Crystal Lake South senior Christina Toniolo had little time to decide whether Illinois-Chicago was the right fit for her.
After touring the campus and athletic facilities with her parents July 17, the right-handed pitcher and first baseman felt more than confident that softball coach Lynn Curylo and the NCAA Division I Flames were a perfect match.
Toniolo made her commitment to Curylo four days later. She announced her decision Saturday via Twitter.
“I absolutely fell in love with the campus, and that it’s in the city,” Toniolo said. “It’s the perfect distance from home, and the coaching staff is awesome. I’m super excited to work with them.”
UIC wasn’t even on the radar until two weeks ago when Flames assistant coach Mary Connolly saw the 6-foot-2 Toniolo with her travel team, the St. Charles SilverHawks, by accident in a two-day tournament at
St. Charles’ East Side Sports Complex.
Connolly originally was there to watch another pitcher, but it was Toniolo who really grabbed the coach’s attention. Connolly then alerted Curylo, who set up a visit to the Horizon League school.
Toniolo had one other offer, from D-II University of Indianapolis. She said the choice wasn’t easy.
“They’re both very good programs, and it was a tough decision,” she said. “UIC seemed almost more excited than I was. They 100 percent wanted me, and that felt really awesome. They’re super excited, and so am I. It’s literally a dream come true for me. I didn’t even think this was possible.”
Toniolo was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection in the spring. She hit .405 with eight home runs, eight doubles and 34 RBIs, helping lead the Gators to a 19-7 season, placing third in the Fox Valley Conference at 11-5.
It was South’s winningest season since 2012.
Toniolo was told she needed to make a fast decision about UIC because she was a late recruit. The visit to campus and Flames Field, with the Chicago skyline in the background, helped seal the deal.
Before UIC reached out to Toniolo, she was unsure about her academic and athletic future.
“I was in shock, really, and I was super, super excited when they called,” Toniolo said. “This totally came out of the blue, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is perfect.’ It’s hard to believe.”
The Flames finished 33-21 last year, going 19-4 in conference, and won the Horizon League Tournament for the second straight year. They advanced to the NCAA regional round.
Curylo and the Flames view Toniolo as a pitcher, and that’s what she has been working toward since she started pitching at a young age. Toniolo said that she pitches more to contact as a ground-ball pitcher, and that’s what UIC liked about her.
“I first picked up [pitching] in 12U, and I’ve been growing and growing as a pitcher ever since,” she said. “I haven’t stopped, and I’m not done yet. There’s definitely more to come, and I think that’s what they saw. I just want to keep working on my game to be ready for the college level.”