But the Owls’ inexperience clearly showed, and they lost to the far more established Commodores program 22-3.
Freshman Senneca Ward scored two goals for Kennesaw State, including the first in the team’s history, and former Harrison High School standout Taylor Southerland added another as the Owls and Commodores played through a steady rain and gusty winds.
Despite the loss, the experience provided first-year coach Kristina Llanes saw an opportunity to assess the team’s progress and a point to build from.
“I think we learned a lot,” Llanes said in a university release. “I think we gained valuable experience against a veteran team that has several successful seasons under their belt, and I’m appreciative of the opportunity to compete against Vanderbilt.
“I think our athletes came to win. There are so many things that we can build on, and I’m excited.”
After Vanderbilt scored the first two goals of the game, Ward put herself in the Kennesaw State history books when she converted a free-position shot to cut the lead in half 3½ minutes into the game. Southerland joined Ward on the tally sheet when she scored an unassisted goal with 21:15 left in the opened period that made the score 6-2.
“We fought hard in our first game,” said Southerland, a freshman and one of three team captains. “We definitely have a lot of room to improve, but we’re just going to get better from here. It’s exciting. We now know specifically what we need to work on in game-like situations.”
The Owls’ final score of the contest came with 34 seconds remaining in the first half, when Ward again struck on a free-position shot.
“It was really exciting,” Ward said. “We came out ready to go, ready to play. We worked on what we needed to work on for our future games and what we did well.”
Carly Linthicum led Vanderbilt with five goals, while Kelly Chandler and Amanda Lockwood each had four.
Kennesaw State, one of eight new programs in Division I, will have two weeks off before returning to action in Buies Creek, N.C., to take on another first-year program in Campbell on Feb. 23.