As sisters, they share a passion for volleyball.
But being five years older than her sister, Emily Brunsing was always a little too far along to play with her sister Abby, despite the younger sister's pleas otherwise.
“(Abby) was always asking me, but there was a five years age gap and she wasn't very good. So I didn't want to play with her,” Emily said with a laugh. “She wasn't good.”
“Sometimes, I just hit the volleyball off the roof or would play in the house,” Abby said.
Now, Emily concedes that her sister is good enough. Abby Brunsing is a freshman with the Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team where Emily is in her second year as a graduate assistant coach for the Tigers, following a four-year career that saw Emily ranking in the top-10 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference for blocks both her junior and senior seasons for DWU.
With that five-year age gap between the sisters, who hail from Wagner, getting to be a part of the same team was never an option, meaning this is the closest the pair has ever been to being teammates.
And what a season to together with the Tigers, with the Tigers starting 14-1 and entering Blue and White Days weekend with an eight-win match streak prior to Friday's match with Briar Cliff. The stretch has included wins over No. 5 Dordt, No. 9 Northwestern and No. 25 Rocky Mountain with their sole loss coming to No. 11 Central Methodist.
Emily said when the opportunity arose to continue her education at DWU as a graduate assistant, she thought it would be funny if Abby would end up a Tiger as well. At the time, her sister had yet to commit anywhere to continue her collegiate career but DWU head coach Lindsay Wilber let Emily know she wanted Abby to be a part of the DWU family.
Sometimes Emily found herself as a go-between to Wilber and her younger sister, especially during 2020, as Wilber didn't do much in-person recruiting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some kids will text you right away. And then some kids will text you like a day later. They’ll be ‘Oh, I saw it. But then I forgot to eat text you back.’ And that’s what kind Abby was,” Wilber said. “I know, I tried not to ask Emily too much last year, like ‘what's Abby going to do? - what's Abby going to do?’ But I did.”
Stepping in as a freshman, Abby Brunsing has worked herself into the rotation already this year seeing action in all 15 matches thus far.
“Even though Abby, she's a freshman. She's come in right away, learned her role really great. And I think that comes from her sister,” senior Jadie DeLange said.
DeLange, who’s played with both Brunsing sisters now, says the pair have their similarities and differences.
“They look very similar. So sometimes when I'm playing with Abby, I get like deja vu,” said DeLange, who is the lone senior on the team. “I'm like, ‘Whoa, flashback two years ago.’ It's really cool to see how similar they are and how different they are.”
Wilber described Emily as someone who takes things a little more seriously than her sister, with Abby as being more outgoing.
“Abby's just a little firecracker. Just saying things, little bursts of random things here and there,” DeLange said.
Sometimes Abby’s teammates will even look to Emily to claim ownership of Abby when she’s being extra “Abby” or what Wilber describes as “goofy, funny.”
“Everyone will look at me and be like, ‘Oh Abby,’ with her personality,” Emily said. “And I'm just like, ‘Yep, that's my sister.' ... I love her.”
Emily, who is Wilber’s first former player to serve as a graduate assistant, was a part of Wilber’s second recruiting class that included players Sydney Fritz of Winner, Brittany Bergquist of Wolsey, Mallory Cooper of Orchard, Neb., and All-American Becky Frick of Yankton.
Wilber said that group helped set the foundation for the level of play she strived for: a team that could be competitive in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
In her various stages with the program, Emily Brunsing has seen the growth, getting to the cusp of postseason play as a senior and reaching the conference tournament in 2020-21 as a graduate assistant. Now, the Tigers have higher expectations leading into the current season.
Always being involved in volleyball herself, Emily wasn’t always able to make it to Abby’s matches or had to watch from the bleachers. Now she is relishing the time she has with her sister in their current roles.
“It was kind of hard to adjust to because usually, I'm in the stands trying to yell at her. But now it's a lot closer. I feel like I really like it,” Emily said. “She comes off the court. And I feel like she kind of looks at me and is like, ‘What do I need to do?’ or ‘What am I doing wrong?’
“(Emily) knows she can read me. She knows when to not say something or when to say something,” Abby said.
Emily, who is currently a part-time teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary in Mitchell, will graduate in December with her master’s in education with a concentration in English Language Learners where she hopes to be a full-time teacher/coach in the future.
That might be another area Abby would follow her sister. She's majoring in elementary education and hoping to teach and coach when she’s out of college.
Seeing Abby come through the program similar to Emily is a positive sign for coach Wilber and her team.
“It means to me as a coach is that Emily enjoyed her time here,” Wilber said. “If she didn't, she would tell her sister, ‘Don't come here, (the) coach is crazy’ or something along those lines.
In both Brunsings, the head coach said they represent the drive and the desire the Tigers have to practice and play with, trying to keep raising their goals. Wilber said keeping her team focused will be key to their continued success.
“You have to be careful though not get too complacent with winning,” Wilber said. “You have to keep fighting, getting that energy and fire to show up with, in every match.”