116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — The past half decade of college sports in Iowa has offered incredible, historic performances from a number of athletes.
Moving forward, Northern Iowa softball’s Sammey Bunch has solidified her name among those recent greats.
A fifth-year senior shortstop for UNI, Bunch is sporting a .478 batting average and 1.799 OPS (on-base plus slugging) through 32 games this season with 18 home runs, 40 RBIs and 108 total bases.
Her 18 home runs rank third in the country, while her batting average ranks 15th and total bases are sixth-best.
The 2019 Missouri Valley Conference player of the year has upped her game and is on track to become UNI’s first All-American since pitcher Jamie Fisher, a second-team pick in 2012.
“I’m just having fun and enjoying the little bit of time that I have left,” Bunch said about her approach. “I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself and really (am focused) on helping my teammates get better everyday.”
Bunch’s words might read like a stock answer, but UNI Coach Ryan Jacobs explained this week how the Frankenstein, Mo., native has stepped into a player-coach role with the program down an assistant as a result of pandemic-related budget cuts.
Bunch said among the responsibilities she’s taken upon herself as a team leader this year is reminding her teammates to scout their opponents.
“In the Valley we’re really lucky all of our games are pretty well streamed on ESPN+ and they’re all saved on there for like a year,” Bunch said. “Just reminding everybody that those are out there and it’s a really good piece to the puzzle of being successful on the weekends. You can kind of understand how you’re going to get pitched and little things like that.”
Bunch’s historic 2021 season almost didn’t happen, though.
After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the remainder of the 2020 season, spring college athletes who were seniors didn’t know if they had played their last games or not.
Once the NCAA approved an extra year of eligibility, Bunch knew she was coming back to Cedar Falls.
“I was going to attend grad school at Missouri Western State University, actually. I was going to move closer to home,” Bunch said. “So, for me, it was just a matter of applying to grad school (at UNI). There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that if the NCAA said that we could come back that I was going to come back.”
The Panthers (19-13, 9-3) have ridden Bunch’s hot bat and UMKC transfer Kailyn Packard’s arm to a seven-game winning streak while seeing the rest of a young roster grow this season.
Bunch’s last game — a 10-2 win over Iowa State on Wednesday — was yet another epic performance. The senior went 3-for-3 with four RBIs, a home run and triple to continue padding her All-America resume.
Sitting second in the Valley with five series remaining, Bunch said a conference championship is the goal.
“We haven’t won one since (2017),” Bunch said. “I know one of our early meetings in the fall Coach (Jacobs) brought all of his championship rings that he has from being a coach here at UNI so the younger kids could look at them and be like, ‘oh, that’s really what we want to work towards.’”