Fletcher garners Horizon League's highest individual honor
Hernandez continues softball career with Chicago's National Pro Fastpitch team
Flames finish third in Horizon League Championship
Hernandez homers; Boyle records first-career shutout
Flames outlast Golden Grizzlies in extras; tally 13 hits in Saturday's contest
Head coach Michelle Venturella enters her seventh 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 and 2013. Her squad claimed regular season championships in 2009 and 2013, 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.
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 Devin 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 Coryn 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 2012, UIC had three members on the all-Horizon League team in Schmit, Melissa Preish and Melinda Macias. Schmit was also named a first team academic all-district honoree that propelled her to being named a second team Academic All-American.
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. Schmit logged a .800 conference slugging percentage (.346 season total) and led the Flames with six home runs and 16 RBI during 20 league contests. DeMarco also concluded the season with a .346 batting average, while adding eight RBI. Natalie Hernandez was named to the all-newcomer team, in addition to being a second-team selection. The newcomer compiled a .349 batting average, while committing a mere four errors during her time at shortstop. She added nine RBI with three doubles, two home runs and a triple during her first season with the Flames. The Flames downed Butler in a 5-3 decision to win the conference and propel the team to the NCAA Regional.
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 Schmit was selected to the all-newcomer team along with Miller.
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 Macias was a second-team member, in addition to being chosen for the all-newcomer 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 1996-97season. 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.
Venturella currently resides in Chicago, Ill.