Debi Neff entered her eigth season as head coach of the Eureka College softball program in 2020. Neff, the 2019 and 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 160-99 overall with the Red Devils since her arrival, including a 67-55 mark in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference action.
She recorded her 150th win with the Red Devils on May 3, 2019, when the Red Devils knocked off Spalding 7-4 in the first round of the SLIAC Tournament at Westminster. Two years prior, Neff 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.
In 2019, Neff guided the Red Devils to the NCAA Division III Tournament for only the second time in program history, capturing the team’s first SLIAC league and tournament titles along the way. By many measures, the historic ride was the program’s best season ever.
The Red Devils went 27-8 on the season, 14-4 in the SLIAC, and outscored its opponents 27-7 in three thrilling victories at the SLIAC Tournament. EC finished the job with an 11-3 triumph over Spalding on May 5.
The team led NCAA Division III in batting with a .402 season average, notched the most home runs of any EC team, sending 33 bombs over fence in 35 games, and posted the second-most doubles in a season with 74. The team also set new program records in hits (412), slugging percentage (.579) and on-base percentage (.442), in addition to batting average and home runs. It was only the fourth team in program history to reach 25 wins, and it was the first time EC recorded back-to-back 25-win campaigns in program history. The 2019 team also pushed Eureka 102 wins since the start of the 2016 season, making it the winningest four-year stretch in program history.
Six players received all-conference honors for only the second time ever, including Sydney Shubert who became the first Red Devil to be voted SLIAC Player of the Year. Freshman Raelyn Payne became the first Red Devil to be named Newcomer of the Year and Neff was given Coach of the Year honors for the second in time.
At season’s end, Sydney Shubert and Morgan Ledbetter became the first EC players to receive postseason All-America honors since Jami Larson in 1993. Both players led the nation in batting categories, with Shubert topping Division III with a .587 batting average and Ledbetter leading the nation in home runs per game (.49) and runs batted in per game (1.66).
Ledbetter set the program record for home runs in a single season and career (17) and the highest slugging percentage in a single season (1.070). Shubert set the program record for highest batting average in a single season (.587).
In 2020, the Red Devils were selected No. 1 in the SLIAC’s coaches preseason poll. The team went 8-2 in the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. before its season was canceled by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Neff previously led EC to SLIAC Tournament semifinal appearances in 2013 and 2016. Neff has mentored 13 All-SLIAC players in her tenure, including First Team honorees Savanna Tapper (2014), Kerrigan Dura (2016, 2017, 2018), Krysten Wallace (2017) and Kali George (2017), Sydney Shubert (2019), Morgan Ledbetter (2019) and Erin Smith (2019).
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.