By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
FRANKLIN, Mass. – During Franklin’s win on Friday, head coach Tom Geysen noticed that senior Victoria Stowell was getting frustrated because, despite her team leading 7-0, she could not find the back of the net.
He took her aside and told her to save the goals for the games that matter most to the Panthers. On Monday night, Geysen explained, “Anybody on this front line and in the middle can score against these teams, there are certain teams that they can’t and those are the teams you want to focus on.”
Stowell paid attention and on Monday she celebrated Senior Night against Mansfield with a pair of second half free kick goals that gave Franklin a 2-0 win and clinched the program’s sixth consecutive Kelley-Rex Division title.
“He says score in the important games and that’s what I did,” said Stowell with an ear-to-ear grin. “They’re rivals; I have to score against our rivals.”
In a game that featured few chances for either team, Franklin had a golden opportunity in the 53rd minute. The ball was flicked forward by Alexis Stowell into the path of Emily Spath and the senior was able to chip it past the onrushing freshman keeper Lauren Whitman but then watched helplessly as the ball skipped off the far post.
Just seconds later, Franklin won a free kick and from 35 yards out, Victoria Stowell smashed the ball off the far post and in for the game’s opening goal to make it 1-0.
Megan Georges hit the bar for Franklin 12 minutes later and then with five minutes remaining Stowell again teed up a free kick – this time from 40 yards out. Once again (and for the third time in two games against the Hornets this seaon), she was able to curl the ball into the top corner to make it 2-0.
“They had two fantastic free kicks – upper 90 far post and then upper 90 near post,” said Mansfield coach Kevin Smith. “How do you defend that unless you have a 6-foot-4 keeper?”
“If someone’s going to beat you, let it be on something like that.”
Geysen praised Stowell after the first win against Mansfield as a big game player. She lived up to that billing in the rematch as well.
He added, “She’s rock solid and shows no emotion during the course of the game. It’s all business until it’s over and then maybe you’ll get a smile from her.”
Mansfield’s best chance came with two minutes remaining. Jen Kemp laid a pass into the path of Rebecca Bornstein and the senior smacked the ball off the crossbar from the edge of the 18.
It was one of the few shots that the Franklin defense allowed and only second shot that Mansfield put on target in the game. The Hornets put junior Hannah Reiter up top to be the focal point, but the Panthers defense closed down her space and closed off the passing lanes to her fellow forwards.
“The movement off the pass to her wasn’t in the spaces we needed,” said Smith. “We talked about playing, like Franklin does, move forward, pas backward and play forward. When we played forward, there was no back pass because we weren’t moving into that space.”
Geysen explained, “I told my two center backs (Lauren Rudolph and Meghan Dieterle), you have to decide who is going to pick her up higher because she’s going to end up unmarked and the other one has to be behind. The two of them have been rock solid all season.”
The Panthers defense, which also features Nadia Havens and Abigail Gipson, is a major reason why another they claimed another league title. Franklin has yet to allow a goal through 14 games, which is even more remarkable because three of the four starters from last year (Lindsay Mastaj, Leah Benson, and Nicole Ellin) needed to be replaced.
“I thought that I would have a huge job this year,” said senior keeper Dani Lonati, “but honestly I’ve had not even a dozen shots. They communicate really well and, I don’t know, we just work really well together and it’s been one of the more solid parts of the team.”
When asked if the team talks about not giving up a goal, Lonati cut off the question before it was finished and like a pitcher during a no hitter would not talk about it. She smiled and said, “Nope, keep quiet, we don’t want to jinx it.”
Following the Senior Night celebration, Stowell noted, “We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year, losing Bailey [Knous] quick, losing Megan Adams quick, and inexperienced players have to step up and learn the ropes quickly…and I think the sophomores and juniors have done a good job stepping up to replace that defense.”
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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