Flames Set For 2012 Season

Sophomore Natalie Hernandez
Sophomore Natalie Hernandez

Feb. 8, 2012

CHICAGO – The UIC softball team opens its 2012 season Feb. 10 against Santa Clara in the Hotel Encanto Invitational in Las Cruces, N.M. The team is riding on the coat tails of one of its most successful seasons yet as the reigning Horizon League Champions, an honor that earned the team its first NCAA post-season appearance since 2004.

The team looks to continue to build upon the program with its returners, while welcoming a talented group of newcomers. Joining the Flames for their rookie season are Erica Hampton (Wichita, Kan./Bishop Carroll), Jessica Polfliet (Troy, Ill./Triad) and Breann Warren (Spokane, Wash./University).

“The newcomers are ready to fill roles for us this season,” head coach Michelle Venturella said. “Erica Hampton is a great addition to our team; she is very athletic and solid, both offensively and defensively. We expect to have her find some playing time behind the plate and at second base. She is someone who makes this team better because of what she brings to practice every day. Breann makes a statement with her bat. She is a strong hitter, who has worked tirelessly to improve her swing over the past several months. She pushes herself, and is determined to be one of the best hitters in our lineup. We look to have Jessica’s role increase as she gains experience at this level. She has a lot of potential, and we look for her to be become one of our best base runners.”

The team returns 12 members, and with the success of winning the Horizon League Tournament, the squad is in a position for a successful 2012 season.

“I am very excited about this season with all of the experience of our returners,” Venturella said. “We have several starters returning, and with the mix of our freshman, I think our team chemistry is as good as it has ever been. Winning the Horizon League Tournament, and going to the NCAA Tournament last season has given our team the confidence we needed, and now the expectation level is set to an even higher standard.”



Among the experienced newcomers are pitchers, junior Devin Miller (Chicago, Ill./Loyola Academy), who nabbed preseason all-Horizon League second-team honors, and senior Ashley Hewett (La Palma, Calif./John F. Kennedy). On the receiving end, junior Teresa Aguilar (Chicago, Ill./Loyola Academy) returns to serve as catcher to these veteran pitchers.

“Ashley and Devin work well together, and they are prepared to lead this team,” Venturella said. “Teresa has been solid behind the plate for us by controlling the running game, as well as working very well with both pitchers. She manages games well and makes our pitchers better.”

Returning to the Flames infield are junior Coryn Schmit (Hawthorn Woods, Ill./Lake Zurich) and sophomore Natalie Hernandez (Glendora, Calif./Glendora), who were both named to the preseason all-Horizon League team, Schmit earning first team honors, while Hernandez was named to the second team. Sophomores Jacki Fletcher (Lowell, Ind./Lowell) and Jenna Marsalli (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) and senior Kelsey Sturgeon (Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif./Palos Verdes Peninsula) also return to the UIC infield.

“Coryn Schmit is a consistent player for us, both offensively and defensively,” Venturella said. “She works tirelessly to be the best she can be, and it is paying off. Jacki Fletcher has a strong offensive presence for us from the left side, and has done a great job playing second base for us. Natalie has a great range, a strong arm and a great deal of knowledge of the game. I expect Natalie, Kelsey and Jenna to continue to work well together and improve this season.”

Filling out the outfield, senior Melinda Macias (Chino, Calif./Don Antonio Lugo), Melissa Preish (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Westlake), sophomore Courtney Heeley (Glendale, Ariz./Greenway) and Kara Komp (Joliet, Ill./Joliet West).

“Our outfield continues to push each other every day, and it determined to be the best in the League,” Venturella said. “Melinda Macias has been our right-fielder since her freshman season, and she plays that position as well as anyone I have seen. She reads the balls of the bat well, and is a great communicator with her fellow outfielders. Melissa Preish plays center field the way it should be played. She is aggressive, smart and goes one-hundred percent all of the time. She is one of the hardest workers on the team. Courtney Heeley and Kara Komp have both been solid for us in left field. Courtney is very athletic, and has a strong arm, which allows her to make some great plays. Kara has done a great job over the past couple of years to make herself a top contender.”

The Flames enter the season with a fresh coaching staff. Among the new members, Sami Baugh, who joins the UIC team after completing a coaching stint at Central Michigan, where she was the top assistant. Baugh was a four-time letterwinner and three-time Academic all-Big Ten at Iowa, where she served as the team’s catcher.

“We have a new staff that has brought great ideas and energy to the program,” Venturella said. “Sami is our new hitting coach. She has a great passion for what she does, and is constantly working on ways to help each student-athlete in our program. She is a student of the game and has had proved success with how well her hitters have done in the past.”

Eileen Canney joins the staff after playing at the international level. Canney was a two-time All-American and former Northwestern pitcher. She joins the staff with a wealth of experience at the collegiate, national and international level.

“Eileen joined us halfway through the first semester after playing professionally in Japan,” Venturella said. “She is a wonderful teacher, and has made a tremendous impact not only on our pitching staff, but on our entire team in such a short period of time. Because of her ability to pitch to our hitters, they have been challenged every day.”

Heather Han, who serves as a volunteer assistant coach is the final addition to the coaching staff. Han joins the staff after playing and coaching at Eastern Michigan.

“We are also fortunate to have Heather join us from Eastern Michigan, where she has done a great job in several areas. When there is a new staff, there are a lot of new ideas that bring a fresh approach to the program. I feel fortunate to have these three coaches be a part of UIC softball.”

The 12 returners, three newcomers, three new staff members and Venturella take to the field in their first competition Feb. 10 against Santa Clara at the Hotel Encanto Invitational in Las Cruces, N.M.