PALATINE HILL -- The most recent Lewis & Clark Pioneers team to win a Northwest Conference championship, the women's tennis program enters the spring ranked 40th in the nation. It is the Pios' first season under new head coach Jimmy Chau.
A long-time assistant coach at his alma mater, Chau was part of the coaching staff that led the Pios to the 2016 NWC title. The coaching staff that worked alongside Chau remains mostly intact with Pannhara Mam, Marco Pineda, Adam Buchwald and Miguel Santiago returning. Former Pioneers student-athletes Rocky Campbell and Kacey Incerpi, as well as NCAA Division I student-athlete Amy Sweet are new additions this year.
Incerpi was one of five seniors who graduated from last year's team. Christine Eliazo ended her career as one of the top tennis competitors in school history, and Natalie Kelly was named the Mary Hunter Female Multi-Sport Athlete of the Year at the 2018 ELCYS (Excellence in Lewis & Clark's Year of Sports) last April.
Carla Thomas returns as the team's only senior. Studying overseas last year, Thomas last competed in 2016-17 and was one of the Pioneers' doubles entrants in the NWC tournament semifinals.
The junior class includes multi-sport student-athlete Caroline Hennes, who also competes for women's soccer. Hennes has played sparingly in her first two seasons, but sports a 4-1 doubles record. Caitlin Jones competed in three matches on both the singles and doubles side during her freshman year. Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Jones returns for her junior year. Emily Schmelling is in her first year competing in tennis after two seasons with women's soccer.
Sophomores Riley Hanks and Madelyn Landerfelt are the most experienced returners. In her freshman season, Hanks went 12-6 and won both of her highest-position singles matches, one at No. 3 and another at No. 4. Primarily, Hanks was a No. 5 or 6 entrant, going 4-1 and 2-3, respectively. In doubles, Hanks finished 5-5. Landerfelt completed an 11-6 first-year campaign and had a winning record in all three positions in which she was entered. In the No. 4 position, Landerfelt went 3-1 to go with a 4-1 record at No. 6. She was 7-1 in NWC duals. On the doubles side, Landerfelt was 5-4. Hanks and Landerfelt were paired once and won.
Three first-year competitors will be looked upon to contribute right away. Natalie Kowal joins the team from Newport Beach, Calif., where she was a varsity team captain and top varsity singles competitor throughout her four years at St. Margaret's Episcopal School. Rachael Rice is from Durham, N.C., where she was twice a regional champion over four years as the team's No. 1 singles entrant. Expected to major in Biology, Rice liked Lewis & Clark's academic prestige, campus atmosphere, coaching staff and team. Macarena Vives intends to major in International Affairs and joins the team from Mallorca, Spain.
In their only competition of the fall, the Pioneers competed at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Northwest Regional Championships. Rice and Landerfelt advanced to the round of 16 on the singles side of the bracket. Both had match wins in which they only lost one game or fewer. In doubles wins, Rice and Hanks paired as did Jones and Kowal.
The season opens this weekend with home matches against British Columbia (Friday) and Whitman (Sunday). The latter is Lewis & Clark's NWC opener. The Blues were last year's regular-season runner-up and the team that ousted the Pios from the conference tournament. Whitman enters the spring ranked 27th nationally.
Lewis & Clark will take an early-season, non-conference trip to Texas to face No. 34 Southwestern, No. 21 Trinity and Schreiner on Feb. 8-10. Back in Portland, the Pioneers will host NCAA Division I Seattle on Feb. 16 and face Linfield in a non-conference match on Feb. 17.
Following a non-conference match at Pacific on Feb. 24, the Pioneers will resume NWC duals at Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran on Mar. 9-10. With a home match against Whitworth in between, Lewis & Clark hosts Kalamazoo on Mar. 23.
April opens with a non-conference match at NCAA Div. I Portland State on Apr. 6 and then NWC contests at George Fox (Apr. 7), at Linfield (Apr. 13) and home against Willamette and Pacific (Apr. 19-20).
The top-four teams from the regular season will compete in the NWC tournament, which is hosted by the regular-season champion, on Apr. 27-28.