By John Davis, Sports Editor
Bethany Bunker is the most unsung player on the Ole Miss Rebels, and maybe in the history of the program.
That is according to head coach Matt Mott, who has been around a lot of very good soccer players during his six years in Oxford.
“It's very high praise,” Bunker said after almost not knowing what to say about Mott's comments. “I appreciate him saying that. But, you know, I wouldn't have success without the team. Each person is a big part and without CeCe (Kizer) or Gretchen (Harknett) or Addie (Forbus), we would not succeed.”
For Bunker, a senior from Memphis, the season has gone “really well” so far. The Rebels are in the first portion of the SEC season, but really halfway through the entire schedule.
“We've had some bumps in the road, but it's helped us. We've learned from those mistakes and bad games to keep pushing hard. It's never going to come easy,” said Bunker, who admitted that her career has gone by quickly. “It is hard to believe that I am senior. It's been a great journey and I'm very thankful for the team and the coaches.”
The way Mott sees it, he feels fortunate to have Bunker on his team because she is so versatile.
“She is extremely dangerous. Other teams game plan for her. She doesn’t necessarily always have the stats, but other teams have to deal with her pace and her ability out wide. She’s a huge weapon for us,” Mott said. “Talking to the LSU coach (Sept. 27), he was saying that they didn’t have an answer for Bethany out wide, and that’s true for most teams. When she gets faced up and is running right at you, she is so fast. For six years, I haven’t seen anybody stay with her. When she gets out in the flanks, she is just dangerous with her speed. She is tenacious. She took an injury early in the season, and now she’s back to full strength, and that’s been helping us. She’s a senior; she’s been playing for a long time for us, and is an important part of our success.”
There isn't a lot of talk from Bunker on the field. She lets her play do say it all.
“I'm not a vocal leader, but, through my actions, I am a leader,” she said. “I'm very good with talking to players individually and helping them out on the field. I'll say 'Instead of making this pass, let's make this pass.' Talking in a big group, that's not really my area of expertise. I am very good with small talk and small groups of people.”
Soccer has always been Bunker's sport of choice. She's been playing it since she was 3. She has played basketball and she ran cross country and track, but none of them could stack up to being on the grass.
“Soccer was always my passion and I always knew that I wanted to play it in college,” said Bunker, who enjoys setting up a teammate more than anything else.
Family is very important to Bunker. Her parents have attended almost every single match during her career, and their goal was to be at every single one this year.
“I'm very fortunate. It's very cool for them to do that,” Bunker said adding that she was the baby of the family.
Speed is a strength for Bunker, and her aggression has increased as she has gotten older. She likes getting the ball in front of her, and then crossing the ball to someone who can make a shot on goal. Kizer, who scored 10 goals in the first 12 games, is a Rebel who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
“It's huge to have her as a part of this team,” Bunker said before talking about the team again. “I think we have momentum. We feel it, we feel like we're going to carry it over and go out and play hard.”
Two seasons ago, the Rebels were gearing up to play in the NCAA Tournament. Bunker was on that club, and she called the group “great.” Bunker said that this year's team has a good chance to be back in the postseason.
“Six points will not get us into the SEC Tournament right now, so we have to keep going and we'll see where it goes,” Bunker said. “We have more people contributing to the success this year. I think we have great leaders this year. We're all around just a solid group.”
When soccer comes to an end, Bunker has plans to get a master's degree in counseling so that she can be a child life specialist. Ideally, Bunker would work in a hospital for children, and St. Jude is the preferred choice since her father works there.
“You teach a child through play. You try to help with their stress because they are always seeing doctors and nurses who give them their shots and prognosis where I would come in and play with them and take their mind off it,” Bunker said about the occupation. “I'm good at communicating in a small setting, and my passion is children.”
Ole Miss was on the road at Missouri last Friday night, the school that Bunker scored her first career goal. The first goal scored is one of the top moments for Bunker. She also liked the dominating win over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament a couple of seasons ago.
“That was a huge win for us to get into the SEC semifinals,” Bunker said. “There are so many games. So far the LSU win has been our biggest moment this year because of the RPI. South Carolina will be a huge game because they're ranked pretty high. And we play them next Sunday.”