COLUMBIA — As soon as the player Lindsey Cunningham is assigned to guard gets the basketball, the wild dance begins.
First the arms open and close, waving up and down, frantically trying to block her opponent’s vision.
Her feet are constantly hopping. Sometimes she leaves the ground, other times she goes from the balls of her feet back down to her heels. The effect of the motion makes it look as if she is on the surface of a trampoline and not the hardwood of a basketball court.
If her opponent tries to pass, Cunningham’s hands are magnetically drawn to the ball.
The junior guard's all-movement all-the-time defensive style is the perfect example of how Rock Bridge girls basketball coach Jill Nagel wants her team to play this season. For a squad that wants to thrive on its defense, Cunningham sets the tone.
“If she’s out there bouncing around, being loud on defense, doing what she needs to do, that’s going to carry over to where everyone can see it in the backside of the defense,” Nagel said.
The Bruins are coming off a 24-5 campaign that ended in the state quarterfinals with a loss to Kickapoo. Lost to graduation is three-time all-state selection Amaya Williams, who scored 13.2 points per game last season and was the only Rock Bridge player to average in double-digits.
Losing such a prolific scorer will put even more emphasis on a strong Bruins defense, one that held opponents to 359 fewer points than Rock Bridge scored last year.
“That’s the best part of our game — our defense and all the energy we have to it,” said Cunningham, who was recently voted a team co-captain and was the Bruins’ defensive player of the year last season.
If the way she practices is any indication, Cunningham is up to the task of keeping the Rock Bridge defense performing at a high level. On at least three occasions during drills Tuesday afternoon, Cunningham forced a turnover or deflected a pass.
At 6 feet, Cunningham uses her long limbs to get to the ball. Nagel estimates Cunningham has a wingspan greater than her height.
“She’s always moving, so you have to make sure you know where you’re going and make sure you’re offsetting her,” sophomore forward Hannah Dressler said. “Her arms are really long so you have to make sure you get it over her head or get it out of reach.”
By creating havoc for passers, Cunningham plays a big role in Rock Bridge’s defensive strategy. Nagel stresses the importance of getting any contact on a pass, even if it is the slightest tip on the ball.
“We just want to change the flight of the ball,” Nagel said. “Change the speed of the ball. Make that other team offensively have to redo, in a sense, the call that they had made.”
Another ploy Cunningham uses on defense is kicking passes away, a skill that comes naturally to her because she plays on the Rock Bridge soccer team.
“I think I probably get as many tips with my hands as my feet during games,” Cunningham said.
And so the dance goes for Cunningham, incorporating every limb, flashing hands and feet in an animated fight for every pass, a shining example of Rock Bridge’s defense.