Curtis Holmes' unrelenting faceoff work fueled Maryland's run to the national title game last year.
His increased ability to understand his limits could help the Terrapins push deep into May again this spring.
The junior known for his toughness and stubbornness is managing "bumps and bruises all over the place," a process which coupled with some unusual struggles tested the patience of one of Maryland's most important players.
Yet Holmes' 15-for-20 outing last week against Navy might be the initial payoff of an emphasis on self-maintenance, one that could prove valuable Saturday when the No. 10 Terps (6-3) visit No. 3 Johns Hopkins (9-1).
"I've always kind of been the guy that doesn't show any weakness," Holmes said. "Even if I am hurt, I won't tell anybody. You have to learn to understand what your limits are and what's helping the team and what's hurting the team. I think I've kind of figured out a good balance of what I should be doing in practice and what I shouldn't be doing."
Holmes already was hurting when the season started two months ago, but there was no hint of trouble when he won 19 of 20 faceoffs in the opener against Hartford. Gradually, though, his effectiveness declined and his pain increased.
Even worse was the video evidence, which showed Holmes he was unconsciously changing his technique to compensate for his ailments.
"We tried different things in the training room without seeing the doctor, just different stretching and strengthening and that kind of stuff," Holmes said. "At some point, I just said 'We probably need to see the doctor, it's not getting any better. It's been however many weeks.' To be honest, I was also frustrated with the way I'd been playing."
Holmes' numbers had dropped off considerably. He's won 53.3 percent of his faceoffs this season even after last week's standout effort. A year ago, he won 62.9 percent of his draws, including 67.1 percent (49 of 73) in four NCAA tournament games.
Eventually, he received a shot in the days leading into Maryland's March 24 loss at North Carolina. Holmes limited his reps in practice, and the Terps relied heavily on freshman Charlie Raffa a week later against Virginia.
"It was a little give and take where coach [John] Tillman expressed 'We need you, Curtis, so take the time that you need off,' " long pole Jesse Bernhardt said. "Curtis doesn't always like to hear that, being the competitor that he is. He's done a good job of getting the treatment he needs for his ailments."
It's something Holmes realizes must continue.
"We really have to stay on top of it these next few weeks with ACC and Mount St. Mary's that [following] Wednesday," Holmes said. "As the season goes on, we start having games that are closer and closer together, especially in the tournament if we make it where we want to go."
That would be Memorial Day weekend, which could be a difficult destination to reach with a still-inexperienced defense. Holmes can help negate that by earning more possessions for the Terps.
Little wonder goalie Niko Amato embraced Holmes after the 13-6 rout of Navy and declared "You're back."
With a month of frustration behind him, Holmes merely replied "Finally."
Maybe every outing won't be like last week's. But it did offer a crucial reminder for the Terps.
"It just proved how dominant he really can be," Amato said.
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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