Senior guard Sierra Michaelis admitted Wednesday to a glaring regret from her four seasons with the Missouri women’s basketball team.
“Did you guys see my celebration dance? It wasn’t that great,” she said, referring to the moves she busted after an upset win Sunday over then-No. 6 South Carolina at Mizzou Arena. “ … It needs work is how I’d describe it. It was not swaggy at all.”
It’s disappointing from the aspect that Michaelis is part of a Tigers’ senior class that’s had more chances to perfect a victory dance than any class in program history since 1988.
Of course, that hasn’t exactly been her focus since arriving from North Mercer (Mo.) High as a freshman in fall 2013.
Missouri performed a choreographed team dance — a dream of redshirt senior guard Lindsey Cunningham, according to Michaelis — during the annual preseason Black & Gold Game.
“That’s probably the only time we’ve practiced dancing,” Michaelis said. “We’re not very good dancers. I’d say we’re better at basketball and should probably stick to that.”
Sticking to basketball — specifically a game against Mississippi that tips off at 7 p.m. — certainly will be the goal Thursday at Mizzou Arena.
It’s Senior Night for the Tigers and the final career home game for Michaelis, Cunningham and guard Lianna Doty.
Seventh-year coach Robin Pingeton knows it will be an emotional affair, but she’s also determined not to let sentiment derail Mizzou’s mission to earn a double-bye in next week’s SEC women’s basketball tournament.
“Our seniors mean a lot to us, so I anticipate there will be some emotions involved, but we’re going to do our best effort to keep those in check and stay extremely focused against a very good Ole Miss team,” Pingeton said.
The Tigers (19-9, 9-5 SEC) are guaranteed the program’s first winning record since joining the SEC five seasons ago, but could clinch an automatic berth in the conference tourney quarterfinals with wins against the Rebels and on Sunday at Alabama.
There are many ways to measure Mizzou’s growth during the outgoing seniors’ tenure.
During the Tigers’ 2012-13 home opener, which was Doty’s debut and Cunningham’s first on the bench as a redshirt freshman, there were 1,201 people in the stands.
MU averaged 1,552 fans — 90th most among 344 teams in NCAA Division I and nearly 1,100 fewer than Missouri State — that season, which ended with a home loss against Eastern Illinois in the WNIT first round.
Attendance dipped the next season to 1,481, which ranked 94th nationally and would have been sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference, when Cunningham and Michaelis debuted with the team.
“We were just looking at pictures when they were freshmen,” sophomore guard and reigning national player of the week Sophie Cunningham said. “They had to wear their own shoes. They had to bring their own socks. They wore the seniors that left their jerseys. What is was then to what it is now is just a huge difference. They were here when Mizzou women’s basketball was not at its peak at all.”
Doty, Michaelis and Lindsey Cunningham, who is Sophie’s older sister, helped build the Tigers into something special, including the program’s first 20-win season since 2005-06 and first NCAA Tournament victory since 2000-01 last spring.
Mizzou Arena now ranks sixth in the SEC and 35th in the country in home attendance — and would lead the Missouri Valley Conference, if you’re wondering — with an average crowd of 3,122.
“Have you seen this place on game days? It’s rocking,” Michaelis said.
The 2016-17 attendance figures include 5,789 for Sunday’s 62-60 upset of South Carolina, clinching the first winning record in conference play since joining the SEC five years ago.
“The legacy is not only what people see on the court and the success in the win-loss column in the SEC, but also from the standpoint of we’re part of the group that built the standards for our team that are on the wall in the locker room,” Doty said. “ … It’s a culmination of so many things.”
It’s hours of conditioning and weightlifting, countless conversations and meetings, plus endless shooting and dribbling drills outside practice.
“The games are the best part, but there are so many times that we’re in here in the summer,” said Lindsey Cunningham, who was cleared Wednesday to return to practice after suffering a head/neck injury against the Gamecocks. “Late nights, early mornings — blood, sweat and tears have gone on that court, so it’s going to be hard to say goodbye.”