Before she became the hometown star for the Missouri women’s basketball team, Sophie Cunningham was a seventh grader who received her first scholarship offer from … the Kansas Jayhawks.
“I think I had like three or four offers. Maybe five,” Cunningham said. “But yeah, they didn’t matter.”
Now she’s a junior guard leading Mizzou to one of its best seasons in program history. The Tigers topped traditional powerhouse Tennessee on Sunday, and they are on their way to hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, something the team has never done under coach Robin Pingeton.
Cunningham joined The Star’s SportsBeat KC podcast before MU’s big win over Tennessee. Here’s a brief Q&A of the full podcast with Cunningham, which you can listen to below.
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When you came here, when you envisioned what it would be like and try to build something, where did you envision the process would be in Year Three?
Cunningham: I really didn’t plan on years. But I knew that I wanted an SEC championship. I want two, honestly. I’m running out of time. It’s this year and next year. I for sure want one, but I would love to have two. I want to go to the Final Four. I want a national championship. I want to compete at the highest level.
Is there a milestone win to you during your career?
Cunningham: I think winning twice in one year against South Carolina is pretty awesome. People don’t really acknowledge you until you’re consistent. No one has ever beat South Carolina twice in a year. That’s why people are starting to hate us, because we’re starting to become elite. I like that. I like that. I don’t want anything else. You must be doing something right, honestly.”
Your Twitter mentions are going to blow up now.
Cunningham: That’s fine. I’m going to have haters along the way. The more elite you get, the more you’re going to have. I’ve always wanted — not haters — but to become elite.
I would characterize you as this player that, if she’s on your team, she’s awesome. If she’s not, she’s dirty. Do you feel like you’ve always played that way?
Cunningham: Oh my gosh. That has literally been the name of the game for me always. People who don’t like me think I’m dirty, all that stuff. But if I was on their team, they would love me. I’ve got a lot of that this year. I’m proud to represent the University of Missouri. I wanted Mizzou to get on the map. This is what we’re doing. We’re doing it right now. It’s kind of hard to take a step back and realize how much we’ve accomplished in the last three years, but I just want more. I’m not satisfied.
This team has been very open that it is the most talented team coach Pingeton has had. Would it be a disappointment if you didn’t make it out of the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament?
Cunningham: I don’t know. I’m not even thinking about it. I think our team will be ready when it’s time. I know we are. I know we will be. I think that failure gives you more motivation. I still have a year left. But I’m still not really worried or focused about that.