PALATINE HILL -- The Lewis & Clark Pioneers season is scheduled to begin this weekend and will mark the 10th led by head coach Shawna Cyrus. In 2016, Cyrus' team, which included this year's seniors, set the Pios' highest win total (17) since the 2001 season.
Paige Hall continues as the team's pitching coach and is now in her sixth season. For the first year, Logan Salchenberg joins the staff.
Softball has earned the first three Lewis & Clark Female Rookie of the Award winners at the Excellence in Lewis & Clark's Year of Sports (ELCYS) awards, including returning senior Emily Drevdahl. She's a former .350 hitter with 30 RBI who will return to the middle of the order. Defensively, Drevdahl will have more time in the circle this season in addition to playing first base. Zoe Juarez returns as a leader in the infield and will provide experience and vocal leadership to the team. She's off a career-best .931 fielding percentage last year while stealing a career-best eight bases. Holly Hale is back for her final season and will be available as a lefty bat. She'll find time in the outfield and is a tremendous teammate.
Lisa Kumasaka won the 2017 ELCYS Female Rookie of the Year and should produce huge things this year. A strong fielder, Kumasaka has had a good swing in practice leading into the season. One of the fastest competitors in the Northwest Conference, Kumasaka has the potential to be the leading base stealer in the conference out of the leadoff spot. Frankie Warden ended her year strongly last season, totaling four multi-hit games in her final seven. A thumper who will hit cleanup, Warden will also work in the outfield more than in years past. Savannah Dickson will be a featured pitcher for the Pios again this year. She threw 85 innings including four complete games as a sophomore.
The most recent rookie award winner is Sydney Cross who is a versatile defender and strong batter. Cross hit .293 with 10 extra-base hits in her debut season and returns with a cannon of an arm. Sierra Gundersen transfers to the program and provides more versatility to the Pios. She'll find some time at the plate and should produce some hits. Hannah Urbach will be behind the plate throughout the year. She's a quick defender who can throw out runners. Ana Zimmerman provides power at the plate and is a solid defender at first base. She hit her first career home run last March. Megan Anderson is back for her sophomore year and is a highly-effective pitcher. The Pioneers will have her throw as many innings as possible following her 50-strikeout debut season.
Four make their collegiate debut this season. Braylin Jenson is ultra speedy and can play both infield and outfield. A member of a state-championship team, the Bothell, Wash. freshman chose Lewis & Clark because of its "high academic strength and because the softball team rocks." Lily Moffitt enters the program with a ton of maturity and should compete for rookie of the year honors. She is from Half Moon Bay, Calif. where her team won a sectional championship and she was all-league multiple times. Out of Placentia, Calif., Kami Merrill is an outfielder with consistency and strong fundamentals. The high school scholar-athlete will find time at the plate. Olivia Brackin is another good hitter as a freshman and will play in the infield early. With a powerful bat from Castro Valley, Calif., she was a member of a league championship team while earning all-league honors.
This weekend's road-and-home split opener has been changed and will now take place entirely in the Portland area. On Saturday, Northwest will travel to Oregon and play a doubleheader that will start at 1 p.m. at Rosemont Ridge Middle School. On Sunday, Lewis & Clark opens play its home field, Huston Sports Complex, hosting Northwest Christian starting at noon.
Following a non-conference game against Simpson on Feb. 24, the Pios will host Pacific Lutheran in the NWC opener on Mar. 2-3. The first conference road games are at George Fox the following weekend before home games against Willamette on Mar. 16-17.
This season, Lewis & Clark has a unique opportunity to travel to The Spring Games in Clermont, Fla. where the Pioneers will play six games against a variety of other NCAA Division III opponents. The event takes place over four days during spring break, Mar. 24-27.
When the Pios return to the Pacific Northwest, they'll head to Puget Sound to close out March and then host Pacific on Apr. 6-7. The final road series is at Whitworth on Apr. 13-14. The year ends with a home-and-home against Linfield on Apr. 19-20, the last day of which is Senior Day.
The top four teams in the NWC standings will compete in the conference tournament on Apr. 26-27.