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Illinois softball opens season with tournament in Puerto Rico

Illinois%27+Breanna+Wonderly+pitches+in+the+game+against+Rutgers+at+Eichelberger+Field+on+Sunday%2C+Apr.+3%2C+2016
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Illinois softball opens season with tournament in Puerto Rico

Illinois' Breanna Wonderly pitches in the game against Rutgers at Eichelberger Field on Sunday, Apr. 3, 2016

Illinois' Breanna Wonderly pitches in the game against Rutgers at Eichelberger Field on Sunday, Apr. 3, 2016

Brian Bauer

Illinois' Breanna Wonderly pitches in the game against Rutgers at Eichelberger Field on Sunday, Apr. 3, 2016

Brian Bauer

Brian Bauer

Illinois' Breanna Wonderly pitches in the game against Rutgers at Eichelberger Field on Sunday, Apr. 3, 2016

By Erich Fisher, Staff writer

Tyra Perry will begin her second year as the Illinois softball coach in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this weekend.

The Illini will be participating in the Puerto Rico Division I tournament, competing against North Carolina and Georgia Tech twice and once against California over the weekend.

In Perry’s first year as head coach, Illinois went 36-23 (12-11 in the Big Ten Conference), ranked seventh in the Big Ten and reached the NCAA tournament, its first appearance since 2010. But Perry said she is not ready to settle for just another tournament berth.

“Our players and staff have been collectively working towards not only making it to the NCAA tournament but actually advancing further than we did this past season,” Perry said. “We’re looking to finish higher in the Big Ten and are always looking to grab that (Big Ten) championship.”

This could be challenging for the Illini with the graduation last spring of outfielder Kylie Johnson and infielders Allie Bauch and Danielle Trezzo. Johnson and Bauch started in all 59 games last season and finished with batting averages over .300. Trezzo started in 33 of games and finished with a batting average of .274.

Illinois will have eight new players on its roster this season, five of whom are transfers. Outfielder Veronica Ruelius will be officially on the roster after she redshirted last season.

Several players for the Illini are also returning. Senior outfielder Nicole Evans will look to continue her impressive college career. She lead the Illini in batting averages during her junior season (.337), hits (62), home runs (12), runs batted in (53) and slugging percentage (.663).

“Nicole just has that presence when she walks into the room that she’s someone special, and someone you need to talk to,” Perry said. “She works extremely hard. We could have a light-hearted practice, and she would be covered in sweat by the end of it.”

On the mound, senior pitcher Breanna Wonderly is also returning for the Illini and will be the Opening Day starter Friday.

Wonderly, in her junior year campaign, tallied a 16-13 record with a team low 2.78 ERA in Big Ten play and was top-10 in the conference in innings pitched, games started, wins and ERA.

“She’s an example player,” Perry said. “She’s always doing her job and always looking to do more. She’s a transfer player herself, so she’s been able to emphasize with the transfer players we have this year and give them advice.”

Perry and her staff said they are not ready to let the challenges of having several new players on the team hold her and her squad back.

“We’re focused on playing our best softball, I do believe we’ll have some challenges with having eight newcomers and with injuries that are occurring before the season has started,” Perry said. “We’re going to have to overcome those, but I do believe this team has the ability to do that.”

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