By Andrew Stark
There are certain positions in sports which demand that, in order to overcome their rigorous demands, one must stay level-headed, never getting too high or low regardless of what’s going on around them.
And that enduring asset is just one of the qualities that made Butler senior Jessica Bunce one of the state’s most talented goalkeepers this past season.
Over the summer Bunce reveled in the spotlight of being the last line of defense on an experienced team, leading her Charlotte United football squad to an undefeated club season while not allowing a single goal in the process.
It was a remarkable feat considering the competition she was facing.
But Bunce knew her senior season at Butler would be different and, from the beginning, she said she was ready to take on all obstacles thrown her way.
Bunce started by helping mold a team that started five freshmen and replaced both of its starting fullbacks from a season ago.
“Since preseason workouts when we started weightlifting –which was very new to a lot of (the younger players) – she took that (leadership role) on right away,” said Butler coach Mary Ferreri.
“You could see the freshmen look up to her right away. I know in talking to them that they’ll never forget her and what she taught them.”
And Bunce proved to be a worthy role model as she led the Bulldogs to five shutout wins and a 9-1 record in games in which she allowed one goal or fewer.
Bunce helped guide the Bulldogs to the Class 4A state playoffs despite their relative inexperience. With her play in front of the net, the Lees-McRae University signee was named to the Southwestern 4A all-conference team, was an N.C. Soccer Coaches’ All-Region 9 pick and is the 2013 Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s Matthews-Mint Hill Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
And, although the Bulldogs finished with a losing overall record despite Bunce’s heroics, they showed steady improvement, which is something Bunce said she’s proud of.
“I think we did great,” Bunce said. “Everyone expected less from us because we had a young team, but I think we shocked a lot of people.”
It also was commonplace to see opposing players and coaches, and even the referees, stop to commend Bunce on her steady and spirited play.
“They’d say, ‘Your goalie played one heck of a game,’ or ‘Things would have been different with someone else in goal for you guys,’” said Ferreri. “And I agree. She was phenomenal.”
Bunce said that was all the adulation she needed.
“After some games we lost we’d go through the line to shake hands,” Bunce said. “And it was rewarding to have some of the coaches come up and say ‘Hey, great game.’
“That’s just reassuring to me that everything that I’m doing is working and showing up. To be recognized in that way is awesome.”