Overcoming sickness and injury exemplifies Sophie Brunner's leadership

An ankle sprain, sore back and stomach illness have challenged the Sun Devils' leading scorer.

Imagine a scenario in which you've been up all night, sick to your stomach, and you wake up the next day achy and nauseous — unable to eat anything.

Terrible, right? Most people would stay in bed all day, watch Netflix and drink water — but not Sophie Brunner.

Brunner played a college basketball game.

In a testament to her resolve and willingness to sacrifice her personal health for the well-being of the team, the junior forward for ASU women's basketball decided to play against Utah on Jan. 15 despite her illness.

According to ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne, Brunner played on an empty stomach, with the help of IV bags and anti-nausea medicine.

Brunner averages 10.7 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game and shoots 51 percent in 27.3 minutes per game.

"She's just tough," Turner Thorne said. "If Sophie can stand and breathe, she's going. We would always pull her from the game before she pulled herself."

This isn't even Brunner's first bout with adversity this season. A severe ankle sprain against No. 2 South Carolina kept her out of six games, and the Sun Devils are undefeated since her return.

Brunner said she thought the injury might spell the end of her season.

"When the injury first happened it just didn't feel right," Brunner said. "I got lucky with the best case scenario that I was only out for six games and not the whole season."

Despite the illness and injury issues that have plagued Brunner since the season began, she's still leading the team in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.

Brunner's statistical impact didn't waver when she was sick, either. Against Colorado, she was 4-of-4 from the field with eight points and six rebounds. Brunner also didn't allow her opponent to score in the 20 minutes that she played.


 

While Brunner recovered from her sickness in time for the Utah game, Turner Thorne said that she experienced another injury right before the game started.

"An hour before the (Utah) game, (Brunner's) back gave out on her," Turner Thorne said. "I didn't talk about that postgame, but she could barely stand."

Brunner received treatment before the game started and was ready to go by tipoff. 

The versatility and consistency that Brunner displays on both sides of the ball is a major factor for the No. 8 ranked Sun Devils, winners of 12 straight including a 6-0 mark in the Pac-12.

Toughness is oftentimes a trait that is contagious in sports, and Brunner's teammates are constantly talking about how they appreciate having her on the court.

Junior center Quinn Dornstauder, who often shares the front court with Brunner, echoed Turner Thorne's sentiments about Brunner's resilience.

"If Sophie's not in perfect condition, you wouldn't even know it," Dornstauder said. "The effort that she consistently puts in is always 100 percent."

Oddly enough, there was a positive for the Sun Devils that came out of Brunner's injury. Turner Thorne and her starters alike pointed to the opportunities that bench players received in Brunner's absence. Without their leading scorer (and sometimes without junior forward Kelsey Moos), freshmen and other reserves were thrust into the spotlight and played well.

From the dynamite offensive play of guard Sabrina Haines to the visible development of center Charnea Johnson-Chapman, Brunner's injury provided an opportunity for younger players that could prove valuable in the postseason or if another starter is injured.

Even when she's sitting on the sidelines or playing below 100 percent, Brunner finds a way to be one of the most important contributors on this team – one that could go down as the best that Turner Thorne has ever coached. At No. 8 overall, it's already tied ASU women's basketball's highest ranking.

"I think Sophie has a great commitment to this team," Turner Thorne said. "She's the heartbeat of this group."

Related Links:

Sophie Brunner developing into triple threat for ASU women's basketball

ASU women's basketball's Sophie Brunner named to U.S. Pan American team


Reach the reporter at rclarke6@asu.edu or follow @RClarkeASU on Twitter.

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