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Park High School: Old friends fulfill dream together

From left, Park seniors Mary Turitto and Larissa Lurken sign National Letters of Intent to play college sports. Turitto will play softball at Winona State. Lurken will play basketball at Kent State.

A pair of Park standouts and longtime friends fulfilled lifelong dreams together.

Park seniors Larissa Lurken and Mary Turitto signed National Letters of Intent to play college sports on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at Park High School.

Lurken, a three-time all-conference guard for the Park girls basketball team, signed to play Division 1 basketball for Kent State University in Ohio next fall. Alongside Lurken, who she's been friends with since she was 5 years old, Turitto signed to play softball at Winona State University. Turitto is a four-year letter winner for the Wolfpack, who earned all-conference honors the past three years.

"Words can't describe how good it felt to sit there with my best friend from day one," Lurken said. "She's been my friend for a long, long time. It was definitely cool to share it with her. It was amazing."

Turitto said sharing the moment with Lurken made it even more exciting.

"It was very fun and kind of emotional," Turitto said. "We've known each other so long. It made it special knowing she was proud of me and I was proud of her and that our parents were proud of both of us."

Lurken, a 5-foot-10-inch guard, has been a varsity starter for the basketball team since her freshman year. Last season she became the fourth girls basketball player in Park history to score 1,000 career points. Currently, Lurken is fourth on the all-time scorer list with 1,209 career points.

"She's worked so hard and this is a dream she's never given up on," Park head coach Stephanie Tolkinen said. "She could've settled and played at a DII or DIII school, but she wanted to play bigger and she believed she could. She went out and put in the time she needed to. She's worked extremely hard these past two summers."

Tolkinen said as soon as Kent State saw Lurken play they really wanted her.

"She's just an example to not just the girls in the community, but all the kids, that if you have a dream and you're willing to work for it, it can come true," Tolkinen said. "I'm just really glad she's representing our program and giving it a good name right now."

Kent State is under the direction of first-year coach Danielle O'Banion.

The Golden Flashes finished 5th in the Mid-American Conference East a year ago with an overall record of 6-21. They are currently 0-1 after a season-opening loss to Massachusetts.

"Larissa's addition to our program immediately strengthens our backcourt," said O'Banion. "She's a proven scoring threat from the perimeter because she can effectively score both inside and outside of the three-point line. Like Krista, Larissa is a tenacious competitor. Flash fans will come to love Larissa's consistent work ethic and energy level."

Fulfilling a dream

Lurken said she was "beyond thrilled to go play at Kent State," where she would like to study pre-med.

"I really liked the players and the coaches. I'm just so excited to go. I can't wait for it," Lurken said. "Ever since I was a kid I've been dreaming of going D-1. I never really thought it'd come true, but this past year it really hit me that I could actually play at that level.

My parents have always supported me and my teammates here at Park have helped me improve each season. It's just so exciting that I get to play in college and that my dreams are finally coming true."

In addition to being named all-conference three times, Lurken's pal Turitto was also named all-state honorable mention as sophomore and was second-team all-state as a junior. Last spring, Turitto led the Wolfpack in home runs and RBIs. She also was named all-conference for the Park girls hockey team and was the leading scorer for the Wolfpack last year.

"Mary is just one of those players that every coach would love to have on their team," Park head coach Bob Loshek said. "She's a hard worker and she knows the game - she's played a lot of ball. She's just a great athlete. She can play any sport."

Hard work paid off

Loshek said when he took over the head coaching job at Park, Turitto was mainly a bunter and didn't start swinging away until her freshman year.

"She really loves softball and she really works hard at it," Loshek said. "As a freshman she hit pretty well for us, but she worked hard on it and it took off from there. Even though Mary worked hard during the season, she really put in the extra time in the summer, fall and winter. Winona State is getting a very good ball player."

Turitto was one of eight players to sign with Winona State and head coach Greg Jones, who said this year's signees represented "the strongest, deepest and most talent rich recruiting class we have brought into Winona State in my time as head coach."

Last spring, Turitto hit .437 with four home runs and 28 RBI as a junior and has been a three-time academic all-conference selection.

"I feel Mary is the best shortstop in the state of Minnesota," Jones said. "Her range, arm and athleticism will help our program to continue its strong tradition of defense."

Winona State went 44-12 overall in 2012 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season.

"They're a winning program and their coaches show a lot of intensity," Turitto said. "I want to play for an intense coach that will make me better. I loved the campus. I just really liked the feel of it when I was down there."

Turitto is the third Park player in recent years to sign with Winona, following the footsteps of Sam Hildebrandt and Jessica Kullmann.

"I just love playing softball. I've always played it. It's something I can succeed at and it's a challenge every day," Turitto said. "I want to take my game to the next level. I'm excited about being able to play at a high level."