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Monday, December 21, 2015

Angel Bunner Steps Into Justin's World

Angel Bunner came into her rookie season in National Pro Fastpitch as an unheralded late-round draft pick out of a then-bottom-tier SEC school. Within just a few years, she established herself as one of the most consistent and successful hurlers in the league.
Auburn University/Melissa Hazeldine

Drafted in 2012 by the Carolina Diamonds, Bunner navigated her way through three ownership changes of the league's tumultous fourth franchise. Despite the many changes over that same time span, Bunner in the circle remained a constant. 

In her rookie season, Bunner posted a 4.01 ERA in eighty-nine innings of work; she followed that up with a sophomore campaign for the NY/NJ Comets that saw her in 102 innings of work with fifty-six strikeouts. Inexplicably, Bunner was released in the Pennsylvania Rebellion's preseason cuts in 2015, depriving a young squad & pitching staff from a successful veteran presence.

A rare bright spot in the timeline of Auburn's early-2010s softball history, Bunner holds four top-ten positions in the Tigers record books, including fifth all-time in ERA with a 2.24 marker. She led her team to the regional                                                                          round all four years of her collegiate career.

After jumpstarting her coaching career with a one-year stint at Auburn following her graduation and the completion of her collegiate playing career, she moved to Northwestern State and now is the full-time pitching coach for Gardner-Webb University.

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing softball? Did you play any other sports as a kid or teen?
Angel Bunner: My brother and sister always played sports, my parents let us do whatever we wanted when we were little and I guess being around the ball field, I just always wanted to play; so they suited me up! I did play soccer and gymnastics when I was a kid, and later on I played basketball; however, the only two sports I truly had a passion for were softball and field hockey. Field hockey being more of a northern sport, there was no chance I would play that longer than high school!

Justin’s World: Tell me how you choose Auburn. What other schools did you consider, what factors led to the decision to become a Tiger?
Angel Bunner: I fell in love with Auburn and what it stood for the day I went on my visit. The girls, the coaches and the environment were exactly what I was looking for in a school.  It was in the south, it had a good family atmosphere and I wanted somewhere I could make an impact. I was looking at a lot of other schools in the SEC, especially Florida, Kentucky, and Arkansas, along with schools outside such as FIU. My goal was a top-25 school that I could make an impact on right away and Auburn just fit into that criteria.

Justin’s World: Coming from Pennsylvania, coming to the south to Auburn must have been a bit of a culture shock. What was the biggest difference between living in the snowy North and the always-hot South?
Angel Bunner: Well, the biggest difference I had to face at first was that in the South, it’s okay to sweat! I would wear like three shirts to workouts and my teammates would always ask me what I was doing. Also the slow-pace lifestyle; it drove me nuts at first, but now you can’t get me to hustle to do anything.

Justin’s World: You’ve gotten to ride the proverbial roller-coaster during your career, playing for one franchise, but three different teams with three different owners. Tell me what that’s like, so many changes going on each offseason, and never knowing if there’s even going to be that franchise to ‘return’ to.
Angel Bunner: Like you said, it’s a roller-coaster; it’s a good thing because you get to have the same teammates but it’s always the question of if this owner is going to be dedicated to what they just bought into.  We have definitely had ups and downs throughout that process but really, you just join in with your teammates and focus on the game. Regardless of where the franchise is or where you go, you’re always just thankful that you get to lace the cleats back up.

Justin’s World: Take me through your release from the Rebellion, what factored into it, and how you are preparing to come back and play in the NPF next season, assuming it is something you want to do?
Angel Bunner: In the most understanding and mature way to say it, just personal differences between the coach and I.  At the end of the day, it was their decision and as much as it hurt to be let go, they felt it was best and you can’t argue with that.  Of course, playing again is something I want to do: I’ve been playing this sport my whole life.  Right now, I am just focused on getting in tip top shape, throwing, training, building myself to get stronger and waiting for a call.  All I do know is that, if I do get the chance to play again, I will be prepared.

Justin’s World: Who was your favorite player or player that you looked up to growing-up?
Angel Bunner: Jennie Finch of course. I was a pitcher and she was a pitcher. I always wanted to be just like her; she had a heart for the game, and she was so personable.  It’s always nice when you’re young to see that and have someone to look up to.

Justin’s World: During your time in the NPF, you’ve played with several of your former collegiate rivals (Amanda Locke & Jaz Lunceford from Alabama, for example)… what’s that like, to go from being archrivals to teammates that have to be a cohesive unit?
Angel Bunner: We had some fun with it, but it never caused any issues between us. Of course, it is different playing on the same sideline, but hey, better on the same team than playing against them!

Justin’s World: Give me your thoughts on the NPF’s expansion and what it means for the league’s future.
Angel Bunner: I think that they are doing a lot to help it grow. I also think that it’s going to take a lot to grow.  I think that by gaining teams, it’s helping athletes. It shows us there is hope.  Trying to keep a full time job while keeping our dream alive is difficult.

Justin’s World: When you first heard that Clint Myers was coming to Auburn, tell me what your thoughts were, and what your thoughts are now, after he’s had two years at the helm of the program and already a WCWS appearance under his belt.
Angel Bunner: I was beyond excited for my girls. I knew that he would make an impact on the program.  I always loved Tina [Deese, former Auburn head coach], don’t get me wrong, but I just think that the change was good for the girls, and it’s always different with a male head coach, especially one that is successful.

Justin’s World: Let’s talk about the future for a bit… you’ve begun your full-time coaching career; is that a profession you’d like to pursue long-time? What are your plans for continuing your playing career?
Angel Bunner: As for my coaching career, I love it. More so I love the game and anything to do with it; however, if I’m going to continue in the coaching field, I am looking to further move myself to a bigger program. I also have a thousand other things that I bounce around in my head all the time; I consider cosmetology, teaching, the army… really, I am just in it for wherever life takes me. With that being said, as long as I am capable of playing and continuing my career on the field, I am all for it!

Justin’s World: Let’s end with a fun one! Say you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time, but you could take three things with you. No boats, no phones. What would you take?
Angel Bunner: The first thing I could even think about would be my dog, Nala.  She’s my best friend and I take her everywhere I can and if I was going to be stuck on an island, she would have to be by my side.  A water filter, so I could drink clean water, and lastly, a lighter! 

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