Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!
We’re continuing our 2010s at Mizzou series today with the Top Five Athletes of the Decade at the University of Missouri. Our list of athletes 10-6 was dominated by football players, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any here. That’s no surprise, though. The athletes that made our Top 5 defined dominance in their respective sports. These were record-setters and breakers, Tigers who transcended their university success to become great ambassadors for the school.
That may sound like public relations talk, but it’s hard to find less grandiose ways to discuss these five.
5. Fabian Schwingenscholögl
Fabian (with the fun to say last name), native of Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany, almost never was a Missouri Tiger. Only after Western Kentucky suspended their men’s team for numerous Title IX violations did he make his way to Columbia. In 2016, Schwingenschlogl became Mizzou’s first NCAA title winner when he won the 100 breaststroke. In that same meet, he also finished third in the 200 breast, marking the highest finishes by a Mizzou male swimmer in history. In 2017, his final NCAA championships, he took silver in the 100 breast, though a full half-second faster than the year before (at an elite level, that’s a significant amount of time to drop), clocking in the third fastest time in history. He also helped Mizzou win its first relay medal when they took home the bronze in the 400 medley relay. He concluded his short Mizzou career as a 12-time All-American, with nine of those coming during his two years as a Tiger, and owner of the three highest finishes at the NCAA championships by a Mizzou male swimmer.
When interviewed for an article by Missourian staffer Ron Davis in 2016, he was asked to recall the day he won his National title, and how he prepared for the race. Aside from admittedly trash-talking his competitors to ease his nerves, he said his preparation for the final stretch of the race is what helped him earn a title because “any swimmer can be fast in the first 25 meters.” Missouri swimmers attributed Fabian’s success to his extended hours he put in the pool and his very strict recovery routine (how you prepare your body to wind down after a race).
When I asked Head Coach Andrew Grevers to describe Fabian’s impact on the team, he had a lot to say, calling Fabian one of the hardest workers in the pool and weight room, while at the same time encouraging this teammates who were doing impressive things around him... “He found a positive way to lift up his teammates on a daily basis,” he said. “You would think after he took the title (in the 100 breast his junior year), that he might take his foot off the gas. But he actually dug in deeper and poured more of himself into the team his final year... He worked on his mental performance training and not only walked away the best men’s swimmer in school history, but also one of its greatest vocal leaders.” — Karen Steger
4. Chelsea Thomas
Crazy enough, Chelsea Thomas wasn’t highly recruited, and only got an invite to Mizzou’s campus for a recruiting visit after sending them a DVD showcasing her talent that her dad made. Now, Thomas is nothing shy of a Mizzou legend — widely considered one of the most dominant and feared pitchers of her era. During her time at Missouri, she helped elevate Ehren Earlywine’s softball program to national prominence and helped lead the Tigers to three consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances. She is the only Tiger softball player to be named first-team All-American three times, and won the conference Pitcher of the Year (in both the Big 12 and SEC) three times. Thomas left Mizzou as the career leader in wins with 111 and strikeouts with 1174, and ranked in the top five all-time in many, many other categories. To top it off, her senior year she ranked sixth in the nation in hits allowed per 7 innings. In short, Thomas was awesome, Mizzou is very lucky they got her commitment, and there hasn’t been a player like her since.
Following her graduation from Mizzou, she spent 4 seasons as a member of the USSSA Pride in the National Pro Fastpitch league (the highest level of pro softball in the USA), during which time she also joined the McKendree University Bearcats as an assistant coach and pitching coach. Not surprisingly, #18 was inducted into the Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018 in her first year of eligibility. — Karen Steger
3. Sophie Cunningham
It’s occasionally difficult to measure the impact of any one player on a basketball team until they’re gone. That was never the case with Sophie Cunningham. Sophie’s fire and competitiveness oozed throughout the Mizzou women’s basketball program the moment she stepped foot on campus to the day she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.
Cunningham left the program one of the decorated athletes in school history including the all-time leading scorer, averaging 17.0 points per game over a four year span totaling 2,187 points. She’s 3rd in career points per game, 4th in field goals made, 2nd in 3-point shooting, 1st in Free Throws made, and 4th in assists. Sophie put up elite numbers, was a terrific shooter and floor spacer, but she will forever be known for her tenacity and drive to win, averaging over 5 rebounds a game from the wing position.
The SEC is likely the toughest women’s basketball league in the country, and Cunningham led the program to their first NCAA tournament since 2006 as a freshman, and made the tournament each year after that. A Sophie-led 24 win mark in 2018 was the most total wins since 1984, and 5th most in program history. Combine all of these feats into one pot and you have the single best athlete in a team sports for the last decade, and arguably the most impactful player in Mizzou Women’s Basketball History. Oh, and she grew up in Columbia too. — Sam Snelling
2. Karissa Schweizer
Every Nike, Under Armour or Gatorade commercial you’ll ever see is out to remind you that greatness is earned. It is a result of work, sweat, tears and buying name brand products. It’s not supposed to be easy. That’s what makes Karissa Schweizer’s career at Mizzou so insane: she made it seem so easy.
Schweizer came to Missouri as a relatively undecorated high school runner and proceeded to become one of the school’s greatest athletes ever. She stacked individual championships like they were Legos and knocked over records like wobbly anthills. News of her exploits became like dispatches from a superhero comic where citizens treat other-worldy greatness with passing acceptance and casual admiration. By the time she ran through her four years of eligibility, she had compiled one of the greatest resumes Mizzou Athletics will ever see, and she did it all with the seeming ease of an autumn wind. — Josh Matejka
1. J’Den Cox
J’den Cox is, and has always been, unfair.
It’s one thing that, in the first 25 years of his life, he won a pair of world titles, an Olympic bronze, and three national titles. It’s another thing altogether that he is almost painfully well-adjusted. And can sing. And do sign language. Or that he’s a Columbia kid who decided to stay home and become the greatest athlete in Mizzou history.
He was an all-state linebacker, too, by the way -- he would have almost certainly been great on the gridiron if he wanted to be. But hey, maybe he thought that would have just been greedy. — Bill Connelly