Tom Smart, Deseret News
Sometimes the path to the top isn't easy.
Often it is fraught with obstacles, detours and setbacks. What makes those who succeed different from those who don't is determination and desire.
This year's Deseret News Most Valuable Players took pain, hardship and disappointment and turned it into fuel for their success. All of them celebrated region titles and they exemplify the very best in high school sports — on and off the field.
5A MVP: McKenna Bull, Weber, Jr, P
The same drive that helped McKenna Bull overcome painful stress fractures in her back, helped the junior ignore the throbbing pain in her arm and hand as she led the Weber Warriors to their first softball state title last month.
"I don't know how many girls could have actually pulled it off," said Weber head coach Melinda Wade of the swelling and pain Bull battled through as she pitched three games in a day to help the Warriors defeat Copper Hills for the 5A title. "She was in so much pain."
After celebrating with her teammates, Bull was matter-of-fact about how difficult it was to throw accurate balls with any velocity with a swollen hand and arm.
It is, her coach said, just what she loves to do.
"I've coached her since seventh grade … and she's always, always, always worked so hard. Some girls you have to push, push, push, but she's just self-motivated. You can lead and she will follow."
Bull has already committed to BYU, and her work ethic has made her one of the most successful pitchers in the state. She finished the year with just two losses (one of those to Copper Hills in an earlier round of state tournament play), 310 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.45.
Wade was extremely concerned when Bull developed "excruciating back pain near the end of last season."
Medical tests revealed she had stress fractures in her back and needed some time away from the sport she loves.
"She was in a back brace and wasn't able to pitch at all," said Wade. She poured her effort into the physical therapy meant to strengthen her back and she changed her delivery just a bit.
The result was even more success and a lot less pain.
As Bull battled pain again in the 5A state finals, her coach grew concerned that she might be jeopardizing her health for the welfare of the team.
"Between every inning, we talked," said Wade. "She said, 'I can do it; I'm going to finish.' I had concerns about her future. I didn't want to jeopardize it by keeping her in there too long. But I knew if there was one kid who could gut it out, it was McKenna."
4A MVP: Karly Bunderson, Box Elder, Soph, SS
Pressure and responsibility are not things Karly Bunderson fears.
Though she's just a sophomore, her skill and leadership helped the Box Elder Bees navigate one of the state's toughest regions without a loss this season.
"She was born an athlete," said Bees head coach Mandy Hodgson. "She runs to first base in 2.6 seconds."
It is easy to see and appreciate her athletic skill, but her coach said the more impressive thing about Bunderson is how she's dealt with the twists and turns of life.
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