THE OPENING TIP-OFF
The Eureka women's basketball team cleared the first hurdle of the season with ease.
Now, the Red Devils are headed west to continue non-conference play against area foe Knox on Wednesday. They'll tip off against the Prairie Fire inside Memorial Gymnasium at 6 p.m.
It will be the 40th meeting between these two teams.
Yes, the Red Devils are 1-0 after a 78-43 victory at Rockford last weekend. It was the squad's first win in a season opener in three years, and it came in dominant fashion.
Eureka nearly held Knox scoreless in the opening quarter of play. Rockford didn't get on the board until Neve Yerk banked in a 3-pointer with 1:34 left. The maroon and gold led by as many as 37 points as they forced 22 turnovers, racked up 32 points in the paint and shot 36.6 percent from the field.
Offensively, freshman Whitney Bozarth led the way with 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the floor and 5-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc. It was the most points scored by a freshman in her Red Devil debut in over a decade. Senior veteran Ashley Harfst notched a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists, and sophomore Olivia Falls pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds. In addition, freshman Jadyn Mitchell and senior Ja'Keesha Hawkins added 12 and 10 points, respectively.
All told, there were a lot of positives to build on.
The Red Devils bring back five returners from last year's squad, including a pair of accomplished four-year seniors in Harfst and Kennedy Dura.
Dura, a Brimfield product, is currently third in assists in program history with (381). She's only 12 behind her sister, Kerrigan Dura, for second, and is gaining ground on record holder Molly Hardesty (415). She is also ninth in program history in career 3-pointers (85), 3-point attempts (286) and blocked shots (59). Last year, she led the SLIAC with 110 assists.
Harfst, who hails from Saunemin, Illinois, knocked down the most free throws in the league (69) last year, and finished second in field-goal percentage at 84.2. She was the team's second-leading scorer at 12.1 per night, and is currently sitting eighth in program history in career free throws at 248. In addition, she's the team's active leader in career points (806) and rebounds (437).
Falls returns after a promising freshman campaign in which she finished fifth in the league in field-goal percentage (54), contributed 10.8 points per game and pulled down 6.9 rebounds.
Knox (0-1) is looking for its first win of the season after falling in its season opener against North Central by 10 points.
The Prairie Fire had the advantage early on, but North Central took over with a 29-point third quarter and stayed ahead from there. Jarrelyn McCall notched a double-double with a team-high 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting and 10 boards. Nyah Daniels followed with 14 points and Saxon Alvarez added 10 to go with a game-high five assists.
As a team, the Prairie Fire shot 32.1 percent from the floor, 35.7 percent from 3-point range and 61.5 percent from the line.
Last season, the Prairie Fire narrowly missed qualifying for the Midwest Conference Tournament with a 10-8 record in league play and a 13-12 finish overall. McCall, a senior, is a three-time all-conference selection who has been the team's leading scorer for the past two seasons. Last year, she finished sixth in the league in scoring with 14.7 points per game and fourth in free-throw percentage at 81.3 percent.
Another senior, Kyra Huffman, led the league in field-goal percentage (.550), and was seventh in rebounding (7.3 boars per game).
LAST TIME AROUND
Last year, Knox overcame an early deficit with a big second quarter and later withstood a late Eureka rally to earn a 73-68 non-conference win over the Red Devils.
Eureka leads the all-time series, 26-13.
On Saturday, the Red Devils will play an exhibition road game at Bradley.
It will be the Red Devils' second-ever matchup with the Division I Braves. In 2015, EC kept the game close, only trailing by four points at halftime, but the home team surged to an 87-47 victory in the second half.
The game will take place inside the Renaissance Coliseum and will tip-off at 1 p.m.