COLUMBIA — When the Columbia College women's basketball team took the court to host its first game of the American Midwestern Conference tournament, it did so against a forward from Australia, a guard from Brazil and a guard from California.
The Cougars' starting five, on the other hand, were a bit closer to home.
Four of Columbia College's starters come from within 35 miles of Columbia: Aqua Corpening of Columbia, Heather English of Boonville, Ashley Fisher of Harrisburg and Tierney Seifert of Moberly.
"We always have a good mix, but I think this is maybe the most we’ve had from so close," coach Mike Davis said. "Several years ago we had two girls from Boonville and one from Mexico that started, but to have four from so close is pretty amazing."
Foes turned friends
The Cougars (25-6, 20-2 AMC) may have grown up close geographically, but they were far from friends on the court.
Seifert, English and Fisher played together on the Stampede, a Mid America Youth Basketball travel team in high school, and the girls all played against one another before coming to Columbia College.
"We were pretty much looked at as the go-to player on those other teams before we came to Columbia College," said Corpening, who went to Hickman High School.
They were familiar with each other, but they weren't friendly, even after playing on the same team.
They'd see one another at games, but they "never talked to each other," Fisher said. "Never spoke a word. Always made eye contact but just kept walking."
"Heather and I were talking about this the other day. We could not stand each other in high school," Seifert said. "Every time we would play, or if my team would play her, I just could not stand her, because she has those long, lanky arms and it just bugged the heck out of me."
She got over it.
"(Now) We’re so close," said Seifert of English, who is now her roommate. "I wouldn’t have ever thought it."
"They’re inseparable," Fisher interjected.
Corpening spent a lot of time around Columbia College because her father was a referee who often officiated Cougars' games.
Seifert and Fisher also had early interactions with the college, thanks to basketball camps hosted by the school, but they weren't quite ready to sign their letters of intent.
"I didn’t want to go here because their colors were gray," said Fisher, who was around kindergarten age when she made that decision.
"I think I came to one camp and I saw him," Seifert said, pointing to Davis. "I was like, 'Oh, I’m not coming back to that camp. That guy is crazy.'"
The coach hasn't changed and neither have the colors, but Fisher and Seifert came around.
"Whenever Coach Davis recruited me it just felt like a good fit," Fisher said. "I felt comfortable."
The number game
Davis said exposure within mid-Missouri might have helped generate his hyperlocal starting five.
"I think a lot of these people have grown up and seen the program grow and develop here," he said. "Because really, our program’s not that old. Just 13 years. But I think they’ve been exposed to it from the beginning."
English was not familiar with the Cougars' program until high school, but Davis had an easy means of recruiting his lone senior starter. Davis' daughter, Whitney, played at Boonville four years ahead of English. Mike Davis would invite English to come scrimmage with the Cougars, and she came to emulate Whitney Davis.
"I always hung around her, and I saw that she was No. 4," English said. "So I wanted to be No. 4."
Mike Davis granted her wish and voila, English was a Cougar.
"I always said it was the easiest signing I ever had to get a player that good," he said.
For a second, though, English thought she had been duped.
"A couple days later they signed Ashley, and she was holding up the No. 4 jersey," English said. "So I was like, ‘I’m glad you're signing her, but I thought I was gonna be No. 4, because I wanted that.’ So they kind of make fun of me for that now."
Coming from the Columbia area gave the four starters the benefit of already knowing each others' style of play. But it also has given them added family support.
English's family moved from Boonville to Columbia and comes to support her at games.
But for Fisher, it might not have mattered if she went to school in mid-Missouri or not.
"I don’t think my parents have missed a game since I’ve played college level," she said. "They’ll travel to Tennessee and Kentucky and wherever else."
Corpening, a sports management major, is considering playing overseas or coaching out of state after she graduates. But she is concerned about leaving her family.
Then again, she might want to get out of Columbia.
"I have a lot of family here and things like that, but it might be nice to branch out for a little bit and maybe start somewhere fresh, start somewhere new," she said, "and know that I can always come back to Columbia if I needed to."