Eva Cunningham

Western New York Basketball Star Coaches at SEM

3 Basketballs that list all of Eva's accomplishments through her career

3 Basketballs that list all of Eva’s accomplishments through her career

We know Eva Cunningham as SEM’s athletic director, residence director and basketball coach but outside of SEM she is well known in Western New York for her accomplishments playing basketball.

Eva, age 34, grew up in Elma where she attended Iroquois public high school from 1998-2001. That is where a basketball all-star was made.

While at Iroquois, Eva played four years of varsity sports: field hockey, basketball and softball. Eva had most of her success come from her time on the basketball team. During high school she not only reached Iroquois school records, she shattered them, surpassing 1,000 points her junior year. In total, Eva had 1,659 points, 491 steals, and 379 assists in high school.

3 Basketballs that list all of Eva’s accomplishments through her career. Photo courtesy or Eva Cunningham.

With numbers like those, it was no surprise that she was named All-WNY First-Team All-star by The Buffalo News in 2000 and 2001, her junior and senior years.

Eva bringing the ball up as point guard her junior year at Iroquois. Photo courtesy of Cunningham family.

Eva then went on to play Division 1 basketball at the Niagara University in 2001. It seemed like history repeated itself once again. At Niagara, she broke records and made new ones to become the all-time leading scorer with 1,753 points. She also holds the record for the assists at 552. All of these records helped her earn the title of 2005 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Player of the Year.

Eva graduated in 2005 with an MB in history education but her basketball career was far from over. Eva went on to play professionally in countries all over the world – Puerto Rico, Portugal and Ireland, just to name a few. During her time playing pro she was a standout star just as she was in her high school and college career. While playing in Ireland on her team the Tolka Rovers she was named First Team All-Ireland in 2009.

In 2010, Eva received a phone call from the university’s president telling her shocking news – Eva would be inducted to Niagara University’s Athletic Hall of Fame and would be the first female to have her jersey retired. “Niagara retiring my number and being inducted into their hall of fame made me recognize all of the hard work I put into my career,” she said. Along with the induction, her jersey was retired. Number 32 now hangs in the rafters of the Gallagher Center where everyone who walks into the gym can see it hanging.

Eva’s college profile picture. Photo by Niagara University.

Eva joined the SEM staff in 2009 as the assistant athletic director. Her role at SEM has changed the past few years – she became Oishei House residence director in 2014. She said she’s learned from the students – it’s not always the other way around. Cathy Yu ’18 lives in Oishei. She said she has formed a close bond with Eva the past couple of years. “We are close friends but even more, she is my mom while I am away at school.” Cathy went on to explain that Eva checks up on the girls. She even goes as far as tucking them in at night.

Jiani Lu ’18,  member of SEM’s Varsity basketball team agrees with her housemate and unabashedly said, “Eva is my idol on and off of the court.”

Many SEM girls look to Eva for guidance from either athletic viewpoint and also the life view point. She has played a huge role in shaping girls, including this reporter. I would have never held a leadership position if it was not for her pushing me to go out and take chance in life. Not only has Eva helped girls see what they are capable of athletically, she is an advocate of success for every SEM girl.

All around school girls go to Eva for reasons that vary. Sam Burlow  ’17 gives Eva credit for showing her how to trust her instincts. “Before high school I never did that. She always told me to be true to myself.” Sam then went on to explain that Eva is not just a coach to her, she is also a role model. “Eva has taught me many things but the most importantly she taught me to be dedicated to things you want most in life.”

Sam Burlow ’17 using the skills Eva taught her on the court. Photo by Michele Goldfarb.
College counselor Molly Greene ’98. Photo by Buffalo Seminary.

Eva’s colleagues admire her for her words of advice, to her jokes and her dog Leo. SEM’s college counselor Molly Greene ’98 sees what Eva does with girls. “Eva has an innate ability to connect with all different kinds of students. In her quiet way she challenges and support supports students always motivating them to  do their best.”

 Eva’s jersey hanging at Niagara University doesn’t just represent another great athlete. It represents a girl from a small town who grew up to be someone great. She became a leader on and off the court. Eva Cunningham is now recognized as a role model to not only the girls at her high school and college alma mater but also all of the female student athletes at SEM.

Q: What is it like looking back at your accomplishments?

Eva: It’s bittersweet. It makes me realize how much I miss everything. Being on a team brought me many great memories that I  never want to let go of but it also allows me to be proud of myself.

Q: Why number 32?

Eva: 32 has been my number since I was little and I think it goes back to the family friendship we had with the Laettner family. Having seen Christian Laettner grow to be a basketball star at Duke gave me some inspiration to do the same. Since he wore 32 I feel like I should do the same.

Q: Who had the biggest influence on you?

Eva: Pat Summit. She was an inspiration for me especially because of she was a great basketball coach at University of Tennessee (1974-2012). When I was little I would imagine playing for Pat in my driveway. I would imagine she was instructing me to take the winning shot in a championship game.

Eva pretending to play for Pat Summit (1997). Photo courtesy of  Cunningham family.

Q:Where was your favorite place to play?

Eva: Ireland. It was the place where I felt most at home and where in my opinion, I played my best.

Q: Where were your favorite places to play in college?

Eva: The best memory I had of playing in college had to have been playing in a tournament at Iowa State which was ranked #5 at the time. I was a freshman not used to the big crowds of college basketball yet, but when I walked into the that arena everything changed. 11,000 people were rooting against us because we were playing the home team. The fans kept me motivated regardless if they were cheering for me or against me.

Q: Do you believe people when they say you are a role model for student athletes?

Eva: Yes, I love coaching. Coaching high school kids who want to play in college, I pay more attention too. I feel like I connect best with those kids. Being the athletic director helps me see a girl’s potential in every sport. This helps me understand where I can offer them the most guidance.