April 17, 2014

WD2 Notebook: Lindenwood's Road Warrior Ways

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Lindenwood goalie Christine Hehmeyer is one of two players remaining from its club era. (Don Adams Jr.)

As his team barnstorms its way through North Carolina, Central Pennsylvania, Western Colorado, South Florida and every spot in between, Lindenwood coach Jack Cribbin has always made it a point to break up the road trips with fun side events for his team. 

The thinking is that the players might never again step foot in Durango, Colo., or Slippery Rock, Pa., so they may as well make the most of it. 

But last week’s season-defining, three-game swing through Florida was different. There would sadly be no mornings on the beach or afternoons at Epcot Center. This was a business trip.

“Normally it’s all about the experience,” Cribbin said. “But I told them all along, ‘Ladies, I’m not bringing my golf clubs. I wish I was.’ It was almost like we were teasing them. We were so close to Walt Disney World, but we couldn’t go. We wanted to make sure the focus was on recovery after the games. ”

The Lions did manage to sneak in a movie, but, more importantly, they swept Rollins, Florida Southern and St. Leo to earn three crucial South Region victories.

And now Lindenwood (12-2), the team from St. Charles, Mo., which checks in at No. 6 in this week’s LM Rankings, finds itself in prime position for a playoff spot. The NCAA released its first Regional Rankings this week. The Lions rank third in the South Region in the poll, which takes into account the same formula used to determine who makes the big dance.

The biggest victory boosting that resume came during the aforementioned Florida trip, when LU knocked off Florida Southern, 13-9, on April 4. Star player Shelby Polk injured her ACL one game earlier, but the Lions pulled together and won thanks to 11 saves from Christine Hehmeyer, three goals and three assists from Melissa Menchella and four goals from Erin Abbott.

“The really rallied around [Polk],” Cribbin said. “I think that Florida Southern win is one of the biggest things I’ve seen, with everything on the line nationally and everything going on with our team.”

Cribbin has long maintained that the Lions, who spent the previous two years as a provisional NCAA team, could contend for an NCAA championship once they were eligible, so he isn’t surprised to see them nearing the top of the rankings.

“If I said anything different that would allude to the fact that I didn’t believe in our players,” Cribbin said. “I’ve always believed in this program. I’ve always believed in these players. I’ve always believed we had the talent and the toughness. It’s been a waiting game for the past 24 months.”

It’s hard to imagine that three years ago, Lindenwood was a club team. But the Lions still have two players from the club era, both of whom hail from the Midwest and both of whom start - defender Stephanie Tirman (20 ground balls, 14 draw controls) and Hehmeyer (7.48 GAA, .470 save percentage).

“They’re kind of the elder statesmen on the team,” Cribbin said. “They’ve been really trying to help the young kids understand the importance of this time of year. Those two understand the importance of playing in late April and late May.”

May will bring one more important road trip for the Lions, who are 8-1 away from campus. They’ll head to Gaffney, S.C., to face mighty Limestone on May 3.

When it’s all said and done the Lions will have logged more than 10,000 miles and the road and spent more than 17 nights in hotel rooms. But you can bet they’d take a couple more nights in hotel beds, if they happen to be in Salem Va., on NCAA championship weekend.

“You have a school like us, in the heartland of of America, doing things that have never been done at the Division II level,” Cribbin said. “Nobody is ready for this to stop.”

Looking Ahead:

No. 14 Stonehill (9-5) at Dowling (11-4), Saturday 2 p.m.

This one actually could have quite a few NCAA tournament implications. The ECC will host its own tournament this year so, theoretically, Dowling’s NCAA hopes are still alive. If the Golden Lions can defeat Stonehill and then shock LIU Post in the ECC title game, they would make a compelling case to be the North Region’s fourth team. Stonehill is in a similar position. If the Skyhawks can take care of Dowling and make a deep run in the NE-10 tournament, they would be tough to ignore. Another team that should watch this closely is Philadelphia University, which currently ranks sixth in the regional rankings. Every win by Dowling improves the Rams strength of schedule and makes their signature win over the Golden Lions look all the better.

Game Balls:

Danica Cutshall, Regis: The senior from Lakeville, Minn., paired four goals with four assists to help the Rangers wreck Rollins, 19-4, on Friday. Cutshall followed that up with three goals, one assist, four ground balls and two caused turnovers on Sunday in a 10-6 victory over Fort Lewis.

Anna LeGrett, Mercyhurst: LeGrett put up four goals and two assists on Tuesday to help the Lakers upset Indiana (Pa.), 15-13. Three days earlier, the senior out of upstate New York power Honeoye Falls-Lima scored a pair of goals in a 12-7 victory over local rival Gannon.

Alyssa Spencer, Fort Lewis: The sophomore from Durango, Colo., made six saves and helped limit Rollins to four goals, which tied a season low, in a 6-4 victory for the Skyhawks on Saturday. One day later, Spencer faced a barrage of shots against mighty Regis and made 14 saves during a 10-6 loss to the Rangers.

Notes: NCAA Tournament Picture Still Out of Focus

Cribbin said Lindenwood isn’t thinking about the NCAA tournament, because, with all the permutations and formulas involved, its easier for his team to just focus on winning its games. He has a point. Picking the NCAA tournament this season looks downright impossible this year.

Even with their formula to assist them, the committee has a formidable task ahead of them, especially in the South Region, where Mercyhurst’s victory over IUP has further muddied the waters. The initial Regional ranks have the entire PSAC on the outside looking in. The current poll puts Limestone, Pfeiffer, Lindenwood and Florida Southern in position to dance.

The next two teams in the rankings, Indiana (Pa.) and Lock Haven, both will have their strength of schedules improved by the PSAC tournament, so if they win out, it would stand to reason that one would have the requisite resume to earn that final spot. But even that will offer no guarentee. But winning out is no guarantee. Mercyhurst, West Chester, Seton Hill and Bloomsburg are all capable of winning the PSAC crown. 

When Selection Sunday comes around, will the formula punish the PSAC for being stacked? It seems crazy, and a little unfair, but it has happened before. West Chester won the PSAC tournament last season and missed out on the final spot, though runner-up Lock Haven managed to get in by virtue of its superior regular season. This year that might not be enough. It's not the like the teams ahead of the PSAC will be losing. Limestone hosts Lindenwood and is likely headed toward a Conference Carolinas championship showdown with Pfeiffer, but otherwise the members of that big four will be favored in every game.

Meanwhile, in the North, the first regional rankings come in as: Adelphi, LIU Post, New Haven, St. Anselm, Le Moyne and Philadelphia. You can't even try to predict how that one will shake out until the Northeast 10 tournament.

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