(Photo Courtesy of Lindenwood Athletics)
Jim Lange remarks that he has spent over half his life on the Lindenwood campus. First as a player in the mid-2000s. Later as an assistant coach for his alma mater and now in his current role as the program’s head coach, a position he has held since the 2014 season.
For that reason, the St. Louis native has been a part of the growth of Lindenwood lacrosse at every phase. He was a player during its MCLA days and an assistant coach during its transition to NCAA DII. When he took over as head coach ahead of the Lions’ 2014 campaign, the program was about to enter its third season as an NCAA program and still had much ahead of it to accomplish. And it wound’t be long until the Lions would meet those benchmarks.
In just his season (2015), Lange led the Lions to an ECAC title game appearance and an NCAA Tournament bid, as well as a top-10 nationally ranking to end the year. The Lions would end the season ranked in the top 20 six out of the next seven seasons. That included top-10 finishes in both the shortened 2020 season and the 2022 campaign. The Lions would also make three conference tournament appearances, which included two conference title game showings, during that time.
They are coming off a 2022 campaign that was very much a high water mark for the program. The Lions won the GLVC and earned the program’s second NCAA Tournament bid. The Lions hosted that first-round game against Wingate, in which they fell to end their season.
Lindenwood has risen fast in the DII ranks and developed into somewhat of a budging Midwestern stronghold. One in which many, including Lange, would tell you that still has much growth ahead of it. But any growth the Lions will see from here on out will not be as a DII program, but as one of DIs newest members as the university announced this past spring that it would be moving to the NCAAs highest division effective July 1 of 2022.
“For the university overall, it [jump to DI] is a god thing,” Lange told Lacrosse Bucket. “Myself being an alum, It’s exciting times. Is it going to be a big jump for us. Are we going to have some growing pains? Yes. But that comes with the territory and I do think we are set up to be successful here and be a competitive DI team as we navigate the changes that are ahead of us.”
In addition to Lange being the coach who is now leading his alma mater through its transition to the DI level. He is also a Missouri native now at the forefront of the Show Me State’s first DI men’s lacrosse program. And it is a task that he takes on with great pride.
“I have been apart of some major growth in the midwest and you have seen that boom at the DII level. Now to take that step up is very exciting…Once we start hosting some of those big time games and it becomes a big midwest game you will see packed crowds here…The St. Louis community is incredibly excited about it, and as a St. Louis native, I am proud to do that, but it is a lot of responsibility and we want to make sure we do it the right way.”
In moving up to the DI level, Lindenwood will be joining the ASUN conference in men’s lacrosse and be doing so with fellow DII jumper Queens. The Lions and Royals give the ASUN 10 teams in men’s lacrosse stretching across 10 states. The league is mostly concentrated in the South with Mercer, Jacksonville, and Queens being in the Georgia, Florida and, North Carolina, while Bellarmine is in Kentucky. But it also has Utah and Air Force out west as well as Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, and Robert Morris all in the Rust Belt.
For Lange, he sees it as the perfect fit both geographically and competitively as the Lindenwood lacrosse enters its DI era.
“Our closest opponents are Bellarmine, Cleveland State, and Detroit Mercy. Those are all games that we can bus to. This league is also pretty far-spread, but we are used to having to travel all over. When we first moved to DII we were in a conference with teams up in Pennsylvania,” Lange said. “I think it is a great spot for us to get our feet wet and if we can be competitive there we are going to be successful at the DI level.”
Uphill battles await the Lions this spring and they will have to face them head-on, just as every other program that has made the same leap before them has done. And for Lindenwood, they approach that season and those awaiting challenges with both sizable holes left from a talented roster a year ago and a whole host of players – both freshman and transfers – adjusting to the system.
Last season, Lindenwood had eight players on their roster that did not begin their college careers in St. Charles. Three of them were grad transfers. This time around, Lindenwood added seven transfers to its roster, two of them: Jackson Hartje (LSM, Harvard) and Evan Janiec (LSM, Mount St. Mary’s, being grad transfers. Overall, five of the seven transfer additions come from DI programs.
For Lange, he says he doesn’t spend too much time looking at the transfer portal he employs the same philosophy as he does in recruiting: find guys that want to be at Lindenwood.
“We want to get guys that want to be here and want to be a part of something…We try to find guys with experience that can come and find a role right away for us.”
In addition to those transfers, Lindenwood’s 34-man roster included 21 returnees from its team a year ago. That includes the team’s second-leading scorer from a year ago, Cam Smith (27G/25A), as well as defenseman Brian Kalberg (25GB/27CT) and LSM Oisin McTigue (48GB/22CT).
As for the fate of this team during the second week of September, they are slowly progressing through fall ball to figure out, as Lange said, “See what puzzle pieces we have and complete that puzzle as soon as possible.”
“The first two of fall ball we went without even putting hands on each other. We worked mostly on basic stick work…This week we put in the basic philosophies of our riding and clearing game. tomorrow [Friday, Sept. 16th] is going to be the first time we get out six-on-six and put in what our basic offensive and defensive philosophies are. We have looked at it on film but haven’t done it on field yet. Tomorrow will be the first day.”
While Lindenwood may appear to be an unfinished puzzle and Lange says that they are a program that changes its style from year to year based on personnel, he has an idea of what he wants this team to look like when they take the field as a DI program for the first time. And that vision includes exhibiting both speed and athleticism up and down the field.
“Right now, we want to try and play a complete game. Last year, we were a settled six-on-six team but we are going to need to be a threat in transition this year…We want to make sure that we set a physical on and off the field.”