When a player has served as a captain in two of her three years of play, it becomes clear that the player is a respected team leader.
Such is the case with Wisconsin women’s basketball forward Anya Covington, who has seen extra playing time recently in the absence of senior Tara Steinbauer. Although not usually the first name in the box score, Covington, who has acted as a captain during both her sophomore and junior years, is the epitome of a leader both on and off the hardwood.
“She’s always been a leader, she’s a natural born leader,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “She is really living the life of a leader … confident, mature. You think about people that have grown into maturation, she’s had it. She’s coming into her own as a basketball player, but as a human being, she’s special.”
Although Covington has certainly made an impact on the court, her achievements off the court are equally impressive. A member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the Student-Athletes Equally Supporting others and a representative on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Issues Committee, it comes as no surprise that the junior has been voted a captain by her teammates two of her first three years.
It is difficult to find a better example of a well-rounded and active student-athlete than Covington, but the Edwardsville, Ill. native has always felt comfortable in the spotlight.
“I just have a heart for student-athletes and our issues that we’re going through, and just furthering our opportunities,” Covington said. “I’ve been doing it since middle school, and all these committees and boards and stuff, so it’s just natural to do it now.”
Covington manages to handle all these activities not as a player who rides the bench, but rather one who serves a key role for the Badgers. Appearing in every game this season, the forward has been the third and often used post option behind seniors Lin Zastrow and Steinbauer all year.
However, since Steinbauer suffered a career-ending ACL tear in the closing weeks of the season, Covington has started Wisconsin’s last two games. Forced to fill Steinbauer’s tremendous presence on the court during the most important weeks of the season, Covington’s play in the Big Ten Tournament could play a crucial role in the team’s success.
“Anya’s done a really good job stepping in, and we really need her to step in big time now,” Stone said. “We’re planning on playing four games in four days, and her ability to step in and help out and stay fresh and stay out of foul trouble is going to be huge for us.”
A physical player who known for her strong presence in the paint, Covington’s ability to collect rebounds may be the most valuable aspect of her game. Co-leading the Badgers in rebounds in a tough loss of Ohio State Sunday, the junior averages just under four rebounds per game in only 15.1 minutes per contest.
With three career double-doubles, including one this season, Covington has proved that she has the ability on both sides of the glass to be a reliable post player. Earning valuable experience in her first two years, coaches and players insist that there is no better player to step in for Steinbauer at this crucial point in the season.
“She’s been here for the last three years ready to play,” senior guard Emily Neal said. “…It was really sad for Tara, but it’s a great opportunity for Anya to come in, and she was definitely ready for it.”
The junior forward could probably serve a starting role for other Big Ten teams, but UW’s depth and talent at the forward positions have kept Covington coming off the bench. Averaging 4.1 points per game this season and 5.1 points per game last season, Covington’s scoring has been restrained by her playing time.
Shooting nearly 50 percent from the field over her career, the junior doesn’t look at herself as a backup to Zastrow and Steinbauer. In a way that exudes the team-first approach of the Badgers, Covington sees herself as working together with the senior standouts rather than acting as a backup to them.
“I was told my freshman year I had to come here and pay my dues, so I mean that’s basically what’s going on,” Covington said. “It’s [Zastrow and Steinbauer’s] senior year, one of them goes down, I just step in. I don’t look at it as playing under their shadow. We’ve been playing together for the past three years, and it’s been fun.”
Wisconsin’s three leading scorers this year in Zastrow, Steinbauer and Alyssa Karel are all seniors, but there is no question who will primarily fill the void left by those players. Equipped with the character and confidence that every coach looks in their players, no word seems to better describe Covington than “leader.”
“It’s going to be tough next year with Lin and Tara both gone, but at the same time [Covington] has shown that she’s ready to step up,” Neal said.