Nearly everything about the defending 5A District 5-6 champion Madison High School girls soccer team was new in 2017.
The Bobcats had new coaches, new roles and new starters, including several underclassmen who landed new responsibilities on a team that went from having eight seniors in 2016 to three seniors in 2017.
One of those underclassmen was sophomore Annalise Brunson, one of four returning varsity starters from 2016. Brunson, who had 14 goals and 10 assists last season and tag-teamed with then-senior forward Alli Rigby, was Madison’s lone forward in 2017.
First-year Madison coach Jaymon Birch said it was a ‘natural fit’ for Brunson, whom he and his fellow coaches have followed since she entered Rexburg youth soccer programs. Several of her spring club teammates are now playing with her at Madison, and Birch was aware of how well they worked together.
“As a coaching staff we knew we had a very talented group,” Birch said. “As we went to a camp down at Utah Valley in June, we were able to try out some of the formations there. We kinda shifted our formation to put her on an island.”
The plan worked and then some. Brunson scored 36 goals and recorded 10 assists this season, leading the Bobcats to their second consecutive district tournament top seed, a 12-1-1 regular season record, a repeat district championship, second consecutive 5A state tournament appearance and 14-3-1 record.
For being the standout of a young, new look Madison team, Brunson is the Post Register’s 2017 All-Area Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
Bonneville head coach Amy Feik said she remembered Brunson from last year, but was not sure what to expect from an all-new Madison team this season. The Bobcats won the first meeting with the Bees 3-2 and second meeting 6-2 two weeks later, by which time Feik was aware of Brunson’s scoring tear.
Feik was one of several coaches surveyed for all-area who said 30-plus goals in one season for a 5A or 4A player in District 6 is rare, and she was impressed with Brunson’s speed and footwork.
“My gosh, I’m glad Bonneville is going down to 4A next year,” Feik said with a laugh. “She has so much speed that when you have her man marked, eventually its gonna come down to one versus one. The foot skill that she has, it’s really hard to stop a player like that.”
Brunson’s love of soccer goes back to age 4, when she first tried out for an Idaho Falls youth program. She remembers, humorously, that her first team was called the Banana Peels, and she wanted to see how much she would like soccer.
“I was trying all these different sports and wanted to try it out,” Brunson said.
More than a decade later, the multi-sport athlete with a full calendar has displayed soccer abilities that have prompted local coaches to use several superlatives to describe her. Her field vision and knack for overcoming defenders—often two or three at once—make her a “unique talent,” according to Birch.
“You’ve got touch on the ball that just comes with consistency, no different than being able to dribble with your head up in basketball,” Birch said. “Her field awareness is just natural ability. She puts in the time.”
How much time? Brunson said ever since she was little, she’s tried to regularly get touches on the ball. She made it a goal this summer to get 1,000 touches a day, and she’s kept that up.
“During basketball season, it’s a little harder,” Brunson said. “Then in the spring, I have track.”
Brunson fulfilled another goal this season by verbally committing in October to play for the very program whose camps the Bobcats have attended, Utah Valley. She said she has always wanted to play Division I soccer, and the Wolverines maintained strong interest in her over the last year.
While she has her college future set up, Brunson is finding joy in the journey. She said she and the other underclassmen knew they had to step up this season on a Madison team with just three seniors, and that made their run to a repeat district championship all the more sweet.
“To see it all come together and see it all work out after years of playing together, it was awesome to see it finally happen,” Brunson said.
Those same teammates—the ones she has been playing with since age 12 in Madison United—are who she gives credit to for her goal tally this season. She said she was surprised and happy upon hearing her single season stats, but added that she didn’t do it alone.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do anything like this without my team and our coaches, too,” Brunson said. “I have awesome teammates who set me up.”