Mackenzie Brunke dived to stop a shot just like she had done countless times throughout her career, but this time it was different.

As the Ohio Wesleyan University women's soccer goalkeeper extended and slid across the ground, an Otterbein player stepped on her right hand, changing the course of her junior season.

Not that her season was over. Far from it.

Brunke stayed in the game and stopped 14 shots in the 3-1 loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 13. She missed only four games in a season in which she was named second-team all-region, all-Ohio (Division III) and all-North Coast Athletic Conference.

"We were playing Otterbein, which is always a big game, and there was about 20 minutes left when it happened," said Brunke, a 2015 Olentangy Orange High School graduate. "I dove and a girl stepped on my hand. It was the fifth metacarpal underneath the knuckle of my pinkie. It was closer to my wrist than the finger. Looking back, I'm not sure what kept me going -- adrenaline or what -- but I finished the game."

Brunke played two more games before having surgery Oct. 2. She then missed four contests before returning with the help of trainer Todd Miller.

"Our trainer created a cast-like thing that fit inside my glove, but I had to get bigger gloves," Brunke said. "Normally I wear a size 8, but I had to go with a size 11 and they were huge on me. When I would go to save the ball, the ends of the fingers would just bend back because they were empty. I stuffed cotton balls in the ends of them so they wouldn't be as flexible when I went to stop a ball."

Bishops coach Nicole Ross was impressed with Brunke's determination and dedication.

"That's the thing about Mack; she wanted to play," said Ross, whose team finished 7-8-2 overall and 2-5-1 in the NCAC. "Then 10 days after the surgery, she was back at it.

"The thing about it was that after the surgery, Mack didn't take any shots at practice or even warm up before games. She only took shots during games. That couldn't have been easy."

Brunke said she prepared for games as best she could.

"I did not practice from Sept. 15 until the season ended Oct. 28," she said. "I didn't warm up. I just literally jumped into games, which was tough.

"I'm one of those people who has to practice a lot. I did a lot of watching (videos of) saves from games or the practices (from earlier in the season). I did a lot of talking to myself and getting ready to play."

Brunke, who has started in each of her first three seasons with the Bishops, totaled 83 saves last fall and was 4-7-2 in goal.

"I ended up having (a second) surgery after the season on Dec. 26," Brunke said. "They wanted to see if the hand would heal correctly, but a screw moved into the fracture. They put in a plate and six screws the second time and didn't think it was a good idea to put all of that hardware in the first time."

Injury is nothing new to Brunke, who suffered a broken nose and cheekbone and had post-concussion syndrome when she was in eighth grade. To this day, she plays in a protective helmet.

"I had to wear the helmet after the concussion, and now it's like my security blanket," said Brunke, who was first-team all-league as a sophomore and second-team all-league as a freshman at Orange. "Despite that, I really have no fear in the box. There's nothing to stop me from getting the ball."

Brunke is majoring in early childhood education and has a 3.69 GPA. She hopes to become a teacher and get into coaching, which Ross said would be a good fit.

"I think there are too many things to mention about Mack," Ross said. "She is a student-athlete, but she also is someone I trust enough to help out with our camps. She is a great leader and a great influence on her teammates.

"She is competitive and really loves the game of soccer. She brings a high level of energy to all aspects of the game. She's amazing."

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen