As long as he has a ball and a wall to throw it against, Rob Shek figures to keep getting better as a lacrosse player. His rate of improvement eventually will slow down, but when it does there might not be many in the game who can keep up with the sport's fastest-rising midfielder.
For now, Shek wants to slow down some, even if he is playing for three different summer teams. He helped another, Green Turtle, to the championship of the Vail (Colo.) Shootout Sunday, when it beat the Syracuse All-Stars and a couple of guys named Gait against whom Shek held his own.
In late May, Shek, who would eventually be voted the top midfielder in college lacrosse, hoisted Towson State on his shoulders and nearly carried the Tigers to a national championship, as they finally fell to North Carolina in the NCAA final.
He was a second-team All-America in 1990, and two years before that a nobody, getting three goals and as many assists. He doesn't mind detailing that development for the camp circuit, where he has been a regular as a summer intern for Brine.
"Sure, I bring up my own example," said Shek, who had one summer of rec ball under his belt when he tried out for the junior varsity at Bel Air High in 1985. "I tell them how I stayed after practice every day in college to work on my own, and how they can do the same. Hey, some of the greatest athletes you're going to see in lacrosse soon still haven't played the game yet."
Shek has come quite a distance from the Towson State freshman who had three goals and three assists, doing nothing to dissuade the fear he was going to be cut. The Tigers were in transition the following year, and he grabbed a starting position in 1989 and ran with it, surprising everyone in the college game.
"Rob's rate of improvement was as great as any I've ever seen in the game," Maryland coach Dick Edell said. "The private school players who start out in the first grade, they probably peak a little earlier, but a guy like Shek just keeps getting better and better.
"He was better in the playoffs [Towson State beat Maryland in the NCAA semifinals] than he was in the regular season, and he was better in the North-South all-star game [the MVP] than he was in the playoffs. If he stays at it, he'll probably play his ultimate best in the next World Games."
The 1994 World Games just happen to be Shek's long-term goal. He wants to play club ball for Mount Washington next year and has no plans to try the indoor rigors of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, although at 6 feet 2 and 205 pounds, he's bigger, faster and more physical than just about everyone he runs into -- or around.
In 1994, Shek will be 25 years old. He will not have the luxury of a daily college practice to prepare for that goal, but he has always been partial to working out on his own anyway. There's an elementary school behind his apartment in Parkville, and it figures to get a beating from his shot that has been clocked at 97 mph.
"When I was a freshman in college and going home for the weekend, I would take out my frustration on a brick wall," said Shek, who would become Towson State's initial first-team All-America. "I still do that now."
Carl Runk, the Towson State coach who got Shek as an afterthought when he was recruiting Bel Air teammate Chris Dail in 1987, sounds as if he'll be bringing him back in the coming years as a motivational speaker.
"A lot of times, players just want to get to the shower after practice," Runk said. "For four years, Rob was always on other guys to stay after and help him work on his skills. That's why he's come as far as he has. If I had known he was going to be this good, I would have redshirted him when he was a freshman so I could have him back for another year."
Shek's desire to become a somebody in the lacrosse world bordered on obsession. He played four years of football and also dabbled in swimming and track in high school. He knew he had to make up for lost stick time when he arrived in college.
"I had no skills whatsoever in high school," Shek said. "All I could do was run, and shoot the ball as hard as I could.
"When I first got to Towson State, one guy in particular used to frustrate the hell out of me. Jamie Shubert used to always strip the ball from me. I got him to stay after practice and work with me, and eventually I got better at protecting the ball. I worked on an isolation move during my junior year, and everything just came together this year.
"Now, I need to work on seeing the whole field. Sometimes I'm too concentrated on going to the goal on my own. Plus, I've got to work on my shooting accuracy."
There's always room -- albeit shrinking -- for improvement.