It was Shaylan Ahearn’s first practice with Maryland women’s lacrosse, and the coaches began separating the team into groups. Attackers here, defenders here, draw specialists go over there.
Then a voice spoke up and said, “Shay, go over there.”
It was coach Cathy Reese telling one of her newest recruits to join senior specialist Kali Hartshorn and start working on draw controls.
Ahearn said she wasn’t sure if that’s where they wanted her to be when she committed to the Terps. She had taken the draw in high school and believed part of the reason she was so widely sought after was to make her mark in the circle.
But that first day set her along a path with Maryland.
Now in her first full season as the draw specialist, Ahearn is still learning how to approach the draw on a collegiate level, one of the most important and sometimes overlooked aspects of the game. The Terps have had a rich history in the circle since Reese came to College Park, and Ahearn looks to be part of it.
Still, as Ahearn makes her own name at Maryland, it’s with the guidance of storied Terps past.
Elevating the draw
When Reese took over as head coach of the Terps in 2007, she brought a weapon with her: Dana Dobbie.
Dobbie had been looking to transfer from Ohio and was deciding between Maryland and Reese’s University of Denver. Upon learning Reese was moving to College Park, the decision became easy, and Dobbie’s final two years were monumental.
With the Terps, Dobbie amassed 205 draws, a Maryland record at the time, and 334 for her career, an NCAA record. Her 123 controls in 2008 were a single-season record.
As soon as Dobbie left, Karri Ellen Johnson stepped in.
Johnson, after four years with the Terps, had climbed to second on the all-time program goals list, an important marker for program goal-scoring success. But as the captain of the circle, she dominated, amassing a new program record of 254 draws.
Enter Taylor Cummings.
A three-time Tewaaraton Award winner and a name that shows up on just about every school records list, Cummings was in control of the circle from her first year at Maryland and demolished all previous program bests. She ended her career with 509 draw controls.
It would’ve been a tall order to measure up to Cummings after her graduation, but Hartshorn was as close as could be.
From 2017 to 2020, Hartshorn took over on the draw, hunting down Cummings’ record and accumulating 421 controls. Had the 2020 season not been shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she may have surpassed her predecessor.
Much like Ahearn, Hartshorn wasn’t sure she would be tapped as the draw specialist when she first arrived. But she said Reese saw something in her, and mastering the draw became a passion.
“The people that have come through there, I honestly didn’t even realize what kind of impact they had made to that position on the field until I started actually focusing on it myself,” Hartshorn said.
She handed the reins to Ahearn, deciding to forgo an extra year of eligibility to become an assistant coach at Binghamton.
In the past 14 years, the draw has been elevated to a focal point of Maryland’s program. And now there’s a new face of the circle.
A path to Maryland
Ahearn has been playing lacrosse for as long as she can remember.
The daughter of a former lacrosse player, she was encouraged from an early age to play multiple sports. Ahearn competed in soccer and basketball throughout high school.
But as recruitment started in eighth and ninth grade, lacrosse became the clear focus.
“Ever since I was little, I had always said I wanted to go to Maryland and play lacrosse, so it’s kind of always been in the back of my mind,” she said.
Ahearn was a standout in both club and school competition, becoming the No. 4 overall recruit in her class and an Under Armour All-American while playing at Glenelg Country School under Brian Reese.
During her come-up, she admired Maryland lacrosse, particularly the players who took the draw. Ahearn frequented Dobbie’s training camps and watched videos of her taking the draw and demonstrating techniques.
That, combined with learning from Maryland great Jen Adams — who worked with Ahearn’s mom at Hero’s Lacrosse Club — helped set her along the path to focusing on the draw.
“It’s a different aspect of the game that a lot of people don’t really recognize or put much thought into,” Ahearn said. “They kind of just think that it’s your time to shine for one second. When you’re younger, everyone wants to do the draw. But I kind of looked at it in a different way.”
Ahearn said the different ways she noticed she could approach the draw made it all the more interesting, learning what worked and what didn’t against her opponent. She made the decision to keep working at the skill on her own, and she became the go-to in the circle for her teams.
It became apparent early on that she would succeed Hartshorn. As their freshman and senior years overlapped, Ahearn had the chance to pick Hartshorn’s brain as she prepared for her spot in the center.
But it all changed when the pandemic hit.
A helping hand
Just six games into her freshman campaign, Ahearn was sent home to Woodbine, Maryland, after the NCAA canceled the 2020 season.
Stuck at home without Hartshorn to face off against in practice , she knew she needed to keep honing her craft on her own. After all, that grind got her this far.
So Ahearn talked to the best in the business: Cummings and Hartshorn.
The two became crucial to Ahearn’s growth during quarantine. She wanted to get her hands moving faster and perfect getting the ball to the exact spot where she could make a run.
If she needed anything, her mentors were there and always had a drill in mind.
“I’ll reach out to one of them, like Taylor FaceTimed me the other day right when I had a question,” Ahearn said. “She jumped on FaceTime, and was literally lining up without a stick and showing me what she thought I should do.”
Both Cummings and Hartshorn have gone into player development. Hartshorn found her spot at Binghamton, and Cummings, still a professional player, runs camps and clinics for up-and-coming talent.
The two former Maryland stars understand the draw better than just about anyone and said they are always excited to share their knowledge with whoever wants to listen.
“Having somebody who has a passion for the draw and gets it and who thinks about it the way you do, to bounce ideas off of is probably helpful for her,” Cummings said.
And veteran players training the younger ones is not new for the women who have presided over the circle. Hartshorn said she credits Johnson for helping make draw techniques click as she began to venture into taking the draw.
Johnson, along with Dobbie and Cummings, helped emphasize to Hartshorn that it isn’t all about strength and physicality — it’s speed off the whistle and staying composed in the moment.
“The draw is as much mental as it is physical,” Cummings said. “It’s a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game.”
Under Hartshorn’s tutelage and the “thousands” of drills Cummings provided to Ahearn, the new draw specialist came into her sophomore season with more insight into the college game.
And with more responsibility as the centerpiece of the draw unit, her network of coaches gave her the tools she needed to take the next step forward.
“You’re at the focal point of every possession,” Cummings said. “It can be a very pressured situation. Being able to have this incredible alumni group to work with and to know that they had confidence in me and that they were once in my shoes gave me all the confidence in the world.”
“She’s good at it”
The story of Ahearn’s nerves on her first day on the draw can be somewhat baffling after spending a few minutes with her. If there is one thing Ahearn exudes, it’s confidence.
Hartshorn said she couldn’t believe the story and thought it was funny imagining the 5-foot-7 midfielder, who is anything but shy, being unsure.
“She doesn’t come off afraid or nervous whatsoever,” Hartshorn said.
During one of the last practices of 2020, Hartshorn said assistant coach Lauri Kenis walked up to her after a particularly strong session from Ahearn and said, “Shay keeps beating you at the draw.”
“She’s good at it,” Hartshorn responded.
Ahearn shows off that confidence and high level of skill even as she takes on the daunting challenge of directing the Maryland draw.
Cummings said she felt the weight of her responsibilities, especially in her early seasons with the Terps.
“I don’t think it gets much bigger than [when] you’re a freshman in triple overtime in a national championship taking the draw,” Cummings said, referring to the 2013 NCAA title game. “There’s always going to be that pressure no matter what year you are, but when you’re that young and the ball is in your stick and you have the ability to win the draw and get your team a victory, it’s huge.”
The Terps lost that championship to North Carolina, but Cummings avenged the defeat with back-to-back trophies, including a 9-8 win over the Tar Heels in 2015.
But Ahearn said she doesn’t just feel the pressure — she loves it.
“I’ve always been somebody who enjoys the pressure,” Ahearn said. “I enjoy being in those situations. I don’t get stressed, I get a little angry. I’m like, alright, let’s go. If you’re gonna score on us, we’re going to win this next draw control, and then we’re gonna go score on you.”
Ahearn loves being in a role where she can shift momentum. Her contributions can change the outcome of a game.
And though she is walking in the footsteps of all-timers, she is poised to do what her team needs to succeed.
“Yeah, I’m coming in after two girls that were amazing on the draw control,” Ahearn said. “But that’s kind of behind us now. And now it’s kind of me focusing on my team specifically and just doing whatever I can, however I can, in order to win as many possessions as possible for my team.”
Ahearn is putting the finishing touches on a sophomore season where she helped Maryland win the draw battle in nine of 15 games and earn a berth to the NCAA tournament.
In one of the strangest lacrosse seasons, with a conference-only schedule and new safety protocols, Ahearn has shown tremendous progress in a burgeoning career for Maryland.
And despite it all, she hasn’t looked back and definitely hasn’t hesitated.