During a particularly dysfunctional practice early this season, University of Wisconsin women's basketball coach Lisa Stone banished her team from the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion practice gym. Her parting instructions: "Anya, take your team out in the hall and get them ready to play."

It was a telling sign of respect for a sophomore who has yet to make her first collegiate start. It's also the kind of assignment for which Anya Covington has spent a lifetime training.

"They listen to me so I have to use that in a positive way," said Covington. "When we're down we have to find some kind of motivation and if no one can do it I have to step up and motivate us somehow. I take honor in doing that. There are other people on the team who can do that as well, but sometimes I have to do that."

Exerting leadership comes naturally to Covington, who grew up in a military environment. Her father, Mart, was an Army Ranger and served in the storied 101st Airborne Division. He retired as a lieutenant in 2001 after serving four tours in the Middle East.

While she was just 10 years-old when he left the service, the experience left an imprint on Covington.

"I'm proud of my dad and everything he did," she said. "We were young kids and it was scary. But knowing my dad, we thought he was Superman at the time. He's such a strong man, mentally, physically, spiritually, so he didn't give us much doubt to have.

"I remember when he went to Saudi Arabia for a whole year. That was hard. But he tried his best to be there for us. He's a home-bound guy, so when he was home we knew it; and when he was gone we knew it."

Typical of military families, the Covingtons got around. Anya was born in Clarksville, Tenn., and attended schools in seven towns in four states - two in Alaska, one in Georgia, two in Tennessee and two in Illinois.

"It helped the social skills," said Covington, who spent her high school years in Edwardsville, Ill. "You've got to get to know people fast, make new friends and then start all over in about two years."

Those advanced social skills, along with a debater's gift for expressing her opinions, combined to make her a natural leader with the Badgers. Her teammates recognized that by voting her one of three captains this season, an honor usually reserved for upperclass players.

"Anya has a personality of a leader and she's a captain for a reason," said Stone. "She developed this leadership ability as a young girl and as a freshman last year fell right into that role. The team will follow Anya. She has a presence about her, she has an intelligence about her."

In recognition of those qualities, Stone nominated Covington to participate in the NCAA Division 1 Women's Basketball Issues Committee. She is one of just two student-athlete representatives selected for the 16-member group, which also includes coaches and administrators from around the nation.

She's participated in one conference call, with another coming up soon, and may attend a meeting at the women's Final Four in San Antonio.

"It's a great honor to be chosen," Covington said. "I've read up on the issues and talked to a few of our players about things. It helps you see that there's way more going on in the world than what's going on in your life. I'm really excited about the issue of how women's basketball is promoted. I feel like we can do a better job of showing the lady's side of women's basketball. Yes, it's a tough, aggressive game, but we're all young ladies and I feel like that's important to show."

Oh yeah, and she can play a little, too.

As the primary backup to post players Lin Zastrow and Tara Steinbauer, Covington is averaging 5.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in just over 15 minutes per game. She's also shooting a team-high .574 from the field, which would lead the Big Ten if she had enough shot attempts to qualify.

"She's getting better and better offensively on the block," said Stone. "She's taking what the defense gives her, not settling for a fade-away, trying to be more of a power player and going to the basket.

"Defensively, she has grown in leaps and bounds from day one to right now. She still has a ways to go, but she is one of our best rebounders, her strength and her presence inside is the same as it is off the court. The team leans on her that way"

Covington's pet offensive move is a jump hook, one that she unleashed a couple times against Michigan State's 6-foot-9 Allyssa DeHaan in Monday night's 62-54 victory

"I love the hook shot," she said. "The hook works against anybody ... any height, any size. It's just a really good move, very versatile.

Senior guard Teah Gant, Covington's roommate and a teammate going back to their AAU days with the Chicago Hoops Express, has seen the growth and maturing of her game.

"She's definitely learning the college game, knowing that you can't just push people around here because all the post players are really strong," said Gant. "She's learning that it's more being smart rather than just relying on your skill.

"She definitely is very tough and physical. She doesn't let people push her around or intimidate her. I think her dad taught her to be strong and not let people underestimate you. She really brings that to our team and emphasizes that we need to focus on ourselves, be tough and not be intimidated by anybody."

Those attributes figure to serve her beyond her basketball career. An English major, Covington plans to go to law school and eventually work as a defense attorney.

She got a taste of that this past summer during an eight-week internship with the Dane County public defender's office.

"I got to see how the justice system works from the inside," she said. "It was really exciting. I was in court and in the jailhouse every day. I talked to the inmates, I saw what they were arrested for, I saw what the lawyers did. It was a really good feeling and I feel like that's what I want to do.

"As a child growing up I loved to debate things. I like to get my point across and if I believe something is true and right, I'm sticking with it. I kind of go for the underdog and I saw a lot of people in prison who were just in bad situations, and I have a heart for that."

 

 

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