Missouri women's basketball excelling academically and athletically

Thursday, December 29, 2011 | 9:28 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Missouri women's basketball team enters Friday's game against Sam Houston State at 9-1, its best start since the 2006-2007 season when the Tigers started 12-1.

While the Tigers' players are finding success on the basketball court, many have already achieved great success as students.

Senior Bailey Gee was valedictorian at Andover (Kan.) Central High School in 2008. Across the state that same year, senior Kendra Frazier was also a valedictorian at Labette County High School. 

Sophomore Tori Neimann graduated Canton High School with a 4.0 GPA and was the salutatorian.

Junior Liz Smith and freshman Bree Fowler were both honor roll students throughout high school, and sophomore Paige Spietz graduated in the top 10 percent of her high school class. 

Academic success gives the players another common goal to strive toward as a team. 

"Doing well in school has helped us actually become more connected as a team," Gee said. "It gives us chemistry."

For coach Robin Pingeton, an emphasis is always on the student part of the equation.

"They are here as student-athletes. Student comes first for a reason," Pingeton said. "Yes, we are driven, and we want to win championships, and we will. But at some point the balls going to stop bouncing for each of them."

It's not about weekly team study hall, grade checks or NCAA eligibility. Pingeton said it is self-discipline and a desire to meet expectations.  

"It’s not so much about having rules and regulations and putting demands on them. Our program is run more by expectations," Pingeton said.

Their intelligence impacts their play on the court, improving their decision making, organization, and time and stress management.

"It's just being able to think," Gee said. 

Gee was recruited to play basketball when she was in high school. In college she has been recruited as an engineer.

Last spring, Gee was awarded the Outstanding Engineering Student of the Year by MU's College of Engineering. She was also recruited by Burns & McDonnell Engineering, one of the leading engineering design firms in the country. Next summer, Gee will begin work at the firm in the energy department as a structural engineer.

"It seriously was just like that. It was like choosing a school to go play basketball at," Gee said.

Gee's work ethic off the court carries over to her teammates, influencing and motivating those around her. 

"For her to be in the engineering department and to achieve at the level she has achieved at academically, that’s not an easy thing to do," Pingeton said. "That takes a true, real unwavering work ethic. She brings that same set of standards for herself to the court, which makes everyone around her that much better."

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