116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A year after losing 80 percent of its season, Mount Mercy is poised to host the Heart of America Athletic Conference softball tournament.
The Mustangs (29-13), coached for the last decade-and-a-half by Iowa City native Larry Yoder, are the No. 4 seed and will face sixth-seeded Benedictine (Kan.) (34-20) at 9:30 a.m. Thursday to kick off the double-elimination tournament.
Top-seeded Grand View will follow at noon against William Penn, with Culver-Stockton (Mo.) facing Central Methodist (Mo.) at 2:30 and Evangel (Mo.) versus Baker (Mich.) starting at 5.
Mount Mercy is loaded with eight seniors, six of whom are full-time starters, including Payton Bruner who used her bonus year to finish her degree in criminal justice.
“Every one of them has a job lined up and they are ready to enter the real world,” Yoder said of his veteran squad. “It was perfect for Payton because she needed an extra semester to complete her degree, but they’re not going to turn away a $55,000-a-year job to come back and take more classes.”
A Cedar Rapids Washington grad who played volleyball, basketball and softball for the Warriors, Bruner had a tough time choosing sports when Mount Mercy offered a chance to extend her career five years ago.
“I really loved volleyball, that’s what I wanted to do,” Bruner said. “My mom wanted me to play basketball, but then I fell in love with softball and I finally decided that was my favorite sport and what I wanted to go on and do in college.”
Bruner did miss her first fall of practices with the Mustangs, playing basketball her freshman year.
“After that she’s been lights out,” Yoder said. “She’s won the Golden Glove in the Heart (of America Athletic conference), and I feel confident she’ll win it again this year. She’ll be first-team all-conference and there is a chance she’ll be named Player of the Year later this week.”
Although she mainly pitched for Washington, Bruner has been the starting shortstop for the Mustangs since missing those first games of 2017.
She’s now the all-time leader for Mount Mercy in games played (207), games started (204), at-bats (665), hits (240), runs (177) and total bases (377). The fifth-year senior also ranks in the top 10 for the Mustangs in career stolen bases, stolen base-percentage, walks, home runs and RBIs while also wearing the crown for most of those categories for an individual season.
“It’s a lot of validation for the hard work,” Bruner said. “Practicing twice a day and working out during the offseason. It means a lot to be mentioned with the top players, because I have worked hard for it.”
That being said, Bruner is a quiet leader who lets her play speak for itself.
“It’s kind of how I am, if I’m going to do something I go all out and see how far I can go with it,” Bruner said. “I also like to lead by example, because I’m not really the most vocal leader on the team.”
Now the team is one conference tournament championship away from making the 40th annual NAIA Softball World Series, set for later this month in Columbus, Ga.
“It’s more mental for us,” Bruner said. “We can hit and field and we know that, we just need to come together as a team and know that we’re good enough to win. If we do that we are unstoppable and can go as far as we want to.”