Even as prepared as she thought she was for the varsity game, Byron Nelson’s Ansley Bunger still felt the emotional rush of the Class 5A girls state soccer tournament in April.
“My legs were shaking and my heart was beating pretty fast,” Bunger said. “Then it was pretty frustrating when I had a shot on goal after the goalie came out of the box. I shot it and it hit a defender. I was so mad.”
Ultimately, Nelson’s great 2014 season ended in the semifinals, a 1-0 loss (on penalty kicks) to eventual state champion Austin Vandergrift. While the disappointment was understandable, Bunger completed a pretty steady freshman season.
Playing at left midfield, Bunger delivered consistency and productivity. She finished second on her team in goals scored (10) as the Lady Bobcats finished 21-3-5, shared the district championship and returned to the Class 4A state tournament for the second time in three years.
Now, Bunger’s role is likely going to expand. With leading goal scorer Madison Hall graduated, the Lady Bobcats could see Bunger splitting time between midfield and the front line. That has yet to be determined by head coach Philip Salyer.
But it’s safe to believe that Salyer has plans for her. He started those when he was talking to her in eighth grade and preparing her to play at the varsity level. Bunger has also committed to play in college with Arkansas.
“Ansley was a great addition to our team this past season,” Salyer said. “She improved and gained confidence as the season went on, which helped us make a great run to the state tournament. We expect her to continue to have a huge impact next year offensively as we move up to 6A. Ansley is extremely athletic and competitive. She has a great career ahead of her.”
Bunger’s select season ended last month at the regional tournament in Seattle. Still, it must have felt like a continuation from high school. Both Nelson and her squad play the same alignment of 4-5-1 in which the midfielders are pressed to make an impact on both offense and defense.
Like any talented freshman, there is no doubt that Bunger possessed the ability to play the varsity game. Experience just needed a helping hand. The two games against rival Denton Guyer ended in ties. The expected rematch in the Region I finals didn’t happen when Arlington Heights upset Guyer in the regional quarterfinals.
The regional final against Arlington Heights offered enough as Bunger played an important role in the first (it turned out to be the game-winner) goal of a 2-0 feed. A technically perfect feed to Alexis Smith was all it took.
“That’s probably the most memorable, because it meant we were going to state,” Bunger said. “This program already has great tradition to it so you want to keep it going.”
The move to 6A will be a challenge. The last two state champions from then-5A have come from Region I in Lewisville Hebron and Plano West. Add Southlake Carroll along with Flower Mound, Flower Mound Marcus and you get the idea of how getting through to the 2015 state tournament will be a chore. Nelson shares District 5-6A with Denton Guyer, Denton Ryan, Justin Northwest and the Keller schools.
“It’s definitely going to be hard with those teams, and losing Madison is going to be a challenge,” Bunger said. “But Coach Salyer started getting us ready last year. He was really serious. We’re going to have to be focused to do it.”