by Korey Hope
After originally planning to attend the University of Washington, it’s safe to say many Whitworth students, athletes and coaches are thankful Jamie Brunner eventually decided to be a Pirate. Along with making NWC all-conference teams the past two years, including First Team All-NWC in 2012, the senior also manages the role of fearless and positive leader for the Whitworth women’s softball team.
Having played softball since she was 6 years old, Brunner has seen many different sides of the game that most fans cannot relate to. Playing one sport for 15 years is long enough to meet a many people and build countless relationships that will last a lifetime, she said.
“Often times, your team is an extension of your family,” Brunner said. “It’s been no different in my life.”
Even discounting the relationships that are created through the sport, there have been opportunities to travel and see new places, she added.
Brunner played softball as well as volleyball at Chelan High School in Chelan, Wash., earning first team all-conference honors in both sports her senior year. When it came time to decide on further schooling, Brunner was originally leaning toward studying to become a doctor at the University of Washington.
Then she visited Whitworth.
“People say when they come here, they feel like this is where they need to be,” Brunner said. “It was no different for me. As soon as I was on this campus, I was welcomed with open arms.”
Along with a highly regarded education and the relatively small community and class sizes, Brunner had no questions about her immediate future. She began playing softball for Whitworth when she was a freshman, but softball-related issues began tainting her experience with the game and affecting her personal life, Brunner said. She made up her mind to quit softball after her sophomore year.
Then, current head coach Cristal Brown took over the Whitworth softball program. Brunner saw this as a fresh start and a new opportunity to love the game again.
“She ended up wanting to play and asked for a chance to prove herself,” Brown said. “She came out and worked hard and earned her spot.”
Despite being an all-conference player the year prior to Coach Brown’s era for the Bucs, Brunner said she knew she still had to regain her rhythm and focus in the game.
And that is exactly what she did. In her junior year, Brunner became a First-Team All-NWC pick while leading the squad with 41 hits, 21 runs batted in, three home runs and a .373 batting average.
Junior teammate Julia Johnson agreed that Brunner’s numbers were remarkable but also explained a side of the first-baseman that the numbers could not.
“She is the best team player you could ever ask for,” Johnson said. “She’s always looking to improve and help others improve. She leads by example and is just always a positive person.”
Those who know Brunner off the field had similar comments. The entire Northwest Conference is aware of her passion on the softball diamond, but what is she like away from the sport?
“She wants excellence on the softball field but is also a very good student,” Brown said. “She has the drive to be excellent in all areas of her life. She is just a joy and a pleasure to be around; you can’t help but feel happy when Jamie is around.”
The Pirates finished preseason games on Feb. 2, and Brunner already leads the team in hits and RBI’s. She also has yet to commit an error heading into the regular season Feb. 23-24 in McMinnville, Ore., against 5th-ranked Linfield.
Replacing Brunner will be impossible, Brown said. But the head coach hopes Brunner will leave a legacy behind her to be looked upon by future Pirate softball athletes.
And when it’s all said and done, Brunner is well aware of the game’s effect on the rest of her life.
“It’s more than the memories. It’s the sense of humility because this team, program, conference and sport are all so much bigger than myself. I’m a confident person, but it’s bigger than that,” Brunner said. “It always is.”
Contact Korey Hope at firstname.lastname@example.org