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Manchester Valley's Lizzie Colson fights past Walkersville's Liz Hanner Thursday, March 26 in Manchester.
Manchester Valley's Lizzie Colson fights past Walkersville's Liz Hanner Thursday, March 26 in Manchester. (DAVE MUNCHSTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

ELDERSBURG -- Alice Mercer never really thought she would play women's lacrosse at the University of Maryland.

Growing up in a home full of Duke basketball fans, her lack of interest in joining the Terrapins made sense given the schools are former Atlantic Coast Conference rivals.

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But that was before someone reached out to her about the possibility of playing in College Park, and it was someone who knew a little bit about lacrosse.

Katie Schwarzmann, Carroll's all-time scoring leader and a former Maryland standout, who twice won the Tewaaraton Award as the country's top college player, reached out to Mercer and encouraged her to at least give the campus a visit.

That's all it took.

"We came up for a visit and I knew right away that this was the place where I wanted to be," Mercer said. "I fell in love. It's funny because people always say that in the recruiting process and, you don't really understand it because you haven't gone through it. But it's 100 percent true.

"I remember walking in to Comcast [Center] and walking past the weight room and seeing all the athletes and I was like, 'This is so cool.'"

Maryland coach Cathy Reese is no stranger to hosting and signing players from Carroll County, and that doesn't appear likely to change in the future. In addition to Mercer being a starter on the current squad, six other county players have committed either officially or verbally to play for the Terps.

Liberty sophomore Grace Griffin and Manchester Valley junior Lizzie Colson join a quartet of Century players — seniors Shelby Mercer and Marissa Donoghue, junior Hannah Warther and sophomore Kylie Davis — who are set to pursue college careers at Maryland.

"We work to bring the best players possible to the University of Maryland. We watch a lot of lacrosse and recruit the best athletes for our program," Reese said via email. "We have had a lot of talented players from Carroll County in the past and of course [we] will continue to recruit the best players we can."

Reese doesn't have to make much of a pitch to recruits after glancing at her resume. Since she took over the program in 2007, the Terps have made it the national championship game four times and come away with two titles, including one last season.

She's never lost more than four games in a season and Maryland is currently the No. 1 team in the nation, sporting a 10-0 record after crushing Northwestern 16-5 last Thursday. But it's not just her sterling record — Maryland has gone 172-17 under Reese — that draws the recruits in.

"It's definitely really exciting, but nerve wracking because [I] was so young. I couldn't even drive a car yet, but I was picking where to go to college," Donoghue said. "She's incredible. Her personality is so bubbly compared to any other coach. She just makes you feel like you want to be here and she's real serious and is there to win, and that's what I'm about."

For Shelby Mercer, the decision had one more layer than Donoghue. While the appeal of playing with her sister, Alice, was part of the process, Mercer wanted to make sure that wasn't the only reason she would pick Maryland.

However, it turned out in the end that Maryland was the place she wanted to go.

"Obviously I wanted to play with my sister again like I did in high school, but I tried to make sure I chose this school for the school, not just her being there," she said. "But it's definitely awesome that she's there and I've played with her before so I know what she does, so I thought it would be cool to go there with her."

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When scanning through the resume of the six recruits, it's easy to see why Maryland has so much interest in bringing them into the program.

Colson is the reigning Times Player of the Year, and led Manchester Valley to a Class 2A-1A state championship last season. Warther made USA Today's preseason first-team All-American squad and is regarded by some to be the top junior in the nation. Griffin was a Times first-team all-county performer last spring.

Davis displays elite speed and won a Class 2A 300-meter dash indoor track and field state championship, Shelby Mercer was a Times first-team performer last season, and Donoghue is a two-time second-team all-county performer.

"We want our girls to love playing the sport and to love their college experience," Reese said. "Our Carroll County players have done really well here at Maryland and hopefully that will continue each year."

Although the girls are elite high school players, it's likely not all of them will contribute right away on the collegiate level. For Alice Mercer, who played varsity all four years at Century, she realized the possibility of biding her time on the sidelines was a realistic one.

It was something she considered, but it didn't deter her decision in the end.

"I was nervous about that coming in, it's an adjustment. I worked hard my freshman year and I ended up getting on the field," Mercer said. "I became a starter and now I'm a junior now and it's going really well and I'm enjoying it, but it's a lot of hard work and you won't know what to expect going in.

"But you know it will be hard and it will be challenging, but hard work pays off."

Added Reese: "Alice is so much fun to coach. She is such a hard worker and is always making the people around her better. She was so much fun to watch in high school as well, great speed and athleticism and very competitive."

The Carroll success under Reese started with former Century star Kelly Kasper, who played for the Terps from 2005-08 and racked up 243 points. It continued with Schwarzmann, who graduated in 2013 as the program's third-leading scorer.

With such a fine tradition, Griffin said she's anxious to join the Terps and try to leave a mark on the program.

"I remember growing up and going to games to watch Katie Schwarzmann and Alice Mercer and the other girls, and I looked up to them. I wanted to be as good as them," Griffin said. "And now to be able to go to Maryland with all the other great players in the county, it's just awesome.

"You know, during the season, you don't look forward to playing against girls like Lizzie and Hannah. But then I just think in a few years we'll all be playing together."

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