NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Turnovers and a barrage of first-half goals put the Vanderbilt lacrosse team in an inescapable hole.
It was not the sort of conference debut the Commodores were hoping for as they dropped the BIG EAST opener for both teams with a 19-10 loss to No. 6 Florida on Sunday at the VU Lacrosse Complex.
Vanderbilt turned the ball over 20 times - three more than its total number of shots. And Florida scored eight straight goals in the first half to turn a one-goal deficit into a seven-goal lead. Florida senior Shannon Gilroy, who entered the country tied for fifth in goals, scored a season-high seven goals.
The Commodores (3-6, 0-1) never recovered and lost their sixth straight -- all to ranked opponents.
"As far as the turnovers go, I don't know if our kids just used to feeling somebody on their back or that kind of pressure," Vanderbilt coach Cathy Swezey said. "I know Gilroy had a lot of goals but I think she had quite a few caused turnovers (five), too. We just have to protect our sticks and take care of it and move the ball faster. Some of our kids just held the ball too long.
"As a coach, obviously losing is not fun. But I think I'd rather lose with technical errors than a lack of effort. Our kids are definitely putting it out there. They gave a lot of heart and worked really hard. It just didn't go our way."
Vanderbilt jumped out of the gate and scored first on a free position shot by Alexa Kunowsky less than two minutes in. After Gilroy answered, Caroline Peters put the Commodores back in front with an assist from Jill Doherty.
Then the Gators (7-4, 1-0) broke loose. Gilroy won the draw and scored 12 seconds after Peters. It was the first of two straight for Gilroy and started an 8-0 run that ended with a goal UF's Carli Marsh for a 9-2 lead with 6:40 to go in the half.
Vanderbilt struggled to get shots, mustering only two through the first 25 minutes of the game. Mallory Schonk stopped the drought with a free-position goal at the 5:23 mark. Freshman Kayla Peterson followed a couple minutes later with a goal on the first career assist from defender Gabrielle Nesi to cut the deficit to 9-4 going into halftime.
But Florida squashed any chance of a Commodore rally with three goals in the opening five minutes of the second half. Vanderbilt never got closer than six after that.
Florida dominated most categories with an edge in shots (30-17), ground balls (30-19) and caused turnovers (17-10). Vanderbilt won the draw control battle 16-15. But momentum fluctuated as Florida gained control at times in the first half whereas a string of draws gave the Commodores' life in the second half. Peters, who was just moved back to midfield two games ago, won a career-high seven draw controls.
Doherty, Schonk, Kunowsky, Peters and Peterson all scored two goals apiece as Vanderbilt made an impressive 10 of 17 shots (58.8 percent). Doherty, Peterson, Nesi and Emma Dagres each had an assist. In addition to her first career assist, Nesi, a senior, tied a career-high with three ground balls and set a personal best with two caused turnovers.
Maddie Kratz put together an impressive performance in goal, making nine saves in 36 minutes as she came off the bench to spell starter Callahan Kent. Kratz, a senior, had missed the last two games due to the stomach flu.
Vanderbilt hits the road for a two-game trip to the East Coast. The Commodores step out of conference play for one last time to play former American Lacrosse Conference rival No. 19 Johns Hopkins at 3 p.m. on Wednesday in Baltimore. They'll stay out east and play at Georgetown on Sunday in Washington, D.C.