How a tough game against his younger brother motivated this Duke lacrosse goalie

Duke lacrosse head coach John Danowski at practice on May 6, 2015.
Duke lacrosse head coach John Danowski at practice on May 6, 2015. News & Obsever file photo

However Duke lacrosse goalie Turner Uppgren imagined how his first start against his younger brother’s team would go back in March, it didn’t turn out that way.

Less than three minutes into the game, Richmond had three goals and Uppgren was on the bench. Duke would go on to win 11-7, with Uppgren supporting backup David McCann throughout.

Then, the senior in his first season as a regular received a boost of his own when coach John Danowski popped into the players’ bus before the team traveled home.

“I said ‘Listen, Turner’s our guy next week,’” Danowski recalled this week. “’Tonight was not his night. David McCann stepped up and played great and I’m delighted with David. With all that being said, Turner is the guy.’ I wanted the guys to know on the bus right after the game that’s not even a thing we were discussing.”

It proved to be a turning point for Uppgren, who has recorded a .548 save percentage since as the Blue Devils (11-4) earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. They open postseason play Sunday with a rematch against Richmond (10-6) at Koskinen Stadium.

Uppgren responded to the rapid benching with a 10-save showing the next week against Loyola. He’s since posted more saves than goals allowed in seven of nine games, including six in a row.

“I knew I had step up and rise to the occasion,” Uppgren said. “I started to find my rhythm and calmed down and focused on keeping my feet still and making saves. As a competitor, sitting on the bench (stunk). I’d done it for three years. It’s the elephant in the room. We watched it and addressed it. Those things happen.”

Uppgren redshirted in 2016, played sparingly the next year and split time for a few games with Danny Fowler early last season, an arrangement that ended after Denver peppered him for four goals in less than 11 minutes to start the second half.

Fowler’s graduation created a vacancy. And while Uppgren earned the job in the preseason, it wasn’t until a few games into this season he really settled in.

“By no means did I think this was my spot or I was owed it,” Uppgren said. “The first couple games, I started slow and I wasn’t too happy with my play. Maybe the first game I did was Denver, when I made some nice saves. It was almost full circle to a certain extent. I had to figure out how to calm myself and realize I could play.”

Senior defenseman Cade Van Raaphorst sees Uppgren’s understanding of Duke’s team defense as one of the goalie’s greatest assets. Uppgren’s patience and communication on the field have proven vital for a unit that ranks fourth in the country in goals allowed at 9.07 per game.

“Anytime you have a goalie who makes the saves he should and then steals a couple, you’ll be in good shape to win games,” Van Raaphorst said. “When we’re clearing the ball, he wants the ball in his stick. He’s a confident cat, and that definitely helps him.”

This won’t be Uppgren’s last shot at the postseason, since he was admitted to a master’s program in Duke’s business school and will play next year. But Sunday marks his first postseason start as a Blue Devil.

He admits his mother wasn’t thrilled to see a rematch between her sons (George Uppgren is a reserve sophomore goalie for the Spiders) when the tournament bracket was revealed Sunday night. Turner Uppgren, though, is excited for more than another shot at Richmond.

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to right the wrong and prove to myself there’s a better version of me playing (against them), but it doesn’t matter who we play,” Uppgren said. “I’m excited to play one more home game. We’re definitely excited and we’ll be ready to go.”

Richmond at Duke

When: 5 p.m.

Where: Koskinen Stadium, Durham


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