ANDREW JANSEN/JOURNAL Cor Jesu coach Melissa Bruno speaks to her players during half time in their win against Ursuline.

Melissa Bruno is different. At least that’s what her team tells her. She doesn’t believe it, but her players can feel it, see it and hear it even if they can’t put their finger on it. Bruno, 29, should be different. She’s starting her fifth season as the head coach of the Cor Jesu soccer team. She learned plenty over the last three years since her current crop of seniors were just freshmen. Maybe the most significant change is the birth of her daughter, Rylan, the second week of January. There are few things that change one’s outlook on the world like a child.

Bruno, though, remains unchanged in her belief that she hasn’t changed. That she would be steadfast in her belief is nothing new. Bruno, née Peabody, has always had a stubborn side to her. There were a lot of days it treated her well. You don’t become one of the top high school strikers in town by being a pushover. When Bruno wanted something, she went and got it. And if you were in her way you were going to get run over. And after you got run over you were going to hear about it. “I don’t shut up,” the 5-foot-7 Bruno says.

Bruno scored 101 goals and set the Ursuline record before graduating in 2001. She then accepted Mizzou’s scholarship offer and went on to an impressive collegiate career. Bruno helped the Tigers win their first-ever NCAA tournament game, earned four varsity letters and walked away with a handful of national and Big 12 all-conference awards. Her finest moment as a Tiger came against then-No. 4-ranked Texas A&M. She scored three goals and had an assist to lift Mizzou out of a 3-0 halftime hole for a 4-3 victory.

She graduated from Mizzou in 2006 with an undergraduate degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in reading. She currently teaches first grade in the Hancock Place school district. Coaching wasn’t always in her plans, but once she gave it a hard look, it was something she couldn’t turn down. She began by working camps at Ursuline and J.B. Marine soccer club while in college. She eventually landed an assistant coaching position at Incarnate Word and, five years ago, was hired to run Cor Jesu’s program. “I’ve always loved working with the kids,” Bruno says.

For someone who can be an overpowering personality, Bruno says she’s found her straight-talk style has treated her well with the players and their parents. She pulls no punches; there is no sugarcoating. “If you’re up front and honest, you don’t have issues,” Bruno says. “Open communication makes life easier. I say what I feel in the moment.”

What she is feeling in this moment is something she hasn’t felt before from any of her previous Charger teams. This group of seniors is so focused on the goal of a state championship it’s scary. She and her assistant coach, Jackie Adamec, don’t have to spend time motivating players and breathing confidence into them. The senior class is policing that on its own. “State is the goal. They’re so gung ho about doing well this year,” Bruno says. “Everyone is so confident and excited. I have not seen a more cohesive group.”

It’s enjoyable for Bruno to see that dedication and focus from her team. She looks back on her playing career, which was by almost any measure impressive, and wonders what she could have done better if she knew then what she knows now. “I see myself in a lot of the girls. I know I could have been so much better,” Bruno says. “I just want them to have no regrets. You’re not going to get this time back.”

But that’s what age and experience do. They show you just how much you didn’t know and how different things could have been. And her players are right, Bruno is different— even if she doesn’t know it yet.