- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

Long before he was a star at Maryland, Joe Walters was one of thousands of kids who made the annual pilgrimage to the lacrosse final four, who watched the best of the college game on Memorial Day weekend, hoping he too would have his chance to compete on the sport’s grandest stage.

That desire was encapsulated in an old poster that’s now rolled up somewhere in his boyhood home in Rochester, N.Y. It’s a picture of an early 1990s Syracuse team celebrating yet another national title.

“They’re just hugging each other with their gloves on the ground,” said Walters’ father, Joe. “Every time we used to think about that, we’d say ‘Wouldn’t that be a dream come true?’ Even now, that would be a marvelous conclusion, to be throwing your gloves up in the air.”

It’s the ending the younger Joe Walters is seeking in Philadelphia this weekend, the fitting conclusion to a storied career. He already owns school records in goals (153) and points (227), is a two-time ACC player of the year and one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Trophy.

But as the second-seeded Terrapins (12-4) prepare to meet Massachusetts tomorrow in the NCAA tournament semifinals, that all seems secondary to a player who oozes passion for a game he fell in love with as a third-grader.

“It’s a great feeling having your name among the greats of Maryland, and being one of the best players to come through here is truly an honor,” Walters said. “But the one thing that’s missing is a national championship. That’s the reason you go to a big Division I college, why you go to Hopkins, why you to go to Syracuse, Princeton, Maryland.”

It has been the goal since shortly after Walters first picked up — and rarely put down — a lacrosse stick, a phenomenon his father recalls as virtually magnetic. It was in mind when Walters would wander a few hundred yards to practice shooting after his parents moved to be closer to the town’s athletic facilities, and when he would barnstorm from camp to camp in the summer.

Of course, it was also Walters’ objective when he became one of coach Dave Cottle’s first calls when he took the Maryland job and later one of the first recruits to join Cottle in College Park. He started as a lefty finisher as a freshman, then scored 46 goals in a breakout sophomore year.

Still, Walters knew he would have to improve instead of relying merely on his pinpoint shooting, excellent eye-hand coordination and uncanny ability to read the field. He would need to become a better dodger, as Cottle had suggested since he arrived on campus, to become an even more lethal force.

After what he considered a disappointing junior year, he became the only college player to earn a spot on the U.S. national team for this summer’s world championships in Canada. That nod only enhanced his reputation and his determination to take the Terps to their first national title since 1975, and it has been evident all season.

“He definitely knows he’s good, but in a good way,” Maryland midfielder Brendan Healy said. “You need that guy out on the field that thinks he’s better than everybody he’s playing against because that confidence, that slight even arrogance, gives you an edge. You see him when he scores, he pumps his chest, and it fires everybody up when we see it.”

Never was it more obvious than last month when he scored six goals and added two assists as Maryland won at archrival Johns Hopkins for the first time in a decade. He beat up the Blue Jays from behind the cage and from 15 yards out, mercilessly shredding a usually sound defense in perhaps the best game of his career.

That outing was partially a byproduct of a seemingly unquenchable thirst for preparation and watching game tape (Walters considers it more of a hobby than part of his job as a player). It also came from a love for the sport Cottle has seen from few players in more than two decades of coaching, a passion that clearly rubs off on his teammates.

“He’s a more dynamic player than people realize,” Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “Joe’s a good finisher, a very good passer, a pretty solid dodger, but the thing that impressed me is that he makes everybody around him better. When I watch Joe, every time Maryland has the ball, he’s the guy telling everyone where to go and what to do.”

Added Virginia coach Dom Starsia: “He’s so determined to be the straw that stirs the drink. I don’t think you could pay enough attention to him. Unless you play Maryland often and see Joe Walters live often, you can’t appreciate the influence he has. If you think you can play him as a normal attackman, you’re going to pay for that.”

Walters has a busy summer in front of him. The Rochester Rattlers are expected to take him first overall in next week’s Major League Lacrosse draft, and there’s also his national team duties.

But capturing the emotion reflected in that old poster is a far greater priority, and Walters would like nothing more than to toss his equipment airborne Monday afternoon and realize the vision he and his father had long ago.

“I could never imagine being a first team All-American going into college. It’s something you dream about, but it’s not something that’s necessarily a reality right away,” Walters said. “I’ve accomplished so much, but there’s a couple things that are left.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide