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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 17, 2004 - Issue 111


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SMS' Warrior


by Eric Bailey News-Leader Staff


Jenni Lingor is the Southwest Missouri State Lady Bears' warrior.

It's a title that coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson has given Lingor, ironically an American Indian of Cherokee descent.

Warriors never quit. When hit with adversity, they find ways to triumph.

Even when faced with the death of parents.

When Lisa Lingor passed away to a brain tumor shortly after Christmas, Jenni mourned for the second time in her young life. Her father Steven died two years earlier after complications from diabetes.

Watching Lingor excel on the basketball court, you'd think nothing was wrong.

But she still hurts.

"I've had to deal with both of their deaths and continue to deal with it," Lingor said. "It has really put life in perspective and has pointed out what's important."

Her teammates practiced at 7 a.m. on Dec. 29 so they could be with her at Lisa Lingor's funeral in Tahlequah, Okla., later that afternoon.

"We needed to be down there," Sarah Klaassen said. "I cried that day because it hurt me to see her hurt so badly."

Her teammates were honorary pallbearers at her mother's funeral.

"They were a great support and helped me tremendously," Lingor said.

Said Morgan Hohenberger: "We're her family now. We'll always be here for her."

Lingor missed a win at Oregon State to be with her mother. When the Lady Bears played a New Year's Day game against Saint Louis, it would have been understandable if she sat out.

Instead, she flirted with a triple-double, getting 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a 72-33 victory over the Billikens.

"She's an unbelievably strong person," Kari Koch said. "It would have gotten to me, but she handled the situation well."

"She was able to use basketball as an escape," Klaassen said. "She loves basketball and it helps keep her going."

This weekend, Lingor's grandparents — Danny and Ellen Whitekiller — will occupy seats in the north stands of Hammons Student Center. It's where Lisa Lingor used to sit.

They've watched their granddaughter from her first season, when Lingor was voted the Missouri Valley Conference freshman of the year.

Lingor overcame a tough transition. Playing under then-coach Cheryl Burnett, she was quickly thrust into a role as the team's go-to player.

"When I first came to school here, I thought I'd sit on the bench for two years or get limited playing time," Lingor said. "It turned out to be the exact opposite."

She averaged a team-high 13.1 points a game and was voted to the all-conference team.

For all the individual accolades, it was the mediocre 16-13 record that bugged her.

"It was a big learning experience," she said. "We were coming off a Final Four year and all the girls were used to winning ... we had a lot of expectations but fell short.

"Someone once told me the Lady Bears don't lose 10 games in a season. We lost 13 and it was really disappointing."

Last season, under new coach Abrahamson-Henderson, SMS hit its stride late in the season.

Lingor played every minute of the Lady Bears' three-game march to the MVC Tournament title.

Koch was named the MVP of the tournament, but there could have been two award winners.

"Jenni does everything for us. She can shoot the 3, penetrate, rebound ... she lays it all out for her team," Abrahamson-Henderson said.

She's toyed with a triple-double over the past two seasons. Is there a chance she'll join Carly Deer as the only players in SMS history to get one?

"Everyone jokes about it, but it could happen," Lingor said with a sly smile.

Lingor's statistics improved from her freshman season, but she didn't repeat as a first-team all-conference player.

"I was a little bit disappointed," Lingor said. "In the end, it worked out great. I'd much rather go to the NCAA Tournament than have a plaque."

Lingor said her team is looking forward to defending its tourney title.

"No one expected us to win last year and we did," she said. "This year, some of the coaches don't think we're the best team in our league. We want to prove it."

Last year's NCAA Tournament trip just made the Lady Bears hunger for another trip, she said.

"We got a taste of something great," Lingor said. "(The NCAA Tournament) is something that drives athletes and it's lit a fire under us."

With a 25-3 record entering the MVC Tournament, the Lady Bears may be on the radar of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Lingor doesn't want anyone deciding her fate; she'd rather grab the automatic bid that comes with an MVC title.

"With all the upsets that have been happening around the country, we don't want to put it in anyone else's hands. We want to make sure SMS will be going back there."

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