PALATINE HILL -- The Lewis & Clark Pioneers return to the floor tonight for their first regular-season game and will do so under first-year head coach Kristina Williams. As a student-athlete, Williams was an All-American who helped the Pioneers to the NCAA tournament and a Northwest Conference championship in 2013. Now in her third year coaching her alma mater overall, Williams will look to shape the program back to its title-contending form.
Williams was part of Pamela Findlay's coaching staff and returns Clark Ide and Neva Hauser to her staff. Former Pioneers men's basketball student-athlete Scott Pisapia joins as the lead assistant coach. Pisapia competed for Lewis & Clark earlier this decade and has been a high school assistant coach since leaving Palatine Hill.
Lewis & Clark graduated a big senior class from a year ago, but still has five upperclassmen on the roster. Sara Hogman brings back an intense on-ball defensive presence and a strong mid-range jump shot. Her leadership will be critical with the younger squad. Serena Saba is in her second year after transferring before last season. She is a great distributor and controls the tempo for the team with a smart offensive mind. Janessa Willie is a pest in the full-court press and creates turnovers, finishing second on the team in steals per game last year. Switching to No. 23 this season, Willie can get to the basket and brings high energy and leadership to the team. The team's leader in 3-point percentage last year, Alyx Crager returns as the Pioneers only captain. Providing leadership on and off the court, Crager is the team's go-to long-range shooter and can score in any situation. During the team's exhibition Canada Tour, Crager nearly scored 30 points in one game, which would have been a career high. Tori Eichten is in her second year on the team and was the Pioneers best shot blocker during her inaugural season. She'll be called upon to protect the rim again while using her shooting ability from the free-throw line and inside.
Without any juniors on the roster, the Pios lone sophomore Jillian Jin will be tasked with handling increased minutes in 2018-19. Jin is a strong on-ball defender who can distribute the ball. One of the quickest on the team, Jin can get down the lane.
Void of depth in the middle years of their roster, the Pioneers are ripe with first-year student-athletes. Julia Barsocchini of Agoura Hills, Calif. is part of the eight-person freshmen group. A strong outside shooter who can also get to the basket and find open teammates, Barsocchini was a three-time all-league selection in high school. Kayla Chong will develop at the point guard position and brings tremendous quickness. Chong of Santa Clarita, Calif. was drawn to Lewis & Clark because of the atmosphere and small size. From Laguna Niguel, Calif., Peyton Romo brings a good mid-range shot along with strong defensive skills. As a high schooler, Romo was team MVP and all-league twice. Similarly, Laurel Marchant brings a solid defensive presence and mid-range scoring ability from Claremont, Calif. Marchant was a four-year varsity starter in high school and was named team MVP twice. At 5-11, Logan Kelly is one of the three tallest freshmen additions and brings a high-level basketball IQ. Out of Rio Linda, Calif., Kelly was the defensive player of the year while at Saint Francis High School and fell in love with Lewis & Clark during her recruitment visit. Delsie Johnson is a powerful presence and has been a workhorse since arriving on campus. Capable of attacking with her left or right hand, Johnson is from Fort Collins, Colo. and was an all-state honorable mention pick. Jessica Cerne is from Enumclaw, Wash. where she earned a pair of all-league selections and was twice team captain. Cerne is active on both sides of the basketball and can score from anywhere. From Kamuela, Hawaii, Coco Shafer is 6-1 and a former team MVP at Hawaii Preparatory Academy. Shafer has done well in the first weeks of practice and can shoot from mid-range. She picked the Pios because of the small campus and close-knit feel of the women's basketball team.
Lewis & Clark is competing in numerous non-conference tournaments including the Bruin Classic on Friday and Saturday. Following the home game with Evergreen State, the Pios will travel to George Fox and go up against fourth-ranked St. Thomas on Saturday. The weekend of Thanksgiving, the Pios will compete against host UC-Santa Cruz and Caltech at the UCSC Thanksgiving Classic.
The Northwest Conference schedule begins on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 with home games against George Fox and Linfield, respectively. After a non-conference game against Northwest in Portland, the Pios travel to the Coach Mike Memorial Tournament in La Grande, Ore. against College of Idaho and host Eastern Oregon.
The Pioneers wrap up the non-conference schedule at Warner Pacific on Dec. 12 and at home against Bethel on Dec. 28 before the NWC schedule resumes Jan. 4-5 against Whitworth and Whitman, respectively.
Lewis & Clark plays four of its final 12 games on the road. The home games are Jan. 18-19 against Willamette and Pacific as part of the first-ever Hoops Auction. The final contests are Feb. 8-9 against Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran.