Preview: Red Devils Hit the Ground Running Monday

Preview: Red Devils Hit the Ground Running Monday
EUREKA, Ill. -- The Eureka College volleyball team will begin the 2017 season with a six-day, five-match stretch that includes the home opener and a trio of contests away from home against St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents. 
The Red Devils will open the campaign on Monday against USCAA St. Mary-of-the-Woods (Ind.) at 6 p.m. inside Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena before embarking on a seven-match road trip beginning Tuesday night at Knox in Galesburg, Ill. Also included in that stretch is the SLIAC opener Wednesday at Greenville and a pair of league matches in on the campus of Webster University in St. Louis on Saturday.
Six players that appeared in at least 20 matches for last season's 12-16 squad are back for second-year head coach Becca Idell this season, including seniors Meagan Hanney and Beth Mickna. Hanney enters her final collegiate campaign with 1,051 career assists, 10th-most in program history. Mickna provides one of the Red Devils' top options in the front row, ranking third in the SLIAC with 27 solo blocks in 2016.
Also returning for Eureka are juniors Jordan Detmers, Lexi Dooley and Heather Robinson. Detmers led the Red Devils and ranked seventh in the SLIAC with 389 digs last season, while Dooley led the team with 29 service aces and ranked second on the Red Devils with 214 kills. Robinson is a dual threat for EC, ranking ninth in the league in 2016 with 533 assists and also compiling 179 kills and 230 digs.
Eureka was picked seventh in the SLIAC in a poll conducted by league head coaches earlier this month. The Red Devils are aiming to return to the SLIAC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2009.
Eureka will start the season Monday night on its home floor for the first time since 2009 in a 6 p.m. matchup with USCAA St. Mary-of-the-Woods. The Pomeroys will bring a 2-0 record to the Reagan Athletic Complex after sweeping NCCAA Boyce (Ky.) and USCAA Cincinnati Clermont at home on Saturday. Eureka and St. Mary-of-the-Woods have never met in volleyball, according to Eureka's program records.
A scholarship program, SMWC competes as a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, a national organization of approximately 80 mostly small colleges, community colleges and junior colleges across the United States. The Pomeroys went 16-24 last season, including a four-set loss to Greenville and a three-set sweep of Blackburn. Last November, SMWC advanced to the USCAA national championship match in Virginia Beach, Va. before falling in five sets to Florida College. Six players that played in the title match are back on the 2017 roster for SMWC.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is a coeducational Catholic, liberal arts college in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., an unincorporated community just northwest of Terre Haute. 
Less than 24 hours after its season opener, Eureka will take its first road trip of the season Tuesday for a 7 p.m. start at Knox in Galesburg, Ill. 
The Prairie Fire is 0-4 this fall after dropping all four of its matches to open season at the Illinois College Tournament in Jacksonville, Ill., including losses to SLIAC opponents Blackburn, Fontbonne and Greenville. The Prairie Fire went 7-20 overall last season and 3-6 against Midwest Conference opponents.
The Red Devils ended a nine-match losing streak against the Prairie Fire last September with a four-set win at the Reagan Athletic Complex. Eureka owns a 25-14 record against the Prairie Fire in their last 39 meetings since 1997, but will be looking for its first win in Galesburg since a three-set sweep on Sept. 4, 2007.
Eureka will take a huge test Wednesday when the Red Devils visit seven-time defending SLIAC regular-season champion Greenville at 7 p.m. 
The Panthers, picked in a preseason SLIAC poll to win their eighth consecutive conference title, roared to a 4-0 start over the weekend, topping Anderson (Ind.), Earlham, NAIA Culver-Stockton and Knox at the Illinois College Tournament in Jacksonville, Ill. The Panthers hit .210 as a team over the course of the four contests.
Five-time SLIAC Coach of the Year Tom Ackerman is in his 16th season directing the Panthers. The 1999 Greenville graduate has directed the Panthers to seven consecutive SLIAC regular season championships, NCAA tournament bids in 2010, 2015, and 2016 and seven consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins. Ackerman also serves GU as Director of Athletics and as an assistant coach of the Panther's men's volleyball program.
Eureka has lost 20 consecutive outings against Greenville since 2008 and will be aiming to beat the Panthers for the first time since Oct. 16, 2007.
The Red Devils will play their first of two SLIAC matches Saturday at 11 a.m. against longtime conference power Webster at 11 a.m. in St. Louis. The Gorloks will enter the week with an 0-3 record and will host SLIAC rival Iowa Wesleyan on Wednesday before the Red Devils invade Grant Gymnasium this weekend.
Webster faced a tall order in its season-opening tournament, dropping all three matches at the Washington (Mo.) Invitational in St. Louis. The Gorloks dropped a five-set contest to Hope before coming up empty in matches against Cornell (Iowa) and Rose-Hulman.
The winningest coach in program history and a four-time SLIAC Coach of the Year, Merry Graf is in her 17th season as head coach at WU. She is 210-37 in SLIAC matches during that time frame.
Eureka will try for its first win on record against WU on Saturday. The Gorloks have won all 23 matchups between the two schools since 2000.
Following Saturday's contest with Webster, EC will square off against SLIAC rival Blackburn in St. Louis in a neutral-site bout at 1 p.m. BC is 2-2 and will play three times this week before squaring off against Eureka on Saturday.
Like Knox and Greenville, Blackburn began its 2017 season in Jacksonville, Ill. at the Illinois College Tournament. The Beavers split four contests, earning victories over Knox and Anderson and falling to Illinois College and Earlham.
Since 2002, the Red Devils are 25-7 against Blackburn, including a 5-1 mark in matches at a neutral site. EC swept the season series in 2016 and has won 15 of the last 18 over the Beavers since 2009.