How Lizzie Colson Resurrected Her USA Career After Tearing Her ACL

Lizzie Colson lay on the turf at Tierney Field, just paces from the substitution box and 10 yards away from the draw circle where she recently exited, clutching her left knee and crying.

A star defensive player at Maryland, Colson had been invited to the U.S. women’s national team training camp in June 2019. On the third day, she felt a pop in her knee after a draw control. She screamed as she dropped her stick and fell to the ground. She knew immediately.

Colson tore her ACL and MCL and sprained her lateral meniscus in her left knee.

“I looked at the sideline and saw everyone wearing USA pinnies,” Colson said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to get back here again. That’s it for me.’”

Colson pondered life without lacrosse, the sport that turned a “Hannah Montana”-obsessed teenager into an elite athlete. Then she buried the thought.

“Walking off the turf to go to the doctor’s office, I had a decision to make,” she added. “You know what? I’m going to buy into this recovery. I’m going to buy into my mental strength and lean in and do this. I wasn’t ready to let this injury take something that I loved so much away from me yet.”

Two years later, Colson returned to the same field where her career took a tailspin. After two training sessions with the U.S. national team — a group of women she wasn’t sure she’d ever compete with again — Colson got the call she couldn’t have imagined. Coach Jenny Levy informed her that she’d made the 18-player roster for the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship.

Colson never gave up. The climb was well worth it.

“This is every lacrosse player’s dream. It’s everything I’ve worked for,” she said. “Yeah, I dealt with my ACL, but picturing that world championship ring with these wonderful, empowering women who have all been through so much, it’s inspiring on so many levels. I’m feeling that same itch that I did when I came back from the injury, and when I tried out for the first time.”

“We wanted a wrecking ball in there. Colson gives us that feisty edge.”

— Jenny Levy

GROWING UP IN MARYLAND, Colson bounced between bounced between soccer, gymnastics, basketball and lacrosse. She tried drama, starring as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” but as the middle of five children, she had a motor built for sports.

“Lizzie as a kid was exactly like Lizzie now,” said Laura Colson, her mother. “She was hyper, a little spastic, all in on whatever she did.”

Colson played alongside two of her sisters during her youth and high school career — competing for two Maryland state championships at Manchester Valley with Steph and Beanie, the former who won two NCAA championships at Gettysburg and the latter who plays at Mount St. Mary’s. Lizzie primarily played midfield, but when she broke her foot in her senior year of high school, she returned as a crease attacker.

Don’t ask about the time she got her head stuck in the goal while playing goalie, though.

“I'll never play goalie again, but I did learn that Taylor Moreno also gets her head stuck in the goal,” Colson said. “Maybe I was onto something there.”

Colson continued as a midfielder at Maryland. The night before the Terps’ 2017 NCAA semifinal game against Penn State, however, assistant coach Lauri Kenis told Colson, a freshman, she’d start on defense.

“I started to feel myself skyrocket up with anxiety,” she said. “I’d tell myself, ‘Tighten your bun and move on.’”

Colson played an integral role as Maryland defeated Penn State and then Boston College to win the 2017 NCAA championship at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., cementing her place as one of the game’s elite defenders.

Still, in one of the Terps’ first practices the following spring, Colson lined up with the middies. Kenis asked her why she wasn’t with the defense.

Colson stepped away from the drill and started to walk from the 50-yard line to the 8-meter. She couldn’t have the best of both worlds anymore.

“I remember that walk between those lines,” Colson said. “I thought, ‘I have a decision to make. I can either pout and be upset that I’m not a middie anymore or I can buy into this defender role. My coaches see something in me.’ I decided to buy in.”

Two seasons, 43 starts and another national championship later, Colson was happy with her decision. She had four ground balls, seven draw controls and two caused turnovers in the 2019 NCAA championship game victory over Boston College — played at Homewood Field, just 30 minutes from where she grew up.

By 2019, Steph and Lizzie Colson had combined for four national championships. Their family was there for each of them.

“The further we get from it, the more I realize how very special it was,” Laura Colson said. “The more perspective you get, the more you’re like, ‘Wow. What a special, unusual, precious gift we got.’”

Lizze Colson earned All-American honors in 2018 and 2019, leading the Terps to their 14th national title.

Then came the pop.

The first call Colson made after her injury, in the examination room, was to her mother. She had recently gushed about how grateful she was for the U.S. team opportunity, but this call had a different tone. Laura Colson drove to USA Lacrosse headquarters to support her.

“It’s a lot of phone calls. Its a lot of prayer. It’s a lot of talking. A lot of listening, mostly listening,” Laura Colson said. “There’s nothing you can do.”

Colson’s leg was locked in a brace. She walked with crutches all summer and spent her 21st birthday watching “Mama Mia” with her mother. Mostly immobile, she felt isolated.

Immediately after her surgery, Colson and her mother wrote down a list of goals for the 10-month recovery. She called Steph, who tore her ACL during her freshman year at Manchester Valley, to get a different perspective.

“By month six or seven, you're like, ‘Why am I even trying? Am I ever going to get back to playing?” Steph Colson said. “I just kept reminding her, ‘You’re Lizzie. You’re going to get back out there. It’s not over. Your story is not done.’”


COLSON DISCOVERED WHO SHE WAS WITHOUT LACROSSE. She tried playing the ukulele, but she had a tough time reading music. She took an Italian language course online, but soon said arrivederci when she lost the passion. Drawing became a hobby that Colson still enjoys today. She doodles more than anything. It’s therapeutic.

“There’s a bunch that I learned about myself, but outside of the hobbies, I just learned how to be a more well-rounded person,” she said. “Checking in on all the people around and just finding like the silver lining of any situation.”

Colson also learned it’s OK to ask for help. She started seeing Maryland’s director of clinical and sports psychology, Michelle Garvin, who helped her reframe her mindset as she rehabbed. “I never really learned how to be a leader off the field,” she said.

“She doesn’t want to spill her guts. She doesn’t like the big heart-to-heart. She doesn’t like to be vulnerable,” Laura Colson said. “When she opened up about what it was like to be sidelined, that was big for her because normally she just likes to keep it right on the surface.”

Colson redshirted the 2020 season — a blessing in disguise given the onset of the pandemic — and returned fully healed in 2021. She was named the IWLCA National Defender of the Year after leading the country with 49 caused turnovers. A three-time All-American who ranks No. 3 all-time at Maryland with 324 draw controls, Colson got the call from U.S. coach Jenny Levy to rejoin the player pool.

The dream was still alive.

“We wanted a wrecking ball in there,” Levy said. “We wanted someone who has a high motor. She just goes after things where other people might sit back and say, ‘I don’t want to go after that. It might not be a good risk.’ Colson gives us that feisty edge.”

A wrist injury Colson suffered in an NCAA tournament game loss to Duke caused her to miss the first two training sessions last summer, but she recovered in time for USA Lacrosse Fall Classic in October. During warm-ups before an exhibition game against Canada, Colson turned her head to the closest teammate she could find — Charlotte North.

“I just need to say this out loud,” Colson told North. “This is my first time playing on this field since I tore my ACL. I’m nervous.”

North reassured Colson that she was there for a reason and that she would be OK. Colson gripped her stick, tightened her bun and got back on the field.

Following the Fall Classic and another training camp at the IWLCA Presidents Cup in Dallas, Colson awaited a decision from Levy and her staff. Now living in Newport Beach, California (she finally got out of Maryland), she was headed to work when Levy called.

“Where are you right now?” Levy asked. “Are you roller skating down Coastal Highway or something?”

Levy then told Colson she made the cut for the world championship roster. She immediately called her mother, crying again, but this time for a good reason.

“It was a goal of hers back when she was playing Skywalkers [club] lacrosse,” Laura Colson said. “When she finally got there, after the wrist and the knee, there were definitely some tears.”

Weeks later, Colson found out that her sister will compete for the Italian national team. Although the two teams are not likely to meet, the world championship has become a family affair.

“I'm like a silent assassin,” Steph Colson said. “Wait until it gets to be June. Then maybe you'll hear something.”

Playing for gold alongside family just miles from her childhood home? It truly is the best of both worlds for Lizzie Colson.