Maryland women’s lacrosse was in command of the draw circle to start 2021. And it has often been the case where, when the Terps control the draw circle, they get the result they’re looking for.

But, after coming face to face with No. 2 Northwestern, coach Cathy Reese’s squad had to take a step back to evaluate their approach after two wildly inconsistent outings.

After its worst performances on the draw this season, No. 9 Maryland is looking to reestablish its fundamentals and take charge of the circle when they host Rutgers on Thursday.

“On the circle … we’re just going to have to fight a little bit harder and just read the play a little bit better,” Lizzie Colson said. “I think going forward it’ll look pretty different.”  

Before its weekend series in Evanston, Illinois, the Terps (5-3) were at the top of the Big Ten in draw control percentage, posting their best season total since 2015 with 62 percent going Maryland’s way.

Following the series, they were left with a 53 percent control rate, one of the worst season totals under Reese. It was a massive swing for a squad that has done well on the draw, despite introducing new figures into its 2021 game plan.

Shaylan Ahearn took over from Kali Hartshorn, number two all-time in controls for the Terps, as the draw specialist, while Libby May stepped up to play a larger role in the unit. Getting Colson involved in the draw after returning from injury has paid dividends, as she leads the squad with 38 controls.

[Coming off ugly loss, Maryland women’s lacrosse saw strides in its defensive effort]

“They really take a lot of pride in what they’re doing,” Reese said. “We’re learning, they’re learning each game and every person they draw against is different.”

And the Wildcats showed a level of intensity and speed that Reese said her squad hadn’t seen before.

Northwestern’s astounding 45 goals in both games against the Terps were a clear by-product of their domination on the draw, winning 65 percent of all controls over the weekend. 

In the first half of the second matchup, Maryland kept it close, in large part to only a four draw margin, but winning eight of the first 10 draws in the second period turned the game in the Wildcat’s favor.

“We want to make sure we can make it a 50/50 ball and then fight those out on the circle,” Reese said. “I thought Northwestern’s [Brennan Dwyer] did a nice job of putting it where she wanted it and we need to balance that out.”

Draws have become so critical to the success of the Terps, particularly holding other teams without them. In games where Maryland holds its opponent to single-digit draw controls, it comes away with a win all but two times in the past decade. 

[Maryland women’s lacrosse unable to keep up with Northwestern in 20-10 loss]

It happened once in a 2012 meeting with North Carolina and then in the opening game of this season against Penn State, where the Terps dominated the draw 23-6 but still lost.

As Maryland prepares for Rutgers, it’s been all about getting back to the basics and trying to reaffirm what the coaching staff and players have worked on so far.

“The biggest thing is just that consistency,” captain Grace Griffin said. “We know how good we are and we know … how well we can play when we play together.” 

Rutgers is one of the best in the Big Ten at putting away shots. With a .421 shot rate, it will be crucial for the Terps to limit possessions to come out on top. And that all starts at the draw circle. 

The partnership of Colson and Ahearn — among the other contributors to the draw unit — have been tough to beat this season, but after running into their first real obstacle, they’ll need to get back to what made them such a success early on to help Maryland in its final push toward the postseason.

“It’s easy to work next to her and we work really well together,” Colson said of the sophomore. “I think [against] Northwestern maybe, didn’t show that as much as we would like to, but it’s so fun to play next to Shay.”