Lindenwood, a Lacrosse Oasis in the Middle of the Country, Wins First National Title


Lindenwood captured its first NCAA championship in program history on Sunday.

Perhaps it was only fitting.

As a final act to a 2021 Division II women’s lacrosse season that was marked by continuous COVID-19 disruptions, including postponed games, constant rescheduling, limited non-conference competition and no-contest decisions, the NCAA crowned a first-time champion on Sunday.

Second-ranked Lindenwood outlasted No. 5 Queens 14-12 to claim its first title and become just the second team in the 20-year history of the Division II women’s championship from outside of New York, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania to hoist the champion’s trophy.

“This feels unbelievable, and it’s been a long time coming,” said Lindenwood coach Jack Cribbin, who started with the St. Charles, Missouri, school’s club program 16 years ago and completed his 10th NCAA season with a championship. “This is for all the kids who helped build this thing. They believed in a vision.”

Fueled by a pair of four-goal runs in the first half, Lindenwood created early separation in Sunday’s final and forced Queens to play catch-up the entire afternoon. The Lions dominated possession in the opening 30 minutes, outshooting the Royals 24-7 and converting on four free position attempts to build a 12-5 halftime lead.

Midfielder Lexy Biller and attacker Erin McGuire, both named to the USA Lacrosse Magazine All-America squad earlier this week, led the early onslaught with three goals each.

“We thrive in high intensity moments,” said Biller, who finished with four goals and a game-high eight draw controls and was named the championship’s Most Outstanding Player.

The Lions extended their advantage to 14-5 with two more early goals to start the second half but then had to withstand a valiant comeback by Queens to secure the title.
Boosted by back-up goalie Madi Bednarik, who registered a career-high nine saves in 34 minutes of relief duty, the Royals clawed back over the final 20 minutes.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the rally was that it happened without any scoring help from All-American Ally Blood, who was effectively faceguarded for most of the afternoon by LU’s Alyssa Kneedler.

Queens scored the game’s final seven goals, and when Kara Blanchard netted her fourth of the half and fifth of the game with 1:19 remaining, the deficit had been reduced to just two.

“I had no doubt that we would have some fight in us,” Blanchard said. “We’ve been down in the postseason before. I knew we would come back.”

Queens, also making its first championship game appearance, had two more possessions in the final minute but could not get a shot on goal. The Royals finished 14-2 on the year and had their 12-game winning streak halted.

“We just kept chipping away and gave it everything we had,” Queens coach Clare Short said. “We were not going to go out without a bang.”

Bang or not, the Lions are deserving champions. Sunday’s win was their seventh victory over a ranked opponent this season.

With eight returning starters from last year’s team that finished 9-1 in the pandemic-shortened season, expectations for 2021 were pretty high right from the beginning.

Cribbin didn’t dampen those expectations with his comments in the preseason, stating, “I can tell you in my 15 years at Lindenwood, this is the most talented group I have ever had.”

As the preseason No. 1 team in the Nike / USA Lacrosse Top 20, the Lions kept a firm hold on the top spot for most of the season. They started the year with 13 straight wins before losing their only game against Indianapolis in the GVLC championship game on May 2. But Lindenwood, which finished 17-1 overall, avenged that loss in the Midwest Regional final last week to punch its ticket into the national semifinals for the fifth time. A solid 12-9 victory over No. 10 Roberts Wesleyan on Friday night pushed the Lions to the brink of history, which they achieved with Sunday’s win at Kerr Stadium in Salem, Virginia.

The postgame celebration, cheered from the stands by a host of former players and program alums who made the trip to Salem, was clear evidence of the lacrosse oasis that Cribbin and his longtime associate head coach, Brian Smith, have built in the middle of the country. Lindenwood has become a destination program, attracting talent from all corners.

While there are no-instate recruits on this year’s team, there are five Canadians, five Californians, five New Yorkers and three Minnesotans. All told, 13 different states are represented on LU’s 32-player roster.

Known as the oldest city on the Missouri River, St. Charles has also become a popular choice among transfers, including many of the impact players who helped secure the program’s first title.

Biller came from Oregon after an initial start at Louisville. McGuire joined in 2020 after three seasons at Jacksonville. Defender Hailey Dobbins, who recorded three caused turnovers against Queens, came from Edinboro after starting at Syracuse. Midfielder Emma Arnold is from Ohio State. Goalie Eleanor Kast transferred from Stony Brook.

“Our culture is everything,” Cribbin said. “We talk about that in the recruiting process, and we sell them on a vision.”

That vision was clear for all to see on Sunday afternoon, including super senior Carly Fedorowski.

“I’ve always known we had the potential to win it,” she said. “Something just felt right this year with this group of girls.”

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