“I will...so I can...”
Every morning for the last three and a half years, Madison High School senior forward Annalise Brunson saw those words on a piece of paper affixed to a bulletin board in her room.
The left side of the paper read ‘I will work hard on juggling, finishing, first touch, trapping, speed, shooting from distance, do early morning sessions with dad, don’t be timid, play my hardest all the time, be aggressive’ and the right side of the paper read ‘So I can play Division I college soccer, make varsity and start as a freshman, have a good spring 2016 season, win the All-Star at BYU camp, do good at SUU/Utah State camps.’
She wrote down those goals in the spring of her eighth grade year, and they were not half hearted. By then, she had been thinking about college soccer for two years. During the drive back to Idaho from a soccer tournament in St. George, Utah, her dad Jeff encouraged her to record her goals and her plans to accomplish them. A few days later, the goal chart was the end result and it went on her bulletin board.
“From a young age, I’ve always been very competitive,” Brunson said. “I like to win. I like to be the best person I can be. I just like to set goals in life. I have something I always try to pursue.”
Those goals gave her plenty to pursue throughout her high school career. She not only accomplished them, but did so resoundingly.
She did make Madison’s girls soccer varsity roster as a freshman and she started every game she played all four seasons. She did join Jeff for early morning workouts, going on runs or to the gym and finding ways to stay fit during the offseason. She did play hard and aggressive, leading to a breakout sophomore season that resulted in 36 goals and 10 assists and multiple defenders on her at all times as a junior. Even with the added defense from eastern Idaho teams to Boise teams, she recorded 48 goals and 22 assists as a junior and 45 goals and 12 assists as a senior. She surpassed 100 career goals one game into her senior season and will leave Madison with a four-year total of 143 goals and 54 assists, leading the Bobcats in both categories for the last three years of her career. And she will play college soccer for a Division I school, committing as a sophomore to Utah Valley and signing her letter of intent last month.
For yet another dominant season, Brunson is the Post Register’s All-Area Girls Soccer Player of the Year for the third consecutive time.
Most coaches in eastern Idaho have faced and prepared for Brunson the last four years. Now that her varsity soccer career is complete, they can put her accomplishments of the last four years into perspective.
“She’s easily been one of the best players in the state of Idaho for the last four years,” Hillcrest coach Danielle Francis said. “She has to know that, to know she has to improve her game each year. There’s not really any other player in this area that’s quite like her and produces the kind of results that she produces.”
While her results were the same this season, coaches pointed out that they noticed some subtle differences in Brunson as a senior, however. Those differences were in how she conducted herself during games and responded to certain situations.
“Her ability to read the field and understand what’s going on, she’s one of those players where she understands where to be at all times,” said Skyline head coach Kip Archibald, whose team holds a 41-game win streak versus District 6 teams not named Madison. “She’ll watch for those opportunities and you’ve just got to be aware of where she’s at and what you’re doing. Her composure this year, you knew she was the leader.”
First-year Idaho Falls coach David Adams said along with that composure, Brunson was relentless this season.
“Even though I think we kinda frustrated her, she didn’t quit,” Adams said. “She didn’t foul. She just kept at it. You don’t see that very often just from a maturity level and an ability level.”
Brunson confirmed those observations, crediting time and experience for helping her learn to stay composed and calm regardless of the opponent, the score or how many defenders were assigned to her. She emphasized, however, that she does get nervous, but before games rather than during them.
“I’m used to not shooting amazing in warm ups,” Brunson said with a laugh. “That’s when I know I’m gonna have a good game. I get all the bad shots out in warm ups. I think (composure’s) definitely something I’ve gotten better at. There’s always going to be opportunities. I just have to be patient.”
Madison head coach Jaymon Birch has seen Brunson’s strengths arguably longer than anyone else outside of her family. He spotted those qualities almost a decade ago when Brunson was already impressing as a soccer player alongside her future Madison teammates and providing a glimpse into the athlete and person she would become.
“I actually got to coach this same group of girls when they were 10 and 11 years old,” Birch said. “Even before that, I remember watching this blonde headed terror when it was coed Madison city rec league. I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow. This kid tears people apart.’ She had uncanny sense of field awareness. She can run for days. She’s just been that driven.”
That drive and fearlessness set the foundation for big dreams and ultimately, the goal chart she created at age 14. Furthermore, that drive fueled the work necessary to accomplish the goals on that chart. No matter the time of year or the weather or if workout plans changed, Brunson said she always found ways to improve her fitness and sharpen her skills.
“I’ve definitely had a lot of times this year where I didn’t have access to a gym,” Brunson said. “I’d go run in the morning with my dad. There were a lot of times we’d play on the deck in our backyard. We’d shovel the snow off.”
Brunson was also surrounded by athletes who shared the same inner fire and motivation. She and the other nine seniors had did not hesitate to share how much they looked forward to their final season with Madison, and it was evident over the summer when they went to a camp at Utah Valley. Birch said the seniors played more aggressive and physical than previous summers at the same camp and expressed enthusiasm at playing quality Utah teams. They didn’t let up when they returned to Idaho, either.
“That group of seniors has gelled and seeing that competitive spirit, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a group of kids top to bottom that liked to compete with other in practice,” Birch said. “They hate losing.”
As part of that group, Brunson contributed to winning four consecutive 5A District 5-6, reaching four consecutive 5A state tournaments, winning the first 5A girls soccer state trophy by a District 6 team (the 2018 consolation trophy) and a record of 60-12-3 through four years. More than a month since playing in a Madison soccer uniform for the last time, Brunson expressed disbelief at how quickly it went by and gratitude for sharing in the Bobcats’ incredible run.
“I keep saying, ‘There’s next season.’ Nope, it’s college,” Brunson said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It was awesome to be able to do this with the other seniors, being able to train hard with my team and see all our hard work pay off. I’m thankful to my parents, my teammates and my coaches. I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.”
Brunson is not taking a break from soccer, though. A multi-sport athlete in previous years, she gave up basketball and track to spend the upcoming winter, spring and summer on an Orem, Utah-based Celtic FC team with Madison teammate Ali Dummar and numerous Utah Valley signees. This is Brunson’s first time on this particular team and it is already giving her new experiences. She traveled by plane for the first time to the team’s first tournament in Arizona the weekend before Thanksgiving, she will get to play in North Carolina this club season after having never traveled farther than Las Vegas before and she is primarily playing outside midfielder, the position she will most likely play for Utah Valley.
She is also preparing for the next step in her career by working on something she has been asked about since signing with Utah Valley: new goal charts now that her first one is complete.
“It’s mostly college soccer stuff,” Brunson said. “Then we’re gonna do one for mental and educational.”
Birch said he is excited to see what she does for Utah Valley, adding that she has left her impression on Madison girls soccer.
“That work ethic, it’s no doubt the younger girls are looking up to her,” Birch said. “Having watched her at the club level in Utah and at state (tournament) games where you’ve got consistent college level players, she still stands out. She may not be a striker in college, but her skill set can put her anywhere on the field. That’s the beauty of Annalise. She just understands the game so well.”