STANARDSVILLE — The William Monroe girls basketball team has won all but two games this winter and is poised for a long playoff run.
That journey got a little tougher Wednesday when the Greene Dragons learned they could be without the best player in the program’s history for the rest of the season.
Sam Brunelle, the school’s all-time leading scorer, will have surgery to remove a bone on her fifth metatarsal in her fractured left foot. Brunelle suffered the injury Dec. 28 during a second-round game in the Daily Progress Holiday Hoops Classic against Brooke Point.
“This was not an easy [decision] but I had to look at the bigger [picture] in this case,” Brunelle said. “No time is ever a good time, but now is better than waiting down the road in my college career.”
The Notre Dame signee said she hopes to have the surgery next week. Brunelle said doctors told her recovery time would take approximately six to eight weeks, depending on the healing process.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be missing the season completely,” Brunelle said. “I’m going to do my best to be back around the playoffs, if I can.”
She said the injury will have no impact on her recent college commitment.
“I will be recovered from this way before I leave this summer for school,” Brunelle said. “This is just a minor problem that is better to be fixed now rather than down the road. Everyone has been very supportive of this decision, family, friends, coaches and teammates.”
Brunelle addressed the team Wednesday and told them the news.
“They are all supportive about everything,” Brunelle said. “Though this isn’t something I’d planned for, I’m excited for the team to grow and improve while I’ll be out.”
William Monroe coach Jess Stafford said the team and Brunelle had braced themselves for the news, but it was still a bit emotional to hear it become a reality.
“We’ve had some time to process this,” Stafford said. “We knew immediately when she got hurt that this one was going to be different from the rest. We’ve had time to cry and accept this in our own way, knowing this could be a possibility. She has a strong role model in her mother [Katie] for learning how to handle situations with strength and poise. Samantha has handled this very well.”
Stafford said the team has already begun preparations to help and support Brunelle after the surgery and during the recovery process.
“We say this all the time, but it’s true — this team is family,” Stafford said. “Instead of sending flowers, we are the roses. We show up for each other. I have no doubt there will be a crowded waiting room that day.”
This has been another standout season for Brunelle. She’s averaged 26.2 points and 9.8 rebounds a game in the nine games she played for the Greene Dragons.
Brunelle, the school’s all-time leading scorer, ranks 14th on the all-time scoring list in Virginia history with 2,236 points. Her 1,227 career rebounds are in the top 15 on the all-time list and second in school history behind Shawnette Brock (1,258).
But Stafford said Brunelle’s effect on the school extends beyond the hardwood.
“I told Samantha a multitude of times that basketball doesn’t define her,” she said. “This injury doesn’t define her. None of this is who she is as a person. She has so many wonderful gifts to share with this world, basketball is just her platform to shine. She has brought this community together, been an amazing role model for young people and served others every chance she’s gotten.”
As for the team, Stafford said the team is more motivated than ever to keep this run going. The Greene Dragons entered this week with a 9-2 record and have not lost to a team from Virginia. Hailey Morris, Bryonna Woofter, Martha Apple, Iyonna Carey, Jenna Velasquez have played at a high level in Brunelle’s absence and are improving every game and controlling the controllables.
“We have proven that we can handle adversity, we just have to continue to grow from this,” Stafford said. “All of this pressure we are used to playing under is gone. There are no expectations. We just have to focus on getting a little better every day, growing as people and as a family and leaving our whole hearts out on the court for each other every night that we get the opportunity to put on that uniform together. The rest will play out the way it plays out. We control what we can control. They know that I believe in them and more importantly, they believe in themselves.”
Stafford said Brunelle has helped re-establish the girls basketball program at William Monroe and makes the players and coaches better versions of themselves. The memories are endless.
Brunelle scored 33 points in her first varsity game, matching her uniform number was a sign of greatness early on, Stafford said. She recalled the gigantic hug at half-court after Brunelle scored her 1,000th point on her home court. Last winter, she remembers crying with her as she walked off the court after Brunelle scored her 2,000th career point in a state playoff loss.
Stafford said it’s the moments with Brunelle away from basketball that resonate the most
“I will remember all of the simple moments in between,” she said. “The long car rides to scout games or recruiting trips. The goofy jokes she plays on everyone around her, the ridiculous music she insists on listening to, her affinity for ketchup, the heart-to-heart talks about life during 6:30 a.m. weight-lifting sessions and teaching her in my broadcasting class and watching her discover another passion beyond basketball. The little moments are way we coach. To mentor to kids and develop relationships beyond basketball.
“I’m so thankful that we still have plenty of those moments left and many more adventures to take before she sets off for South Bend. This setback will only make us appreciate those little moments even more.”
Brunelle couldn’t agree more.
“Playing with an amazing program and being around and playing in front of the greatest community there is will always be special,” Brunelle said “The people have made my career here an amazing one and I hope I’m able to step back on the court towards the end of the season and do it a few more times.”