Triple threat: Cunningham a major force for volleyball
Whether she is diving for a dig or helping people learn English, volleyball’s Lee Ann Cunningham has consistently demonstrated her willingness to offer a helping hand.
The junior libero leads the team with 456 digs on the season and has helped lead the team to a 21-4 record. With the team currently on a 15-match win streak, Cunningham said she recognizes that the team needs to take it one game at a time.
“As a team, we know we have a target on our backs,” Cunningham said. “Everyone is bringing us their highest level of play.”
Cunningham started playing volleyball in the third grade. Before coming to Rice, she attended Assumption High School in Louisville, Kentucky where she helped lead her high school team to their 19th state championship in 24 years. While in high school, she was also a member of her high school’s track team and the National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society and Beta Club. When deciding whether she ultimately wanted to play at the collegiate level, she said she knew how valuable being on a rigorous team would be for her development.
“I decided to attend a high school with an intense volleyball program so that I could gauge whether or not I wanted to continue playing at a high level,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham totaled 511 digs in her freshman season, making the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. During her sophomore season, when she was selected to the C-USA All-Conference second team, she eclipsed her previous season’s total, registering 580 digs. Though such a high volume of digs can take its toll physically, Cunningham said the results justify a few scuffs here and there.
“Though we do end up with a few bruises sometimes, it’s all worth it,” Cunningham said.
During college, Cunningham has continued to volunteer in many ways.
“ I volunteer for the summer ESL program at West University Baptist [Church],” Cunningham said. “My teammates and I also love to help out at the Houston Food Bank.”
While balancing volunteer work with her time on the volleyball court, Cunningham has also found a way to pursue a triple major in policy studies, political science and Spanish with a minor in sociology. According to Cunningham, leisure time is precious as a student-athlete.
“If I have free time outside of the classroom and the volleyball court, I am most likely watching football,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham may not have any time to decompress, as she said she isn’t satisfied with the team’s current winning streak given the high goals she has for the team.
“Our goals for the season include winning Conference USA, going to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, all while maintaining a high team GPA,” Cunningham said.
Having just clinched the regular-season C-USA championship for the first time in program history, Cunningham and the rest of the Rice volleyball team will look to extend their winning streak to 16 games on Thursday against Florida International University.
More from The Rice Thresher
In a close-fought game, Rice women’s basketball lost in overtime to Marquette University, 58-54. The Owls led by as many as nine points with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but scored just two points in the next nine minutes of play (including overtime), allowing the Golden Eagles to complete the comeback win. With the loss, Rice is eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, ending its historic season.
On Monday, ESPN (somewhat prematurely) released the bracket for the 2019 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Like many of you readers, I was shocked to see that Rice was a No. 12 seed.