Lizzie Colson and Shaylan Ahearn have become a lethal tandem in the draw circle for Maryland women’s lacrosse. The duo have become integral for the Terps in winning possessions, coming up with impactful performances throughout the 2021 regular season.
Ahearn, the specialist in the circle, has spent her sophomore year developing her personal style on draws, while Colson has returned to the circle as one of the most aggressive and agile players in the nation when it comes to chasing down a loose ball.
But, when Colson takes the field against Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, it’ll be her final trip to the conference tourney. And for Ahearn, it’s her first opportunity to show up on a big stage for No. 13 Maryland.
“It’s bittersweet. I don’t know. I don’t know how to feel yet,” Colson said. “I’m excited to compete with a new group of girls and show the younger girls what it looks like to play in a conference tournament.”
Colson, a Tewaaraton Award nominee, is no stranger to the Big Ten tournament, competing in the past three for the Terps. She even made her first career start in the opening round of the 2017 tournament against Johns Hopkins.
The redshirt senior has had career-defining moments in the conference tournament, winning in her first two appearances and being named to the All-Big Ten tournament team in 2018 and 2019.
Ahearn, on the other hand, will be walking into State College, Pennsylvania, with no collegiate tournament experience. With the shortened season in 2020, she and her fellow sophomore and freshman teammates will have their first go at tournament play.
“I’m super excited,” Ahearn said. “I’m ready. I have no expectations, obviously, but I feel like our team is going to show up in these next few games.”
And coach Cathy Reese echoed the sentiments of the former No. 4 overall recruit.
“There’s a lot of excitement around this week for us,” Reese said. “Everyone’s pretty fired up and excited, just to see what we do when you dive into this next portion of your season.”
After a shaky regular season, Maryland is looking to win its fourth Big Ten tournament since joining the conference. The first step is taking down the Wolverines one more time.
The Terps swept Michigan back in February with two encouraging performances following a season-opening loss to Penn State.
Although the margins were slim, much like the entire regular season, Reese’s squad was the better team in every aspect of the game — except on the draw.
Still recovering from a major injury, Colson had not yet been added to the draw unit, and Ahearn, she admitted, struggled in those contests.
Since then, Ahearn and Colson have developed a strong on-field chemistry that has helped stabilize an inexperienced draw team. After losing the draw battle in both matchups with the Wolverines, Maryland won it in six of its last nine games.
Improvements in areas such as the draw circle helped the Terps lock down the No. 2 seed in the tournament. But showing consistency — not just throughout the season, but through 60 minutes of play — is the main piece Reese’s squad hasn’t figured out yet.
“As we’ve gone through the season, we’ve grown a lot as a team,” Reese said. “We’ve seen moments where we’ve been really good and moments where we’ve struggled and so we’re trying to string together more of the moments where we’re really good.”
As the focal point of the draw, Ahearn will need to be on top of her game to boost Maryland in arguably the toughest Big Ten tournament it’s ever seen. With three potential matchups as opposed to the normal two and an undefeated Northwestern team that is a shoe-in to dominate the bracket, the pressure is on.
But Ahearn knows her ability and, by all accounts, is unfazed and primed to go for her first-ever Big Ten tournament.
“I’m not really nervous, I’m just ready to get out there and play,” Ahearn said.
Luckily for the Terps, Colson knows how to show up come tournament time. In her six Big Ten tournament games, she has 28 draw controls.
Colson leads the squad in draw controls with 57 this year, with Ahearn just a bit behind with 45. The redshirt senior passed Karri Ellen Johnson for third on the program’s all time draws list earlier this season, adding another accolade to a historic career.
She’ll have one more chance to make her mark on the Big Ten, and the seasoned veteran is excited to make a few more memories with her teammates.
“Every year just brings something special, and I think this year is going to be no different,” Colson said.