Monday, August 29, 2016

Shelby Turnier Steps Into Justin's World

In 2015, the UCF Knights inserted themselves into the national spotlight. With a stellar record of 50-9 and with victories over South Carolina; Missouri; Arkansas; Minnesota; Washington; Maryland; Kent State; and Florida Atlantic, the Knights cemented their position as legitimate title contenders and were in line to host a regional, barely missing out on the honor.

Photo: Jim Hartsing
While there were several factors that the club's success could be attributed to, much of the credit belongs in the circle and to pitching tandem Mackenzie Audas and Shelby Turnier.

Turnier would go on to earn first-team all-American honors and cement a spot as one of the game's top hurlers, but before she hit the national scene, she was already a pretty solid pitcher. She entered college with a fourteen-victory season in 2013 that saw her post a respectable 2.33 ERA and a Conference USA all-freshman team nod. 

It was once she reached the American Athletic Conference that the 5'5" hurler began to shine. Ever heard the phrase "dynamite comes in small packages"? That description would fit Turnier to a tee.

An all-conference performer in her sophomore campaign, Turnier led her teammate Audas by just .30 runs per game in the ERA category, collecting 198 strikeouts along the way. The two balanced a rotation not unlike that of the Chicago Cubs' Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks in Major League Baseball now - two great pitchers, amassing great statistics and making their team great almost single-handedly. That's not a knock to the Knights offense, but a compliment to the duo's abilities in the circle.

After her all-American season in 2015, Audas graduated, leaving Turnier solo in the circle and without the Gehrig to her Babe Ruth. Nonetheless, she collected a unanimous first-team all-conference selection and all-region honors and was selected by the Chicago Bandits in the NPF draft.

At her collegiate career's close, Turnier ranked in the top five of ten statistical categories for the Knights, including holding her spot as the program's all-tie wins leader. She went on to become one of the Bandits' most reliable performers in the postseason, helping the team to the league title and amassing a fair amount of conversation for the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.

I talked to Turnier a few weeks back and got her thoughts on her career to that point. Jon us as she dishes on:

  • Her sheer dominance in the pitching circle
  • Pitching as part of a non-traditional 1-2 punch
  • The magical 2015 season
  • Her long-term plans on playing professionally
  • and much more!

Justin’s World of Softball: How did you get your start playing softball?
Shelby Turnier: When I was 7 years old, I was cheerleading and I was starting to learn a back handspring. I was terrified I was going to break my neck, so my parents told me I needed to pick another sport. My friend across the street was signing up to play rec softball so I decided to sign up too.

Justin’s World of Softball: What led you to UCF as “your place” to play ball and go to school?
Shelby Turnier: I knew that I wanted the big D1 experience and it really doesn’t get any bigger than UCF. With over 60,000 students enrolled in the school, I've almost never seen the same person twice. I also wanted to stay somewhat close to home because my parents are a huge part of my life and I knew that they would want to be at every home game.

Justin’s World of Softball: You were dominant in the circle almost immediately, but you also got increasingly so as time went on. To what do you attribute not just your consistency, but your improvement year-in and year-out?
Shelby Turnier: Honestly, practice. You have to be able to adjust to the level of play. Coming in to UCF, I had a good curveball, mediocre rise, and a fastball that I would call my "screw." None of which got me anywhere! I really started to develop once I got to UCF. Mackenzie Audas took me under her wing and from that moment, I was in awe. She had every pitch I did, a curve, screw, rise, change… the only difference was that hers actually moved and she threw them on command. At that point, I knew I had a lot of work to do in order to compete at that level. I worked day in and day out, sometimes on multiple pitches, sometimes on one specific pitch per day. And each year, when a scouting report was sent out about me, my goal was to give them the opposite of what it said. I'm sure that, after my freshman year of college, it probably said something like "throws hard, uses curve a lot and screw." During the summer between freshman and sophomore year, I started to really develop my rise and learn a true screw, which took my game to another level. So I think the reason I was able to stay competitive is because I never got complacent with my success and each year I tried to bring something new to the table.

Justin’s World of Softball: Softball has often traditionally been a sport where there is one workhorse pitcher and a couple of others to pick up some innings behind her; during your time, the Knights thrived with a multi-star pitcher staff. How do you think that benefitted both the team and each of you pitchers individually?
Shelby Turnier: From a team standpoint, it gave us more versatility. Each of the pitchers on our staff had a different go-to pitch. For me, it was my curve; Audas’ was her killer change; Jamie Ujvari with her off-speed curve; Mackenzie Huhn with a drop; and Manami Calixto with a backdoor curve. It made us a well-rounded pitching staff and in turn, a well-rounded team. My junior year, when our pitching staff really took off with Mackenzie Audas and I as the 1-2, we both knew that we could always rely on the other one to pick us up. If I was having a bad day or the opposing team was just really on my pitches, I knew that any of our other pitchers would be ready to come in and get us out of a jam. Having that mindset that we have backup if things go wrong helped me relax and throw to my strengths.

Justin’s World of Softball: Let me take you back to that 2015 season when the Knights were right on the cusp of hosting a regional yourselves, but were instead placed in the Tallahassee regional… after such an incredible season, was it tough to mentally prepare yourselves to go in and face, among other teams, a tough, tough Noles squad?
Shelby Turnier: It was heartbreaking to hear that we wouldn’t be hosting a regional. We had a monumental season and worked so hard, and we really deserved it after finishing fifteenth in RPI. But I don’t think we prepared any differently going into regionals than we had all season long. Knowing that we would be facing FSU after hearing we ourselves wouldn’t be hosting actually lit a fire in us and made us more determined, if anything. We knew that we were a great team and we had proved it all year long, so going against another great team just meant we were going to get to play some good competition that day. And that’s something I think you'll find with any competitor… that they want to play the best opponents because it’s a challenge and that makes it more fun.

Justin’s World of Softball: Who would you call the toughest opponent you’ve faced, either an individual or a team?
Shelby Turnier: The toughest opponent I've faced has definitely been myself. As a freshman, I had a terrible mental game. I actually didn’t even know what a mental game was. I questioned myself every time I stepped on the mound; whether I was good enough to get the start, whether I was good enough to beat the other team. I'm actually pretty sure I blacked out when I was brought into a game in relief against FSU that year! Since then, I have discovered who I am as a pitcher and as a competitor, and I can honestly say that I think, right now, I'm the mentally toughest version of myself. My sophomore year, my coach brought in a guy by the name of Aaron Weintraub who wrote a book called Leadership Training for Softball and it completely changed my mental game and the way I approached the situations I was in. Not only did he give us each a copy of the book, but he also led us through different exercises for about a week and it really impacted my team, especially the players that bought in to it.

Justin’s World of Softball: After such an amazing junior season, only for it to end so swiftly in the postseason and despite all of your many, many awards, how difficult was it to come into your senior year where you were no longer the underdogs, but teams knew what tough competition you were going to be?
Shelby Turnier: It was a really tough loss to end my junior season. Not only did it end an epic year for UCF, but we lost five seniors that played a huge role on our team, not only physically but within our team chemistry as well. We always knew that there would be a target on our back, but we never played like we had something to prove - we just tried to be ourselves and play UCF softball.

Justin’s World of Softball: Was it more difficult to follow up your all-American season while really carrying the staff, instead of being able to share more of the work with a great co-star?
Shelby Turnier: It was definitely hard. I knew that I would get most of the big games and that I would be relied on heavily. In California [at the Mary Nutter Classic], I threw all five games in that weekend and it was a testament to my mind and my body. From that point on, I knew I wasn’t going to have the same season as [2015]. There's just physically no way to throw the amount of innings and pitches I did and be able to be perfect every game. I knew I was going to have to pitch to contact and let my defense and offense do the work.

Photo: Don Martukovich
Justin’s World of Softball: When did you first learn about the professional league and decide that playing in it was something that you wanted to do?
Shelby Turnier: I first started hearing about possibly getting drafted during my junior season when teams were calling about Audas. I was having a great year, an ERA under one, and we were ranked. That’s when I started giving it some serious thought. Then in my senior year, when I had most of the workload, it was hard to have the same year as the one before. Not to mention that, in the first week of our season, we played eight top twenty-five teams in a row, all in games I pitched. I wanted to have an even better year, but I accepted that it wasn’t in the cards for me and to just keep pitching to the best of my abilities and let my team work. About halfway through the season, I was a little discouraged by my numbers. I wasn’t putting up the same stats that I had in the past and I feared that the hard work I had put in for my team would go unnoticed. There were mock drafts that had me projected to go to the Houston Scrap Yard Dawgs, but I'm the kind of person that I can’t believe something until it actually happens. So I didn’t want to get my hopes up and I also didn’t bother to ask my coaches if any pro teams called about me because I feared it might affect the way I played depending on the answer. When Chicago called my name, I couldn’t believe it. I went into watching the draft with no expectations and left with a brand new home.

Justin’s World of Softball: When your playing career is done, whether that be in a few years or a decade down the road or more, what do you hope people remember as your “legacy” when they hear your name?
Shelby Turnier: I want them to remember my fight. Something that every coach I've played for has said to me is that I'm like a bulldog on the mound. I don’t ever want to lose that spirit. My goal every day that I step onto the field is to die on "E". I want to give every ounce of myself to the game and I hope people remember that.

Justin’s World of Softball: Tell me about your plans for the future – is playing professionally something you’d like to do long-term? Is coaching an avenue you’d be interested in pursuing?
Shelby Turnier: I'd like to play professionally for as long as I can and coaching is definitely something I want to pursue. I can’t imagine a day where I'm not on the softball field anymore, whether that’s playing or coaching.

Justin’s World of Softball: Let’s end with a fun question: Say you were stranded on a deserted island, but could take any three things with you. Boats and phones are off-limits, but anything else tangible goes. What would you take?
Shelby Turnier: Dr. Pepper, my makeup bag, and my cats (there's 2 of them but they're a package deal so I'm counting them as 1!)


  1. Great interview. Shelby is such a talented young woman and so well spoken. I wish her great success in her career and her future.

  2. Great interview. Shelby is such a talented young woman and so well spoken. I wish her great success in her career and her future.

  3. We are so blessed to have Shelby now coaching my daughter at UNF. Our Minnie was an incoming Freshman when Shelby was a senior at Palm Beach Gardens High School. She was such a strong role model for Minnie; and an extreme example of how to lead.