Buffalo to Boston: The Plane Ride that Fueled Madison Ahern's Return to U.S.


Every time Madison Ahern walks into her room in South Bend, Ind., she’s greeted by what looks like a blank piece of paper, pinned to her bulletin board.

The piece of paper is white to the normal eye, but Ahern can discern what’s behind the faded ink. It’s what motivates her to this day.

Buffalo to Boston. A plane ticket dated July 31, the day the U.S. U19 national team left for Peterborough, Ontario and Ahern, an alternate, departed for home in Cohasset, Mass.

“It’s just a white piece of paper now. It’s totally faded,” she said. “But I can read it.”

Ahern watched as the U19 team steamrolled its way to gold in 2019 — a process that brought both pain and lasting memories for the future Notre Dame star. The U19 journey, and the abrupt end to it, set Ahern on the course to where she stands today.

“I loved my time with the U19 team, but missing out on the big stage was really sad for me,” she said.

She pinned the plane ticket to her bulletin board shortly thereafter, and hasn’t taken it down since. What was once one of her saddest moments has helped her become an All-American, dropping 153 points in three seasons at Notre Dame, and now a member of the U.S. women's Sixes Team.

Ahern hoped her time in the red, white and blue would return, and it did in the summer of 2021, when she was invited alongside several former U19 teammates to try out for the Sixes team. A year later, she’s one of the leaders on an offense that will face Canada in The World Games gold-medal match Saturday night in Birmingham, Alabama.

She’s far removed from the experiences of 2019, and far away from the plane ticket that serves as fuel, but she’s ready to flip the script.

“I look at it and remember the pain that was associated with it, but also the great memories. I wanted to finish it out the next time I had a chance to,” she said. “This is really coming full circle. I’ve never played in a real game for the U.S., only exhibition games until this tournament.”

She’s playing for the U.S. with a few familiar faces, including Notre Dame teammate Kasey Choma, who’s been at her side throughout her lacrosse career.

“I was so happy to finally wear USA across my chest with Madison,” Choma said. “It’s the best feeling ever knowing we both made the team. To be able to represent Notre Dame and USA with one of your best friends is amazing.”

The three-year process for Ahern started immediately after the U.S. took home gold in the 2019 U19 world championship. She needed little motivation upon arriving at South Bend for her freshman year at Notre Dame.

In three seasons with the Fighting Irish, Ahern’s numbers continued to grow — 27 points in 2020, 49 in 2021 and 77 this past spring. She’s becoming one of the most dangerous scoring threats in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

By the summer of 2021, USA Lacrosse brought her back into the U.S. talent pool and gave her a shot at making the Sixes team. Her quick dodging and precise shooting made for a goal-scoring barrage in exhibition games, and it continued through the Super Sixes event at USA Lacrosse headquarters in October.

This spring, Ahern got the call from coach Mandee O’Leary that she’d made the Sixes national team headed for Birmingham. She and Choma were in separate classes at Notre Dame, and neither wanted to tell the other for fear that she didn't make it.

Later that day, Notre Dame coach Christine Halfpenny brought Ahern and Choma together to break the news that both would be headed to The World Games.

“She brought us together to let each other know and we were just so happy,” Choma said. “Madison is one of the hardest workers I know and is constantly pushing others around her to be their best. There has never been a day at practice where she is not going 100 percent. We were beyond happy that we get to share this moment together.”

Ahern and the U.S. Sixes team kicked off play in The World Games with a win over Australia on July 12, following it up with victories over Japan, the Czech Republic and Great Britain. In four games, Ahern has tallied 10 goals and five assists — one of four players on the U.S. team with 15 or more points.

The only game where Ahern did not score more than three points was one where she missed the entire second half after she received a red card for a dangerous shot against Japan. She returned the next day to the tune of four goals and a new perspective on Sixes.

“We talk a lot about finding our role on this team,” she said. “I had to find a different role — helping them when they were coming off the field. Letting them know what I was seeing from the sidelines.”

Her fresh legs helped the U.S. find chemistry against the Czech Republic, and it carried over against Great Britain in the semifinals.

“She was fresh, she was ready to good,” O’Leary said. “Sometimes there’s a lot to be learned from being on the sidelines and watching. It gave her plenty of time to dissect her game, so she made a lot of adjustments. They all came to fruition and she had a great game.”

With a combination of fakes, Ahern has fooled more than a few goalies so far in The World Games. She grew up watching Kayla Treanor highlights, and tuned in as the Syracuse coach faked out the world in the 2022 World Lacrosse Women's Championship.

“Since I was little, I’ve always looked up to Kayla Treanor,” she said. “Even watching her this past week, every play is ‘Oh my god, she’s so good.’ Even when I’m practicing, I fake even an open net. When I’m doing stickwork, I’m always faking and moving my body with my stick in different ways.”

Saturday, Ahern stands one game away from winning her first gold medal — something she almost had the chance to do in 2019. She won’t forget her experiences with that team, but she’s ready to make her dream come true. If she does, the ticket might soon be overshadowed.

“Maybe I’ll put [the medal] over it,” she joked.


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