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At home with the Gophers

Lourdes graduate Turner shows big things as goalie

The last time I saw Chelsey Turner was October, and her Rochester Lourdes soccer team had just been eliminated in the semifinal round of the Section One, Class A tournament.

Turner, who graduated from Lourdes in January, was not taking it lightly. I waited 10 minutes for her to stop crying before asking her for an interview. It was my first hint of how invested she is in this game.

Mikki Denney Wright spent all of last spring and the beginning part of this collegiate soccer season witnessing Turner's zeal. The University of Minnesota coach quickly fell in love with her prized freshman's passion.

"On the field, Chelsey is really an intense and driven kid," Denney Wright said. "Off the field she is very light and fun, and is like so many girls in that she likes to do things like go shopping. But when she is on the field, it is like night and day. She really turns on that game face."

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It's not just Turner's playing persona that Denney Wright appreciates. She also loves her skills. No big surprise there, as the 5-foot-10 Turner was a top-75 national recruit and the first goalie to ever win the state's "Ms. Soccer" award her senior year at Lourdes.

Big-time recruit

It turned her into a national recruit, and as Denney Wright called her, "a tough get." But she got her, all right, with Turner choosing Minnesota over fellow Division I schools Penn State, Tennessee and Creighton.

Everything about Turner seemed enough in place late last week that Denney Wright opted for something bold. She decided to give Turner her first collegiate start on Sunday in what was Minnesota's toughest matchup so far this season, with unranked Minnesota playing host to No. 21-ranked Missouri.

"Rarely do freshman goalies get playing time at this level," Denney Wright said. "But we've been just very impressed with Chelsey. She has dealt really well with the level of competition here and she is always really good under pressure."

Though the end result was a 1-0 Gophers loss, nobody came away disappointed with Turner. There were a couple of spectacular, point-blank saves by her, as well as a pack of other solid stops.

"I was pumped," Turner said. "I felt like I came out on fire and really knew what I had to do. I had a little bit of pre-game jitters, but they weren't too bad."

Rochester pipeline

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Turner, who worked out with the Gophers last spring, began this season with hopes of sharing the goaltending duties with Minnesota junior Lindsey Dare. But after Sunday's performance, many Minnesota soccer fans were left wondering if the baton had been passed, from one Rochester native to another, and from one fierce competitor to another.

Century graduate Molly Schneider, a Gophers senior last year, had been Minnesota's starting goalie the last two seasons. Like Turner, her passion for soccer and her will to improve in the sport were unbridled. And like Turner, she was hugely skilled. Schneider helped Minnesota to a school-record fewest goals allowed in a season last year.

"She's sure left me some big shoes to fill," Turner said.

Schneider has hung around to help Turner fill them, assisting the Gopher coaching staff and also practicing with the team.

"Molly is definitely a very good person for me to look up to with her work ethic," Turner said. "During practices, she pushes me hard and talks to me about what I need to do to get better."

Getting better is something Turner is keen on. As nicely as she admits the early part of this season has gone, she says she has a long way to go. And it's that process of improving that turns her on as much as anything.

No doubt, Turner is in a good place. Playing big-time collegiate soccer, and surrounded by teammates who care as much about the game as she does, it's what she's pined for.

"It definitely feels surreal at times," Turner said. "When you step on the field, and there are 2,000 screaming fans, it's awesome."

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Pat Ruff is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be e-mailed at pruff@postbulletin.com.

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