PALATINE HILL -- Already off to a great start to the 2016 season, the Lewis & Clark women's golf team finished second in their opening tournament of the year, last weekend's Pacific Lutheran Invitational.
Part of the reason the team's second tournament is in Indianapolis is because the Pioneers earned national attention in 2015 because of a top-25 ranking, which is where the women open up in the Golfstat NCAA Division III Relative Rankings. Dave Andrews begins his sixth season as Lewis & Clark's head coach and is assisted by returner Aaron Benedetti and newcomer Maggie Smith.
On any given weekend, a different Lewis & Clark women's golfer could shoot the team's best score. With a senior class of four and a host of talented underclassmen, the Pios will challenge the NWC's best in 2016-17.
Claire Burke returned to the team last spring after studying overseas during the fall semester. The senior from Stockton, Calif. placed top five when the Pioneers won the Willamette Spring Thaw last spring and has shot some of her best scores in postseason events, such as the 2015 NWC Spring Classic as a junior. She is a strong ball-striker off the tee.
Abbi Rautenberg is similar from the tee box and has been sinking birdie putts during fall practice. At last year's Puget Sound Invitational, Rautenberg, from Ferndale, Wash., shot 82-88-170 for one of her best performances.
Out of Los Angeles' Notre Dame HS, Arielle Valdez has shot well in the fall and is expected to make the trip to the Depauw Invitational this weekend in Indianapolis. She finished last season's Puget Sound Invitational in the top 20 with an 82-84-166.
Sofia Vigil has the ability to make the Pios' top five any week. Last year, the Denver product shot the best final round score at the Puget Sound Invitational, 75, and finished in eighth place.
The Pioneers have benefited from an impactful sophomore class that produced some of Lewis & Clark's best performances in 2015-16.
Mady Rhodenbaugh was the medalist in three tournaments last season, garnering her the same amount of NWC Student-Athlete of the Week honors. From Dallas, Rhodenbaugh, a long hitter, will compete atop the conference.
One of the Pioneers' hardest off-season workers was Annie McCutchan of San Diego. Her effort paid immediate dividends, as she won last weekend's Pacific Lutheran Invitational, where the Pios were second. On Monday, McCutchan was named NWC Student-Athlete of the Week.
Tori Eichten improved similarly to McCutchan and is playing really well entering the Depauw event. Posting scores in the 70s and low-80s, the Newberg, Ore. native is expected to be an up-and-comer this season.
Jane Almeida (El Dorado Hills, Calif.) stepped up in postseason tournaments during her first season, posting an 88-78-166 to finish third among Pios at the NWC Fall Classic. She'll have a chance to be in the Pios' top five each week.
Also from San Diego, Maggie Carey had one of her best outings in last year's Puget Sound Invitational, where she was just outside the top 20. An All-League First-Team selection during high school, Carey was a member of three league championship teams.
Annika Clunk is the only newcomer to the Pioneers this season. The freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz. is adjusting to the wetter climate of Oregon. She was named the No. 1 Division III Female Golfer while competing for Scottsdale Prep prior to joining Lewis & Clark.
Following last weekend's PLU Invitational, the Pios travel to the Depauw Invitational, hosted by the No. 10 team in the country, this weekend before playing in the Pacific Invitational on Sept. 24-25.
Lewis & Clark will get an opportunity to see where it sits in the NWC at the George Fox Invitational the following weekend, which is the last primer for the NWC Fall Classic at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, Ore. the weekend of Oct. 8-9.