Kennesaw, Ga. — Kayla Peterson scored five goals as Vanderbilt lacrosse won its season opener at Kennesaw State on Sunday afternoon by the final score of 18-14.
Vanderbilt (1-0, 0-0 BIG EAST) came out running and earned an early 6-1 lead in the first 11 minutes, led by Peterson’s three early goals. Kennesaw State (0-2, 0-0 Atlantic Sun) evened out possession after that lopsided stretch, drawing within a goal of the Commodores on three occasions before the end of the first half.
“We were finding the holes in their defense a little bit faster and took better shots,” Vanderbilt head coach Cathy Swezey said of her team’s strong start. “Midway through the first half we just couldn’t get our shots on the cage and I think that really affected us.”
Hadley Brown’s man-up goal with eight seconds remaining in the first half put Vanderbilt up 10-8 at halftime with the visitors outshooting Kennesaw State, 24-13, through 30 minutes.
Early in the second half, Julie Blaze figured in on two goals just 16 seconds apart to put the Dores up three. Blaze assisted on Kayla Pruitt’s first goal of the season, putting Vanderbilt up 12-10, and scored herself on the next possession to make it 13-10.
The Owls stayed within striking distance until the Commodores scored three consecutive goals with under 15 minutes remaining. Emily Mathewson sandwiched her third and fourth goals of the game around Blaze’s fourth of the afternoon to give Vanderbilt a 17-12 lead with 10:05 to go. Peterson’s fifth goal - her only second half score after four goals in the first half - put the game out of reach at 18-14 with 1:25 left.
“There’s nobody better at finding space in front of the cage, nobody better,” Swezey said about Peterson’s big game. “She knows how to find the holes and she just does it repeatedly. She slips into space and she finishes consistently. She played a really solid game for us.”
Junior Melanie Becker scored two goals, chipped in an assist and added a team-high five ground balls. Peterson paced Vanderbilt with six draw controls as the Commodores won the draw control battle, 18-16, while outshooting Kennesaw State, 42-25. Despite missing some offensive chances, the Commodores held on for win number one.
“I think it was first game jitters a little bit and I think it’s always good to have the first game to see where some of your weaknesses might be that aren’t exposed in practice,” Swezey said. “A win is a win and I think our kids made big plays when they needed to, to make sure we ended up on the right side of that.”
Redshirt sophomore Lily Argyle played the entire game in goal for the Commodores, making four saves and helping kill off two pivotal man-up opportunities.
Seven different Dores scored goals, including freshman Sophie Furlong’s first collegiate goal. Fellow freshman Gabrielle Fornia assisted on Furlong’s goal and registered three assists in her first college game.
“She did great,” Swezey said about Fornia’s debut. “She definitely had some freshman nerves early on, and I’m proud of her because she shook them off and found ways to contribute and be productive. We’re really happy with her, and I think we have a player on our hands. I think she’s going to do a lot of great things.”
After controlling possession but going down to the wire for a win, Coach Swezey identified defense as a point of emphasis over the next week of practice.
“We need to work on our defensive transitions,” Swezey said. “Our [midfielders] were a little bit slow getting back on defense and their attack was slipping in behind us. Before we get into different defenses, we’ve got to make sure that we’re on the same page. Communication will be key.”
Vanderbilt’s next game is Monday, February 19 at 4 p.m. CT on the road against the Fresno State Bulldogs. The Commodores’ home opener is Saturday, February 24 at 1 p.m. against Furman.