Brett Schmidt has turned risk into reward.
Schmidt, a lightly recruited prospect from Maple Glen, Pa., concedes that he didn't have much of a lacrosse background when he enrolled at Maryland in 2007. But three seasons later, the junior has emerged as the top defenseman for the No. 5 Terps.
And as Maryland (8-2) prepares to meet No. 3 North Carolina in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at Byrd Stadium in College Park tonight, Schmidt likely will get a crack at containing Tar Heels junior attackman and Tewaaraton Award candidate Billy Bitter.
Curiously, however, Schmidt is usually left out of the conversation of top defensemen in the country. Even in his own conference, Schmidt tends to get overshadowed by the likes of Virginia senior Ken Clausen, North Carolina junior Ryan Flanagan and Duke senior Parker McKee.
Not that Schmidt is shedding any tears over the snub.
"I feel like if I play well enough, then my name will get out there," he said. "But I don't really worry about it too much. As long as we're getting ‘W's, that's what matters to me."
ESPN analyst Matt Ward said opponents who overlook Schmidt do so at their own risk. At 6 feet and 180 pounds, Schmidt might not be as imposing as
6-4, 220-pound junior defenseman Max Schmidt (no relation) or 6-5, 240-pound junior long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell, but Ward said Brett Schmidt offers a more cerebral option.
"He's physical, but he's also smart in his approach to the game, and he doesn't play overly aggressive," said Ward, a former All-America attackman at Virginia who won the 2006 Tewaaraton. "A lot of times, that's when defensemen get beat. They kind of put themselves out of position by taking dumb risks, and Brett does not do that. He's very sound and very physical. I think he has the confidence of his coaches, and regardless of the team he's playing, he's usually matching up against their best attackman."
Grant Catalino can attest to Ward's theory. The junior attackman frequently gets matched up with Schmidt during practice, and he said Schmidt has a knack for getting his stick on the hands and making it difficult to get free for a shot or a pass.
"I definitely think he's more substance than style," Catalino said. "He doesn't really go over the head too much on you or throw any crazy checks. He just stays in front of you and doesn't let you beat him very often."
Terps coach Dave Cottle is the first to acknowledge that the coaches weren't sure what kind of player they were getting when they sought out Schmidt, who was playing for a still-developing program at Upper Dublin High.
"We thought he was a good athlete," Cottle said. "But his freshman year, he didn't know anything. But he's a really bright kid. … He makes mistakes — as everyone does — but he doesn't make the same mistakes over and over. He learns from his mistakes, and he wants to be good. He's a competitive kid. We're lucky to have him. We had no idea how good of a player we had gotten. He's a guy who we got out of need and who has become one of our best stoppers we have."
Schmidt has been especially good in his past four games, limiting Virginia junior midfielder Shamel Bratton and Navy junior attackman Andy Warner to just one assist each, surrendering just one goal and one assist to North Carolina sophomore midfielder Jimmy Dunster, and shutting out Johns Hopkins sophomore attackman Tom Palasek.
Schmidt said there's nothing special to his play. "I just listen to the coaching staff and take whatever they give me for the week," he said. "They watch a lot of film on the other teams, and they know how I play and they know the best player for me to guard. I just listen to them and try to use my physcial attributes and athleticism to play tougher than my opponent."
One of Schmidt's strengths is his speed. He has scooped up 23 ground balls and caused 14 turnovers this season. His presence in front of the cage has had a calming effect on senior goalkeeper Brian Phipps.
"It's comforting not only knowing that he can guard a man, but also that he can pick the ball up and help us in that area," Phipps said. "If the ball is on the ground, he can fight for it, pick it up, and get it out of there. It's comforting knowing that when the ball's on the ground, we have an advantage with Brett out there."