Govan earns coaching stripes from the bench

The Lady Toppers shower junior guard Alexis Govan with confetti after their 61-60 victory over Arkansas State in the 2014 Women’s Sun Belt Tournament Championship at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, La. on Saturday Mar. 15, 2014. (Jeff Brown/HERALD)

Lucas Aulbach

The first player to reach the top of the ladder Saturday when the Lady Toppers cut down the nets hasn’t played since December.

Junior guard Alexis Govan was WKU’s leading scorer last year and the 2013-14 Sun Belt Conference preseason Player of the Year. Along with junior forward Chastity Gooch, she was expected to help anchor a Lady Topper team looking for its first league title and NCAA Tournament berth since 2008.

Govan was a crucial part of WKU’s turnaround last season, averaging 20.3 points per game in 33 starts.

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She had a promising beginning to this year as well, starting the first 11 games of the season while posting a 16.5 points-per-game average.

But her season was derailed when she suffered a stress fracture in her left leg in a win against Georgetown on Dec. 21. Her season was over before the Lady Toppers could open Sun Belt play.

That didn’t stop Govan from contributing to the team effort, though.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said Govan has acted as a player-coach since her injury took her out of the lineup.

“She now has earned her coaching stripes,” Clark-Heard said. “When I’m talking with the staff and we’re meeting, she’s talking to the team. She’s talking to them about the things she sees, about the things they need to work on, if we need to get stops, whatever it is. She’s been phenomenal through this.”

On and off the court, Govan is one of the Lady Toppers’ vocal leaders. Throughout the year she could be heard supporting her teammates and offering advice as she watched from the bench.

“She’s been great this entire season,” senior guard Bianca McGee said. “She’s handled her injury very well. I don’t know if I could have handled it that well because I love the game of basketball so much. She amazes me on how she keeps a good spirit and remains upbeat just for us.”

Clark-Heard said her overall impact on the team is second to none – that’s why she was the first to climb the ladder in New Orleans.

“I promised her if we made it here and we won, she was going to be the first one to cut down the net, because that’s how much she means to this team,” Clark-Heard said after Saturday’s championship win. “She’s been phenomenal and it means a lot that everyone else stepped up. That’s why this is such a special moment.”

Govan might not take the court when the team opens NCAA Tournament play this weekend, but her impact will be felt from the bench.

WKU just completed its last season in the Sun Belt Conference – she is expected to be back next year, WKU’s first in Conference USA.

Many around the program have high hopes for her return to the Lady Toppers next season, though, including WKU President Gary Ransdell.

“I told Alexis that next year, she’s going to own Conference USA,” Ransdell said.