For the last five years, Joe Wilson has competed against some of the better lacrosse players in the country at the high school and college levels.
But this month, the 1990 Howard County Sun Player of the Year competed against some of the best competition in the world for his age group.
Wilson, a four-year starter at Howard High School, performed as captain of the U.S. team that won the Under-19 World Lacrosse Championships Saturday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The United States also won the inaugural event in 1988.
What stood out about Wilson's play in the championships was the way he handled his position change from college for the world games. Wilson, who had been accustomed to playing midfield, was moved to defenseman.
"He adjusted very well to that, and some guys don't," said U.S. coach Bob Hartranft, who also coaches Farmingdale High in New York.
Wilson, a University of Virginia sophomore and team captain, honed his skills at the nine-day tournament.
"I didn't pick up anything drastic, but I learned some small things that will help me improve," Wilson said. "When I was captain, I had to be the vocal leader of the defense. I had to keep everybody's egos in place and make sure no one played as individuals.
"Everybody was used to being the star. This was a team where everybody had to do the little things to help win, instead of scoring all the goals," he said.
"There was a lot of pride involved, playing for your country. It's definitely the high point and probably the biggest accomplishment of my lacrosse career. It's a much larger-scale playing international games than college ball."
In the tournament, the United States defeated Australia twice (15-8 and 24-11), Japan (23-2), Canada (22-6), England (28-4) and the Iroquois Nation (28-6). And Wilson spearheaded the defense, knocking down opponents, protecting the goalie and snatching loose balls. Wilson and the defense limited opponents to an average of only seven goals per game.
"He was one of the anchors to our defense," Hartranft said. "He started in the big games. Joe is a physical player who got a lot of ground balls in traffic."
At Virginia last season, he learned that a two-time high school All-American does not become a college star during his freshman year.
"In my recruiting class, everybody was a high school All-American," said Wilson, who finished his first year of college with a 3.3 grade point average. "After playing a full year, I got used to the change. I played a decent amount of time in almost every game, about 20 to 25 minutes per game."
Virginia used Wilson as a part-time starter. The pre-med major alternates with another player as a longstick midfielder.
However, this season should be different.
Virginia coach Jim Adams retired in June, and Wilson will get a fresh start with Dom Starsia taking over this month. Wilson returns to school at the end of this month, and fall practice starts in mid-September.
"I have high expectations for this year with a new coach," Wilson said. "I think we have a shot in competing for an NCAA championship. I think that's a realistic goal. Hopefully, with a new coach, everybody starts off at a new level. Once fall ball starts, we have to earn our spots. I really look forward to playing another year at Virginia."
The 6-foot, 190-pounder was a two-sport star at Howard. He set a school record his junior year with 227 ground balls. He garnered second team All-Metro Sun honors his junior campaign and was named a first team All-Metro selection his senior year. He was also voted Player of the Year for two consecutive seasons by league coaches for lacrosse, and was named an All-County lacrosse player for four consecutive years by The Howard County Sun.
In addition, Wilson played four years of soccer at Howard, performing as a goalie and earning Evening Sun honorable mention All-Metro recognition in 1990. That season, he allowed 13 goals in 16 games.
"He's one of the better defensemen in the [Baltimore] area," Howard lacrosse coach Dan Ross said. "And this is one of the better lacrosse areas. He was the only freshman ever to play and start since 1975 when we started the program here. I knew when he was a freshman, he was going to be a good one."
The key to Wilson's success and improvement has been his dedication to the sport.
"He was a decent-sized kid, but he was thin," Ross said. "He's put on some weight with weight training. A lot of kids say they are going to work out, but very few do. He's got excellent work habits, and he stays after things."