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Cunningham begins her last hurrah

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The first event of Mizzou Madness was a singing performance from freshman Akira Levy. You'll forgive the crowd if there was some skepticism.

It’s an awkward situation for everyone involved, usually it’s terrible.

But when Levy grabbed the microphone and began to sing it became clear, this athlete at Mizzou can clearly sing.

Her rendition of “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys instantly stole the show. Levy, obviously enjoying the moment, moved around the entire court entertaining the crowd and picking up the energy in Mizzou Arena.

It was an unexpected and bold move from the freshman in her first event at Mizzou Arena. But to her teammates, it wasn’t out of character. According to senior Sophie Cunningham, Levy is always singing and “If I Aint Got You” is the song that she can absolutely nail.

This was just a performance that lets fans see more of her personality, something that reminds Cunningham of herself.

“Everyone compares Akira to me,” Cunningham said. “She was me when I was a freshman.”

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She characterized Levy as a quick and crafty guard, who pushes the ball in transition. Something that she can’t wait for fans to see in this season.

Coming from Cunningham, this means a lot. She has played a large role in changing the fortunes of Missouri women’s basketball on and off the court. After the black and gold scrimmage, Cunningham was open about how much things have changed since her arrival in 2015.

Cunningham remembers her games at Rock Bridge when there were more people in attendance than the Missouri women’s basketball games. The gym was frequently packed to watch the Bruins play and four years later the women’s team is getting there.

“This community has really gotten around this team,” Cunningham said. “We try to do everything to give back to them. This is a hard place to play during the season, especially with 11,000 fans. They're loyal. They're blue-collar. They kinda represent us.”

Tonight, was a glorified walk-through. Chill is how Cunningham described it. However, it did provide some insight into this team would differ from teams in the past.

Coach Robin Pingeton talked before the scrimmage about how the Tigers were moving toward a faster, up-tempo pace this season. That's partly because this Tigers squad is very small. The tallest player is 6-foot-4 freshman Brittany Garner. So, the Tigers want to play faster to offset missing a post presence inside.

It was clear the intention of the night was to push the ball down court as quickly as possible and from there take the first available shot. Team Black went on to win 23-16, behind Amber Smith’s hot shooting. Cunningham was active early for Team Gold, scoring six of the team’s first eight points.

Heading into the season Cunningham still hasn’t stopped to reflect on her impact on the women’s program. At first, her goal was to elevate the program but now it’s all about winning.

“I want more,” Cunningham said. “I want a championship. That’s why I came here.”

That’s the next step for this program to take in her eyes. The journey begins with an exhibition game at home on Monday, Oct. 29 against Missouri Western at 7 p.m.