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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Karly Bunderson, Box Elder

Related: 2012 Ms. Softball: Bear River's Jordan Theurer kept her poise during title quest

Related: High school softball: 2A all-state teams

Related: High school softball: 3A all-state teams

Related: High school softball: 4A all-state teams

Related: High school softball: 5A all-state teams

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.

Bunderson was the younger of two children adopted by an older couple who couldn't have children of their own. Her father was in his 70s when the Bundersons adopted the children, an older boy and Karly. His wife was 30 years younger and thrilled to be a mom.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Her mother passed away due to a blood clot. That meant Bunderson's father now had two young children to raise on his own. She participated in dance and softball and grew up quickly because she had to.

Hodgson was told Bunderson would be a great addition to her summer team, and she went to watch her play.

"She wouldn't have a ride home, and I never saw a mom or dad there," said Hodgson. The coach began making sure Bunderson made it to important tournaments, and eventually an extremely close relationship developed between the two. So when she was struggling with her grades in eighth grade, Hodgson asked her father if she could be her legal guardian so Hodgson could check her grades and help Bunderson improve her scholastic performance.

He agreed to do so.

"She went from a 2.5 to 4.0 and was voted the outstanding student in ninth grade," Hodgson said. "You could just tell there was something in her. You could tell she needed something."

Already a Mormon, she recommitted herself to her faith, as well as school and softball.

"She realized what she needed to do on her own," said Hodgson. "This was her own to desire to have those connections."

Bunderson has used her experiences to improve her life and the lives of those around her.

"She's the greatest person," said Hodgson. "She never has one bad thing to say about anybody. She's just a really good kid."

She now maintains a 3.7 GPA and had a .538 batting average as she helped the Bees to a 14-1 record in region play.

"She's completely coachable," said Hodgson. "She's the ultimate team player. She's always coming up with scenarios, always thinking about the next level. She's very intelligent."

3A MVP: Kylee Wolf, Spanish Fork, Sr, CF

Kylee Wolf never planned to be one of the state's most dynamic outfielders.

"She spent three years trying to undo what we did to her as a freshman," said Spanish Fork head coach Don Andrews. "We put her in the outfield."

The team needed another reliable bat in the lineup and despite the fact that Wolf had always been an infielder, Andrews and his assistants decided to put her in the outfield so they could take advantage of her offensive power.

"Sure enough, one bounced off her head," he said. "It affected her terribly."

The way Wolf handled terrible, however, turned out to be a beautiful thing for the Dons.

"She worked her butt off," he said. "She's a heck of an athlete, and we could see potential in her."

When asked to switch from shortstop to outfield, Wolf never complained. When she wanted to become a better hitter, she asked Andrews what she could do.

"I told her she needed to learn to hit up the middle," he said. Her question came during dead time, so coaches couldn't work with her on her technique.

"She took a broom stick, put paper on it, drew this goofy looking picture and attached it to the broom stick," said Andrews. "Then she set the target up in the middle of the field. Then she spent all winter beating broom sticks to death."

Andrews said Wolf seems serious, but she is competitive. Whether it's the classroom (where she maintains a 3.9 GPA) or on the field, where she helped the Dons to a second-place finish in the state championship this year, she gives everything her best effort.

"She's very funny," said Andrews. "She was a very good leader this year, and the whole team enjoyed that."

2A MVP: Ali Rosquist, Manti, Sr, 2B

Susan Hatch was nervous about moving senior Ali Rosquist from catcher to second base in her senior season.

"I really would have liked to have her at catcher this year," said Hatch, Manti's head softball coach. "She was so good with (last year's pitcher) and taking control of the field. I was really concerned about it, but her dream was always to play second base. So as a senior we'll give it a try."

Part of the reason Hatch was willing to help Rosquist fulfill her dream of playing second base is that the senior had always put the team first.

"She was always willing to go and play wherever," said Hatch. "She just worked her heart out. She was also really good to help with the younger girls."

Rosquist helped the team with both her bat and her fielding. She had just five errors all season long, and she finished with a .506 batting average. She had an on base percentage of .789 during the state tournament and .604 in the regular season.

Having Rosquist, who is also a soccer player, at second and senior Abby Hatch at shortstop provided the Templars with infield leadership that gave the team an edge.

"They really pushed each other," said coach Hatch. "Their leadership was huge."

She said Rosquist's work ethic provided a standard for the young team that paid dividends at playoff time.

"She wasn't afraid to let the kids know what they needed to do," said Hatch. "She worked constantly in the offseason, watched workout tapes, worked on her batting, and her batting was huge for us."

email: adonaldson@desnews.com