Women’s team of the year: Basketball

The team recorded over 20 wins and an NCAA tournament victory for the first time in over a decade.

Freshman Sophie Cunningham cheers on coach Robin Pingeton's 100th victory recognition before the Vanderbilt game on Feb 28 2016. The women's basketball team just beat BYU in the first round of the women's March Madness bracket. Maneater File Photo

The team began the season the same way it ended: breaking records.

Before the first tip-off, exhibition match or even practice, the players knew their potential was greater than ever. Missouri had an extensive repertoire of experience and bench players who could go off on any given night — not to mention someone special was coming: freshman Sophie Cunningham, the program's first ever McDonald's All-American.

The stage was set for a successful season, and the team certainly did not disappoint.

The team began perfect, running through its nonconference schedule with a 13–0 record. After matching the program’s longest win streak, the run fell short in their first Southeastern Conference matchup against No. 12 Tennessee.

From then on, the Tigers were inconsistent in the challenging SEC, but they were constantly working toward a higher goal.

By the end of the season, they had racked up 20 wins, a milestone the program hadn’t seen since 2006.

“You factor in that it's a 20-win season, the first time in 10 years, only the third time in 25 years,” coach Robin Pingeton said after the team’s 20th win over Arkansas on Feb. 14. “That's really, really exciting for the growth of our program … At the end of the season, you want to be playing your best basketball, and we hit a speed bump about a week and a half ago that wasn't very fun for any of us, but the way the girls have responded and came back to practice, and their execution — give them all of the credit."

After losing the last few games of the season, including senior day, the team fell into a downward spiral that they couldn’t escape in time for the SEC tournament. The Tigers lost 47–45 to Auburn, a team they defeated decisively earlier in the season, in the first round.

Although the Tigers were fairly certain they’d made the cut for the NCAA tournament, it took a week for the team to find out. Once that question was answered, one more remained. Would they be able to compete?

Well, not only did they compete, but they conquered. No. 10-seed Missouri beat No. 7-seed BYU by 11 points March 19, their first NCAA tournament win in 15 years.

Although the players would go on to fall to No. 2-seed Texas, their statement was made. They’d solidified their place as a force in the country for years to come.

The 2015–16 season was the first significant step in an extended building process for the Missouri women’s basketball program. With almost every key player returning and talented freshman taking the places of veterans, the team’s abilities or capability to return to the tournament will not be in question next season.

“Every year, it's going to be our goal to get here,” junior Jordan Frericks said in a press conference after the Texas loss. “It was just an awesome opportunity to be able to get here and really showed our hard work that went into this season. We're looking forward to another year that's going to get us right back to where we are now.”

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