first_imgUW tri-captain Anya Covington and the Badgers are having their best season in almost a decade.[/media-credit]When Googled, the term ‘servanthood’ yields an array of generic, mostly religious, inspirational messages and images. Instead, maybe what should manifest is an illustration of the 2009-10 Wisconsin women’s basketball team, which has adopted the phrase as its working ethos.“Servanthood is our foundation,” Anya Covington, a sophomore forward and tri-captain, said. “The greatest person on your team is the person that will give up everything for you to succeed. So basically servanthood will come from me passing Alyssa [Karel, a junior guard] the ball to get a good shot. I’m serving her by giving her a good pass so she can make her shot.”“Servanthood is one of our cornerstones,” head coach Lisa Stone said. “We talk about serving one another. And you talk about team unity, you have to be willing as a unit to serve each other. [The idea is] that no one person is more important than any other. That I’ll serve you because I know you’ll serve me — that goes to trust.”And, according to Stone, trust is the backbone of the team’s defensive philosophy — a philosophy that has been the driving force behind the team’s run at a return visit to the NCAA tournament, a hallowed place it has not seen since 2001-02.Currently, Wisconsin ranks 17th in Division I (and first in the Big Ten) in scoring defense, surrendering just 55.4 points per contest — 52 per game in wins.“We’re a system team, defensively, and we rely a lot on trust,” Stone said. “Our player that is guarding the ball has to trust that their teammates are behind them. Now, when you trust your teammates as much as these kids do off the court, it’s very visible on the court.”But, as Stone alludes to, trust and team chemistry are not principles that can be manufactured within the 94-by-50-foot boundaries of a court. Chemistry is developed gradually and must be continually fostered.To that end, the team has — as many teams do — engaged in an abundance of off-the-court team-building activities. However, Stone said, it is unusual for a team to choose on its own to spend as much time together as this year’s version does.“It’s the closest team that I’ve had since I’ve been here — there’s no question about it,” Stone, who is looking to guide UW to the NCAA tournament for the first time after three WNIT visits in her tenure, said. “They are a group of women that every day come to work together. When they cross the lines, they come into practice to practice.“But they have team meals together — things that we don’t organize as coaches. … They welcomed the freshmen [this summer]; they do fun activities from going to movies, to going swimming at the pool, to the mall — all kinds of normal, girl things — off the court. And they really like being with each other. … They’re really an unbelievably close group.”Close in a way that inevitably spills onto the court. Like, for instance, the team’s adoption of “Avatar” sides (the humans versus the` avatars, naturally) for competitive team shooting exercises, following a group viewing of the famous James Cameron movie over Christmas break.Or, perhaps more relevantly, the team’s closeness, Stone said, can be seen in the variety of players who’ve come off the bench and given the squad crucial minutes and been received without any “jealousy or animosity.”Stone points most recently to the 19-point, 9-rebound performance (both career highs) from Covington Sunday at Michigan — particularly the team’s post-game reaction.“After the game, everybody was happy for Anya,” Stone said. “[Covington] played great defense for us, great offense, she rebounded the ball, she got a steal and went coast-to-coast. And the team was happy — legitimately happy. … This team is a special, special group.”Further aiding the team’s ability to cultivate such chemistry has been some remarkable consistency. Compared to a season ago when nine different players started a game (a number partly attributable to the midseason dismissal of forward Mariah Dunham), the Badgers have put the exact same starting five on the floor for all 27 games.Ultimately, it’s a consistency and chemistry that has amazed Stone all season and has the team primed for an NCAA berth.And, according to Karel, it’s not a formula they’ll forget — or at least one they can be reminded of by soul singer Bill Withers.“I think we always say that together we’re so much stronger than we are apart, and I think our little motto that we’ve talked about this season is that, ‘The thing that unites us is greater than anything that divides us,’” Karel, the team’s leading scorer said. “We truly believe in our system and we truly believe in each other and I think as long as we can lean on each other, the sky’s the limit for us.”last_img

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