By Cole Tussing
The Tigers seem to have a lot going against them this season. Even with facing their hardest non-conference schedule in Pingeton’s coaching career, no longer having Cunningham and company and the SEC being as strong as ever, Pingeton is not ready to wave the white flag.
“Expectations have not changed at all. And certainly we have lost some great players, over the years. Sophie was probably the most decorated women’s basketball player we have had here in a while, and she was a huge part of what we were able to do the last few years,” Pingeton said. “Somebody asked me at a speaking engagement if this was a rebuilding year, and I almost took offense to that. We don’t look it at that way at all. Expectations we have for our program is that we were going to continue to raise the bar and compete for championships.”
Last year, the Tigers finished with a record of 24-11 and a 10-6 clip in conference. They recorded regular season wins over ranked Mississippi State, ranked Tennessee on the road and got to the semifinals in the SEC Tournament before losing to the eventual SEC-champion Mississippi State. This level of play prompted the seventh seed in the NCAA tournament, where they beat Drake in overtime in round 64 before being eliminated in the tournament by the second-seeded Iowa.
The Tigers had the best recruiting class in the SEC with the likes of Aijha Blackwell, the 5-star, ninth-ranked overall recruit in the 2019 class.
“Aijha is the most explosive, powerful athlete in my 30 years of coaching,” Pingeton said. “She’s fun to coach, high basketball IQ, can score on 3 different levels. She had a nagging ankle injury, (so we’re) trying to get her back on the court.”
The game is completely different when comparing high school and college, especially if that college plays in one of the hardest conferences in basketball, however the change hasn’t affected Blackwell’s mindset.
“Things are different in high school. I’ve taken the weight room more seriously here. The game is faster, but I’m seeing growth,” Blackwell said.
Hayley Frank is another 5-star recruit that Pingeton can’t wait to utilize on the court.
“They are pretty elite-level kids. And they are going to come in and make an immediate impact for us,” Pingeton said.
The season is approaching fast for the Missouri Tigers. They start off with two exhibition games facing Truman State and Fontbonne before moving on to the Cancun Challenge where they will face off against NC State and North Carolina over Thanksgiving break. Then, conference play begins with a road trip to Knoxville to face the Volunteers.
Edited by Emma Moloney | email@example.com