LYNCHBURG, Va. — The game time temperature at Liberty on Sunday read 18 degrees. But a blistering wind chill made it feel much worse, more like four degrees.
Still, with proper precautionary measures taken by the team and athletic training staff to ensure Vanderbilt was prepared for the frigid temperatures, lacrosse coach Cathy Swezey didn’t want her team to mention the word “cold” after they stepped off the bus.
The Commodores sure didn’t take long to warm up.
Vanderbilt scored the game’s first eight goals and pulled away in the second half for a 20-10 victory over Liberty on Sunday. Kelly Chandler and Alexa Kunowsky each tied career highs with five goals apiece as the Commodores improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
“There were a lot of things to overcome in our victory today,” Swezey said, “including really difficult weather, a highly aggressive Liberty team and outstanding goalkeeping by the Liberty keeper. I was happy to see us separate ourselves at the end of the game and show our composure and aggression when we needed to.”
Vanderbilt jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the opening 15 minutes as Mallory Schonk and Chandler each recorded hat tricks during that span and Kunwosky added two goals.
Liberty (0-3) showed resiliency, cutting the lead to 10-6 at halftime and pulling within three goals less than a minute into the second half. The Commodores then regrouped and scored four of the next five goals to take a commanding 14-8 lead on Kunowsky’s fifth goal on an assist from Schonk with 16:40 left. Caroline Peters scored with 5:05 remaining to push the lead to 19-9 and trigger a running clock.
The attack accounted for 15 goals with five from Chandler, a career-high tying four by Schonk, three from Doherty and a career-high three by Peters. Doherty had a personal best seven points with a career-high four assists. Peters also set a personal best with two assists and Emma Dagres, Meggie Ramzy, Kunowsky and Schonk also had one assist.
“They needed to regain their composure,” Swezey said. “When Liberty closed the door a little bit our kids started to get a little frantic. They needed to remember what was working in the first half. It wasn’t a succession of quick goals. It was composed and waiting to find the right moment to get the shot by. Their goalie (Juliann Elmer) had 23 saves. She was outstanding and the game-changer for them.”
After Liberty won the opening four draw controls, Vanderbilt buckled down and became more assertive off the draw, winning that battle 19-13. Chandler set the tone with a career-high eight draw controls, which shattered her previous high of five.
The Commodores also held the edge in ground balls, 23-18, with a career-high five from Kunwosky. Vanderbilt also wreaked havoc with 16 caused turnovers as Liberty turned it over 23 times. Senior captain Alex Duckenfield led the way with a career-high four caused turnovers but the entire team stepped up defensively. Ten players caused turnovers, including eight from the attack and midfield. Doherty and Schonk had three apiece.
Sophomore Callahan Kent, making her second straight start and fourth of her career, made a career-high six saves.
Athletic trainer Alda Burston made sure the players stayed warm with heating pads for their backs and hand warmers similar to the ones quarterbacks use. The team also rented heaters for the sidelines. Assistant coach Julie Gardner ordered neck warmers from Nike sent to the team’s hotel on Saturday.
“I think everybody is glad it’s over and we can escape the cold and go back home to Nashville with a great win,” Kunowsky said.
The consecutive wins marks the first time since April 1-4, 2012 Vanderbilt has won back-to-back games. The Commodores will try to make it three straight when they host Boston University at 2 p.m. on Friday at the VU Lacrosse Complex.