CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa shortstop Sammey Bunch spent a 15-day stretch from March 31 through April 14 terrorizing Missouri Valley Conference pitching like a creation straight out of a Mary Shelley novel.
A native of Frankenstein — a small unincorporated Missouri community approximately 12 miles east of Jefferson City — Bunch’s dedication towards weight training and willingness to make swing adjustments has led to the most powerful season in the history of UNI’s softball program. She blasted home runs in eight out of 10 games during the first half of April, already passing the school single-season record of 14 with 16 homers.
Nearing the end of her junior season, Bunch sits just two home runs shy of UNI’s career record 30. She entered last weekend’s series against Bradley ranked 12th nationally in home runs.
“There’s still more in there,” UNI head coach Ryan Jacobs said. “That’s the crazy thing with her. I don’t ever see a limit to what that kid can do. She continues to impress and continues to surprise us. The best thing about her is she challenges us every day to find ways to continue to improve.”
Bunch credits her sisters Ashley and Joey — NCAA Division II track and softball athletes 10 and seven years older — for helping to bring out her competitive side.
“I was trying to keep up with them,” Bunch recalls. “They’re a lot older than me, so that created my competitive attitude at an early age. With them playing college athletics, I learned how hard it would be. It’s a job. When I came here (to UNI) I knew what to expect.”
UNI’s softball program discovered Bunch at a camp as a sophomore and secured an early recruiting victory when she committed to join the Panthers prior to her junior year of high school. Bunch went on to set Missouri’s single-season state hits record with 71 her senior year at Fatima High School. She holds the state record for career on-base percentage at .718.
“I could tell when I came on my visits that it was a close-knit program,” Bunch said, addressing her decision to commit to UNI before other schools jumped into the recruiting process. “Being so far away from home, the coaches really acted as parent figures to all the athletes.”
Jacobs recalls Bunch being on a mission her senior season of high school, and continuing to play like an athlete with something to prove throughout her collegiate career. The shortstop was named MVC Freshman of Year before earning first team and defensive team all-MVC honors as a sophomore.
After tallying 12 home runs her first two collegiate seasons combined, a team initiative to become more physical helped Bunch transfer doubles and triples into home runs this spring.
“We played a lot really good teams last year and we didn’t match up from a physicality standpoint,” Jacobs recalls. “The weight room was a big key for everybody this year to continue to get stronger and push ourselves — get out of our comfort zone and hopefully have some more success on the field. It’s really showed up, especially for Sammey.”
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Added Bunch, “We all bought into that really well and changed our culture in the weight room to a very positive culture. I knew that was one place specifically that I could really get better. I just wanted to buy into the process and trust our strength coach.”
Perhaps Bunch’s most impressive attribute is her willingness to make changes to an already successful swing.
“There’s not a lot of kids that do things well who are willing to take advice or try something different,” Jacobs said. “It’s that old motto, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ She’s in the mindset, ‘I’m always trying to get better. I’m always trying to find something that will help me.’
“Sometimes it’s tough because we try to push her to the edge a little bit. But when she gets to the edge, she always finds a new level for herself and something new about herself that she might not have known before. That’s the biggest thing this year, both defensively and at the plate.”
Working to improve her launch angle and adjust to different styles of pitching, Bunch has embraced change.
“I just bought in and I didn’t question whether it would help me or not,” Bunch said. “I just knew it would be very beneficial in the long run.”
Bunch follows in a long line of successful shortstops that Jacobs can list going back to Stephanie Aguero his first season at the school. Mackenzie Daigh finished second in career hits and Caitlin Wnek followed suit as a multi-year starting shortstop who broke Daigh’s doubles record.
Jacobs notes they all had a strong work ethic and never cut corners. While Bunch would like to become a MVC Player of the Year and all-American, she has her sights set on reaching team goals.
“The records are cool and all, but as long as we’re winning and doing things right as a team that’s what I really care about,” Bunch said.
The exercise science major with a coaching minor says she’d like to one day coach at the collegiate level.
“I just love the game so much,” Bunch said. “I know what it’s done for me. I just really want to be a factor for somebody else and bring a positive vibe to the game and help them build on their skills.”