Club Women

February 13, 2009

Lindenwood's Free at Last

By Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Lindenwood just wasn't appreciated during its time in the CPWLL, but now the Lions have found a new conference home. It could be more difficult to gain a WDIA tourney bid coming out of the WCLL, but it's worth it.
© Bill Johnson

Jack Cribbin, Lindenwood's head coach, stacks chairs in the hotel conference room as his assistant, Brian Smith, works the white board, crafting a woman-up offense in the event a yellow card is shown when the Lions square off with BYU (5:30 p.m. PST) or Arizona (9:15 p.m.) on Friday evening at the Santa Barbara Shootout.

There is nothing hurried or uncomfortable about the scene. The two coaches seem quite at ease as they talk about strategy and their expectations for the double-header.

A lot of their serenity is taken from the fact that their team is ranked eighth in Lacrosse Magazine's preseason WDIA poll, as the Lions return a talented, if a tad young, team from last year's strong finish. No doubt some of the contentment also stems from the fact that Lindenwood (Mo.) has freed itself from the Central Plains Women's Lacrosse League (CPWLL) and is now a member of the powerful Women's Collegiate Lacrosse League (WCLL).

Lindenwood's former affiliation with the CPWLL was a double-edged sword, with both edges cutting the Lions. Not only was the league not very competitive - the Lions routinely drubbed their league opponents, with the most goals allowed in a game last season topping out at four - but, frankly, many of the other teams in the conference resented Lindenwood's presence.

Emails detailing supposed transgressions have made their rounds in the lacrosse community from CPWLL members and administrators, and Cribbin has occasionally heard the allegations himself. He didn't lose a whole lot of sleep over the misinformation because he knew the allegations weren't true, but it still got old.

"There have been times when it has been tough hearing some of those things that were said about us," admitted Cribbin. "There were definitely times where we didn't feel welcome in the CPWLL. I volunteered on a lot of boards and tried to do a lot of goodwill gestures to help grow the game. We've always told the other universities how we were able to get so much support. We thought it was a good thing: we're trying to grow the game lacrosse, in the Midwest specifically. Other schools see that and they don't like it. They see us as a threat because we're a small school competing."

With seemingly nothing to be gained competitively, or otherwise, by staying in the CPWLL, Cribbin jumped at the chance to join the WCLL when its president, Pittsburgh coach Gary Neft, extended an invitation to Lindenwood.

Now, instead of being able to buy their tickets to the WDIA championships before the season even started, as they were able to do in the CPWLL, the Lions will be competing with the likes of Pitt, Michigan and Michigan State - all tournament qualifiers in 2008. A lot of programs wouldn't throw away a guaranteed spot in the tournament to join a stacked conference, but Cribbin felt it was important for the long-term development of the program.

"It's something we talked about when we switched conferences, but we've always scheduled as hard as humanly possible throughout the regular season," he said. "We want to play up to the level of our opponents, not down to it. If we play a tough regular season schedule and we're competitive in our conference, [the tournament] might happen or it might not. But it's not going to happen because we didn't schedule hard enough."

The decision was an easy sell to his players, who were more than eager to play a stiffer conference schedule (Lindenwood traditionally plays one of the tougher non-con slates, including their annual trip to the Santa Barbara Shootout). It helped that, despite what it may appear geographically, the travel budget would actually be smaller in the WCLL than it was in the CPWLL.

As much sense as the move to this new conference makes for Lindenwood, there is a lingering sense of a job unfinished. One of the goals for Lindenwood was to help grow lacrosse in the Midwest, and not only did its success not rub off on the other members of the CPWLL, it seemingly drove a wedge between Lindenwood and the rest of the league.

Cribbin and the Lions are past that now. They're in a better spot, on many different levels.

"We kind of just stay to ourselves and stay out of all the negativity," said Cribbin. "We're happy where we are."

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