Hometown Girl Sticks with Swarthmore Lacrosse
Swarthmore athletics have been a big part of life for Annalise Penikis ’13 since long before she entered the college classroom. At age 8 she was an assistant water girl for the women’s basketball team, writing a note to then-coach Adrienne Shibles thanking her for the opportunity and for inspiration to play the game.
Her mother, Associate Professor of Economics Amanda Bayer, keeps that 14-year-old note pinned to a corkboard in her Kohlberg Hall office. While serving as a faculty adviser, Bayer acquainted her daughter with several varsity teams. Penikis got to hang out on the sidelines of football games, play basketball with her youth league teams during halftime at Garnet games, and attend countless lacrosse camps and clinics at the College.
“I pretty much grew up with Swarthmore athletics” says Penikis, whose Scandinavian features—blond hair and soft blue eyes—give no indication that she’s one of most feared midfielders in Division III lacrosse.
During the 2012 season, she scored 68 goals, 40 assists, and 108 points, becoming the first player in the history of the Centennial Conference (CC) to lead in all three categories. With Penikis leading the charge, Swarthmore finished the 2012 season with a 12–6 record and reached the CC semifinals for the first time in program history. This spring season the Garnet’s ambitions are even greater, as the team aims for its first-ever conference title and appearance in the NCAA playoffs.
But while Annalise, who will graduate in May with a biology degree, grew up living, breathing Swarthmore athletics, wearing the garnet and gray was the last thing she expected to be doing when deciding on colleges four years ago.
She was an outstanding lacrosse player at nearby Strath Haven High School, earning All-State honors, so she had her choice of selective schools. Penikis didn’t give the college in her own backyard a thought, partly because it was Division III for athletics.
Instead, she settled on Lehigh University, a Division I school in Bethlehem, Pa., that competes in the Patriot League. By her first fall practice, Penikis knew Lehigh wasn’t the right fit.
She realized she was looking for a school that would give her a better balance between athletics and academics. Her parents encouraged her to fill out transfer applications to multiple schools during winter break.
“Almost immediately after I had decided to transfer, I was thinking, ‘Swarthmore seems like what I want.’ I liked the balance. I wanted something safe, and I wanted to know what I was getting into after transferring,” Penikis says.
While her mother, who has taught at the College since 1992, says she tried not to influence her daughter’s decision, she was thrilled when she discovered Penikis wanted to become a Swattie. “She had a lot of great options, but the choices about whether and where to transfer had to be hers. She obviously made the right call.”
It was the right call indeed. Penikis says that almost everything— socially, academically, and athletically—has worked out since she set foot on campus in fall 2010.
While she admits there are a few negatives to coming back home for college (including her college friends asking if her mom can give them better grades), they are easily outweighed by the positives of having her family at every home lacrosse game and, of course, access to laundry facilities.
Besides her mother, another person on campus was ecstatic about Penikis’ return home—head women’s lacrosse coach Karen Borbee.
“I knew she would be happy playing lacrosse anywhere, but I also knew what kind of student-athlete she wanted to be, and therefore, Swarthmore was the perfect fit,” says Borbee, who is in her 20th season as head coach. She was well acquainted with Penikis’ abilities, having coached her at numerous youth clinics.
“Annalise has pushed this team to reach a much higher level than it would have been without her,” says Borbee. That higher level of play has placed Swarthmore women’s lacrosse on the map, a source of pride for the hometown girl.
“I love that girls from our area now want to come here for lacrosse,” says Penikis. “I think we’ve made this a program that is finally up to a certain level so that girls from my high school team and around the area will look here.”