March 1, 2012

Lindenwood Hitting the Road in First WD2 Season

by Mark Macyk |

Through four games, Lexi Crusha is one of five double-digit scorers for first-year Division II program Lindenwood.
© Don Adams Jr.

St. Charles, Mo. was the last civilized place Lewis and Clark visited before they set off into the great unknown that was the Louisiana Purchase. It's also the home of Lindenwood University, one of Division II's newest women's lacrosse programs. And that makes sense.

Lindenwood competes in the Colorado-based Western Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. Its closest league opponent, Regis, is 13 hours away in Denver. Conference foe Fort Lewis is actually farther away than Dowling, who the Lions will visit on Long Island in March.

So like Lewis and Clark, Lindenwood will do a whole lot of traveling into unknown territory this year. In their first season as a D-II program, the Lions will head to Florida, New York and Michigan for non-conference games.

“I was doing the math the other day,” said Lindenwood coach Jack Cribbin. “We’ll log about 9,000 miles on the road this year. We’re going everywhere... We’ll become road warriors in a lot of ways. That’s the great thing about being on this team. We have the resources and we’re really willing to play anybody.”

That includes taking on No. 8 Dowling on March 11 when the Lions swing through New York. Cribbin sees only positives in playing an NCAA tournament team in his team’s first NCAA season.

“We see every game as an opportunity,” Cribbin said. “We hope to get more nationally-ranked teams. The girls want to play these teams. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs otherwise. Everything as we work toward postseason eligibility is a learning experience.”

The goal is to have Lindenwood, which previously competed in the WCLA, on par with those established teams when it becomes eligible for postseason play in 2014. It’s not unreasonable. Its home field certainly screams big-time success.

Lindenwood’s Hunter Stadium holds 6,000 people and was originally built as a training camp location for the NFL’s Cardinals, when they played in St. Louis. Next year the school will unveil a brand new $9 million, 43,000 foot student-athlete center, which will include dedicated locker rooms, a lounge, a training facility and a 3,000 square foot student academic success center.

“It will rival any Division I facility in the country,” Cribbin said. “Hunter Stadium is one of the five best lacrosse stadiums in the country. I’d put that facility up against anything out there its size.”

But a facility is only as good as the team playing within it and Lindenwood is pretty darn good. The Lions (3-1) have burst into their first NCAA season with big wins over St. Leo, 23-5, Colorado Mesa, 21-4, and Lake Erie, 19-4. Its only loss came to fellow first-year success story Florida Southern, 18-16.

Offense has been Lindenwood’s early trademark. Associate coach Brian Smith, who has run Lindenwood’s offense for four years, is a big reason for that.

“He’s done a remarkable job,” Cribbin said. “He doesn't coach for me. That irks me when coaches say that. We coach together. He’s one of my best friends.”

That offense has already produced double-digit scoring seasons from Justine Groothuis (14 goals, six assists), Lexi Crusha (11 goals, eight assists), Kara Cashen (13 goals, four assists), Lindsey Palmer (10 goals, one assist) and Kathryn St. George (10 goals).

As the only Division II schools for miles in any direction, Lindenwood recruits from all over. Crusha is from Corning, N.Y. Cashen is from outside Baltimore. St. George is from St. Louis. Groothuis and Palmer are from Ontario. The Lions feature players from seven different states and two Canadian provinces.

“We go out recruiting kids and we could care less where they’re from,” Cribbin said. “St. Louis, California, New Mexico, kids who stick by their commitment. We’re looking for the best and the brightest and we’ll find them wherever.”

For now Lindenwood has a good chance to win the WILA. For the future, the team has loftier goals.

“We have a couple of years to kind of see who we are and what’s out there and where we need to be,” Cribbin said. “We’ll take a couple of bumps in the road and see. That’s the goal. We’re not shy about it. We’re trying to make this a team that can compete for a national championship year in and year out.”

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