The rookie of the year: Liana Cunningham’s rise to success

Ashley Wall/ THE GATEPOST

On February 28, Framingham State’s Women’s Basketball freshman point guard Liana Cunningham was named Rookie of the Year in the MASCAC Conference.

Cunningham said, “I was surprised and excited. My coach called me and told me, and it was a great feeling. I finally felt like my hard work paid off for my first collegiate basketball season – but it also made me realize how much I still want to improve as a player, as a teammate, and as a leader for the upcoming seasons.”

Head Coach Walter Paschal said, “When the award came out, we were pretty excited for her.” 

He added, “All her hard work had paid off. And the good news is she has three more years left, and she is only going to get better.”

The Quincy native began her college basketball career by joining a team fresh off its third-straight trip to the MASCAC Championship.

For any freshman coming onto a team that has had such success, the odds of making the roster would be slim. 

Cunningham not only made the roster, but she started every game for the Rams as point guard.

“Going into the year, we knew Liana had a chance to be pretty good. But it’s not an easy job being a freshman point guard on a team that went to three-straight MASCAC Championship games,” Paschal said. “But from the beginning, she showed us that she was more than capable of handling the job.”

Fellow guard Emily Velozo said, “To start as a freshman and learn all of the plays and how we do things is challenging, never mind at the point-guard position. It’s that much harder. You are responsible for not only knowing the plays, but needing to know what plays to call during certain situations.” 

She added, “She came a long way from the beginning to the end of the season once she got comfortable and figured out the team dynamics.”

Cunningham recorded at least five assists during 11 different games for Framingham and loaded up the assists total later in the season. 

Her control at the point and ability to dish out assists led to the Rams finishing second in points-scored-per-game in the MASCAC Conference.

Cunningham herself finished third in the Conference for assists, as she contributed 112 on the season. 

When talking about how she was able to record so many assists, Cunningham said, “It was definitely my teammates. They made my job easy and I had all the weapons to do it: from sharp shooters to people that knew how to run their lanes, to bigs in the post having good seals so they were easy to give the ball to. I like to play fast and up court, and my teammates made everything so much easier and wide open.”

Her fast-paced style of play seemed to benefit Framingham all season, as they consistently sprinted up the court and nailed a basket before the opposing defense could get set.

Velozo said, “I really love playing with Liana. Her and I have similar games. We both like to go, go, go and attack the hoop. I played point guard my whole life and even for two years here at Framingham. Point guards just get each other, so we are always on the same page.”

Cunningham’s game benefited the Rams on the defensive side of the ball greatly, as she finished eighth overall in the conference with 44 steals. 

Her 44 steals contributed to Framingham’s 8.9 steals per game, which stood third in the MASCAC. 

Paschal said, “As a freshman, there is a learning curve, so there were times where she would struggle offensively, but that is just a confidence issue.” 

He added, “No doubt that will not be an issue next year. Defensively, she was outstanding all year.”

Her impressive freshman year ended in a tough way, as the Rams fell to Westfield State in the MASCAC semi-finals.

The loss, however, did not bring down the Rookie of the Year’s spirit moving forward. 

Cunningham said, “We always had that winning mentality, and now we are just even hungrier for next year and getting back into the gym already and working out together.” 

She added, “And now we all understand that it takes even more to get to the top, and we are willing to go that extra mile.”

After having a tremendous second half to her first season, it seems that Cunningham will continue trending upwards as her career moves along.

Velozo said, “I can’t wait to see what she has in store for the rest of her career here.” 

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