Center of Attention

Josh Johnston

Nobody can stop Kent State’s senior post powerhouse

Anna Kowalska is tall. At 6-foot-4-inches, the senior center is one of the tallest players in the Mid-American Conference. The Lask, Poland, native uses that to her advantage too, putting up shots at the low post over the heads of defenders.

A junior-college transfer from John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill., Kowalska made an immediate impact at Kent State last season, scoring 39 points in her first two games. This season, she’s averaging 16.4 points and eight rebounds a game – not bad for someone who really picked up the game in high school.

Opposing teams almost always double up on No. 21. It usually isn’t enough. So what was sports reporter Josh Johnston thinking when he went up against her by himself?

You moved here from Poland when you were 13. What was that like?

In the beginning, because I didn’t speak English very well – actually, I didn’t speak English at all – when I came with my mom and my two sisters, it was difficult. (I was) learning the whole culture and everyone’s speaking English, so it was really difficult.

Coaches sound off With a combined 41 years coaching Kent State women’s basketball, coach Bob Lindsay and associate coach Lori Bodnar have seen it all. Assistant sports editor Thomas Gallick set down with both coaches to discuss what makes senior center Anna Kowalska unique.

On Kowalska playing another college sport after basketball:

Bob Lindsay: I think it says something about her athletic ability. She’s able to play more than one sport and be good enough to do that at the Division-I level. I think it says a lot about her athleticism.

On her development since arriving at Kent State:

BL: I think when you recruit anybody you project how well they might be able to do in your system, and then the projection sometimes comes true and sometimes it doesn’t. A lot has to do with how hard that particular athlete will work to get there. I think Anna is a very hard worker. I think she’s spent a lot of time trying to perfect her skills.

Lori Bodnar: I thought she developed quickly, but I didn’t think that it was a surprise because she was so willing to learn and she was in the gym 24/7 all last year.

BL: I think good post players earn the respect of guards when they get the ball and do something with it. I think Anna is certainly been one of those players and has the respect of everyone on our team.

On where Kowalska ranks in Kent State basketball history:

BL: She’s in the upper echelon of post players we’ve had. We’ve had a very strong tradition of post players here, and she’s in the upper echelon of that group.

LB: That’s tough because she’s such a different player than all of the post players that we’ve had in the past. She’s probably more athletic than most of the post players we’ve had. She just brings a different quality.

On Kowalska’s personality off the court:

LB: She is very quick-witted (and) a very fun person to be around. She is very sincere. Her biggest quality that she shows off the court is that people can trust her and she’s always there for them.

When I was in eighth grade, they saw me and how tall I was, so I started to play basketball. I guess basketball helped me do better in school. Everyone (was) trying to know me, so after a while it was actually better. I think basketball gave me confidence in this country because I was actually good at something.

So you didn’t start playing basketball until eighth grade?

Eighth grade I played basketball, but at the same time I didn’t. I was on the boy’s team and I didn’t play at all; I was just practicing with them. But before eighth grade, no; I’d never played basketball. Actually, I started to play actual basketball in my sophomore year in high school because I didn’t play my freshman year.

The coach saw me in the hallway walking, and I was really tall. So she asked me if I ever played basketball and I told her, ‘No, I never played.’ She’s like, ‘Come over and try out for a practice.’ The next day I came to the practice and she introduced me to the team. I started to practice and she said she saw potential in me and she said, ‘You should try playing.’

I had to start right from the beginning, you know what I mean? Like how to catch the ball, how to shoot the ball and all the stuff, all the rules.

Were you always the tallest one on the court in high school?

I was very tall, but I was really skinny and I was not strong. So I guess that was my disadvantage, so I had to work on my strength. But I was pretty tall. I think I was the tallest one in high school.

Did you play any other sports?

I played volleyball and soccer. I played soccer in Poland because soccer is pretty famous, so I started when I was a little kid. I played with my father or with my cousins, so I knew soccer. And then volleyball, my father played volleyball. That was his main sport, so I knew something about volleyball too.

So why basketball?

When I started to play basketball, I realized that basketball (was) the sport I really loved to play. I was getting better, I was focusing more on basketball and my coach was helping me. After a while I just figured out that I’m actually good in basketball. I just realized that I loved basketball more than soccer and volleyball.

I was always pretty good (at soccer), but I don’t know. I was always the tallest one.

Why did you decide to go to Kent State?

Before Kent State actually, I was totally decided on going to Duquesne. I went there and I liked the campus and everything, but I then I heard that the coach was fired, so then I came to visit Kent State. That was my second (choice). Mainly I came here because of the coaching staff. I enjoy time with coach Jenna, coach Lori, coach Terry and coach Lindsay.

You were injured for a lot of last year. How difficult was that for you?

I was never injured before. So that was my first time, so that was the worst thing that probably ever happened to me.

Have you had any health problems this year?

No, no. And I’m not even trying to think about it. Knock on the wood, but I hope not. I’m praying every day.

You only play post, but have you ever shot a 3-pointer in a game?

No, but in high school actually my coach took me to a 3-point competition. I went pretty far, I guess.

You ever shoot 3s just for fun anymore?

Oh yeah. When I’m in the gym shooting, I shoot 3s sometimes.

Do you hit them often?

Yeah, it depends on the day.

What are your plans for after this year?

First of all, I want to finish school. I want to finish my masters in sports administration, so I have two more years. I’m going to try out for volleyball. We’ll see what’s going to happen.

Contact sports reporter Josh Johnston at [email protected].