Pac-12 Feature: ASU's Brunner is making the most of her senior season

Sophie Brunner hasn’t been asked to seize the day by her coach Charli Turner Thorne so much as she’s been asked to seize the first half.

“Basically, I asked her not to wait until the second half to do what she does best,” Turner Thorne said. “Last year, she deferred to other people. This year, she’s worked harder to want the ball.”

Brunner, the Sun Devils senior forward, has been stabilizing force in a season with a “lot of new”. The Sun Devils have started three freshmen in their backcourt most of the season with a total of five freshman on the roster.

“Focus and energy,” Brunner said. “Those are the things I’ve worked on. Making sure that I am bringing both of those things to practice and to games every day.”

The Sun Devils are 13-4 and 4-2 in Pac-12 play heading into an important road weekend against Cal and Stanford. Brunner will be the key to ASU’s success. She is the Sun Devils leading scorer (12.5 ppg) and rebounder (7.7 rpg), not to mention the school’s active leader in rebounds who is climbing the school record charts.

ASU is entering the weekend facing both Bay Area schools. The last time the Sun Devils and Cal met, Brunner came up with a season-high 21 points and 12 rebounds. On Sunday, at Stanford, Brunner will be returning to the scene of one of her biggest moments as a college athlete. Last season, she hit a game-winning shot in overtime to lead the Sun Devils to a win over the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion.

Brunner’s floor leadership has become even more critical as fellow senior, guard Kelsey Moos, sits out with a foot injury. Moos is likely to return in the next few weeks in time for a postseason push. Brunner has called Moose the “heart of the team.”

“It’s been different, not having her out there, but by the end of February or March, we want to be playing our best basketball,” Brunner said. She added that the Sun Devils are “frustrated” by last weekend’s loss to Washington, but feel like “mentally, we are in a good place.”

And, as a senior, she sees her final season flying with a burning desire to make the most of it. “It’s crazy how fast it’s going,” Brunner said. “And it’s different because you know it’s the last one. I definitely feel more responsibility.”

“We need Sophie being all that she can be for 40 minutes a game,” Turner Thorne said. “She’s done an amazing job this year with our young players. From day one, if somebody needed a ride, she would do it. She has cooked for people, she’s helped them with whatever they need and she’s building a lot of trust. That’s been important because 50 percent of our team is new this year.”

Turner Thorne said that Brunner, the Freepoint, Illinois native who graduated from high school in a class of 27 before making her way to the nation’s largest public university, has always been a player to sit back and let others have their say.

“But now she’s the one in the huddle getting the team fired up and it’s fun to watch,” Turner Thorne said. “We have so much growth ahead of us as a program, we have so much talent. But we’ve been figuring it out. And Sophie is doing everything she can for us.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.

 

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