FORT MYERS, Fla. – Behind two goals in each half of play, the FGCU women’s soccer team began the 2011 season and the Athletic Department’s first year as full-fledge Division I member in style with a 4-1 win over Eastern Washington on Friday evening in the Embassy Suites Kick-Off Classic at the FGCU Soccer Complex.
Approved on August 12th by the NCAA Board of Directors for active Division I membership, FGCU took the field for the first time tonight fully eligible for postseason play as the women’s soccer program ripped off the program’s 44th Division I win in just the start of its fifth season. The first 43 wins came during the four-year NCAA Division I provisional period.
“It’s definitely a cool feeling to pick up a win for our athletic department in our first Division I game as an active member,” said head coach Jim Blankenship. “I thought we played very well and were very aggressive on attack. There were some really good sequences that led to those goals.”
Unnerved about playing in their first game at FGCU, freshman Melissa Arnold (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek Regional HS) and sophomore Kayley Clay (Cape Coral, Fla./Bishop Verot HS/Lynn University) each tallied goals over the four-goal night. Arnold finished the evening with three points thanks to assist on the final tally of the game.
Arnold gave the Green and Blue their first lead of the season in the 14th minute when she capitalized on a giveaway by EWU keeper Jamie Walker. Arnold intercepted an errant pass just outside of the goal box and was able to rip a shot into the back of the net before Walker could retreat and make the save.
The visiting Eagles equaled the score at the 27:26 mark when a cross into the box was initially saved by senior Stephanie Powers (Seffner, Fla./Armwood HS), but the deflected ball was put home by Siara Byers to make it 1-1.
Momentum shifted back over to FGCU just before the half, as redshirt junior Ashley Ciesielczyk (Oregon, Ohio/Clay HS) pounded home a loose ball in front of the net following a corner kick from junior Brittany Burt (St. Petersburg, Fla./Northeast HS/USF) in the 42nd minute.
The second half was played tightly over the first 30 minutes until Clay scored the first goal over her FGCU career at exactly the 75-minute mark. Clay took a pass from junior Jessica Swartzentruber (Sarasota, Fla./Sarasota HS) in the box and forced the goalie to come out before beating her to the right to give the Green and Blue a 3-1 lead.
Senior Olivia Elias (Coral Springs, Fla./American Heritage-Delray HS), an A-Sun Preseason All-Conference choice, finished off the scoring in the 85th minute with a nice one-touch goal on a perfectly placed pass from Arnold.
The win in net was the 27th of Powers’ career as she made four saves on the evening. The Green and Blue used a 6-3 advantage in the second half to finish with a 12-9 shot edge. The Eagles’ aggressiveness on the offensive end also resulted in 10 corner kicks compared to none by Eastern Washington.
Robert Morris opened up the Embassy Suites Kick-Off Classic with a 1-0 win over BIG EAST foe Syracuse on a goal by senior Ayana Davis just five minutes into the final frame. RMU will begin the final day of the classic on Sunday when it takes on Eastern Washington at 10 a.m. FGCU and Syracuse will finish off the weekend at 1 p.m. in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.