PALATINE HILL -- The Lewis & Clark Pioneers enter the 2017-18 season off a 16-win year, an improvement of 13 victories from the prior season. The turnaround gave the Pioneers, now in their second year under head coach Pamela Findlay, the best turnaround in all of NCAA Division III.
Eight seniors will have the responsibility of filling gaps left by the graduation of three seniors including All-American Ayisat Afolabi and one of the nation's best 3-point shooters in Sarah Anderson.
Returning senior Miyah Leith was the Pios' other All-Northwest Conference selection from a year ago, earning second-team honors alongside Afolabi's first-team pick. Leith averaged 10.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in 2016-17 and brings a unique combination of athleticism and calmness to this year's edition of the team. Leith is versatile, capable of playing both point guard and two guard.
Lauren Wood returns as the team's best rebounder after ranking 12th in the conference last season. In her debut this season, Wood grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds to earn a double-double with 12 points. Natalie Kelly had key moments for the Pioneers throughout her junior season, playing double-digit minutes in 10 different games last year. Rachel Cox provides a key mid-range game. She played a career-best 13.6 minutes per game a season ago and scored 3.2 points and had 3.2 rebounds per game. Senior posts Jackie Lizarraga and Kelley Koeppen provide defensive depth for the team. Lizarraga had career highs in games and minutes played last year, while Koeppen played in all 26 games and matched her career high with four points per game. Caitlin Brown rejoins the team after having last played in 2014-15 as a freshman.
Three returning juniors bring a vareity of strengths to the wing position for the Pioneers this season. Sara Hogman has been a consistent contributor over her first two seasons and is a strong defensive presence. Janessa Willie played in all 26 games as a sophomore and averaged 5.6 points per game and led the team in assists. Willie is also the team's best returning 3-point shooter. Alyx Crager made her first career start in last Wednesday's opener against Oregon Tech. She returns off a 3.4 points per game average. Tori Eichten is in her first season with the Pioneers after competing for the women's golf team solely in her first two seasons on campus. Eichten was a four-sport athlete in high school when she named the school's athlete of the year her senior season. Serena Saba is a junior transfer from Irvine Valley College where she was third in assists in the Orange Empire Conference. Danielle Bosley was an all-conference second-team selection both seasons at MiraCosta College. The pair will provide experienced depth in the post and at point guard.
Without any freshman on last year's team, the Pioneers bring two underclassmen into the current season. Jillian Jin is a solid backup point guard. She was an all-conference pick and defensive MVP for Lindbergh High School in Renton, Wash. Whitney Burns is from San Luis Obispo, Calif. and was picked all-league first team. Burns is a solid shooter.
The Pioneers will bring high energy to the floor again this year and focus on forcing turnovers while taking care of the ball, something they excelled at last year. Lewis & Clark had its fewest total turnovers in school history last season. The Pios committed three-fewer giveaways than the 1982-83 team, while playing in four more games.
Following this weekend's L&C Bon Appetit Tip-Off Classic tournament on campus, the Pios host Warner Pacific before post-Thanksgiving games at Occidental and Caltech. The NWC opener is on Dec. 1 at Willamette before the home opener against Pacific three days later.
Lewis & Clark plays three more non-conference games, including two at the Colorado College Classic, before resuming NWC games on Jan. 5 at Whitworth.