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    Head coach Michelle Venturella with senior Jenna Marsalli
     
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    Feb. 6, 2014

    Tournament Central

    CHICAGO –
    The UIC softball team is set to begin its 2014 season this weekend when it co-hosts the inaugural Total Control Sports Invitational with Loyola at the Dome in Rosemont, Ill. The three-day tournament gets underway on Friday with the Flames facing Eastern Illinois at 1 p.m. CT.

    “We have been practicing for three and a half weeks and we are ready to compete,” sixth-year head coach Michelle Venturella said. “We have such good depth this year and we are really excited to see how everything comes together. The coaching staff always talks about how we have this puzzle and all these pieces, and we have to figure out where they go. The group is giving us tough decisions already in preseason so we are ready to go.”

    The Total Control Sports Invitational will serve as the first of five tournaments the Flames will compete in prior to beginning league play on March 22. Over the next six weeks, UIC will travel to the UCF/Holiday Inn Classic, Jacksonville Tournament, San Diego Classic and Hoosier Classic and will be challenged by top teams from across the country.

    “We are really fortunate to have the support to go to different places,” added Venturella. “The strength of schedule is awesome because we want to prepare ourselves to be champions every year in the Horizon League, and because we have these opportunities to play conferences that are stronger than us, it’s great.”

    The Flames are coming off a season that put them at the top of the Horizon League in the regular season, but the Flames have bigger plans moving forward.

    “We have talked about exceeding any goals we have had and we have put the mark out there that we want to win 40 games,” Venturella said. “It’s a lofty goal with our schedule, and with our conference, and we know it’s going to be challenging, but we want this team to be better than anyone has been in recent years. I can’t think of a better way than to match it up with the celebration that’s going to happen this spring with the 20th anniversary of our 1994 World Series team.”

    Last season, UIC graduated six standouts and will be looking toward this year’s group of 11 returners, particularly its seniors in Jacki Fletcher, Courtney Heeley, Natalie Hernandez and Jenna Marsalli, to guide the team on and off the field. Hernandez was named to the All-Horizon League First Team in 2013, alongside sophomore Laura Swan, while Fletcher was selected to the First-Team All-Region.

    “Our returners are solid and I am so excited for them, especially our four seniors,’ said Venturella. “They have done a tremendous job for us, but they are really taking over a lot of those leadership roles that I feel are necessary to win championships. I’m looking forward to seeing how they do on the field, but the expectations are going to be high.”

    UIC additionally boasts eight newcomers with freshmen Elaine Heflin (P/UTL), Kelly Kennedy (IF), Rachel May (IF), Kaleigh Nagle (UTL) and Savannah Soppet (UTL), DePaul transfers Amanda Mener (OF) and Paige Peterson (IF), and Michigan transfer Alice Fitzpatrick (P/UTL).

    “Our newcomers have really come in and filled some holes,” Venturella added. “This is the largest roster we have had in a few years and we have the most depth in pitching that we have had since I have been here. The freshmen that have come in are pounding their way into trying to make that starting lineup and it’s really great to see what they’re going to offer.”

    This weekend’s tournament will be the first of its kind during Venturella’s tenure with the Flames. UIC is one of eight teams competing and will go head-to-head with Eastern Illinois, Illinois, Central Michigan, Loyola and Western Illinois.

    “We are very excited about hosting at the Dome this weekend,” said Venturella. “The competition that is coming in is tremendous and to play in the Dome, 30 minutes away, and have our fans see us start the season is something we haven’t had in the past, so we are very much looking forward to that tomorrow.”