The Next Level

ORLANDO, Fla. ( – After four successful seasons at UCF, Shelby Turnier took her softball skills to the next level – professional fastpitch softball.

"Towards the end of my sophomore season, I started realizing that I didn't want to ever be away from softball," Turnier said. "Originally, I was getting my degree in accounting and had my heart set. At the end of my sophomore year, I realized that I didn't want to sit at a desk all day and not be around something that I loved."

During Turnier's All-American junior season, she realized that playing professionally was an option after hearing her name tossed out as a possibility in the 2016 draft. As fellow ace Mackenzie Audas was receiving looks from National Pro Fastpitch teams in 2015, Turnier began to consider a career at the professional level.

Not wanting any distractions during a senior campaign that saw her set the UCF Softball record for career wins (80) and reach 800 career strikeouts, the right-handed hurler tuned out any talk of life after her Knights tenure.

On April 14, surrounded by her coaches and teammates at a restaurant in Houston, Turnier's dream became a reality as the league's commissioner Cheri Kempf read her name as the No. 11 selection in the 2016 NPF draft.

"My heart was racing out of my chest. We were supposed to be (at the restaurant) for dinner, but I was not hungry at all. I didn't know what was going to happen. When I saw my name, I was honestly relieved."

The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native signed a contract with the Chicago Bandits five days after closing out her collegiate career. During two months, the right-handed hurler has made 12 appearances, turning in the fifth-lowest opponent batting average in the league while notching the second-most strikeouts on the team.

Her accomplishments on the field are no surprise to UCF fans, but her favorite part of being a professional athlete comes off the field.

"The best thing about playing professionally is the impact that you have on the people around you," Turnier said. "At UCF, we had an impact on our younger fans, but there's something different about this new level. Every night, we pack in anywhere from 1,000 to last night's season-record 1,722 fans. Your demeanor, your attitude, everything about you has an impact and influence on the community and fans. I love that I get to play that role."

One of two former Knights currently playing in the NPF, Turnier is very proud – and even a little excited – when facing former teammate Kahley Novak, who was drafted by the Dallas Charge in 2015.

"There are SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 schools that have numerous players in the league," Turnier said. "To look over and see Kahley and know that we are the only two players from UCF that are playing in the league right now is awesome, whether we're on the same team or opposite teams."

Last weekend, Turnier saw some familiar faces when her Bandits faced the USSSA Pride at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee.

"I kind of had an idea of the people that were going to come for the series," she said. "But when I saw some faces that I had no idea were going to be there, I was so excited and surprised. A lot of people from UCF showed up and it was so humbling."

On Sunday, Turnier earned her fourth win of the season, tossing four scoreless innings while allowing just one hit and striking out a pair. Needing just 47 pitches, she earned her second consecutive victory in front of her former coaches.

"My adrenaline was pumping so hard, because I knew Coach (Renee Luers-Gillispie) and Coach (Tiffany Jordan) were there, along with my parents and my friends," Turnier said. "I wanted so badly to do so well. I'm so glad that I got the opportunity to even get in the game, let alone get the win."

The 2016 NPF season wraps up Aug. 19-23 with its Championship Series in Tuscaloosa, Ala.