COLUMBIA — On Friday, the Rock Bridge girls basketball team beat Jefferson City 75-67 to win the Class 5, District 9 championship, improving its winning streak to 14 games.
Now, the Bruins, who play in the state sectionals on Wednesday in Rolla, are aiming at a state title — something Lindsey and Sophie Cunningham have been anticipating for a long time.
Rock Bridge (22-3)
vs. Waynesville (12-17)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: The Gale Bullman Building at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
Watching the Bruins play, it does not take long to discover who the team leaders are. Every offensive play Lindsey Cunningham, a senior and team captain, relays coach Jill Nagel’s play calls to the rest of the team.
Then it’s only a matter of time before either Lindsey Cunningham makes an impressive pinpoint pass or Sophie Cunningham, a freshman, finishes under the rim with a finesse that usually makes the crowd gasp.
“It’s going to sound weird, but we don’t really try, it just comes natural,” Sophie Cunningham said about she and her sister's play.
Although this is Lindsey Cuningham’s last year at Rock Bridge, this has been the year she and her family have been waiting on for years – a chance for the sisters to play together.
“We kind of had an idea that this was the year to do stuff,” Sophie Cunningham said. “And we’re hopefully still not done, so we want to get it done this year because this is the year.”
Sophie Cunningham, who had 29 points against Jefferson City, has been preparing to play at Rock Bridge well before she was in high school.
“I think the biggest thing for her is, since I was a freshman, she has been to every single one of my games, so she’s been in the Rock Bridge family, just not out on the court,” Lindsey Cunningham said. “I think the most important part and the most fun we’ve had is because we’ve looked forward to this year.
“We knew that this may be the one and only year.”
In addition to their skills on the court, the Cunninghams' relationship with each other also stands out. If you did not know their last name, you would guess they were best friends, not sisters.
“I would say it’s like the love we have for each other but also the love we have for the game,” Sophie Cunningham said.
You can look, but it won’t be easy to find any sibling rivalry like a lot of other brothers or sisters have. They just care about their team, each other and winning.
“We’re probably together too much,” Lindsey Cunningham said. “Growing up, there’s just something about Sophie, she’s always been up with my age so a lot of her friends are my age. She’s always been a little tag-along. And I’m used to it by now."
When asked who the better player is, Sophie answers without hesitation. “Depends on the day,” she said.
“We stay after practice all the time and play six games to five (points), and it will be two games to three,” Lindsey Cunningham said. “Or if we’re playing real physical and not clean, then it’s her.”
“It’s a toss up,” Sophie finished.
While they’ve spent a lot of their time looking forward to this year, their story probably won’t end here. They have something bigger to look forward to. Lindsey Cunningham has officially signed a commitment to play basketball at MU, and Sophie Cunningham has also verbally committed to play there and said she will not consider playing anywhere else.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Sophie Cunningham said. “Especially for our kind of talent that is going to be there. It’s going to put Mizzou women's basketball maybe on the map. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else, because this is where my home roots are, and I think we could make something happen there.”
Lindsey Cunningham said she never thought it would be so fun playing with her sister or that they would have so much success.
“Fortunately, we’ll hopefully have another couple years in college," Lindsey Cunningham said. "But right now is our focus."