Athens Drive girls soccer goalie Mary Grace Bunch grew up in playing in the net and offers a simple reason why she prefers it over playing the field.
“I have the ability to save the game rather than win it,” said Bunch, a junior that is already committed to the University of Richmond.
Bunch is one of only four returning starters from last year’s senior-dominated lineup that went on a Cinderella run in the playoffs. The Jaguars were the No. 24 seed, but they won four straight playoff matches before losing in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East Regional final.
But Bunch and sophomore Bethel Belayneh, a starter last year playing more of a scoring role this season, said the Jaguars (5-8-2) didn’t enter the season over-confident.
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“We have a lot of young players, but we’re improving,” Bunch said. “We knew with a lot of new players we couldn’t start out the year doing some of the same things we did last year. We knew we had to adapt to do things differently this year. But we have a lot of heart and play hard.”
In a 1-0 win over Fuquay-Varina on April 20 that avenged a loss three weeks earlier to the Bengals, Bunch put into practice her love of saving matches. She preserved the 1-0 victory with a leaping save of a shot she pushed up and over the net.
“That’s why she’s a Division I goalie,” said Athens Drive coach Meryssa Wacholder. “That’s one of the best saves I’ve seen as a coach.”
Wacholder took over coaching the Jaguars after former coach Travis Seese stepped down to accept the job as athletic director.
The win had the Jaguars peppering Wacholder with questions after the team postgame huddle about their chance of making the playoffs. She patiently kept telling the girls the Jaguars are on the bubble, but they have to keep winning.
“We can play with any team, but it depends if we come out with confidence,” Wacholder said. “We have to keep playing hard.”