STANARDSVILLE – When Samantha Brunelle suffered a broken bone in her foot in December, she questioned whether her high school career was over.
Thanks to the William Monroe girls basketball team’s deep postseason run, it wasn’t.
The senior returned to the court two months later and capped off her best performance of the season in a loss to Hopewell in the VHSL Class 3 state semifinals.
Brunelle poured in 25 points and pulled down a season-high 24 rebounds to become the program’s all-time leader in that category in her final high school game to secure Schewels Athlete of the Week honors.
“I went into [my final game] wanting to go to the [state] final,” Brunelle said. “I made it my mission to leave it all out on the court. Even though we lost, I feel like I poured my heart on the court the whole 32 minutes and I didn’t hold myself back.”
The senior had foot surgery on Jan. 9 and missed around seven weeks of action before returning to the lineup in the Region 3B championship game against Brentsville, leading the Greene Dragons to their first regional title since 1987. She played again in the Class 3 state quarterfinals against Park View (South Hill).
Despite her return to the floor, Brunelle admits she wasn’t 100 percent.
“When I first came back, I wasn’t able to move the way I wanted to and my ankle was still very unstable, so at times I was hesitant to do things I would normally do healthy,” Brunelle said. “But each week, I got better and progressed and I was able to get it a little stronger each week we moved forward. There was definitely soreness after games and practices because I went from 0-100 just like that after being cleared. But I fought through that as best I could and tried to be the best player and teammate I could be the final games I was available for.”
Nowhere was that more evident that the state semifinal against the Blue Devils. Despite facing double and triple teams, Brunelle managed to produce at a high level and raised her team up.
“I had a different feeling during that game,” Brunelle said. “I never once felt pressured. I played free. I stayed positive, even in the moments of frustration where it would be easy to give in. I put the team before me and reminded them we can do this and that we all had to believe it. Even though we didn’t come out champions, we still won something much bigger and that is our love for each other.”
Love and basketball have become synonymous for Brunelle. Her mother, Katie Brunelle, played collegiately at Bridgewater College and went on to coach high school ball at Orange County High School.
“I started playing basketball when I was three,” Brunelle said. “I grew up in the gym ever since I was born.”
Despite her infatuation for the hardwood, Brunelle dabbled in several activities. She played first base on her softball team and was a middle and outside hitter as a volleyball player and a goalkeeper on her soccer team. She also participated in swimming, golf and even ballet.
“I was a three-sport athlete until the eighth grade when I chose to focus on basketball solely,” Brunelle said. “I had always loved basketball and I thoroughly enjoyed playing the other sports as well, but I asked myself which one I truly loved and that was basketball.”
The cross training from other sports paid dividends on the hardwood for Brunelle, who emerged as one of the premier high school basketball players in the country. She established a Virginia High School League record for most points by a freshman (650) and was named 2017-18 Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year.
She was recently selected to participate in the McDonald’s All-American Game later this month in Atlanta. In addition, last weekend, Brunelle was one of 24 players selected to participate in the Jordan Brand Classic in Las Vegas in April. She’s aso represented Team USA on the international stage and won several gold medals.
“It really is a blessing to be able to be considered for these games and I hope to make everyone at home proud,” Brunelle said. “I will be 100 percent by the time these games happen and will be ready to play with a few of my USA teammates, friends and future teammate Anaya Peoples in the games. It’s very special that I am able to represent my community at these events. I hope I can be a great ambassador for my community while at the games and have a blast.”
Having fun for Brunelle extends well beyond the basketball court. She enjoys teaming with Trenton Fisher to broadcast athletic games at William Monroe. She plans to major in film, television and theatre at Notre Dame with the goal of a possible career in sports broadcasting.
The William Monroe senior enjoys photo and video editing and has put together some college decision edits for some people to post on social media and has also made game highlight tapes for them. She also enjoys giving back to her community and visits several after school programs in Greene County to spend time with young kids.
Another of Brunelle’s interests is music. Her playlist of music is eclectic, ranging from Jason Aldean and Maroon 5 to Drake and D.J. Khalid.
Brunelle admits her biggest obsession is with a certain condiment.
“I do have a huge addiction to ketchup,” she said. “I put it on pretty much anything, whether it’s barbecue chicken or mashed potatoes and pretty much every meet there is must have ketchup with it.”
On the court, Brunelle patterns her game after Washington Mystics superstar Elena Delle Donne.
“She has incredible size, can handle the ball, post up, drive to the basket and especially hit three’s,” Brunelle said.
Brunelle said she tried to emulate Delle Donne’s versatility this season prior to her injury.
“I was trying to focus on being a better rebounder and defensive player,” she said. “In the past, my defense had struggled, but as I have gotten older and moving on to the next level, it’s been key for me to improve my lateral movement and quickness to guard beyond the arc.”
The senior prides herself on being a versatile and unselfish player.
“The most underrated part of my game I think is my passing,” Brunelle said. “Most people look at me and think I’m just a scorer, but I enjoy getting an assist just as much as scoring. Passing the ball is one of the most key things in the game.”
She averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds in 13 games this season to garner Region 4B Player of the Year honors. The accolades are especially rewarding for Brunelle considering everything she went through with the injury. She said dealing with the adversity has made her a better player and teammate.
“Obviously my senior year took me down a path I didn’t see coming at all,” she said. “It was rough at first because there was a potential of my high school career being over and that saddened me a lot. Most people would look at the situation and just accept the fact it was over, but that’s not me. I told myself I was going to do everything in my power to get myself back.”
She credits William Monroe trainer Andy Kelly for helping her rehabilitate the injury and give her a chance to play basketball again. Brunelle also was thankful for the support she received from her family, teammates, coaches and teammates, that were by her side throughout the entire process.
“Throughout that two-month process, I experienced much growth,” Brunelle said “Although this was an experience that pushed me back on the court, it was an experience that pushed me forward as a person and a leader.”
Brunelle finished her career with 2,229 points and 1,272 rebounds, both program records. According the Virginia High School League record book, she ranks 16th on the all-time list in scoring and sixth in rebounds.
“It’s cool to be able to leave the school with great accomplishments and milestones, but I know at the end of the day, they are records and records are meant to be broken,” Brunelle said. “I hope one day someone will come through Monroe and break mine. I hope they can keep a strong program to develop players to not only be good players, but even better people. If I learned one thing throughout my journey here it’s that life isn’t about the fancy things. It’s about the little things.”
And for Brunelle, her experience at Monroe was much more than just basketball.
“Leaving William Monroe, I’ll take many memories with me, many accomplishments and many friendships and lessons,” Brunelle said. “I think what I will miss most is the people. Greene has been my home forever. The people I’ve met and known forever I will truly miss so much.”