooting percentage off an initiation at the top of the offense (27%) and second in goals initiated from that area with 17, the most from any initiation area on the field for the club.
Tom Schreiber is the driving force behind the Archers’ success there, and it’s his unique ability to navigate picks and then feast off the advantage he creates that sets him apart from the pack. Most of the best traditional midfielders in the game struggle to fully optimize picks due to the read-dependent nature of the two-man game and how difficult it is to physically maneuver around the pick. Some midfielders thrive in the two-man game on the wings, but even there the angle to the goal is cut off enough that using the same principles up top is so much more threatening.
Schreiber is a master of reading defenses, and he can pick them apart whenever one tiny error occurs. All he needs is that split second of indecision from a single opposing defender and the ball will be in the back of the net in only seconds’ time.
His score late in the fourth was one of two perfect examples of the Princeton product’s special ability in the pick game. Tre Leclaire’s pick to his right gives him the opportunity to use it and sweep right or deny it and dodge down the alley to his left. What makes the decision for Schreiber is that Jake Richard, Leclaire’s defender, comes high to disrupt the pick and provide resistance to the sweep. So Schreiber splits left and is conveniently ambidextrous so the low angle, on the run lefty rip is merely a formality.
His second goal — and the one that sealed the deal for the Archers — is where Schreiber’s split-second brilliance stands out.
He backs Brett Makar out onto the perimeter as the Archers get into their 4-2 offensive set. Schreiber slowly approaches the Ryan Ambler pick to his right, jogging to the point of slowing Makar’s feet nearly to a stand still. He recognizes that Makar is playing him slightly from behind, so he methodically backs him into Ambler’s perfectly timed screen and then explodes off the pick. A lack of communication between Logan and Makar on a potential switch leaves too much room, and the game’s over just like that.
As the Archers bench clears to go mob their leader, Schreiber exclaims “thank God, thank God,” alluding to his costly mistake in the last 67 seconds of regulation and the relief of making up for it. He then finds O’Keefe, shouting at him to say “Mac, great ground ball,” and to profess his thanks for the final chance to win the game.
“Simply put, Tom’s that guy,” said Connor Fields after the game. “It gives you a little boost of confidence, you play a little looser, more free when you have a guy like that. He’s a guy that everyone loves to play with, someone I know I love to play with. He’s a selfless guy. He doesn’t care who scores at the end of the day. But he makes big plays always and that was just another one.”
For Schreiber and the Archers’ club as a whole the 2023 season has been one unlike any so far. The roster rebuild thrust him into an even more prominent leadership role, and he’s clearly been thriving in it on and off the field. He’s first in points among midfielders in the PLL through seven weeks with seven more than the guys in second, and the Archers are 6-1 at the top of the league standings. Now that he’s returning to full health after a string of injuries were limiting him for the first half of the season, the club couldn’t be in a better position with three weeks to go in the regular season.