WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Co-captain brings team together ‘like a big sister’

Typically, team captains don’t take kindly to coming off the bench.

But for women’s basketball co-captain LaToya Cunningham, starting every game isn’t priority number one – winning is.

The junior sports administration major from Vallejo, Calif., a medium-sized city about 45 minutes north of San Francisco, says she’ll do what it takes to improve the team, including mentoring Epiphany Woodson, a freshman with whom Cunningham often splits playing time.

“When she came in, I kind of helped guide her,” Cunningham said. “Kind of like a big sister, little sister-type thing. There’s no competition, we’re both here for each other. We help each other out.”

Cunningham’s win-first mentality dates back to her high school days, when at La Jolla Country Day prep school she took her team to four regional championships, winning the state title her freshman year.

But her passion for sports dates back even farther to her childhood.

“I wasn’t really into Barbie dolls,” Cunningham said. “I’m actually kind of scared of them. I played video games, basketball, skateboarding. I did all the tomboyish stuff.”

Growing up, she said she followed such women’s basketball powerhouses as Duke, North Carolina and Tennessee, but decided to come to a less-established program.

“Everyone else, they want to go to those places. I wanted to go to a program and help build that program and make a name for myself and play against those people. You want to be the best so go up against the best.”

After three years of play, Cunningham emerged as a respected member on the team. She’s played in every game since joining the team in her freshman year, and her position at point guard allows her to serve as a leader on and off the floor. She’s known for her tenacity and her lighter side.

“She usually starts whatever the joke is and everybody joins in and starts laughing,” said Epiphany Woodson, a freshman guard. “I think it brings the team together.”

Head coach Katie Meier called Cunningham “the most accountable player on the team.”

“Toya’s a selfless kid,” Meier said. “She really takes responsibility for Miami the team versus worrying about herself. She represents the new era of Miami basketball. She just wants us to get better every day.”

It’s no surprise, then, that when it comes to starting, Cunningham echoes one of Meier’s mantras: “It’s not about who starts the game. It’s who finishes,” she said.

Corey Erb may be contacted at c.erb@umiami.edu.