The Year of the Red Devil: Our Top 10 Stories From 2017

The Year of the Red Devil: Our Top 10 Stories From 2017

EUREKA, Ill. -- Twenty seventeen was the year of the Red Devil.

The renaissance of Eureka College athletics continued in a big way with ground-breaking victories on and off the playing field. From outright conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances in women's basketball and football to the unprecedented renovation of the College's largest outdoor athletics facility, milestones and achievements came in bunches 'Neath The Elms in 2017.

As you ring in the new year with family and friends, take a stroll down memory lane to reflect on our top 10 stories from 2017.

10. Wellness Center Renovation Announced

On June 5, Eureka College announced the start of a multi-phase project to establish a wellness center in the Reagan Athletic Complex. The renovation, which began in the summer with the conversion of the former pool deck into a weight-training facility, will open a wide variety of wellness opportunities for the campus and surrounding community.

The long-term vision for the space includes a multipurpose studio, an artificial turf area with batting cages and additional locker rooms. The project is expected to be complete by the fall of 2019.

9. Revamped Facilities Bring Larger Crowds, Home Court Advantage

With major renovations to two of its premier facilities over the last 18 months, the support of Eureka College athletics continues to grow. The Red Devils led the their respective leagues in average attendance in both football and women's basketball and also ranked second in the conference in men's basketball average attendance.

Much of the support has come from Eureka's engaged and energetic students. The atmosphere and advantage created allowed the men's basketball, women's basketball and football programs to combine for an 18-7 record at home in 2017.

8. Debi Neff Wins #100

The arrival of Illinois Coaches Association Softball Hall of Famer Debi Neff as head coach in 2012 was a turning point in the history of the Eureka College softball program. After going more than a decade without a 20-win season, Neff has delivered three for the program, including a pair of SLIAC Tournament bids and a dominant 29-win campaign in 2016.

The LaHarpe, Ill. native and Illinois State graduate secured her biggest triumphs in the Eureka dugout to date when she claimed her 99th and 100th victories as head coach in EC's non-conference doubleheader sweep of Knox on April 25. Eureka won the opener in five innings, 12-4, and also won game two in five innings, 9-0. Neff is the first Eureka softball coach to record 100 victories for the Red Devils since Karen Sweitzer earned her 100th win during the 1996 season.

7. Jerry Rashid Comes to Eureka

Eureka College didn't need to look far to find its new baseball coach last spring and summer. A national search of more than 100 applicants ended with the appointment of central Illinois baseball icon Jerry Rashid as the Red Devils' new coach. Rashid, who will direct the EC baseball program beginning in 2018, was introduced to the media and campus community at a July 21 news conference with President Jamel Santa Cruze Wright and Director of Athletics Steve Thompson.

Perhaps the most decorated and successful head coach in the history of high school baseball in central Illinois, Rashid arrived at EC with 807 career victories between Illinois Valley Central (2005-17), Peoria Notre Dame (1989-04), Bergan (1986-88) and Princeville (1979-85). He won his 800th career game on April 10, 2017 and ended his prep coaching career ranked sixth all-time on the Illinois High School Association coaching wins list.

6. Men's Basketball Scores in Bunches

Men's basketball at Eureka College celebrates a rich history. More than 1,000 all-time victories, 13 NAIA District 20 Tournament appearances, four national tournament berths and, of course, the 1993-94 NAIA Division II national championship.

Through all of the accolades in nearly a century of intracollegiate competition, no Eureka men's basketball team scored points at the rapid rate the Red Devils did in 2016-17. Under the direction of longtime head coach Chip Wilde, EC scored 90.5 points per game to break the previous program scoring record of 87.3 set by the national championship team more than two decades prior.

A large portion of the scoring came from sharpshooter Shea Feehan. The Peoria, Ill. native set new single-season Division-III era school records with a 26.7 scoring average, 173 free throws made and a .930 free throw percentage. He finished the campaign with 641 points, second-most in a season in program history and one of only four 600-point seasons in 98 years of Eureka men's basketball. Feehan joined the Red Devils' 1,000-point club in a Nov. 21 victory over Robert Morris-Peoria.

5. Kerrigan Dura's Big Year

A longstanding hallmark of Eureka College athletics is the multi-sport student-athlete. Stars on the gridiron have smashed home runs, volleyball players have excelled on the hardwood and many other success stories exist in between. No recent Red Devil has found the elevated level of success in multiple sports quite like Brimfield High School graduate Kerrigan Dura.

Dura started 2017 with a bang as an All-SLIAC Third Team choice in women's basketball, helping steer EC to a league championship and its first NCAA Tournament appearance. She was selected for the SLIAC All-Tournament Team and event's Most Valuable Player. Her 140 assists ranked second in the SLIAC, 17th in Division III and were third-most in single-season EC history.

When the Red Devils' women's basketball season came to an end in suburban Cincinnati on March 3, Dura and her mother immediately made the 653-mile trek to Myrtle Beach, S.C. to join the EC softball team in advance of its opener on March 5. A preseason All-American, Dura went on to receive All-SLIAC First Team honors on the diamond. She finished her second collegiate season as the SLIAC regular-season batting champion, going 31-for-63 in 18 starts at shortstop for a .492 average.

4. LeAnthony Reasnover Rewrites Football Record Book

No running back in 127 years of Eureka College football put up as dominant a season as LeAnthony Reasnover did in 2017. The Momence, Ill. native was named an American Football Coaches Association All-American, broke eight program records and earned the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year award. He ran 318 times for 1,875 yards and 31 touchdowns and also made 18 catches for 183 yards and an additional touchdown. His 1,875 rushing yards, 31 rushing touchdowns and 194 points scored were single-season Eureka records. He earned his third consecutive All-UMAC selection, including his second consecutive First Team appearance, and was voted to the All-West Region Second Team.

Reasnover saved his best performances for the second half of the season, breaking Eureka's single-game rushing record with a 355-yard effort in the Red Devils' thrilling 40-34 victory over five-time UMAC champion St. Scholastica on Oct. 28 at McKinzie Field. One week later on Nov. 4, Reasnover rushed for 252 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns in helping EC clinch the outright UMAC title with a 63-26 drubbing of Martin Luther.

Through 31 career games, Reasnover will enter his senior campaign in 2018 as the Red Devils' all-time leader with 3,849 rushing yards and 55 rushing touchdowns. He also has scored 348 points, second-most in program history behind Kurt Barth's four-year total of 371.

3. Lights and Turf at McKinzie Field

For more than eight decades, McKinzie Field saw its fair share of ground-breaking moments. It was the home field of multi-sport EC student-athlete and future United States President Ronald Wilson Reagan. It was the venue for epic clashes between nationally ranked Eureka teams and nationally ranked opponents in the old NAIA days. It played host to a future NFL star when Fred Jackson's Coe squad visited in 2002. It was the site for what was then the most combined yardage in a game in Division III history in a slugfest between Eureka and Crown in 2009.

But the facility changed forever when ground was broken on June 12 to install FieldTurf and a state-of-the-art lighting system. Construction crews and EC athletics staff worked for 76 days in a sweeping renovation that allowed the Red Devils to host their first-ever night football game on Sept. 2 against Knox. EC won on the new turf for the first time in a 44-20 rout of Crown on Sept. 23 and finished the home schedule with a heart-pumping 40-34 win over longtime nemesis St. Scholastica on Oct. 28.

Soccer also came to McKinzie Field for the first time in 2017. The EC women's squad played host to Lincoln Christian on Sept. 14 in the first-ever soccer match on the turf and men followed with the program's first home match on turf in a Sept. 20 clash with Monmouth.

2. Women's Basketball Breaks Through

Since exploding on the regional Division III basketball scene with a 21-win season in 2011-12, the Eureka College women's basketball team had asserted itself as one of the most consistent programs in the SLIAC. The Red Devils qualified for five straight league tournaments from 2012 through 2016, including championship game appearances in 2012 and 2015. But EC had yet to break through to earn the crown and go to the NCAA Tournament.

Eureka's run of near-misses came to an end in 2017. The Red Devils opened the conference schedule with 10 consecutive wins and eventually clinched their first outright SLIAC title with a 99-75 beating of longtime adversary Westminster at the Reagan Athletic Complex. Steve Thompson was voted SLIAC Coach of the Year and Hayley Reneau, Michaela Balducci and Kerrigan Dura received All-SLIAC honors.

The party continued at the SLIAC Tournament when Eureka avenged one of its two league losses with an 86-55 thrashing of Fontbonne in the semifinals. The Red Devils finished the job at the Reagan on Feb. 25 -- another moment of redemption from a regular-season defeat -- in a thrilling 82-74 championship win over Greenville that vaulted Eureka into its first-ever NCAA Tournament.

1. Red Devils Run to UMAC Title

The crown jewel of Eureka's successful 2017 was the run of its football team to the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference championship and the NCAA playoffs. After suffering heartbreaking losses to Knox and Northwestern (Minn.) in the first two games of the season, the Red Devils romped to eight consecutive conference victories, including critical wins over league heavyweights MacMurray and St. Scholastica in consecutive weekends. A 63-26 drubbing of Martin Luther in rural Minnesota on Nov. 4 secured Eureka's place in history -- its first national playoffs appearance since 1994 and its first conference championship since 1995.

Eight Red Devils were named to the All-UMAC Team. Behind the legs of LeAnthony Reasnover and the power of a dominant offensive line, EC broke single-season school records with 401 points scored and 3,033 rushing yards. The Red Devils put up 4,477 yards of total offense, second-most in a season in program history. The defense frustrated opponents all throughout the regular season and allowed only 257.1 yards per game, 14th-fewest in Division III. The Red Devils allowed only 119 first downs in the regular season, sixth-fewest in the country.

Eureka's historic run ended with a defeat at eventual quarterfinalist St. Thomas on Nov. 18 in St. Paul, Minn. When the dust finally settled on the Division III season, Eureka reached another milestone not seen since Kurt Barth's playing days -- the Red Devils received votes in the final AFCA Division III Coaches' Poll released on Dec. 18. EC, the only UMAC member to receive votes and one of only five schools from the state of Illinois to appear on a ballot, received two votes in the final AFCA poll.