Division I basketball pioneer Coyote enters Hall of Fame
At the end of this redshirt season, she will spend the next three years as the Coyotes’ leading scorer and rebounder on the hardwood. Cunningham was key in guiding the Coyotes through the transition years, from Great West’s rigorous travel schedule to NCAA Tournament ineligibility at the end of the season.
The reward eventually paid off in 2012 when the Coyotes first entered the National Women’s Invitational Tournament. With an experienced group tackling the transition together, the Coyotes embarked on a race to place third in the team’s first season as a member of the Summit League. USD have won 12 of their last 13 regular season games and then advanced to the second round of the WNIT.
“It’s fun when you feel like you’re building momentum and playing well at the end,” Cunningham said. “Then to follow that by being able to play WNIT games in front of the home crowd in the Dome, that was great. This opportunity is what we worked hard for in the years leading up to this.
During the Coyotes’ run that season came the first win over then-Division I-era rival South Dakota State. As part of the rivalry’s renewal, Cunningham dropped 28 points , a game-high, in the thrilling 59-53 overtime victory inside the DakotaDome.
“It was a terrific crowd,” Cunningham recalled. “I remember (Annie) Roche hit a little jump shot to put us in overtime. I think we were down nine in the last three minutes but then continued to beat them in overtime. It was really good to get a home win against SDSU in front of our fans.
Cunningham averaged 19.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.2 blocks during his senior campaign. He is tied for the third-best single-season scoring average in USD history, behind only Hall of Famer Mandy Koupal.
While reflecting on her college career, Cunningham recalled the details of a few games, but her favorite memories were the fun times with her teammates. She loved the summers in Vermillion spent hitting the river, traveling with her best friends on the team, and trying to win basketball games.