After playing sparingly last year as a freshman, Maryland’s Lizzie Colson was surprised when Terps coach Cathy Reese told her she would make her first start in the NCAA women’s lacrosse semifinals.
“I was, ‘OK. No pressure. No big deal,’ ” Colson said with a laugh.
Colson arrived at Maryland as a high-scoring midfielder after leading Manchester Valley to three straight state championships and earning All-Metro Player of the Year honors as a senior. The Terps returned a veteran midfield in 2017, leaving her with a backup role. She played mostly on the draws, where her speed and anticipation made her an asset on the circle and she excelled at winning loose balls.
Reese called on Colson to fill the void on defense when a back problem sidelined Alex McKay for the final four. The freshman helped the Terps defeat Penn State and Boston College at Gillette Stadium in Boston to bring home their 12th national championship.
“She was so confident,” said veteran defender Julia Braig, a St. Paul’s gradaute. “To step out there as a freshman in the final four even if you’ve played all season, it’s still pretty unbelievable and kind of intimidating, but she came out and I thought everyone trusted her. She was awesome and it was really just what we needed at that time. She stepped up huge.”
After that performance, it was an easy decision for Reese to make Colson a starting defender.
“This season, our defense was young and this was our area we needed to really grow in, so it was a natural fit for her to continue in that spot,” Reese said. “Now she’s evolved, I think, into one of the best defenders in the country.”
Colson leads the Terps caused turnovers (23) and ground balls (38), and is second in draw controls (78). She was named All-Big Ten and made the Big Ten all-tournament team. Last week, she was selected to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association All-South Region team. Four times, she earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week — more than any other conference defender.
None of that comes as a surprise to Manchester Valley coach Shelly Brezicki.
“Lizzie’s the type of kid that’s going to find a way to be an impact player,” Brezicki said. “She’s going to work to earn a spot and to maintain a spot and to excel at that spot. … She has a competitiveness and an intensity to her where if she has the ball she doesn’t want anybody to get it and if she doesn’t have the ball, she wants to have it. That’s a mentality that you always want, as a coach, for your defenders to have. She’s going to work hard at whatever you ask her to do.”
One of four lacrosse-playing sisters, she’s the only one to play defense full time. Allie, who played at Messiah; Steph, a junior at defending Division III national champion Gettysburg; and Beanie, a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s, all remained midfielders in college.
While her transition to defense went smoothly, Colson said her reaction to being moved was “bittersweet.” She liked scoring goals.
She played a lot more attack than midfield as a senior at Manchester Valley while bouncing back from a broken foot, and she set a Carroll County record with 108 goals. She finished her high school career with 300, becoming only the second player in the county to hit the milestone. Only Maryland’s two-time Tewaaraton Award winner Katie Schwarzmann (Century) scored more.
Even though Colson had played defense as a midfielder, going from prolific scorer to full-time stopper took some getting used to.
“Obviously, it’s a big adjustment,” she said. “I think the biggest thing was just learning how to think more defensively than offensively. Having that experience as an attacker my whole life kind of helps me, because I can think ahead to what I would do if I was attacking. I know more about the backside and know that if I was attacking the goal I would be looking for the backside cutter. It’s very helpful to see the whole 8 [-meter arc] as opposed to just my attacker going to goal.”
Colson said she’s developed a greater respect for defense now that she plays it full time. She loves to see the 90-second shot clock expire on opposing offenses because they couldn’t find a hole in the Terps defense.
As the No. 1-seeded Terps prepare to host Navy in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals Saturday at noon at Maryland’s Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex, they’re coming off their stingiest defensive performance of the season in a 15-4 win over Denver. The Terps held three other opponents to five goals each and allow just 9.4 goals per game.
The Terps play man-to-man team defense, but Colson’s role is more of a roamer. The same speed and anticipation that make her so strong on the draw translate perfectly to her defensive role.
“Lizzie has one speed and that’s full speed,” Reese said. “Everything she does is going as fast as possible and so when she got in there, she was coming up with ground balls, interceptions. She seemed to be everywhere. She’s somebody who doesn’t have specific matchups because she’s so good at reading the ball, coming up wth the ball. She has a nose for that and she’s so good for us in the transition and clearing game, getting it to the other end.”
While the Terps hope to advance to the final four Memorial Day weekend for the sixth straight time, Colson and her teammates aren’t looking any further ahead than Saturday’s Navy game. She knows how special it is to play in the final four. She realized that last year during a conversation with veteran defender Nadine Hadnagy just before the national semifinal, a conversation that helped settle her nerves for her debut as a full-time defender.
“As we were walking out onto the field last year, Nadine said, “Don’t worry about where we’re playing, what you’re doing, what’s happening around you. Just look around and take it in, because you never know when you’re going to be back in this position again. You may never,’ and so it was really important for me to just take a second, slow down and appreciate where I was and not worry about anything. It was amazing.”