More than a buzzword: Missouri’s sisters bring chemistry

Aside from three sets of sisters, the Tigers also have a 14-1 record.
Missouri Tigers women’s basketball players Cierra Porter (21) and Bri Porter (4) pose for a portrait. The two players are sisters, one of three pairs on this year’s team. Courtesy of MU Athletics

The term “family” is no doubt a buzzword when it comes to athletics.

On any given day, a coach or player is bound to use the expression to describe his or her team.

For the Missouri women’s basketball team, it’s far from a cliche.

This season, the Tigers consist, in part, of three sets of sisters. That’s six of 14 players who are siblings.

Couple that with the fact that two of these players are both the daughters of an assistant coach and the nieces of the head coach, and the argument that “family” is a buzzword vanishes.

Chemistry is a big emphasis for this team, and it helps to have so many players on the floor who have grown up in the same household.

“Each set of sister, you know, sometimes you get into it,” junior guard Lindsey Cunningham said. “But sometimes, they’re the ones who push each other the most because we have that relationship where we’re able to do that. More importantly, I think just that chemistry and that bond have rubbed off on the entire team. Chemistry’s something that you can’t really teach and you can’t really force, it’s just got to be there and it’s really beneficial when it is, so I think it’s something that’s really special about our team.”

Cunninghams in Command

Freshman Sophie Cunningham, a McDonald’s All-American and the nation’s No. 28 recruit in the country coming out of the Class of 2015, is joining a team with her sister, Lindsey, for the second time in their career.

On the court, the Cunninghams’ playing styles are fairly distinct, and they know it.

When a reporter asked her the biggest difference between herself and her sister last week, Lindsey let out a big chuckle.

“(Sophie’s) so loud,” she said. “She really has a defining presence about her. You notice her. I think I’m a little more settled, maybe more behind-the-scenes. I take a lot more pride in my defense — not that she doesn’t — but she’s able to get to the rack, shoot the three-ball, get those points. But the biggest thing is she has that defining presence, which is awesome.”

Off the court, coach Robin Pingeton said they “could be twins to a certain extent.”

The Columbia natives are hand-in-glove. Best friends since they were little, it’s not rare for Sophie to sleep over at Lindsey’s apartment.

“Just ‘cause my sister’s on the team, it’s been a lot easier to get into the swing of things,” Sophie said. “Ever since we were little, we literally have been each other’s best friends. We’re with each other 24/7 now, so we’re having a lot of fun and embracing just bringing back those memories and being close again.”

Blue-Chip Stocks

By now, most Tigers fans are familiar with Maddie and Morgan Stock. The identical twins have been with the program since 2012 and have become two of the most important assets since.

Aside from Maddie’s No. 10 jersey and Morgan’s No. 2, the senior guard duo is nearly impossible to tell apart.

Their personality types don’t help. Ask anyone on the team and they’ll tell you just how similar they are.

“They’re very similar,” then-junior Morgan Eye told the Columbia Daily Tribune in 2013. “I think the only thing that helps us keep them different is the way they wear their hair. There are a lot of similarities. They both have that super-quick release and really good form.”

The differences?

“I like chocolate and she doesn’t,” Maddie joked when the two were freshmen.

No longer the only sisters on the roster, the sort of chemistry the Stocks have had throughout their careers will easily pass on to the rest of the team.

When it came down to it, the Stocks wanted to stay together after their high school career, not budging for any school that wouldn’t take them both.

“There definitely were those schools that just wanted her or just wanted me,” Maddie said. “We were like, ‘We’re a package deal. Sorry. We love the interest, but we’re together.’”

Porter Phenoms

Sophomore Bri Porter is one of the shyest players on the team.

Freshman Cierra Porter is, well, not.

“Our fundamental difference is that I’m extremely introverted and she’s super outgoing,” Bri said. “That just affects the way we interact with people. People that got to know me first are kind of surprised at how loud and friendly and out there she is. But we get along really well and I think we compliment each other.”

The Porters, also Rock Bridge alumni, have played together for the majority of their career.

When Bri committed to Missouri, Cierra followed closely behind.

“It definitely doesn’t feel like any team I’ve ever been on,” Bri said. “We’re aware that we’re all related, and I think that when we’re on the court, we don’t necessarily relate to each other in that way, but the fact that those relationships are existing off the court kind of translates really well to basketball.”

Last year, assistant coach Michael Porter was excited to see his oldest daughter join the team he’d been coaching with Pingeton, his sister-in-law, for the last year.

What’s better than having a daughter on your team? How about two?

Aside from seeing them on the court for practice, Michael said there’s nothing like having them home for dinner or for a family meeting. Whenever they’re over, he doesn’t want them to leave.

As much as he loves them, coaching your children is not always sunshine and rainbows.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Michael said. “We’ve been thinking about it, talking about it, for so long. And now that it’s here, it’s like uncharted territory for all of us. It gets complicated with how to handle stuff sometimes, making the line clear between dad and coach. Sometimes those lines get blurred and that can cause a little bit of awkward moments. They’re college students and I’m their coach, but I’m also their dad. Typically, when a kid goes to college, they’re away from home and they’re making their own decisions, but I’m still around. It’s just a little different.

“Six players that are sisters is almost half our team. So it really is family atmosphere. But there are tough times in families, too. There’s tough conversations, there’s tough love, there’s tough moments — as well as the embracing moments — and so, we have all of that here. But because it is a family atmosphere and they know everything comes from a place of love, the kids take it just fine.”

Prescription for Prosperity

Apart from a sister reunion, this year’s Tigers have a homecoming of different sorts.

Both the Porters and the Cunninghams were a part of the 2012 Class 5 state champion Rock Bridge team.

On top of that, Cierra Porter and Sophie Cunningham led Rock Bridge to the three next state championships, winning four consecutive titles, and forming even another family.

“(Cierra and I) can just read each other,” Cunningham said. “She’s like my sister now, so the chemistry that us two also spreads throughout the whole team. I think it’s going to be an amazing year.”

But it doesn’t stop there, Pingeton said.

“Our team — there’s not really any cliqueness to it,” she said. “It’s 14 sisters that look out for each other and protect each other and want the best for each other. One, from the outside, might think that it might be a little bit different, but it’s really not. It’s 14 sisters.”

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