COLUMBIA — In a silent Mizzou Arena, bright lights shine down on Missouri women's basketball coach Robin Pingeton.
Microphones and recorders close in on her. She stands with locked knees, her luminous white tennis shoes firmly planted on the hardwood floor. She answers questions with an empty gaze. With her hands interlocked in front of her, she twiddles her thumbs.
Western Illinois (1-1)
at Missouri (2-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KTGR/100.5 FM
When someone mentions freshman point guard Lianna Doty, Pingeton softens, and a smile appears on her face.
“She’s a bubbly young lady,” Pingeton says with a grin. “But when she steps between the lines, she is a hardnosed competitor.”
The whistle blows, and practice has started. White jerseys disperse across the court. Six-foot-1-inch center Darian Saunders throws up her long arms and charges at the player holding the ball.
"Ball! Ball! Ball!" Saunders screams. Wrinkles form above her nose as she scrunches her eyebrows in an animated frown. Below her left eye is a dark purple bruise, which she acquired in practice two weeks earlier.
“We were doing a play, and I set a screen," Saunders begins. “Then boom. She just came right back and hit me in the eye.”
She is speaking of Doty.
“Did I? I didn’t know I did that.” Doty said, confusion on her face. “Did Darian say that? Oh gosh. Actually, I was never informed of this.”
Doty weaves through players and drives for a layup, thrusting her body at the last opponent in her path. She falls, but the ball smacks the backboard and drops through the net, teammates collectively yell out “Nice!” They grab her arms and pull her up off the floor.
“I am a very competitive person. I go from zero to…,” Doty pauses. “I don’t even have an in between.”
Her teammates noticed her competitive nature in the first weeks of summer workouts. Freshman Lindsey Cunningham and Doty roomed together over the summer in the Defoe-Graham residence hall.
“I started noticing that Doty wasn’t there in the mornings,” Cunningham said. “Turns out she got up at like 5:30 every morning. Maybe. I don’t know how early because I was still asleep.”
Doty would run to Mizzou Arena from her dorm and shoot baskets in the empty gym before her teammates arrived an hour later.
“She’s going to be phenomenal,” senior Sydney Crafton says of Doty. “I can’t wait to come back when she’s a senior and watch her play.”
Doty keeps her knees bent, her long shorts reaching her shins. Her sneakers squeak against the hardwood floor, her arms flail wildly as she relentlessly swats at the ball. When the ballhandler looks up for a second, Doty has swiped it from her possession.
“I’m actually like 5-5, I’m not even 5-7,” Doty admits, laughing. “If I was legit 5-7, that would be awesome.”
She was 7 years old when her father bought a basketball hoop for the backyard. As the middle child of seven kids, Doty remembers playing ball with her siblings.
“I have two older sisters, and one is 5-11, which is like, woah.” Doty's large hazel eyes widen as she gazes out into the empty arena. “If I were that tall, I’d be dunking.”
She blinks as if returning back to reality, erupting in laughter. Doty added that one of her younger sisters is already a couple inches taller than her.
“Lianna," she begins, mimicking members of her family. "Another sibling is taller than you."
But Doty says she wouldn’t trade her height for the world.
“The good thing is I’ve always been short, so I’ve always had to play against taller girls,” Doty says. “I’ve learned how use my height to my advantage. If the ball is three feet or below from the ground, I can always get those ones.”
As she drives into scoring territory, Doty's bangs blow backwards, revealing her eyes. They are intensely fixed on the basket. She comes to a screeching halt and shakes off a defensive player. Her gaze follows the arched path of her shot. When the ball dances on the rim and falls to the side, she grits her teeth and claps her hands once in frustration.
Doty says she has high expectations for herself in basketball, as well as in school. She is majoring in mechanical engineering.
“She's really smart,” Cunningham said. “She’s always doing her homework when we’re…” Cunningham hesitates. “Not,” she reluctantly adds.
She then throws up a pointed index finger. “We get it done, though.”
After Doty has made her driving layup and she is on her feet again, Crafton playfully nudges her arm. Doty turns from her teammates and looks to the ground.
A smile has emerged on her face. It takes several seconds to fade away.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder