PALATINE HILL -- The Lewis & Clark Pioneers saw records set and bids to nationals earned a year ago, and while the Pios will be without the student-athletes who accomplished those feats entering the 2017 season, plenty of conference-placing returners and a new assistant coach provide excitement for the upcoming year.
Both Deion Mock and Kodie Artner qualified for the 2016 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships at the conclusion of last season, the fifth with Director of Cross Country and Track and Field Keith Woodard as head coach. Mock placed 11th in the pole vault on the national stage, one week after resetting his Lewis & Clark school record to 16 feet, 1.75 inches. Artner was the champion of both the 110- and 400-meter hurdles at the Northwest Conference Championships.
Now in his sixth season leading the program, and 10th as a head coach at Lewis & Clark overall, Woodard has added Aaron Campbell to his coaching staff. Campbell, who will primarily work with sprints and relays, joins the Pioneers staff after four years with Emory, where in 2015-16, the men's track and field team was ranked in the top 25 nationally.
Men's Track & Field
A plethora of juniors and some key underclassmen is expected cornerstone the men's team.
Sophomore Noah Avery and junior David Lovitz both qualified for and scored points at the NWC Championships, which hadn't happened in recent history for the Pioneers. Avery finished third overall, placing top four in the 100 meters, shot put, high jump, pole vault, long jump, discus and javelin. At the time of last year's NWC Multi-Event Championships, Avery's total of 6,068 points was the fourth-best in any NCAA Division III decathlon and ranked sixth all-time at Lewis & Clark. Lovitz's 5,406 points rank him eighth all-time, as he finished fourth in the 100 and 1,500 meters and fifth in the long jump. Both Avery and Lovitz have improved through training during the offseason.
Jeff Mullins was a fifth-place finisher in the 1,500 meters at last year's NWC Championships and could be a title contender in the race this season. The Pios will be without top-three finisher Blake Slattengren and Ivan Ramos-King this season, as both are participating in Lewis & Clark's Overseas Study program.
Along with Avery, the sophomore class includes a mix of distance runners and sprinters. Bryce Johnson has all-conference potential in sprints, but was hampered by an injury during his first season. Conor Sandoval has improved through training for his middle distance races this year. Sandoval ran his best 800-meter time at Linfield's Boyman Memorial Invitational (2:06.42). Ryan Nguyen continued to make steady progress throughout the latest cross country season and will race long distance for the Pios again.
Many of Mullins and Nguyen's first-year teammates from cross country will transition into track and field competition this year. Kurt Barbara, William Hoard, Sean Richardson, Laurence Seabrook and Miguel Haro Ruiz will run distance. Richardson is expected to race in the steeplechase as well. Micheal Malecha will be a first-year thrower.
Women's Track & Field
Among the senior returners is Sarah Bucknovitz, who was an NWC Championships top-three placer in last year's last hammer throw, while scoring points in the discus as well. Katie Kowal returns to sprints for her final season. As a sophomore, she set personal bests in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races. Frances Swanson and Madison Sullivan return for distance races. Swanson should be one of the top distance runners in the conference, as she won the steeplechase at last year's George Fox Rich Allen Classic and 1,500 meters at the Pacific Preview. She placed sixth in both races at the NWC Championships and is off her best-ever cross country season.
In the junior class, Renee Despyne will return for sprints after debuting last year. She won the 100 meters at the Pacific Preview with a mark of 12.97. Lewis & Clark will be without Kori Groenveld and Amelia Jackson this season, as both are studying overseas. Groenveld, who was All-NWC in cross country again this past fall, was the runner-up in the 10,000 meters at the NWC Championships last year. Elisabeth (Boo) Kirkwood returns to compete in distance and javelin. Her best finish was third place in the 800 meters at the Pacific Preview a year ago, and she has worked hard to improve in the javelin after debuting in the event last year. Rachel Stone had personal bests in the hurdles as a sophomore last season and returns to the team after studying overseas last fall. Ellery Creighton is in her first year with track and field and will compete in throws this season.
Lewis & Clark's returning sophomore class was the most sizeable group a year ago. Chrislyn DeMattos is a jumper who has had a dedicated offseason. In high jump, she notched a season-best fifth-place finish at the Puget Sound Invitational, while setting a personal best in the triple jump at the Boyman Memorial Invitational. Chase Hagar will compete in sprints and jumps after returning from injury and overseas study, and Katie Hull is off her best-ever cross country season. She'll compete in distance. Alaina King took big strides in the fall after a promising freshman year, in which she won the 400-meter race at the Puget Sound Invitational. Ayla Kumano will race hurdles after returning from injury. In sprints and jumps, Rachelle Locey showed a nice spike in performance at the end of 2016 and should see benefits from her strong, offseason work. Kara Marler is a jumper who has the potential to be a conference scorer, especially in the triple jump. She set a personal best at the 2016 NWC Championships in that event. Ty Marshall, a jumper, has reaped the benefits of Lewis & Clark's dedicated strength and conditioning program, entering her sophomore season stronger. Rachel Seagren is a pole vaulter who began to break through toward the end of last season. Like Marler, she set her best mark at the NWC Championships.
The freshman class will compete in a good mix of events for the Pios. Nicole Godbout should have an immediate impact, both on the conference and national level, primarily in the 400 meters. Anna Slaidina is a sprinter from Latvia who should compete at a high level in the 400 meters as well. Samantha Bowen, Kiera Crabtree, Dawn-Mist Movich-Fields and Morgan Taylor come over from cross country. Bowen had a breakout freshman season in the fall and has the potential to be one of the top 800-meter runners in the conference. Crabtree will also race in the steeplechase. Taylor is expected to compete in the heptathlon, which she has experience in from her time in high school. Syrah Starnes is a thrower from Corvallis, Ore. and has the ability to compete at the conference level.
The Pioneers started indoor competition on Jan. 28, traveling to the University of Washington's UW Invitational. After the Dempsey Open and SPU Final Qualifier in Seattle on Feb. 12 and 25, respectively, Lewis & Clark starts outdoor competition at Puget Sound's Ed Boitano Invitational in Tacoma, Wash. on Mar. 4.
The L&C Spring Break Open is on Mar. 17-18, followed by meets at Willamette and Pacific. April begins with the Linfield Boymann Invitational and Pacific Luau Invitational before the NWC Multi-Events on Apr. 10-11. Lewis & Clark hosts the L&C Invite on Apr. 15, a week before the NWC Championships at Whitworth in Spokane, Wash. Final May qualifiers for nationals are in Salem, Ore., at Linfield, George Fox, the Portland Twilight and Whitworth.
The NCAA Div. III Indoor Championships are Mar. 10-11 in Illinois, while the NCAA Div. III Outdoor Championships are in Ohio on May 25-27.