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Eric Schneider finds form just in time for Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse

In the midst of a 2015 campaign in which inconsistent play had Eric Schneider doubting himself as a goalkeeper for the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team, the fifth-year senior received some encouragement from one of the program's best players.

"I got a text message from Jesse Schwartzman saying, 'Keep your head up. Just keep going forward,'" Schneider said, referring to the goalie who helped the Blue Jays capture NCAA championship in 2005 and 2007. "It is pretty special. I can't appreciate it enough. There's all of the alumni, but Jesse in particular, obviously he's an outstanding goalie and a [U.S. national team] player. So when you hear that from a guy of that stature, you kind of take a step back and realize that people are behind you, and that can boost your confidence."

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Whether it's a newfound confidence or the backing of alumni, Schneider has rediscovered the ability that made him the team's undisputed starter last season. He backstopped Johns Hopkins' run to its first Big Ten Conference tournament championship, giving the team a first-round date in the NCAA tournament with No. 7 seed Virginia (10-4) at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Getting to this stage of the season was almost inconceivable for the Blue Jays (9-6), who lost five times in a seven-game stretch and were 4-6 after a 15-12 loss at Big Ten foe Ohio State on April 5.

During that slide, Schneider's play declined, too. Heading into a must-win game against Penn State on April 11, he owned a 10.77 goals-against average and a .434 save percentage.

Johns Hopkins did edge the Nittany Lions, 11-10, in double overtime, but not with Schneider in the cage. For the first time since the 2013 season, Schneider was on the sideline while junior Will Ryan made his first career start.

"You always have doubts and sometimes I think when you want to accomplish something so bad, you have a tough time letting go and letting the game come to you," Schneider said. "Sometimes you try too hard at it and that can be your worst enemy. I think that's where I struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year. I wanted to be so great for my teammates and I wanted to do really well in my last go at it that it kind of was the break of me. But I just kept staying with it."

Schneider and Ryan started the final two games of the regular season before coach Dave Pietramala settled on Schneider for the Big Ten tournament with the understanding that the Blue Jays had to win both games to guarantee a berth in the NCAA postseason.

Schneider made 21 saves and surrendered just 15 goals in the league tournament, and his best showing occurred in Saturday's title game against the same Ohio State squad that had torched him in early April. He finished with 12 saves — including six in the first quarter — and earned a spot on the conference's All-Tournament team.

Schneider, who has trimmed his goals-against average to 10.27 and raised his save percentage to .467, credited his performance to a toned-down approach, and ESPN and Big Ten Network analyst Mark Dixon said the Schneider he saw on Saturday was not the version he had seen in previous games.

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"He was more efficient in his movements," the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. "Eric can be very exaggerated with how quickly he drops. He drops his wrists to his chest a lot of times, but I didn't see him do it as quickly, and I saw him playing a little more vertical in the cage. His stick still dropped, but his body stayed tall."

Pietramala, who has publicly expressed his faith in Schneider, said he did not feel vindicated by his goalie's efforts.

"I'm ecstatic that he's kind of settled down, and I'm very happy for him because I know how much he puts into it and how much he cares," Pietramala said. "Am I vindicated? Not at all. We made changes. We played musical goalies for a while. No coach wants to do that, but we did what we had to do. We've hopefully worked our way through that and can continue to improve."

Schneider said he is grateful for the support of Pietramala, associate head coach and defensive coordinator Bill Dwan, offensive coordinator Bobby Benson and assistant coach Dave Allan.

"It means the world to me," Schneider said. "I have a great relationship with Coach Pietramala, and that goes beyond lacrosse and will go past when I graduate. Just having the support of him and Coach Benson and Coach Dwan and Coach Allan, it really means a lot. At times when you may not think that you're doing your best or that you're capable of doing the next job, having their support definitely boosts your confidence going forward."

Senior long-stick midfielder Michael Pellegrino, a Long Island, N.Y., native like Schneider, said his confidence in Schneider has never wavered.

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"He's my goalie," Pellegrino said. "He's got my back. I trust him 100 percent."

Dixon said the Johns Hopkins defense continues to give up a number of quality chances to opposing offenses, and that means that Schneider must maintain his level of play for the team to advance deep into the NCAA tournament. But Schneider said he feels no pressure to live up to anyone's expectations but those of his own, his teammates' and his coaches'.

"I'm actually really excited to meet the challenge," he said. "I've just got to approach it like it's another game. Our team has been in moments where we've had to get must-wins. So we've kind of been there before this year. … I think the guys are just really excited to have this opportunity to be in the NCAAs and to go down to Klockner and play against Virginia."

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