October 10, 2013

30 in 30: Will NCAA Newbie Lindenwood Make a Splash?

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Maddi Ossello, a sophomore from Colorado, had 35 goals and seven assists last year.
© Don Adams, Jr.

It was the worst kept secret west of the Mississippi. When the 49ers were in St. Louis to play the Rams last month, they would spend the week practicing at Lindenwood’s Hunter Stadium.

On campus, everyone was aware of this fact. Despite the common knowledge, San Francisco security laid down some rules. LU’s coaches were to stay away from the windows. Instructions came from Jim Harbaugh that no LU staffer was to film his team. Everywhere you turned, there were coastal folk mistrusting Midwest hospitality.

“You would have thought President Obama was in town,” said Lindenwood coach Jack Cribbin.

Amidst all the security protocols, on Sept. 25, the Lindenwood women’s lacrosse Twitter account tweeted a picture of Colin Kaepernick leaving the complex.  “Hope you enjoyed the time on the lacrosse field!” it said.

Symbolically, the tweet was more than a simple betrayal of Jim Harbaugh. Lindenwood and Kaepernick have something in common. This time last year, no one thought Kaepernick would be playing in a Super Bowl. Now he’s in McDonald’s commercials. And if a team is going to come from nowhere and make a surprise run to the NCAA tournament this May, it could well be Lindenwood.

The Lions went 15-2 last season, with their only losses coming at Adelphi and by one to Rollins. Both of those opponents reached the NCAA semifinals. But even if LU had gone undefeated, the Lions wouldn’t have joined them in the postseason, since they were in the final year of their transition to the NCAA.

On Sept. 1, that transitional period ended and Lindenwood became an official member of NCAA Division II. Along with it comes all the perks of membership, including postseason play. The Lions will will find out pretty quickly whether they belong there. 

Adelphi (which has won the most NCAA tournaments, sort of the San Francisco 49ers of Division II women’s lacrosse) comes to town on March 1. Then LU takes to the road for most of the month with showdowns at South Region contenders Indiana (Pa.) and Pfeiffer highlighting the slate. By the time the Lions exit March with a big WILA showdown against Regis and then a return trip to Rollins, their postseason hopes could be firmly established or completely dashed.

In all, Lindenwood will face three of the South Region’s four playoff teams, and three of the team’s playing in the Final Four. It’s the kind of make your own luck strategy that’s necessary in Division II, where only eight teams make the postseason and even a great year can leave you sitting at home. Just look at West Chester last season. 

“I relate it to college football,” Cribbin said. “You can have a loss, maybe two, but you have to go in with a mindset that you have to win all your games. With the ratio being so out of whack right now, it’s definitely a numbers game.”

So far so good this fall. Last weekend the Lions went up to Grand Valley State and went 3-0. 

The Lions are stacked on the field and graduated just two starters. They return their leading scorer, Shelby Polk (58 goals) and assister, Lindsey Palmer (34 assists). This year will also see the emergence of LU’s huge junior class, which came to campus during the NCAA transition with the understanding that half of their college career would be spent building for 2014.

“It was tough at times,” Cribbin said. “Our juniors knew for the first two years they’d be ineligible. I’m excited for the whole team, but especially for a lot of those kids. We couldn’t be more fired up.”

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