UIC head softball coach Michelle Venturella discusses the final regular season series at Oakland, winning back-to-back regular season titles, the conference tournament and possible challenges the Flames will face.
UIC head softball coach Michelle Venturella discusses the Flames' run production against Valpo, the takeaways from the last series and preparations for NKU with a quick turnaround.
Head coach Michelle Venturella is in her eighth season at the helm of the UIC softball program. Since taking over, she has been named the Horizon League Coach of the Year in 2009, 2013 and 2016, the most for any coach in program history. Her squad claimed regular season championships in 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2016, while picking up the tournament crown in 2011, which propelled the Flames to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
Upon taking over the program, the South Holland, Ill., native turned a squad that had finished the 2008 season under .500 along with a fifth-place finish in the Horizon League into a team that claimed 16 wins in conference play during the 2009 campaign and a trip to the conference championship game, while winning the regular season.
In 2009, in addition to receiving the conference coaching award, Venterella led four members to the all-conference team. Sarah Clynes was named the Player of the Year as she led the league in batting average (.437), slugging percentage (.690), on-base percentage (.512), runs scored (23), doubles (10), total bases (49) and walks (12). Brooke Frydendall and Ashley Hewett were first-team selections, while Melinda Macias was a second-team member, in addition to being chosen for the all-newcomer team.
During the 2010 season, the Flames placed four names on to the all-Horizon League team. Frydendall returned to the team after earning the fifth-highest batting average at .434, while leading the league with hits (39) and ranking fourth in RBI with 21 in 24 games. Macias and Devin Miller were named to the Horizon League second team, while Coryn Schmit was selected to the all-newcomer team along with Miller.
In 2011, Venturella assisted three Flames members to the all-conference team, while leading the squad to a Horizon League Championship and returning the team to the NCAA Tournament, a feat they had not accomplished since 2004. Schmit returned to the all-conference team as a first-team pick along with Carly DeMarco. Natalie Hernandez was named to the all-newcomer team, in addition to being a second-team selection. The Flames downed Butler in a 5-3 decision to win the conference and propel the team to the NCAA Regional.
In 2012, UIC had three members on the all-Horizon League team in Schmit, Melissa Preish and Macias. Schmit was also named a first team academic all-district honoree that propelled her to being named a second team Academic All-American.
During the 2013 season, Venturella led the Flames to a first-place regular season finish and the right to hold the League tournament at Flames Field. There were six members on the Horizon League all-conference team, including Miller being named the Pitcher of the Year. The team tallied seven Horizon League weekly honors, two Scholar-Athlete of the Month accolades, one first team Academic All-American in Schmit, an academic all-district member, and Schmit being named the female Cecil Coleman award winner, while being nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year award. Miller was also selected to the NFCA Great Lakes Region second team.
In 2014, UIC had four student-athletes make the All-Horizon League First and Second Teams in Hernandez, Jacki Fletcher, Paige Peterson and Jenna Marsalli, as Fletcher, Hernandez and Peterson also collected NFCA All-Region honors. Additionally, Fletcher was named the Horizon League Scholar-Athlete of the Month in February and earned the Cecil N. Coleman Award, while garnering Academic All-American and All-District honors.
The 2015 season brought on a wealth of accolades after collecting a share of the regular season title. Elaine Heflin and Tiana Mack-Miller brought Horizon League Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors, respectively, to UIC for the first time in the same season since 2004. The duo, along with Laura Swan, earned placement on First Team All-League and Eleni Polites earned a spot on the Second Team. Mack-Miller also placed on the All-Freshman Team, becoming just the second player in program history to collect the three accolades in their first season. To cap off the year, Mack-Miller placed on the NFCA All-Great Lakes Region Second Team, as Heflin accepted Third Team recognition.
For the first time since the 2005-2006 seasons, the Flames repeated as the Horizon League regular season champions in 2016 after posting a program-best 18 conference wins off a 32-16 regular-season record to mark the best finish for UIC since 2005 and the fewest losses since the 1999 campaign. Heflin was named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year to become just the second player in program history to go back-to-back with the honor, and Lexi Watts collected Freshman of the Year for the Flames for the second-straight season. Along with Heflin and Watts, Swan and LaRi Mitchell placed on the All-League First Team, with Mack-Miller and Skylee James representing UIC on the Second Team. Watts and James rounded out the field of honors with spots on the All-Freshman Team. At the end of the season, Heflin was named to the NFCA All-Great Lakes Region Second Team.
Before arriving at UIC, the former catcher spent six seasons as the associate head coach at Iowa under head coach Gayle Blevins. In that role, she served as the recruiting coordinator and hitting coach, while also mentoring the team's catchers. During her tenure in Iowa City, Venturella assisted the Hawkeyes to a record of 251-116, including five NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2003, Iowa claimed both the Big Ten regular season and tournament title.
Prior to returning to the Big Ten to coach, Venturella first served as an assistant coach at Northern Illinois to Donna Martin during the 1996-97 season. Following her stint with the Huskies, she spent the next five years training for the USA National Team, while working as a technical representative for Louisville Slugger. Venturella also served as a personal instructor, in addition to being a motivational speaker.
Venturella began her softball career in the Chicagoland area, a graduate of Thornwood High School. From there, she joined the Big Ten as a standout catcher for Indiana. During her tenure with the Hoosiers, she earned All-America honors, in addition to being named the Big Ten Player of the Year.
The success she had at Indiana set her up for a six-year stint on the USA National Team, where she earned four gold medals, including the 1998 World Championships and the 2000 Sydney Olympics.