HICKORY, N.C. – No. 7/10 Florida Tech kicked off its 2019 season Friday afternoon by earning a 13-8 road victory over Lenoir-Rhyne at Moretz Stadium.
The win is the first for the new era of Panther women’s lacrosse under head coach McKenzie Rafferty and assistant coach Alex Gurecki. For Rafferty, this is her first career victory as a collegiate head coach, and it came in her first game at the helm.
Sam Schiano got the Panthers on the board first in the game, scoring unassisted just one minute after the opening draw. The Bears answered with their own solo tally by Gia Colombo to tie the contest at 1-1 with 27:33 remaining in the first half.
Schiano found the back of the net again on a free position attempt to make the score 2-1 and ignite a 5-0 run for the Panthers. Alexis Townsend assisted Mollie Kaplan for consecutive goals over a 25-second span to hand Tech a 4-1 advantage with 24:25 still left in the frame.
Kailee O’Brien then tallied her first collegiate goal and Townsend notched a man-up goal on a free position, and Florida Tech corralled a 6-1 edge with 10:42 to go in the first half.
Following a free position goal by LRU, the Panthers went into halftime with a 6-2 lead over the Bears.
Florida Tech took advantage of a late first-half yellow card called on LRU and quickly increased their lead to five goals early in the second half. Kaplan scored her third goal of the game on that man-up opportunity, off an assist from O’Brien.
The Panthers tacked on another man-up goal less than a minute later, following the Bears’ fourth yellow card of the game. This time, Hunter Cairo connected with Aleah Fjelstad for the score and the Crimson & Gray had their largest lead of the game at 8-2 with 27:44 left on the clock.
After Cathleen Gaffney scored the Bears’ third goal of the contest, Schiano answered with an unassisted man-up tally, completing her hat trick and giving Tech a 9-3 lead with 26:23 still to go in the second half.
With 23:14 left in the game, Lenoir-Rhyne ensued on a 5-1 run and trimmed the Panthers’ advantage to 10-8 with 6:54 remaining. However, Florida Tech shut the door with consecutive scores by Leah Dunn to make it a 12-8 game with three minutes to go.
Kaplan then notched her fourth goal of the game on an unsettled situation with 10 seconds to go to seal the deal on the Panthers’ season-opening victory.
In addition to scoring a game-high four goals on just six shots, Kaplan also recorded two ground balls, two draw controls, and two caused turnovers. Townsend added two goals, three assists, three ground balls, and two caused turnovers. Schiano finished with three goals, four draw controls, and two caused turnovers.
Dunn ended with two goals and O’Brien closed out her first collegiate appearance with a goal and an assist. Hunter Cairo and Fjelstad each recorded one point in the game.
Brittney Embree led the Tech defense with a game-high four caused turnovers, while Olivia Going picked up three ground balls. Chloe Zador garnered her first career win as well Friday, finishing with six saves in the cage for the Panthers.
Florida Tech finished with an advantage in shots (30-18) and ground balls (18-13). LRU ended with more draw controls (13-10). The Panthers were successful on 16-of-20 clears in the contest, while the Bears went 12-of-22. Both squads converted 4-of-7 free position tries.
Next up, the women’s lacrosse team continues its road trip and heads to Gaffney, S.C. for a showdown with No. 11 Limestone on Sunday, Feb. 17.
The Panthers and Saints faced off two times during the 2018 season, both ending in wins for Florida Tech. The first win was an 18-14 result at Saints Field on Feb. 23. The second occurred during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, a game in which the Panthers came from behind to win 13-11.
Sunday’s game is set to begin at 12 p.m. ET at Saints Field.
For the latest news, updates and information on the Florida Tech women’s lacrosse team, visit FloridaTechSports.com. Fans can also stay up-to-date on the latest Panthers news by following Florida Tech Athletics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.