MISSOULA — Nathan Covill didn’t need to step foot on campus on Wednesday, his first day as a member of the Montana Lady Griz coaching staff, to know what he’s been entrusted with.
He didn’t need to walk through Dahlberg Arena and look up at the conference championship banners that hang overhead to realize the expectations that come with his new position.
He didn’t even need to leave home.
“She said, ‘Don’t screw it up,’” Covill recalled of the simple instruction that came from his wife, former Lady Griz standout Angella Bieber, after agreeing to join head coach Shannon Schweyen’s staff.
Covill, who played for the Grizzly basketball team in the early 90s and was most recently an assistant for the men’s program at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, is replacing Sonya Stokken, who stepped down in June.
Stokken, who totaled 1,320 career points as a player, 11th on the Lady Griz all-time scoring list, joined Robin Selvig’s staff in 2013-14 and was part of Schweyen’s the last three seasons.
She and her family moved to Billings to pursue a promotion that husband Evan was offered with Montana Rail Link.
Covill does not join the program with the same institutional knowledge that Stokken enjoyed but he is only one degree of separation removed thanks to his wife.
Covill spent five years as a member of the Montana men’s basketball team, arriving from California after being recruited to Missoula by Stew Morrill.
He played for Blaine Taylor, who took over head coaching duties after Morrill left for Colorado State prior to the 1991-92 season. Covill’s senior season was 1995-96.
Bieber, who was recruited out of Spokane, played for the Lady Griz from 1994-98 and was part of teams that won 99 games over four seasons, went 64-4 against Big Sky opponents and four times advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
She was voted the Big Sky’s Outstanding Sixth Player as a junior and named the Big Sky tournament MVP as a senior after scoring 24 points against Northern Arizona in the championship game.
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Both Covill and Bieber, who began their teaching careers in Southern California before settling in Oregon, were elementary education majors.
They have two daughters who will attend Missoula Hellgate. Austin is going into her junior year, Alex will be a freshman.
“We thought when we moved back to California that we’d be there for a short time,” the 6-foot-9 Covill said. “We always planned on getting back to Missoula but never in this capacity. It’s pretty surreal I’m here.”
Covill coached at Loyola Sacred Heart and Missoula Sentinel in the late 90s before he and his wife moved to Riverside, California, where he was the assistant boys’ basketball coach for nearly a decade at Martin Luther King High.
In 2016 Covill was hired to be an assistant for the men’s basketball team at Willamette, an NCAA Division III school.
“I decided to leave teaching and take a chance at the college level. We said we’d give it three or four years and see where it leads,” said Covill.
“I really enjoyed being in the college game and being in a college program and doing what I love to do.”
He spent two summers coaching the Montana Elite team. This summer he coached the U15 team and his youngest daughter for Oregon Elite, another attractive entry on his resume for a Lady Griz program that has that geographic area as part of its recruiting net.
He was open to new opportunities in coaching, but only as long as they allowed his family to remain in Salem. He was flexible, his wife had a job that allowed her to up and leave. But he didn’t want to uproot his girls.
“I thought if I could elevate in the profession and stay in Oregon until my kids leave high school, that would have been the optimal choice,” he said. Then Stokken stepped down. And Schweyen reached out.
“When you get the chance to come back to your alma mater and this community, holy smokes, it was a really good opportunity. It’s hard. (My daughters) have friends. But they’ve been amazing. They understand why.”