Terps' Walters quick to seize an opening

Senior attackman stands on the verge of setting Maryland goal, point records

College Lacrosse

Walters runs with an opening

April 28, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- University of Maryland senior midfielder Xander Ritz has grown to appreciate his roommate's meticulous, off-the-field habits, which point to the way Joe Walters conducts himself in the heat of lacrosse competition.

"[Walters] runs a tight ship around the apartment. There's not much trash around. Things are in order. His side of the apartment is definitely neater than mine," said Ritz, who has been a teammate of Walters for the past three seasons.

"I don't even know how to string a stick. Joe can string one and use it the same day, and his stick is exactly the way he wants it. He's a perfectionist about it."

Walters carries that same approach on to the field, where you will not see the Terrapins' senior star attackman wasting energy. He sees the field and finds open teammates with decisive passes that recall his days as a point guard. Rather than dodge to get open, he would prefer to use a screen or some other clever, off-the-ball method of finding a seam in an opposing defense.

And when it's time to shoot the ball, few in the game can do it as proficiently as the laid-back lefty from Rochester, N.Y.

Walters is poised to become the greatest scorer in Terps history and is the only active collegiate player on the 2006 U.S. national team, which will compete this summer in London, Ontario.

Entering this weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at M&T Bank Stadium, which begins with tonight's Maryland-North Carolina semifinal, Walters needs five goals and nine points to own school records in both categories.

"I'd be lying to say I'm not thinking about it. When your name is among the greatest of the Maryland lacrosse program, you have a lot to live up to," said Walters, who is on pace to lead the Terps in scoring for the fourth straight season. "It's been tough being the marked man again this year, but you just try not to force anything. Relax, go out there and let the plays come to you."

Maryland coach Dave Cottle smiled and shook his head as he sized up Walters' background and career. How he arrived in College Park, toting medals won at back-to-back Empire State Games, as a pure finisher on the crease. How he has become a threat as a passer, a dodger and a rider. How he zaps opposing goalies from all sorts of angles, with a variety of release points and that pretty combination of velocity and accuracy.

The youngest of four children and the only son of Joe and Be Walters, Joe grew up with a stick practically attached to him since the third grade, and he got to see work ethic defined up close.

His father, Joe, a retired anesthesiologist who served with the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War, now works with Be, whom he met in Vietnam, then married 35 years ago. Be left behind poverty, a large family and a war-torn country to pursue an American dream she has lived for decades. She opened a Thai-Vietnamese restaurant in 1984, and now operates two of them in Rochester.

Before Joe began attending Irondequoit High School, his parents bought a house bordering the school grounds and turned part of the garage into a weight room. The classroom and the lacrosse field - where Joe would go through endless buckets of balls shooting on his own and became an All-American as a senior - were less than a minute's walk away.

"It's not your normal lacrosse family, if you will. I'm amazed by the amount of sacrificing they've done for Joe's career," said Cottle, who persuaded Walters to commit to Loyola, then follow him to College Park after Cottle left to take the Maryland job in 2001.

"We thought Joe would be good. There's no way you could have been thinking he would have the type of career he's had. He's the best offensive player I think I've ever coached."

Walters started out wrestling and playing basketball, and sampled lacrosse for the first time after his uncle persuaded Joe's father to take him to a recreational league tryout at age 8. The game grabbed him immediately. Years later, as a high school sophomore, he pulled his father aside after getting lectured about his grades, and told him he was going to earn a Division I lacrosse scholarship.

"I could see that kid falling in love with the sport right off the bat. He had the stick in his hand continuously," said Joe, who said he has never missed one of his son's games. "I never had to say why don't you practice? He was always hitting the ball off a wall or shooting in the back yard. I was the world's greatest lacrosse ball shagger."

Walters fondly recalled growing up in Rochester, and how sports gave him a way to bond with others. Although he described his neighborhood as diverse, he occasionally would hear a derogatory comment about his American-Asian ethnicity, something he still gets now and then from the stands.

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