COLLEGE PARK -- He has felt redemption after playing another key role in getting his team to the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament championship weekend. But for Maryland junior attackman Joe Walters, who could become the greatest scorer in the program's history, just picking up a stick to start the 2005 season marked a huge step forward.
By beginning anew, Walters had little time to dwell on a moment that had nagged him throughout the offseason. By focusing on a new schedule and a fresh set of defenses to torment with that quick release and nasty, left-handed shot, Walters finally could let go of the shot he wished he could have back.
In the closing seconds of last year's tournament quarterfinal game against Princeton, with the Terrapins ahead by one, Walters let his shooter's instincts get the best of him, instead of clutching the ball and running out the clock. Princeton goalie Dave Law stuffed Walters, the Tigers quickly scored to force overtime, then scored again to stun Maryland.
And no one in College Park took the loss harder than Walters, who finally has gotten over it. Almost.
"I still do think about it. Hundreds of times, thousands of times, I've replayed that play in my head," Walters said. "I'm always telling myself, `C'mon Joe, you should just run behind the goal [with the ball].'
"It's over, but it's hard to let go of it. It's going to stay in your mind until you play again. I knew, until this year, when the first game comes around, people are going to be talking about it. You have to live with it. You have to keep your head up and keep playing."
Credit Walters for playing on, through the good and bad. Without Walters, who battled through a midseason shooting slump like the rest of his teammates, the Terps probably are not riding a six-game winning streak that has made their former 5-5 record a distant memory. Without Walters, Maryland is not back in the final four for the second time in three seasons.
Walters, 6 feet, 192 pounds, who came from Irondequoit High School in Rochester, N.Y., has tweaked his game in recent weeks by focusing more on grabbing ground balls, disrupting opposing clears with aggressive rides, and distributing the ball. But the team leader in goals (35) and points (50) is still a sneaky, pure scorer first.
"[Walters] reads slides [by the defense] so well. He's always in the right seam, always in a good spot to get the ball," junior attackman Xander Ritz said. "When you dodge and draw a double team, he's not cutting into the middle of nowhere and just standing behind a defenseman. He knows where to be.
"If you get it to him, he's got one of the quickest releases in the game and one of the best shots I've ever seen. It must be a nightmare to watch the ball and guard your man when you have to cover a guy like that."
Added Maryland coach Dave Cottle: "Some guys find a way to be guarded. [Walters] always finds a way to get open. He does a great job of taking himself out of the black-and-white areas and finding the gray areas."
On a team loaded with emerging underclassmen and featuring only six seniors, Walters has made a deep mark that stretches across three seasons, starting with 24 hat tricks in 48 career games. Walters has gone without a goal only twice.
He landed at Maryland with a splash by earning Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Terps return to their first final four since 1998. As a sophomore, despite encountering constant double teams as a proven finisher, Walters upped his game with 46 goals -- second in the nation -- and 22 assists, and was named a first-team All-American.
No Maryland player has ever scored as many goals (79) as Walters produced in his first two seasons, and by the time he's done, Walters might stand atop the charts. With 110 goals and 160 points so far, he is within striking distance of the school records of 149 goals and 219 points.
Walters also has regained his stroke at the right time, with 11 goals in his past four games.
"I got down on myself [in the middle of the year]. It's been a bumpy road for us on offense. It's been a weird season," Walters said. "But we've showed a lot of heart and character."
NOTE: According to NCAA lacrosse tournament director Lee Stevens, 35,403 all-session tickets (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) have been sold for this weekend's games in Philadelphia. Single-day tickets go on sale Friday.
Men's final four
Site: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Maryland (11-5) vs. Duke (16-2), 11:30 a.m.
Johns Hopkins (14-0) vs. Virginia (11-3), 2 p.m. (approx.)
TV: Both games on ESPN2
(All times p.m. unless noted)
Division I men
Saturday At Philadelphia Maryland (11-5) vs. Duke (16-2), 11:30 a.m. Johns Hopkins (14-0) vs. Virginia (11-3), 2 (approx.) TV: Both games on ESPN2
Monday At Philadelphia Semifinal winners, noon TV: ESPN
Division II men
Sunday At Philadelphia Limestone (15-1) vs. NYIT (8-2), 3
Division III men
Sunday At Philadelphia Middlebury (17-1) vs. Salisbury (19-0), noon