MAHOMET – Most people recognize Daniella Bunch as a good athlete, the area's best girls' track and field performer two years running.
Her senior teammates at Mahomet-Seymour are not like most people. They will remember her talent and skill at throwing the discus and the shot put, but above all else they will retain the image of her as a good person and a good friend.
It's not always that way when teammates discuss the elite athletes, and words like "arrogant" or "egotistical" slip out. Mention those words in the same sentence as Daniella Bunch and her teammates find it amusing.
"If she bragged all the time, who would want to be around her?" Amy Clawson said. "I'm pretty sure Dani realizes that people hate bragging, which is why she doesn't do it."
Morgan Holmes said that by watching how Bunch carries herself, a person wouldn't know that she's a two-time IHSA shot put state champion and the 2008 National Gatorade Athlete of the Year as well as a three-sport letter winner.
"By the way she acts, you would never know that Daniella was such a great athlete," Holmes said. "She has won countless meets, has been a state champion, set records in basketball and volleyball, yet she never once has been cocky about it.
"If anything, she blushes and tries to hide her awards. Even after winning state, she's off congratulating other girls, not basking in the spotlight. She's a great example of how a successful athlete should act."
Hannah Schaap understands the temptation.
"If I was that good, I'd probably be cocky," Schaap said, "but she handles it all very well. She is just as humble as she was freshman year."
Bunch said it can be a challenge not to get caught up in her success.
"It can be hard to stay grounded," Bunch said, "especially when people are always complimenting me on my accomplishments in public. It gets harder when the people are complete strangers.
"What keeps me grounded is my family and friends. They don't give me any special treatment, which I'm very thankful for. I usually get embarrassed when I'm recognized for doing this or that."
Clawson can tell you about the accuracy of first impressions.
"At first," Clawson said, "I thought she would be the type of person who would want to beat me up."
It didn't take long for that notion to get dispelled.
"Then I realized she is extremely friendly and funny," Clawson said.
"Once I got to know her, I remember I was really drawn to her funny, goofy personality," Holmes added.
Bunch is the type of person who is serious and committed when it's time to practice or compete, but not overbearing at other moments.
"She makes everyone laugh," Clawson said.
"She's the friend who has a funny comment about any situation that we're in, so she adds a ton of humor to our group of friends," Holmes said. "Dani is one of my favorite people to be around because she always has something to say that will make the people around her laugh."
She can see the humor in her own foibles.
Amanda Rodriguez recalled when a relay was scheduled at an indoor track meet only for athletes in the throws.
"Dani tripped and fell because she leans forward so much when she runs," Rodriguez said. "We were worried about her, but she got right up and finished and shook it off, laughing at herself."
Marya Esworthy said Bunch's sense of humor is not her only endearing trait.
"She's a great listener and she's encouraging," Esworthy said.
'Always have fun'
It's all part of Bunch's mantra. There's a time for fun even within the realm of the intense and competitive games in which she has participated.
"A lot of people forget they have to have fun and enjoy what they are doing," Bunch said. "If you're not having fun, then you probably aren't enjoying what you are doing.
"Luckily, I have teammates and coaches who make coming to track practice fun and enjoyable. We work hard every day, but we always have fun doing it. I think I only accomplished what I have because of my teammates and coaches."
Bunch is not only a friend to her teammates but an exemplary role model.
"She is a great example to her teammates and was able to discourage negativity and any complaining on the team," Rodriguez said.
Though Bunch might have won more medals or more accolades than others, Holmes said her teammate never thought of herself as better than the other squad members.
"Dani knows how to win with class and has set an example that I think future champions should strive for," Holmes said. "She is a born leader who draws the attention of her fellow teammates without having to say a word.
"She knows how to break the tension before a meet, which was great for some of the girls. She knows just what to say when a person is down after a race. She has such a kind heart, hard work ethic and determined attitude."
Esworthy pinpointed another key to Bunch's success, which includes a girls' state record for the longest shot put throw at any meet (51 feet, 0 3/4 inch) as well as state meet marks as both a junior and a senior.
"She stays focused, and her heart is always in it," Esworthy said, "and she is willing to learn from others who might not perform as well as she does."
By the book
Bunch's athletic achievements will be in the record books for years. The numbers aren't all that her teammates will remember with fondness and a wry smile at future reunions.
"Dani became a pro at loading the back of the bus," Holmes said. "By the end of the year, everyone knew that no one could load the bus to Dani's standards.
"There were a few times girls would start loading before she could get out there and she'd come out, unload and then reload. She was a little OCD about it."
Bunch was seldom without a book and she willingly shared.
"One book was a vampire book called 'Marked,' and she told me everything and really got me into it," Esworthy said, "and we would read all the intense parts of the book."
Reading became a team function three years ago during a rain delay at the freshman-sophomore Corn Belt Conference meet.
"The seniors sat in the back of the bus eating Avanti's and reading aloud from the book she was currently reading," Holmes said. "We talked about her books every bus ride."
Working for success
For nearly a year, Bunch has worked a part-time job as a host at Applebee's into her schedule as a student-athlete. Being in the "working world" has done more than provide her with some spending money.
"I've learned how to work under pressure, which can carry over to track," Bunch said. "I have also broken out of my shell and can talk to people more freely."
The restaurant job, which includes some serving, busing and cleaning, began as a sanctuary of sorts, free from the notoriety that came with her success in sports.
"I started right after my junior year, which was a big year for me in track, and nobody there knew about it, except my teammate, Lauren Bosch, who works there, too," Bunch said. "It was really different being around people who just treated me like another employee."
In the fall, when she enrolls at Purdue University, her intended major is biology, though Bunch said that "may change."
One definite change will be her litany of events. In addition to the shot put and discus, Bunch has another goal.
"I want to learn the hammer (throw)," she said.
Her former M-S teammates have no doubts she'll continue to fare well.
"I can't wait to read about her successes at the college level," Holmes said.