BELOIT - When the Cornell College women's basketball team steps on the hardwood at Flood Arena tonight to open Midwest Conference play, the Rams will see a thin roster of nine Beloit College Buccaneers.
Maybe. There could be even less due to recent injuries.
Luckily for the Bucs, only five are on the court at a time. But with the intensity of senior forward Candace Cunningham it may seem like more.
"People underestimate the necessity of being sharp on the floor on offense and defense," Head Coach Gloria Bradley said. "Some people make lazy cuts, loopy cuts and it's just not sharp, crisp and clean. (Cunningham) does everything with intensity. She will cut hard to the basket and crash the offensive glass and get rebounds, put backs and and-ones. On the defensive end, she has good on-ball defense, good post defense and also her help defense."
Last season as a junior Cunningham was efficient averaging nearly a double-double with 9.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. She also earned a MWC Player of the Week award along with the team's award for Newcomer of the Year.
A standout soccer player who earned All-MWC First Team honors his past fall, Cunningham didn't come out for basketball until her junior year.
"I basically got recruited by other players on the team who watched me play in intramurals." Cunningham said. "One day out of the blue, my soccer coach called me into his office and was like 'Candace, so I heard you used to play basketball in high school. The basketball team is in desperate need for more players, so would you be willing to talk to the basketball coach for a few minutes?.' So I was like sure why not.?"
After meeting with Coach Bradley she decided to take on the challenge of playing basketball at the collegiate level.
"I kept asking myself did I just do that? Am I really about to play basketball again?" Cunningham said. "It was a rough transition for me at the start, being that I hadn't played competitively in three years and I had to learn all the plays in three days because that's how long I had till our first game. As the season went on I became more comfortable with my role on the team and the players."
Coach Bradley expects her to be an be an example to her underclass teammates.
"I see myself as what I would call a 'quiet' leader," Cunningham said. "I feel as if my performance, effort, and work rate on the floor is what makes me a competitive player and I feel as if other players can look up to me as a role model and follow in my footsteps. My passion in general for sports is what makes my drive so high because I always want to be at my best for my coach and my teammates."
Expect the high motor of intensity to be on display tonight. Both Beloit and Cornell are winless, so getting on the right track is the goal.
"For our game against Cornell, we need to come out strong and just play our game, by running all the way through the plays and doing it in an effective manner, taking care of the ball, and just working hard every single play." Cunningham said. "After our last few games, the opposing coaches have said we have greatly improved from last year and that our defense is very strong and aggressive. Every team has a thing that they are known for and I think that this year our defense is going to be our 'thing'."
Tipoff for Cunningham and the Bucs is at 5:30 p.m. today. A men's game will follow.