Debi Neff will enter her sixth season as head coach of the Eureka College softball program in 2018. Neff, the 2016 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, owns more than two decades of experience as a softball head coach and was inducted into the Illinois Coaches Association Softball Hall of Fame in 2015.
Neff was named head coach at EC on July 3, 2012. She is 100-80 overall with the Red Devils since her arrival, including a 42-46 mark in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference action. She won her 100th game in the Eureka dugout on April 25, 2017, a 9-0 win at Knox that made her the first Eureka softball coach to record 100 wins with the Red Devils since Karen Sweitzer earned her 100th victory at Trinity International during the 1996 season.
Neff's 100 victories since 2013 represent the Red Devils' most successful five-year stretch since winning 101 contests from 1996 through 2000.
She has guided EC to SLIAC Tournament semifinal appearances in 2013 and 2016, and the Red Devils' second-place league finish in 2016 represented their best showing since joining the conference in 2007. Neff has mentored eight All-SLIAC players in her tenure, including First Team honorees Savanna Tapper (2014), Kerrigan Dura (2016, 2017), Krysten Wallace (2017) and Kali George (2017).
Neff's 2016 squad produced one of the most successful seasons in program history. The Red Devils broke nine team offensive school records, including a .361 batting average, 394 hits, 79 doubles, 262 RBI, a .528 slugging percentage and a .429 on-base percentage. Eureka was also excellent defensively, setting a new school record with a .960 fielding percentage.
The Red Devils also claimed a large portion of the individual record book in 2016. Dura set new single-season EC records with a .556 batting average, 74 hits, 66 RBI, 27 doubles and a .917 slugging percentage. Tapper set a new mark with 55 runs scored and Krysten Wallace broke a school record with 25 walks.
In all, Eureka won 29 games in 2016, one shy of the program record of 30 set in 1996.
Neff made an immediate splash in her first season as head coach of the Red Devils in 2013, guiding EC to 21 wins and a berth in the SLIAC Tournament. The 21-win campaign marked the Red Devils’ first season of 20 wins or more since 2002. Additionally, the Red Devils’ 13-win improvement from the 2012 season marked the largest single-season improvement in the history of the program.
The Red Devils also put together a 13-game win streak late in the 2013 season, the second-longest win streak in the history of Eureka College athletics. The 16-day stretch included eight consecutive SLIAC wins, equaling the Red Devils’ longest league win streak since beginning conference-affiliated play at the NCAA Division III level in 1997.
Under Neff’s leadership, the Eureka offense improved significantly upon her arrival in 2013. The Red Devils finished the campaign with a .295 team batting average, the program’s highest mark since the 1997 season. Eureka’s 174 runs scored were its highest mark since 2002, and the .495 team slugging percentage was its best since 1996.
Anchored by the top two individual home run totals in the program history, the Red Devils shattered the single-season Eureka team record for home runs. Eureka clubbed 26 home runs in 2013, more than doubling the previous team record of 12 set during the 2011 season. Nine different players hit a home run, including a school-record 10 from infielder Kelli Dunne.
Pitching and defense was also a strong point in Neff’s debut season. Behind the pitching of duo of Tomi Tapper and Jodi Rebholz, EC broke a single-season team record with 199 strikeouts and posted a 2.87 earned run average, the team’s lowest since 2008. Defensively, Eureka compiled a .948 team fielding percentage, its highest since 2008.
Neff came to the Red Devils after a successful run as head coach at East Peoria Community High School. She went 355-193 (.648) in 17 seasons, leading the Raiders to three Mid-Illini Conference titles (2001, 2006, 2007) and a pair of IHSA regional crowns (2006, 2011). Her final EP squad won 33 games in 2011 to break the program’s single-season wins record and advanced to the IHSA sectional title game for the first time in school history.
East Peoria also won 10 consecutive Lincoln Tournament titles, set an IHSA record for most consecutive hits in a game and another statewide record for most doubles in a game. Neff’s successful program at EP regularly developed players that received collegiate scholarships. She also coached two players that were named Player of the Year by the Peoria Journal Star.
The LaHarpe, Ill. native is a three-time Illinois Coaches Association Coach of the Year, having earned the award at the AA level in 2007 and twice receiving the 3A award (2009, 2011). Neff served on the IHSA Softball Advisory Committee from 2000 until 2010 and also worked as the IHSA State Softball Tournament Manager at the Eastside Centre in East Peoria. She was the recipient of a Distinguished Service Award from the IHSA in 2009.
Neff’s contributions to female youth sports extend beyond softball. She was the girls basketball head coach at East Peoria from 1993 until 1996. She also served as an IHSA volleyball official from 1985 until 2010 and worked as an official at five IHSA state tournaments.
She was an instructor of physical education, driver education and health for 18 years at EPCHS. She was the lead teacher in each department prior to her retirement from the faculty in 2011.
Prior to her time at EPCHS, Neff was an educator and coach at Northwestern High School (now West Prairie) in Sciota, Ill. from 1975 until 1989. She was Northwestern’s volleyball head coach for 13 seasons, as her squads earned five regional titles, four conference championships, two sectional championships and a berth in the 1977 state quarterfinals. She also led the Huskies to four track & field league championships and went 27-9 in two seasons as the school’s softball head coach.
Before embarking on her teaching and coaching career in Sciota in 1975, Neff was selected to the American Softball Association (ASA) Fastpitch All-Star Team in 1972.
Neff played basketball and softball at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill. and ultimately earned a B.S. in driver education/physical education from ISU. She went on to receive an M.S. in sports administration from Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill.