Preview: Eureka to Take Division I Exhibition Test at Illinois State

Photo courtesy of Bob Hunt.
Photo courtesy of Bob Hunt.
NORMAL, Ill. -- The Eureka College women's basketball team will play its lone exhibition game of the 2017-18 season Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at NCAA Division I Illinois State in Normal, Ill. 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.
 
 
RETURNING FIREPOWER
Eight letterwinners are back for Eureka, 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 last winter. Hayley Reneau 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 SLIAC with 75 steals. Her 68 triples after just one season in a Eureka uniform are ninth-most in program history.
 
Kerrigan Dura will help Reneau anchor the backcourt. 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. She distributed 140 assists, second-most among SLIAC players in 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 and Samantha Sarnes 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 also returns and has played in 21 contests over the previous two seasons.
 
Kennedy Dura 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 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 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.
 
GETTING TO KNOW THE NEW FACES
Three newcomers join Eureka's talented returning group. Junior college transfer Sabrina Clay 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.
 
Freshmen Jessi Benson and Abby Hahn also join the Red Devils. Benson is a 5-3 guard that helped Tri-City/Sangamon Valley to 24 wins, 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.
 
TAKING ON DIVISION I
Eureka and Illinois State are meeting in women's basketball for the first time on Wednesday. 
 
Wednesday's game marks the seventh time Eureka has visited an NCAA Division I opponent since November 2013. The Red Devils have played a regular-season contest against a Division I foe in each of the last four seasons and will be playing an exhibition game for the third straight November. EC is 0-4 in regular-season contests and 0-2 in exhibition losses to Evansville and Murray State.
 
In addition to Wednesday's exhibition game, the Red Devils are scheduled to travel to defending Summit League champion Western Illinois for a regular-season matchup on Feb. 12.
 
PRESEASON SLIAC POLL
A preseason poll conducted by SLIAC head coaches has tabbed Eureka second in the league for the 2017-18 season according, to an Oct. 25 announcement from the SLIAC office. Greenville, last season's league runner-up, was picked to win the conference.
 
GU received four of nine of first-place votes to receive the top slot in the poll. The Red Devils were picked second. Two first-place votes were cast for the Red Devils. Webster earned the final three remaining first-place votes to be picked third. Westminster followed in fourth place. Spalding, Fontbonne, Iowa Wesleyan, MacMurray and Blackburn filled out the final five slots.
 
ABOUT ILLINOIS STATE
Illinois State, coming off an 8-23 season that included a 4-14 Missouri Valley Conference record, will also play its only exhibition game of the season on Wednesday. The Redbirds were pegged for a seventh-place finish in the MVC preseason poll, the conference announced on Oct. 24.
 
The Redbirds return four players that started a majority of the team's games a year ago in senior Hannah Green, juniors Katrina Beck and Viria Livingston, and sophomore Megan Talbot. Beck is the Redbirds' top returning scorer with 8.7 points per game last season and Green is the top rebounder at 5.4 boards per contest.
 
MEET THE HEAD COACHES
Amos Arbogast is in his first season as head coach of the Red Devils. He was selected as the 12th head coach in program history on July 6, 2017. Arbogast had previously served the EC men's basketball program as an assistant coach for six seasons and played pivotal role as an assistant for a program that has proved to be an annual contender in the SLIAC. Arbogast helped guide the Red Devils to consecutive berths to the SLIAC Tournament semifinals in 2012 and 2013, including an appearance in the title game in 2013.
 
Former Lewis head coach Kristen Gillespie will enter her first season as head coach of the Redbirds. Gillespie, who guided the Flyers to a 51-12 record over the previous two seasons, was appointed head coach on April 4, 2017. The 1999 NC State graduate was a four-year letterwinner and led the Wolfpack to the 1998 Final Four. Gillespie also owns head coaching experience at the NCAA Division III level, directing Benedictine (Ill.) to a 54-53 mark from 2011 through 2015.
 
FOLLOW THE ACTION ONLINE
Wednesday's game will be broadcast live on ESPN3. Live stats will be provided by Illinois State at GoRedbirds.com. Links to both services will be available at EurekaRedDevils.com.