STANARDSVILLE — Last April, Samantha Brunelle announced she had selected Notre Dame as her school of choice over some of the best college basketball programs in the country.
On Wednesday, the William Monroe forward finalized that decision by signing her National Letter of Intent to play for the reigning national champions before a crowd of about 200 family, friends and teammates in the school’s auditorium.
“I have been so excited for this day,” Brunelle said. “It’s a great day for me, beginning a new chapter in my life. I’m so excited to be able to play for the best coach in the country and the best school in the country and the best team in the country. There’s great things moving forward, but now it’s time to focus on William Monroe basketball for my last season.”
The top-ranked player in the Class of 2019, Brunelle addressed the crowd prior to signing and used the moment to pay homage to someone else in her community.
Kate Altizer, the daughter of Damin Altizer, St. Anne’s-Belfield’s boys basketball coach and Brunelle’s training coach, has cerebral palsy and is undergoing a second round of Constraint Induced Therapy, where she will spend the next month increasing awareness in using her left hand.
In support of their daughter, Damin and his wife, Kelly, started an initiative called the KateGoesLeft2 challenge to encourage people to use their non-dominant hands for daily tasks.
Brunelle encouraged everyone in the crowd to take part and followed through by signing her National Letter of Intent with her left hand.
“It’s so humbling,” Brunelle said. “I’m so excited I got to spend this moment with my community members, my family, my friends and it means a lot to me that I got to do this here at William Monroe High School.”
Brunelle’s talent on the court is just as impressive. The 6-foot-3 forward already owns most of the school records at William Monroe. As a junior, she averaged more than 25 points and 15 rebounds a game and was named Gatorade and VHSL Class 3 State Player of the Year.
After receiving more than 30 offers from all of college basketball’s top programs, Brunelle said she found a home at Notre Dame.
“I could go on for hours on the reasons I picked [Notre Dame],” Brunelle said, “but honestly, it all came down to a feeling that I had on the inside, a feeling that I had [about] nowhere else, and that feeling helped me pick Notre Dame.”
Brunelle, who wants to major in sports broadcasting, had an opportunity to meet NBC Sports broadcaster and Notre Dame alum Hannah Storm during one of her recruiting trips and the two formed quite a bond.
“It’s amazing, I got to talk to her for a long time [on my visit] there,” Brunelle said. “We still talk now, we text each other every once in a while. The connections you can get at Notre Dame are just unbelievable and I don’t think you can get anywhere else. You make connections with Hannah Storm, through Notre Dame, which is amazing.”
The Fighting Irish have four seniors and a graduate student on this year’s roster, which means the potential for early playing time for Brunelle next year in South Bend.
“They lose quite a few seniors this year, so they’re looking for us freshmen to make a big impact,” Brunelle said. “They will be quite a young team overall, so hopefully I can get my stuff right before I get there and work hard in the preseason and we get after it and win a national championship.”
With her college decision finalized, the senior is focused on her final year at William Monroe. The Greene Dragons reached the Class 3 state quarterfinals for the first time in her career last season, but Brunelle has higher expectations this fall.
“I’m so excited that I’m officially a Notre Dame Irish and moving forward I’m just focused on my senior season here and enjoying the ride while it lasts,” Brunelle said. “We’re just going to take it game by game, so we’re not even going to speak about that yet. I’m just excited that I get the whole team back from last year and a few new [teammates] too, so I think we’re going to be a surprise team this year.”
Brunelle enters the season with 2,000 career points and more than 1,000 rebounds. Another long playoff run could land her among the top performers in Virginia High School League history. But the senior forward is more focused on enjoying the final season in the Dragons’ Lair
“I don’t want to take any game for granted, because you never know when it could be your last one,” Brunelle said. “I think it’s hitting me, but I don’t think it’s hit me that hard yet, that this is actually my last year. I think that first game of the season, it is really going to hit me. I know this is going to hit me tonight, my last scrimmage, but moving forward, I’m just going to be grateful for the time I’ve had here.”
John Harvey covers Central Virginia high school sports for The Daily Progress and CVille Varsity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 978-7250. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnNHarveyIII