PALATINE HILL -- The Lewis & Clark Pioneers entered last season off an 11-point loss in the prior year's Northwest Conference tournament final and expected to have a chance to get back at the end of the 2015-16 season.
As is the case in the Northwest Conference, things don't always go as planned, and the Pioneers missed the NWC tournament for the first time since Dinari Foreman became the head coach in 2011. In fact, Lewis & Clark has been one of the most consistent teams in the conference under Foreman, making the postseason every year he's been the coach and a total of seven of the last eight years overall.
"This year's team has so much length, basketball IQ and overall basketball maturity that we can go out and compete with each and everyone we play," said Foreman. "This group has gone through a lot together and the group of newbies - we got lucky with this group - they make me look like a smarter coach."
Four seniors are gone from the team that competed a year ago, including 1,000-point scorer and All-NWC Second-Team selection Jason Luhnow. The graduated senior from Lake Oswego, Ore. will head to Australia to play professional basketball after averaging 14.7 points per game last season. Carl Appleton, who was one of the best rebounders in the nation during the 2014-15 season, didn't play a full season last year because of his role as a tight end for Lewis & Clark football. Still, Appleton led the Pios with 6.4 rebounds per game. Kristian Grobecker and Mat Collins graduated as well after combining to play in 60 games over their careers.
Senior Cannen Roberson returns off an All-NWC Honorable Mention honor last season. He led the Pios in scoring overall, averaging 15 points per game, which was fourth-best in the conference. Furthermore, he was the NWC's best 3-point shooter after making 47 percent of his tries. Both of the team's primary point guards, Markel Leonard and Cory Coombe, return this year. Leonard started 23 of the team's 24 games last season and averaged about 10 points per game, leading the Pios in scoring in three games. He was also the team's best free-throw shooter. Coombe made 45 percent of his 3-point attempts and averaged a team-best three assists per game. He had a team-high 13 points on the road at Whitworth to lead the Pioneers in scoring that game. Alex Jones is the lone senior returner in the frontcourt. After an injury kept him from much time his sophomore season, Jones started 22 games last season. Against the 10-time NWC tournament champions, Whitworth, Jones scored a season-high 16 points in Portland.
Jonathan Boddie and Evan Davison are the team's returning juniors. Boddie led the Pioneers in rebounding in nine games last year and averaged 5.4 for the entire season. He also had one block per game to lead the team in total blocks for the season. Davison has played in 20 career games and scored a season-high five points against George Fox.
Lewis & Clark brings back four sophomores and adds two more for the upcoming season. Kyle Owens is a 3-point threat who made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts. He played in 22 games and scored a season-high 12 points against Portland Bible. Trevor Jeg played in six games and gives good size to the frontcourt at 6-7. Adrian Romero scored a season-high 12 points against Valley Forge in his second-ever collegiate game. He shot 53 percent from the floor for the entire year. Skout Roberson returns after competing with the football team this season. He shot 6 of 11 last season with a season-high nine points against Portland Bible.
Ryan Stewart is a sophomore transfer from Whitman. Originally from Benicia, Calif.'s Prolific Prep, Stewart was a starter and played for one of the top-ranked AAU national teams. Like Skout Roberson, Dallas Garreaud is a two-sport student-athlete who will play his first season of basketball after two years on the football team. The Magna, Utah product stands at 6-6.
The freshman class should have an immediate impact on the team during the 2016-17 season. Sean Yamamoto was Campolindo HS' defensive most valuable player last season and a member of the 2015 NorCal championship team. An All-Region First-Team selection, Andrew Vickers of Vancouver, Wash. was part of three Great St. Helens championship teams at Columbia River HS. Zeke Crawford earned numerous awards as a prep player for Stuart Hall HS. The San Francisco native was named Redwood Classic MVP and MaxPreps All-State Division 5 Second-Team. Like Vickers, Nico Bricker is from nearby Vancouver, Wash. and competed for Union HS. There, he became the all-time career field-goal-percentage record holder while being named All-Region and All-League. Andrew Panicacci is from San Rafael, Calif. and Marin Catholic HS. His team was NCS Champions in 2015 and Panicacci was named a CIF Scholar-Athlete for three-straight years.
"Ryan, Zeke, Andrew and Nico will contribute right away and Andrew and Sean are going to be ready somewhere in the near future," said Foreman. "They're all coming along. We haven't really had our newest guys contribute as much as this group will early on.
"Add in Skout and Dallas who are back from football and we'll have some strong guys. The whole group is really eager."
Lewis & Clark's 2016-17 schedule pits the Pioneers against stout competition. They have already played NCAA Division II Seattle Pacific in an exhibition in which Leonard and Coombe combined for 25 points. The non-conference schedule opens with games at the NAIA's No. 17 Division II team, Warner Pacific, and NCAA Div. I Portland. The team's home opener on Nov. 19 against Claremont M-S is the first of four-straight home games. Lewis & Clark also hosts Cal Lutheran, Chapman and has the NWC opener with Pacific Lutheran, an NWC finalist last season, during that stretch. The other non-conference opponents are Caltech, Wesley and Wooster.
The Northwest Conference schedule includes two games against No. 3 Whitworth and No. 11 Whitman the weekends of Jan. 20 and Feb. 17. Puget Sound, which the Pios play Jan. 7 and Feb. 3, was also an NWC tournament qualifier last year.