The secret was out after the 2017 soccer season: Madison High School forward Annalise Brunson was a player to watch.
Brunson caught the attention of District 6 teams as well as teams from around Idaho upon scoring 36 goals and snagging 10 assists during her sophomore campaign, a season Madison head coach Jaymon Birch chose to put her ‘on an island.’ The result of returning a player this fall who posed such an offensive threat? Multiple defenders surrounding her.
“It was definitely frustrating at times,” Brunson said. “I was no longer able to do some of the same things I’d been able to do in the past. My team was so supportive. We talked a lot more on the field (this season).”
Someone who lent extensive support and time to Brunson was teammate and Madison’s lone senior Sydney Thueson. Brunson said Thueson was ‘super willing to help,’ whether it was answering questions or practicing together.
While Brunson was still the subject of opposing defenders this fall, she racked up 48 goals. Per a search of the Post Register archives dating back to 2000--the first year of soccer as a sanctioned high school sport in Idaho--she joins Lindsay Hayes (45 goals in 2009) and Jennifer Pirente (48 goals in 2001) as Madison girls soccer players to surpass 40 goals in a single season. Equally as impressive, Brunson also totaled 22 assists this season and created a powerful duo with Thueson, who had 14 goals and 19 assists of her own.
After years of being high school and club teammates, Brunson said they had a breakthrough this season.
“We finally made that connection,” Brunson said.
That role of distributor took Brunson to another level as a junior, and it landed her the honor of All-Area Girls Soccer Player of the Year for a second consecutive season. She is the first repeat winner of this honor since Hillcrest’s Mckenna Hamberlin in 2010 and 2011.
“She is probably one of the best high school players I’ve ever seen play,” Hillcrest coach Danielle Francis said. “When she gets the ball, you know something amazing is gonna happen.”
Like Francis, Bonneville coach Amy Feik only faced Brunson once this season due to no longer being in the 5A classification. The Bees fell 4-2 to the Bobcats, a game Feik said Brunson ‘took over’ in the second half.
“No matter where she was, she was a force,” Feik said. “With a player like that you, just have to make sure you have a solid defense to trust each other. We haven’t yet stopped her. She’s just outrageous.”
Madison head coach Jaymon Birch said better distribution was a topic of emphasis for the 2018 Bobcats as early as team camp over the summer. The Bobcats took it to heart, and he noticed a difference in their early season games. With Brunson distributing, it added another element to the Bobcats, particularly in Madison’s late August games at Boise and Timberline. Madison defeated Boise 2-1 and fell 4-2 to Timberline.
“(Timberline) keyed off on Annalise at all times,” Birch said. “They had two people on her at all times. We put one of our defenders up as an attacker and they had to split. I think her play in general improved in a way in incorporating teammates. She was making runs that really helped incorporate everyone’s play.”
Brunson described those games as ‘eye-openers’ on a team and individual level, showing the Bobcats what they needed to work on as well as motivating them to play at a higher level. She also credited those games for preparing 5A District 5-6 champion Madison for the 5A state tournament at the Idaho Falls Soccer Complex, which began with an opening round game against Timberline. The Wolves handed the Bobcats their second loss of the season, 3-2 in two overtimes. Birch said his players went from gutted to determined by that evening.
“They were all tears for a couple hours,” Birch said. “By the end of the night, I got texts saying, ‘We can get a trophy. Let’s get it.’ That bus ride down the next morning, they had their game faces on.”
Another marathon game took place on day two in the consolation bracket versus Borah, but the Bobcats were on the winning end thanks to a 4-3 victory in penalty kicks.
Brunson, who had an assist and made one of the penalty kicks in that game, said there was a feeling of redemption because Borah had defeated the Bobcats a year earlier in the consolation bracket.
“As soon as the Borah girl missed, we all sprinted to Rachel (Hicks) our keeper and we started hugging each other,” Brunson said.
Another victory followed on day three, as Brunson assisted Abbey Anderson on a goal and scored off an assist from Hannah Bolingbroke in Madison’s 2-1 win over Eagle in the consolation final. The win made Madison the first District 6 team to claim a 5A girls soccer state trophy, and Birch lightheartedly recalled that the first thing the Bobcats told him afterwards was, “We’re so glad we’re not having to play another overtime game.”
Brunson laughed at the memory, but expressed gratitude for sharing in the milestone trophy win with her teammates.
“Honestly, I’m so glad it was with this team,” she said. "We’ve spent so many hours together this year working hard.”
Brunson said the biggest differences between the player she is now and who she was a year ago are better communication and physicality—"I can hold my ground better now,” she said—and she believes her added role as a distributor is preparing her for college soccer. She is committed to Utah Valley.
There is plenty more soccer to be played before her college career begins, however. Brunson opted not to play basketball this winter to instead go on early morning runs at the gym with her dad and continue her daily habit of getting in as many touches as she can to prepare for the upcoming club soccer season with Celtic FC. She and Madison teammates Thueson, Bolingbroke, Lizzy Gehmlich, Ali Dummar and Julia Williams are the only Idaho players on the Utah based team coached by Madison boys soccer coach Dan Dummar. Brunson said they will compete in the highest level of club soccer in Utah, a step up from last club season in which they won the varsity division championship of the annual Wasatch Classic in Layton, Utah, and went 2-1 at the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West President’s Cup in Salt Lake City.
Brunson said she wants to continue improving, and she has high hopes for 2019.
“This senior year is the year we’ve talked about since we were little girls,” Brunson said. “I think we’re gonna be working all summer. This is the year we could really do something.”