PALATINE HILL -- Off their best season in over a decade, the Lewis & Clark Pioneers begin their second year under head coach Emily Hayes on Friday as part of the Oregon Trail Classic.
The Pios are stocked with versatility that should bring an offensive boost to all six rotations. Lewis & Clark returns three of its top five kill producers and its assists leader from 2018. The Pios won their first seven matches last season on their way to the team's best winning percentage since 2008.
Blythe Ballesteros is the team's lone senior entering the 2019 season. A high-level defender who utilizes her speed well, Ballesteros is in her second year with the Pios.
Makena Ohlmaier brings back the second-most kills of any returning team member. As a junior, Ohlmaier posted 56 assisted blocks, which ranks seventh all-time in school history. An offensive leader, she'll provide versatility along with her blocking abilities in the front row. Kayla Valdez had a career best for digs per set as a sophomore. Entering her first upperclassmen season, Valdez has remained steady and will continue to be a defensive leader in 2019.
The Pioneers return nine sophomores from Hayes' first recruiting class. Ka'anelaokapu'uwai Pakaki-Pias and Michelle McGinn each had Northwest Conference Freshman of the Year-calibur seasons in their first collegiate year. Pakaki-Pias was the team's second highest in total kills and digs per set a year ago, the former a total that was the most by a freshman since 2015. Her return will ensure the Pios continue to have a key attacker this season. Pakaki-Pias displays some of the best ball control and consistency on the team. McGinn emerged as the team's primary setter and was among the top seven in total assists for the entire Northwest Conference. Like Pakaki-Pias, McGinn was also solid in digs per set, ranking third on the team. McGinn brings leadership and control in all six rotations. Kendall Malone finished fourth on the team in kills per set and joined Pakaki-Pias and McGinn as freshmen to play in at least 20 matches. She's shown evidence of growth over the summer and has improved her holistic game to become essential in both rotations. Possibly the most improved member of the team, Kelsey Parker is ready to fill an open spot on the right side and will be helpful in both rotations. She had a knack for limiting attacking errors as a freshman when she hit .259. Isabel Artiaga competed in 13 matches during her first season and brings a strong outside option to the Pios this year. She's able to play on both pins and has great intensity. Kate Kimbro and Jenna Timmerman will also be an options on the front row. Like Malone, Kimbro was efficient when called upon (.300 hitting percentage) as a freshman and will be a good offensive option this season. Timmerman will be used on the right side and brings good ball control and blocking ability into her sophomore year. Sydney Richardson provides good energy and drive whenever she is on the floor. Richardson played in 10 matches in her first season. Mollee Chenoweth returns for her second year as a defensive specialist. A season ago, Chenoweth played in five matches and has shown good improvement heading in fall practices.
Lewis & Clark added three first-year student-athletes for the upcoming season. Ashley Kane joins from Campbell, Calif. where she was her team's MVP. She brings drive into her first season as a collegiate setter. From San Marcos, Calif., Grace McCullough was a team captain on a team that won league and divisional championships. With impressive athleticism, she's a strong attacker and blocker. Emma Ehlers will be a key blocker in her first season from Salem, Ore. Speedy in the middle, Ehlers has also shown a solid intelligence in her first collegiate fall practices.
For the third straight year, the Pioneers will open in the Oregon Trail Classic and will host a day of the tournament for the second consecutive year. Lewis & Clark plays at Pacific on Friday against St. Thomas, a team receiving votes in the preseason top 25, and Hamline. At home on Saturday, the Pios play Methodist and Central.
Following a three-game tournament at Johnson and Wales in Denver, Colo., Lewis & Clark caps off the non-conference schedule on Sept. 13 against Austin in Portland. The Pioneers play five of their first six NWC matches at home starting with Willamette on Sept. 20 and followed by Linfield, Puget Sound, George Fox and Pacific Lutheran after a road game at Pacific on Sept. 21. PLU is the defending conference champion.
Lewis & Clark will be on the road for all but one match in October. Whitman and Whitworth visit to wrap up the regular season on Nov. 8 and 9, respectively.