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Girls' Soccer: Bunnell gets his shot as head coach

Tim Bunnell stands outside the East Ridge Raptor's Nest stadium on a cold March morning. The longtime assistant is preparing to be the East Ridge girls’ soccer head coach starting this fall. (Bulletin photo by Blaze Fugina)

Tim Bunnell has spent the past 16 years on the sidelines with high school teams in District 833.

Until this year, he was always an assistant coach. But that will change this fall as Bunnell has been hired as the East Ridge High School girls' soccer head coach.

He is taking over the program for Mark Abboud, the head coach since the opening of East Ridge in 2009. Bunnell spent the past six years as an assistant with East Ridge.

After learning from many of District 833's head coaches, including eight years as an assistant with longtime Park coach Greg Juba, Bunnell decided he was ready for his shot to run a program.

"It was a time for me to say, 'What is next?'" Bunnell said about his decision to pursue the head coach position. "As Mark transitioned out, I really wanted to keep some of the foundational work we put in place here. I thought it might be the right time to try it."

East Ridge activities director Joel Olson said Bunnell was the right choice for the job with his six years of experience in the program. Plus, he has shown the ability to develop relationships with the players, a quality for which the hiring committee was looking in a coach.

"One, you've got to know what you're doing as far as the sport and things like that, but the other part is we want it to be a good experience for the kids," Olson said. "And he's a great guy for that."

The East Ridge girls' soccer team advanced to the Class 2A state tournament for the first time in school history this fall after defeating Stillwater 4-0 in the Class 2A, Section 4 championship game. East Ridge had made just one previous appearance at state before, in 2009 when it was just starting out as a Class 1A school.

Bunnell hopes to build on that momentum this fall.

"I feel like as a program we kind of learned what it was like to break through," Bunnell said about the state appearance. "How do you handle a section tournament? How do you get to the state tournament? Now we need to repeat that and take it one step further."

The Raptors graduated 13 seniors from last season, including two who are headed to programs at Division I schools. Bunnell's daughter, Emily Bunnell, has already started school at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to play with the women's soccer program this spring. Brittany Mahowald has signed with Air Force Academy in Colorado.

The new head coach also sees a lot of returning talent onto which the program can build, including at least four starters.

Bunnell hopes to make a few changes when he starts work on the practice field. This will likely include formation changes to match the team's personnel, but he also plans to ramp up their conditioning.

"I think you'll see an emphasis on fitness for us," Bunnell said. "I talked to the girls about the importance of being fit and being able to play at a high pace. I think we'll be an attacking team on both sides of the ball, offense and defense. I like to be a high-pressure team that really pushes the pace of the game."

Bunnell is bringing back a few familiar faces on the coaching staff this fall. Adam Voight is returning as an assistant with the program since 2011, and new Minnesota United FC TV sideline reporter Jamie Watson is also back as an assistant.

"Jamie just brings kind of a unique perspective that I think he can really help some of these girls, particularly some of the top-end players," Bunnell said. "He sees and understands the game at a really high level, and they can learn about that."