For the Vandalia High School girls basketball team, the 2009-10 season was a rebuilding year. After losing eight seniors and most of the team members who logged significant minutes, the Lady Vandals were depleted, to say the least. First-year head coach Michelle McNary had to rebuild a program basically from the ground up.
During last summer's various shootouts, McNary was able to get a look at what the team would most likely look like come November. McNary would have to use every player available to her, regardless of their year, height or experience. It didn’t take McNary long to realize that freshman Amber Bruno had all the talent and skill to start for the Lady Vandals and run the point. For the Vandalia girls basketball team this year, green was good.
Standing at about 5-feet 5-inches with a slender build, Bruno’s appearance is deceiving. She’s not too tall and looks like she can be muscled around by bigger girls her age, that is, if they can catch her. Bruno is quick and uses her speed to her advantage on the basketball court cutting into the lane and driving to the basket. Not only is she a slasher, but she can pull up and shoot from the perimeter, making her a hard player to defend. A good number of teams saw just how hard it is to defend her this season.
On defense, Bruno said she likes to steal the ball, and with her speed and quickness, that steal can turn into two points in matter of seconds.
Even with all of her talent, Bruno was still nervous throughout the year. She dealt with butterflies during her first few games, but they went away. They came back as Bruno had new experiences throughout the season, like going to the Mattoon Holiday Tournament and the regional game.
"I was really nervous in the first game, because I knew I was going to be starting, and I was surprised I did that good," Bruno said. "I thought varsity would be really, really hard, and once I got used to playing with the girls, it was fun. We made it a fun season, even though we didn't do well."
Bruno was the Lady Vandals' leading scorer this season at 13 points a game. Her season total was 352 points, which puts her on pace to join the 1,000-point club during her junior year, an exclusive club that includes only nine former Lady Vandals. At the current pace of about 350 points a season, Bruno would finish in the top-three all-time. But that’s a long way down the road for this freshman.
Even with all of the personal highs for Bruno, there were still some lows, both personally and as a team.
After winning the first game of the season, which Bruno said was one of the highs, the Lady Vandals were mired in a 17-game losing streak, one of the pitfalls of an inexperienced team during a rebuilding year.
During the skid, Bruno played well, leading the Lady Vandals in scoring for the majority of the games. But when she didn’t she would sometime lose some of her confidence.
"Towards the middle of the season, I wasn't scoring as many points and I was kind of getting down on myself," Bruno said. "My teammates encouraged me and we worked on some stuff in practice, and eventually, I got my shot back."
The Lady Vandals were able to overcome the early struggles and win four games in the final month of the season. Vandalia’s season ended in the first round of the regional tournament with a loss to Nokomis. Although the team was done for the year, Bruno was not.
Bruno was still in the three-point showdown. The freshman who hit 22 treys in the regular season (second-best on the team) hit five three-pointers in the regional quarterfinal round to advance. In the semifinal, she hit five again, just making the cut. In the regional championship, she went from the back of the pack to the front, draining nine three-pointers.
"I didn't want the season to be over," Bruno said. "I was really nervous because I wanted to keep advancing."
At the sectional semifinal in Flora, Bruno sank eight threes to say alive and headed to the sectional championship round of the three-point showdown with a trip to state on the line. Bruno’s run, however, would end in Flora in the sectional championship round. She missed the cut (six three-pointers), and her freshman season was over.
Once the season was over, Bruno was named second-team all-conference in the South Central Conference, and she received the Offensive Award for the team. Bruno led the team in five offensive categories, including field goals made, points per game and free-throws made. She also won the team Hustle Award and led the team in steals with 74. Bruno was in the top three in 11 of the 14 major statistical categories. She had four 20-point games this season.
Despite the number of points or steals Bruno had, she got a lot more out of this season. She got a whole year of varsity experience that most freshmen can only dream of. With that year of experience against competition and playing with a group of girls that almost all be back next season, Bruno has a lot to look forward to for the next three years, and even beyond.
With basketball season over, Bruno now shifts to softball, with the first game on Monday. Coach Brian Buscher said Bruno will most likely start on the diamond as well, at shortstop.
It looks like green is still good.