Annie Pankowski x’18 grew up in Laguna Hills, California, wanting to be good enough to play hockey with her older brother and her sister, Ali, who went on to play for Princeton.
She reached for a bigger dream in 2014 as the U.S. women’s hockey team prepared for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But Pankowski, a member of the 2013 national team, didn’t make the final Olympic roster. The U.S. lost to Canada in the gold-medal match in overtime.
Two years later, Pankowski views the devastation of being one cut away from winning the silver medal as a major turning point.
“It definitely hurt. Even though the outcome wasn’t exactly what I had wanted, it was probably one of the best experiences I think I could have had at that point in my career,” she says. “It’s just kind of been almost a secret weapon I can tap into to say, ‘I don’t want to feel that way again.’ ”
In her breakout freshman season, Pankowski scored twenty-one goals, including three in the NCAA tournament, and won National Rookie of the Year honors. This season, she’s won WCHA Offensive Player of the Week multiple times, and the Badgers are once again ranked among the top teams in the country.
“We spent all summer training and then to start playing games — it’s really exciting, especially when we’re doing as well as we are,” she said when interviewed last November.
Pankowski’s expectations have been high since her first trip to Madison, which served as a memorable introduction to the UW’s big-campus atmosphere and the strength of the women’s hockey program.
On that visit, Wisconsin defeated Mercyhurst in a playoff game at the Kohl Center to advance to the Frozen Four. “It was insane. I just thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” she says. “The camaraderie of so many people with so much Badger pride is pretty cool to be a part of.”
Published in the Spring 2016 issue