Reilyn Turner – from sideline headers to UCLA women’s soccer goal-getter

Junior forward Reilyn Turner stands with a soccer ball at her feet. Turner has scored nine goals and collected three assists so far this season. (Photo by Anika Charkrabarti/Photo editor. Photo illustration by Isabella Lee/Illustrations director)

By Isabelle Friedman

November 8, 2022 at 11:17 p.m.

At 3 years old, Reilyn Turner was too young to join a soccer team.

Forced to watch her older sister compete on the pitch while she was relegated to practicing headers on the sidelines, Turner still begged her mom to let her play.

And the pleading paid off. The next year, thanks to a small birth certificate fib that made her eligible to play, Turner was where she belonged.

“I always knew I wanted to play soccer for as long as I could,” Turner said. “I wanted to be on a big stage. I wanted to play for something big.”

With the same competitive spirit and unyielding love of soccer still motivating her today, Turner now stands as a junior forward for UCLA women’s soccer. Ever since arriving in Westwood, she’s been putting those early header practices to good use.

She’s consistently found a spot in the elite squad’s starting lineup and has accumulated 30 career goals while tying for the team lead in scoring this season. Turner’s no stranger to the conference history books as well, landing Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors after breaking onto the collegiate soccer scene in 2020.

Turner said one of her favorite moments at UCLA was winning the 2020 Pac-12 title early and defeating the reigning national champion Stanford. The Bruins were down 1-0 until Turner scored the equalizer with 15 minutes to spare, fueling enough momentum for the blue and gold to ultimately come out victorious in overtime.

“That was just my freshman year, and being able to contribute in our season success just made me believe in myself more,” Turner said.

But this season, Turner has proven she has the potential to be even more of an offensive asset. The junior sits tied for second in the nation with six game-winning goals, two of which came against then-No. 1 North Carolina and then-No. 2 Duke. Against Oregon State in October, Turner completed her second career hat trick, and when UCLA took on Colorado three weeks later, Turner found the back of the net in less than two minutes.

Margueritte Aozasa has only spent all of a few months with Turner, but the UCLA coach knows exactly what Turner brings to the table.

“She’s a player that can change the game at any moment,” Aozasa said.

Junior forward Reilyn Turner passes the ball between her hands. Turner won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year during her first season with the Bruins in 2020. (Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor)

Soccer in her DNA

Turner grew up in a sports family in every sense of the term.

Both of her parents were student-athletes at UNLV, and her dad went on to play in the NFL. Her older sister is also a Division I athlete who is currently competing as a senior for Columbia women’s soccer.

But despite her family of athletes, Turner said sports were never forced on her. The decision to play soccer was entirely her own.

“My mom was just supportive of whatever I wanted to do, and that just happened to be soccer all the time,” Turner said.

Playing soccer around the clock was definitely something Turner’s mom, Felicia Madrigal, could relate to. Madrigal played soccer for UNLV and remembers how difficult the student-athlete experience could be but also the multitude of amazing opportunities and connections that came with it.

Before Turner started college, her mom gave her a few pieces of advice.

“My mom was just saying that, ‘Enjoy these four years while you have them because they go so quick. …These are the relationships that carry on through your whole life, so make strong connections with everyone you meet,’” Turner said.

Because for Madrigal, her former soccer teammates are still her friends to this day.

Madrigal’s teammates even make it out to her daughters’ soccer games together, where they might just be the loudest ones in the stands.

“When you have teammates, they kind of stick with you for life,” Madrigal said. “There’s been plenty of games where my college teammates will go with me to games, and we’re right back in it. It’s funny because from the sideline, we still cheer as though we’re playing.”

It’s a full circle moment for Madrigal, and Turner said she already knows that her Bruin teammates will be just as close in a few years.

(Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor)
Junior forward Reilyn Turner holds a soccer ball. Turner is currently tied with senior forward Sunshine Fontes for UCLA’s leading scorer. (Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor)

Nineteen signing an NIL deal with Nike

When news that athletes could profit off their name, image and likeness broke last summer, Turner didn’t think much of it. She thought it was a promising opportunity for student-athletes, but she wasn’t sure how quickly she would jump into the NIL landscape.

Turner ended up signing with Wasserman, a sports and entertainment agency, but still hadn’t really breached the surface of NIL opportunities. The very next day, however, a deal was in the works.

Madrigal – who had been in contact with Turner’s agent about the deal – decided she wouldn’t tell her daughter any details for a while. She didn’t want to get her hopes up on something that could fall through.

But finally, Madrigal told her: Turner would be the first collegiate athlete to sign with Nike.

“I was just speechless, and I still kind of am to this day,” Turner said.

According to Nike, the brand’s student-athlete agreements include “an element that connects back to their local communities.” So far for Turner, that has meant attending events and speaking with kids interested in sports. She wants to make sure they don’t give up on their dreams.

“I’m excited to do more things with them, just giving back and hoping to inspire the next generation of student-athletes,” Turner said.

Working with Nike has elevated Turner’s platform, with her Instagram followers quadrupling since she signed with them in December, expanding her reach and ability to connect with young athletes.

When Turner is deciding on brands to partner with, a company’s values are important to her, as she and her agent make sure they support women’s sports, equality and giving back.

“I make it a point only to partner with companies who align with my values,” Turner said.

Luckily, she said it’s easy to find good people to work with. Turner has also worked with Kinlò, a skincare brand for “melanin-rich” skin created by women’s tennis star and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.

With Turner working with large organizations, holding interviews and demonstrating professionalism at just 20 years old, Madrigal said she’s proud to see how well her daughter has handled it all.

Madrigal only hopes that the workload doesn’t become too much on top of her other responsibilities.

“My biggest concern is I don’t want her to ever feel overwhelmed because this to me is like the icing on the cake,” Madrigal said. “The most important thing is, of course, school and soccer.”

Soccer comes first

NIL prospects aside, soccer is the priority for Turner.

She plans to enter the NWSL draft following her senior season next year, but before then, Turner and the Bruins have an NCAA tournament to take care of.

UCLA enters the tournament as a No. 1 seed after sitting at the top of the NCAA rankings for nine consecutive weeks. Last year, the Bruins were knocked out in the first round of the tournament, but the blue and gold is determined to take it all the way this time around.

According to Madrigal, winning a national championship has been a goal of Turner’s since she was in high school and a significant factor in her choosing to come to Westwood in the first place.

But despite a host of accolades and a national spotlight on Turner, her mom is most proud of Turner’s work ethic and how she always gives 100 percent.

“The accolades come with pouring your heart and soul out on the field,” Madrigal said. “I don’t know anyone that plays just for the accolades. You play for the love of the game, and that’s definitely who she’s been since she’s been little.”

A face of Nike, a leader for the No. 1 women’s soccer program in the nation and just as determined as her 3-year-old self to prove herself on the pitch – Turner is not one to be underestimated.

“She’s a sweetheart. She has a heart of gold,” Madrigal said. “But at the same time, she’ll destroy you on a soccer field.”

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