PALATINE HILL -- The Lewis & Clark Pioneers faced a rugged non-conference schedule to start the 2016 volleyball season, a year that didn't go as the Pios imagined.
After finishing fourth in the Northwest Conference during 2015, Lewis & Clark was unable to repeat with another 10-win season, finishing 2016 with a 5-18 record.
Before the beginning of NWC play, Lewis & Clark faced one opponent that finished the year nationally-ranked (Colorado College) and a total of five opponents who ended the year with a combined record of 101-60.
"Our non-league schedule was intentionally tough so our team was tested before NWC games began since we have such a tremendously-strong conference," said head coach Stacie Matz-Gordon, who completed her fourth season leading the program. "2016 was a growing year for our program. While not all of the growth translated to the scoreboard, it was an important part of this program's journey."
The Pioneers started NWC play with a 3-3 record, including straight-sets wins over George Fox and Linfield in Portland. In an Oct. 1 win at Willamette, Lewis & Clark sophomore Kortney Meyer hit .704 with 20 kills. The performance garnered Meyer NWC Offensive Student-Athlete of the Week honors. At the time, her hitting percentage was the second-highest in a single match among the conference's top-10 in that category.
After the same weekend, Navarro, the conference's reigning Libero of the Year, earned the NWC's defensive weekly award after popping up an average of 6.14 digs per set, picking up 16 against Linfield and 27 on the road against the Bearcats. Navarro also added eight assists.
"I was really proud of our blockers again. We worked really hard all week to make it easy on our back row," said sophomore Casey Myszkowski after the Willamette game. "We really felt it in that last game. We especially wanted to own it in the fourth."
Over the next two weeks, Lewis & Clark lost four-straight matches against three of the teams that finished atop the NWC standings. The Pios schedule was backloaded with road games, as Lewis & Clark played five of its final six away from the Pamplin Sports Center, losing them all.
On Senior Night against Willamette, the Pioneers were led by a double-double from Julia Somers, who had 18 digs and a match-high 15 kills. With seniors Henningsen and Navarro playing their final home match and the team trailing 2-1 in the match, Lewis & Clark overcame a 6-2 deficit in the fourth set to win, eventually taking the final set for the win.
"From the lessons we learned this year, I could not be more excited to see where we go from here," said Matz-Gordon.
Somers finished the season as an All-NWC Honorable Mention selection, her second-straight postseason conference honor. The sophomore finished the season ranked first in the conference in attacks per set (10.81) and third in kills per set (3.17) and points per set (3.73).
Along with Meyer and Somers, the stellar sophomore class will be back to anchor the front row. Myszkowski ranked second to Meyer in blocks per set for the team, while Emma Contreras was third in kills per set. Both setters, Mikayla Lopez and Sam Yorke, were above four assists per set, with Yorke second in aces per set. Along with Navarro and freshman Victoria Hernandez, Annika San Nicolas played the most sets of any defensive specialist.
An injury slowed Navarro's start to the season, playing in a career-low 16 matches. Still, she ranked in the NWC's top five in digs per set (4.77). Navarro ends her time at Lewis & Clark as the school's all-time career leader in digs (1,795), a record she overtook by the end of her junior season. She was in the top-25 nationally in digs per set in each of her first three seasons, ranking as high as eighth last year.
Hernandez was Navarro's primary replacement at libero during Navarro's injury and averaged 3.13 digs per set. Rebecca Lee played in 20 matches as a freshman and posted 54 kills and 24 blocks. Shae Diaz was injured prior to the start of the season and didn't play, while classmates Tyra Kong, Riley Moeder, Karli Uwaine and Riley Kulfan saw action in a combined 17 matches during their first season.