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Pankowski Caps College Career with NCAA Championship

by Chris Bayee / Special to

No stranger to the NCAA Tournament's Frozen Four, Annie Pankowski was on a mission in her senior season at Wisconsin.

The longtime Anaheim Lady Ducks standout had experienced three near misses in her first three college seasons - losing twice in the national semifinals to Minnesota and then to Clarkson in the championship game in 2017. On either side of those experiences, she had to deal with being the final cut from the U.S. Women's Olympic team in 2014 and 2018.

Yet there was Pankowski doubling down on this season, dedicating herself to the Badgers teammates she served as captain of and her dream of finishing her heralded college career as a champion. And that is exactly what she did, scoring an insurance goal in Wisconsin's 2-0 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.

"I'm just extremely excited for our senior class," Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said after the win. "The young lady sitting next to me (Pankowski) has been through a lot, has always kept her head up high and I couldn't be happier that she's going out as a National Champion."

Pankowski, who also scored twice during the 5-0 semifinal victory against Clarkson, was reflective after the capstone moment in college career that saw her become the sixth player in program history to surpass 200 career points.

"It's been a crazy journey, but it's worth it," Pankowski said. "We put our heart and soul into this team."

Pankowski saved her best for last. She scored 11 of her 28 goals in March, when the Badgers tore through the WCHA (six) and the NCAA (five) Tournaments en route to their first title since 2011. Her 21 career postseason goals are a Badgers record.

"Whatever it is, this team had it," Pankowski added. "We weren't afraid to lose, we were just going right at them. To leave this amazing program with another National Championship is something that I will cherish forever."

Pankowski closed her Badgers career with 206 points and was a three-time finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, including a top-three finalist this season. She also is a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award.

And her playing career isn't finished. She and another former Lady Ducks and Jr. Ducks player, Cayla Barnes (a freshman at Boston College and 2018 Olympian), will play for Team USA at the Women's World Championships in early April in Finland. It will mark Pankowski's third time playing for the United States in the biggest women's international competition outside of the Olympics.

Pankowski also was the first overall pick in the National Women's Hockey League draft in December, by the Metropolitan Riveters. And she has her sights set on going to veterinary school, a handful of which she's already been accepted to.

When time allows, Pankowski always makes time to attend Lady Ducks functions on and off the ice.

Just as her dedication to hockey has never wavered, neither has her commitment to where she got her start.

"She takes that role very seriously and also in a positive way," said Kathy McGarrigle, director of the Lady Ducks. "There's a huge connection for any young player because Annie was a Lady Duck. It's more direct with the girls, and they're super excited when she's around."

So it shouldn't surprise any of us that Annie Pankowski's dedication and determination have her where she's at - NCAA champion.

(Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Athletics)

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