Across any level of sports, college athletes have the least amount of time to prove themselves. Think about it: If they want to advance to a higher level or even just be remembered, their four years as a collegiate athlete must be remarkable and realize every last ounce of talent.
As the NCAA playoffs approach, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team is preparing to bring its season to a close. Whether it ends in the first round against Harvard University this Saturday or after a national championship, six seniors must hang up their cardinal and white jerseys for a last time and hope they made the most of their time at the University of Wisconsin. One of these seniors is goaltender Alex Rigsby, whose four more-than-remarkable years in Madison cemented her name in the record books, highlight reels and fans’ memories.
Long before arriving at UW, Rigsby displayed both a love and talent for the sport, one unrivaled by other extracurricular activities.
“When I was sixth or seventh grade, I was playing soccer and realized that I just wanted to play hockey, and it was too much to do both sports,” Rigsby recalled. From that point on, she was, in her words, “full-time hockey.” The senior Badger goaltended solely on boys’ teams growing up, something she attributes her competitive nature to, along with what made the game fun for her in the first place.
Head coach Mark Johnson added that from a coaching perspective, the curly-haired goalie’s history of blocking boys’ slap shots and breakaways so successfully is what made her a standout to scouts.
“The impressive thing with [Rigsby] was she played AAA Midget hockey with the boys,” Johnson explained. “For a female to do that, especially at that position, indicates that somebody thinks she’s pretty good. She also went down to the Chicago Steel’s camp and got drafted in the USHL, and her being able to do those things with that level of competition means she’s got the make of being a pretty good goalie.”
A “pretty good goalie” would prove to be an understatement. Upon arriving at UW during the 2010-2011 season and becoming a part of women’s team for the first time, Rigsby took no time to adjust to the collegiate level of competition. She earned a shutout during her Wisconsin debut, was named the WCHA’s Rookie of the Week on two different occasions and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week once. What’s more, the moment Rigsby still considers to be the biggest of her time at UW came at the end of that first season.
“I think the biggest high of my career has been winning the national championship my freshman year,” Rigsby said. “I came in here and we had a fantastic team, a fantastic season, and we finished off strong and that was huge for our team.”
It was an impressive start to say the least and Rigsby was just getting warmed up.
Over the next three years, the Delafield native only added to her successes. In the conference alone, she went on to be named to the All-WCHA Academic Team twice (2012-2014), received Defensive Player of the Week nine more times, was on the roster of both the All-WCHA first and second teams (2013-2014, 2012-2013 respectively) and once was the league’s Goaltending Champion (2011-2012).
In Wisconsin’s own history, her name frequents the record book often enough to make you wonder if there were two or three Alex Rigsbys. She ranks first in overall saves (3,271) and in a single season (1,044) as the only UW goalie to record over 1,000 saves in one season. As if that isn’t enough, she occupies first place in the UW records for the number of games played and minutes played in a career. She is also tied for second for most points scored by a goaltender (3).
But several challenges were sprinkled throughout her successes along the way. She faced surgeries and injuries even before freshman year started, dealt with some tough family issues last season and even had to work at earning her spot back this September after being cut while she tried out with the Olympic team last year. Johnson mentioned that watching her battle through so many different obstacles is something that makes him proud of Rigsby and is why she wears the “C” on her jersey in her senior year, the only goaltender in UW history to ever do so.
“I think with some of the adversities that she’s had to face she’s been able to persevere and come back stronger because of some of those things,” Johnson said of his netminder. “For a lot of people those are life-changing things, and you never know how you’re going to react. She certainly has done it in a very positive and very impressive way, and is well respected in our locker room. That’s why we felt comfortable with her being captain this year.”
Johnson looks to be right about Rigsby’s resiliency. After having to battle for her spot back before the season started, the senior spent the rest of the season adding a few more records of her own to UW history, tying two past Badger goaltenders for save percentage (.941) and surpassing Olympian and former Badger Jessie Vetter’s overall wins record at Wisconsin. If UW defeats Harvard this Saturday in the first round of the NCAA playoffs, Rigsby will have attained her 100th career win—a mile marker only two other goaltenders have achieved in the history of collegiate women’s hockey. When asked how she was feeling about potentially pushing her total over into the triple digits this weekend, the senior seemed more concerned with winning for the sake of moving on than for any personal gain, maybe showing that early-learned competitive edge from her boys’ hockey days.
“I’m super excited to play Harvard,” Rigsby said without hesitation. “It’s going to be competitive, and fans are going to see a very good game between two good teams.”
Being at the tail end of a memorable college career, you can’t help but wonder what’s in store next for Alex Rigsby. She mentioned she was thinking about the national team, getting a job, maybe playing over in Europe at some point and even just getting an internship somewhere for the summer. But even with no solidified plans for what happens after her last season with the Badgers, Rigsby said she knew one thing for sure.
“I definitely at this point know I want to keep playing hockey. There’s no way I can’t keep playing.”