April 19, 2012

Penikis Returns Home to Swarthmore, Has Garnet Rolling

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

After a year at Lehigh, Annalise Penikis returned to her Swarthmore, Pa., home to play for the Division III Garnet. Her mother is a professor at the school and coach Karen Borbee taught Penikis the game as a child. She now leads the Centennial Conference in goals, assists and points.
© Swarthmore Sports Information

Annalise Penikis is proving you can go home again after all.

Following a year at Lehigh, Penikis returned to her Pennsylvania hometown to play for Swarthmore last season. Now a junior, she has the Garnet in the running for its first Centennial Conference playoff berth since 2006 and is leading the conference in goals (57), assists (36) and points (93). No player has ever led the league, which has produced three of the past five NCAA champions, in all three categories.

Penikis returned home for the reason many choose Division III, she wanted a great education without sacrificing athletics. U.S. News and World Report ranked Swarthmore as the country's third best Liberal Arts college this year. And yearly showdowns with Gettysburg and Franklin & Marshall meant plenty of lacrosse competition.

"I wanted a place where I could really excel academically but wouldn't hold me back on the lacrosse field," Penikis said. "I felt confident in my choice because I knew what I was getting into. [Coach Karen Borbee] helped teach me lacrosse when I was little. She was very honest with me about what I should expect."

Both Swarthmore and Penikis have exceeded expectations. The Garnet is 10-5 and reached double-digit victories for the first time since 2007. And Penikis, who as of Tuesday was tied for fifth in Division III in points, is on track to break 200 career points before the end of her second season.

There was another factor in play at Swarthmore. Penikis' mother is an economics professor at the school and the academic advisor on the lacrosse team. Could that have been a deterrent?

"In theory, I guess it's weird but I actually love it," Penikis said. "My parents come to every game. I like being able to see my mom. I called my parents every day. I like updating them on my life."

And, of course, there are other benefits. Like dropping laundry off at home.

"It's returned folded and clean," Penikis said.

Penikis is pre-med, a biology major and statistics minor. She hasn't taken any of her mother's classes.

"I technically think I'm allowed," Penikis said. "But not by her."

Interestingly enough, one of those forbidden classes is game theory - the study of strategic decision-making. Penikis seemed an expert herself when she delivered the game-winner in a 14-13 victory over Muhlenberg last week. But her only strategy was "don't lose."

Penikis and Swarthmore struggled early. Muhlenberg sits near the bottom of the Centennial standings, but led 13-10 midway through the second half. A loss would have been crushing to Swarthmore's playoff chances. Penikis scored three goals in the final 2:39, including the game-winner with two seconds remaining.

"I didn't want to lose that game," she said. "I got the ball at midfield, didn't know how much time was left and shot it. Just sheer willpower."

That run started after goalie Michelle Ammerman made a huge save with 30 seconds remaining to set up the final transition. Penikis took the ball at midfield and went for the goal.

Swarthmore went on to beat Dickinson on Saturday, 15-9, behind four goals and two assists from Marie Mutryn. Penikis 'only' had three goals and two assists in that one. The Garnet's playoff plans took a hit Tuesday when they lost to Washington College, 9-6, despite three goals and one assist from Penikis.

Swarthmore's playoff hopes now rest on its regular-season finale, Saturday at Haverford. The winner of that will likely earn the fifth seed and make the play-in game of the Centennial Tournament. Defending NCAA champion Gettysburg would wait in round two.

The Garnet will take that outcome. Last season they missed the playoffs by one game, a one-goal loss to Haverford in the season finale.

"I think everybody's a bit more experienced this year," Penikis said. "They weren't used to the fact that we could beat teams. I think it takes a little time. As coach says, 'You have to learn how to win.'"

Mark Macyk has covered Division II and III women’s lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine since 2011. He can be contacted at markmacyk@gmail.com.

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