EUREKA, Ill. – Some of the faces were new, but many of the faces were the same when the Eureka College women's basketball team opened preseason practice Monday and began preparation for the defense of its St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown. Four starters are back from last season's 20-win team that swept the league's regular season and tournament titles to earn the Red Devils' first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament.
First-year head coach Amos Arbogast will welcome back eight letterwinners overall, seven of which played in at least 27 games and four of which that started at least 14 contests. Headlining the group is a pair of senior guards that earned All-SLIAC honors as juniors last winter. Hayley Reneau (Washington, Ill./Washington H.S./Illinois Central) returns after an All-SLIAC First Team campaign in which she averaged 13.8 points per game. Her 68 3-pointers were tied for third-most in a season in school history and she led the nine-team SLIAC with 75 steals. Her 68 triples after just one season in a Eureka uniform are ninth-most in program history.
Kerrigan Dura (Edwards, Ill./Brimfield H.S.) will help Reneau anchor the backcourt in 2017-18. An All-SLIAC Third Team selection and the Most Valuable Player of the SLIAC Tournament last season, Dura averaged 9.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. She distributed 140 assists, second-most among SLIAC players in 2016-17 and third-most in a season by a Red Devil in school history. Dura will enter her final collegiate season with 248 career assists, ninth-most in Eureka women's basketball history.
Juniors Lexi Dooley (Sutter, Ill./Warsaw H.S.) and Samantha Sarnes (Havana, Ill./Havana H.S.) also return for EC. Dooley cracked the starting lineup midway through last season and went on to start 14 of the final 15 contests. She averaged 8.2 points per game, shot 49 percent from the floor and ranked second among SLIAC players with 205 total rebounds. Sarnes played in 27 contests as one of the Red Devils' top reserves and has made 36 3-pointers through her first 52 games. Junior Ellie Broyles (Champaign, Ill./Centennial H.S.) also returns to provide depth and has played in 21 contests over the previous two seasons.
Kennedy Dura (Edwards, Ill./Brimfield H.S.) highlights a group of three returning sophomores after breaking EC's freshman record with 105 assists last season. She averaged 7.0 points per contest and shot 35 percent from 3-point range, the ninth-highest mark in the SLIAC. Ashley Harfst (Saunemin, Ill./Pontiac H.S.) averaged 5.6 points per game, shot 41 percent from 3-point range in 16 SLIAC appearances and led the Red Devils with 13 points in their NCAA Tournament game at Thomas More (Ky.) on March 3. Abigail Hilton (Moweaqua, Ill./Central A&M) provides the Red Devils one of their best interior options after a freshman campaign in which she appeared in all 28 contests and averaged 2.5 points and 2.6 rebounds.
Three newcomers join Eureka's talented returning group. Junior college transfer Sabrina Clay (Galesburg, Ill./Galesburg H.S./Carl Sandburg) will bolster the EC frontcourt after a two-year career at NJCAA Carl Sandburg in which she was an NJCAA Division II All-Region IV selection and a two-time All-Arrowhead Conference choice.
Freshman guards Jessi Benson (Clinton, Ill./Sangamon Valley H.S.) and Abby Hahn (Kinmundy, Ill./South Central H.S.) also join the Red Devils. Benson is a 5-3 guard that helped the Tri-City/Sangamon Valley to a 24-2 record, an MSM Conference crown and an IHSA 2A regional title last winter. Hahn was a three-time All-National Trail Conference pick at Farina South Central and finished her prep career as South Central's all-time leading scorer with 1,423 points.
The Red Devils benefited from a 10-day tour of Ireland in August that provided six extra practice sessions and an exhibition game in Dublin on Aug. 16 against Killester Basketball Club, Ireland's largest and most successful basketball club.
Following an exhibition contest at NCAA Division I Illinois State on Nov. 1, Eureka will begin the season at Knox on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m. in Galesburg, Ill. The home opener at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena is Nov. 21 versus Monmouth at 6 p.m. and the first SLIAC contest is at home versus 2017 league runner-up Greenville on Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.