Lindsey Cunningham’s family watched her sit on the bench for a year.
A high ankle sprain sidelined Cunningham for her entire freshman season in 2012. As hard as it was for Cunningham, she got through the season with support from her family, who attended every game despite the fact that she wasn’t playing.
Prior to Sunday, the last time Cunningham was on the court at Mizzou Arena, she was leading Rock Bridge High School to a 2012 Class 5 State Championship over Blue Springs.
On Sunday, it was a different story. Two minutes into the game against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Cunningham entered the game to a loud applause, marking the Columbia native’s first home game in black and gold.
“It felt great,” Cunningham said. “Especially finally making it here and growing up here just to finally step on the court in a jersey with all my family and friends up in the stands.”
The journey for Cunningham has been arduous. After having a healthy summer and fall going into her freshman year, Cunningham suffered a severe ankle sprain early last season. She decided to use her option to redshirt in order for the ankle to fully heal.
Before playing for the Tigers, Cunningham was a two-sport athlete at Rock Bridge, playing soccer and basketball. Cunningham committed to Missouri her senior year, mulling offers from Creighton, San Diego and a few midwestern schools.
Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said she thinks Cunningham’s leadership is what made her teams so successful when the redshirt freshman was her point guard.
“She has complete upside because of her leadership abilities and her coach-ability,” Nagel said. “The kid is just an amazing sponge. She’s the ultimate teammate.”
With a pair of former Missouri athletes for parents (her mother, Paula, ran track, and her dad, Jim, played football) and an aunt, Stacey Primus, who was a Mizzou basketball star in the late 1980s, Cunningham still wanted to explore all her options before giving her pledge to coach Robin Pingeton.
“I always wanted to come to here, but I wanted to make sure the fit was right with the coaches and they had a good idea with their program moving forward,” Cunningham said. “So I wanted to give all the schools the same open mind. But once I met with the staff I knew it was right.”
Cunningham originally committed to be a five-year player for Pingeton and redshirt her first season, but Pingeton changed her mind around the time Cunningham was graduating high school.
“Coach called me and said, ‘We need you to play this season,’” Cunningham explained. “She said she wanted to pull my redshirt, and I was fine with that.”
Then, Cunningham suffered the ankle injury. Cunningham, though, looks at the injury positively and thinks her time on the bench last year gave her new understanding of the game.
“The amount of things I learned from just watching the game last season were things I would have never picked up on if I was playing,” she said.
The six-foot guard also believes she enters this season with toughness, something she learned from last season.
“I think it takes some toughness to be able to come into practice everyday, still willing to fight while knowing you’re not going to see any court time,” she said. “It makes you better. “
While Cunningham has two assists and two rebounds in the 20 minutes of time she’s seen this season, Nagel said her former pupil is starting what she thinks will be a successful career at Missouri.
Pingeton is already impressed with Cunningham, applauding her for work ethic on the court and in practice.
“The thing that impresses me the most about Lindsey is she is just hard-nosed, blue collar and has great toughness and grit,” Pingeton said. “She just gets after it. She’s the first to the floor. She brings energy, intensity and toughness for us on the court. I think she is going to have a really great career here for us.”