Last March, the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team was on top of the world. After defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers 2–0 at the Frozen Four Championship in Hamden, Connecticut, the unit was crowned National Champions for the fifth time in the program’s history.

The 2018-19 Badgers team represented the perfect combination of veteran experience and youthful energy, and the team’s leaders were nothing short of spectacular in the team’s 35-4-2 run toward the National Championship. 

Coming into the new season, many were skeptical that the unit would be able to maintain the high level of play they showed the previous season, but with the majority of the roster returning and a dynamic and talented freshman class, the sky is the limit once again for the Badgers in 2019. 

The main player many believed the Badgers would miss in 2019 was Annie Pankowski, who was named Offensive Player of the Year by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) last season. As a senior, Pankowski finished the season with a team-leading 22 goals and 50 assists.

Though Pankowski had great success on the ice, it is perhaps away from the arena the team has felt her departure the most. During her time with the team, the four-year starter was undoubtedly the team’s leader and served as the face of the Wisconsin women’s hockey program. Without her guidance and well-established leadership skills, it was unclear who was going to step up and take over as the leader of the Badgers. 

Alongside Pankowski, Wisconsin saw several other players depart from their roster. Seniors Emily Clark, Sam Cogan, Sophia Shaver, Maddie Rolfes and Mikaela Gardner all moved on from the team. 

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Entering the 2019 season, it’s safe to say that multiple big questions arose regarding the status of the team. Would they be able to live up to expectations that came with being defending champions? Would anyone emerge as the leader of the group? Would the team be able to fill the holes that were left by the graduating seniors?

Up to this point in the season, the Badgers have answered all of these questions with a resounding yes.

The Wisconsin women’s hockey team is ranked No. 1 in the WCHA and boasts a 4-0 record, having outscored opponents 20–2, including three shutouts thanks to senior goalie Kristen Campbell.

One of the key contributors to the team’s early season success has been junior transfer Daryl Watts, who joined Wisconsin from Boston College over the summer. Through four games, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner has scored five goals and amassed six assists.

With Watts’ impressive performance through the first few games of the season, she becomes the sixth-ever Badger to score in each of the first four games of the season joining Meghan Hunter, Jinelle Zaugg, Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight and Pankowski as the only players to accomplish this feat. She has become a formidable force on the Badgers’ offensive lines, helping to lessen the impact that has been felt by Pankowski’s departure.

In addition to Watts, Campbell has continued her stellar play from 2018. The MVP of the 2019 National Championship Game played exceptionally well against Lindenwood University, as she was named the WCHA Goaltender of the Week for the eighth time in her tenure at Wisconsin.

With the Badgers victories over Penn State last weekend, Campbell has now won 70 games in her career, needing only six more to pass Jackie MacMillan (1999-2003) for fourth in school history. Campbell also pushed her winning percentage to .867 — a school record. 

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While veterans such as Watts and Campbell have led the way for the Badgers so far in the 2019 season, the addition of youthful energy of numerous freshmen in the Badgers’ lineup has helped propel the squad to their successful start.

When asked during a press conference about how the freshmen performed in their first few minutes of action against Lindenwood, Head Coach Mark Johnson praised the Badger newcomers.

“Dara Greig probably could have scored five or six goals Saturday, [she had] quite a few chances every time she was on the ice,” Johnson said. “I thought both our young defensemen did a nice job when there were some situations when we had turnovers or when they had to play one-on-one. For the first game, I thought overall the younger players did well.” 

The Badgers have certainly picked up where they left off in their 2018 National Championship season, and with the consistent play of veterans such as Campbell and the welcome additions of freshmen and transfers such as Watts, a repeat performance is not far-fetched for the No. 1 team in the country. 

The Badgers’ next set of games is against Long Island University Oct. 18 and 19 in New York. Fans can follow the games live on Twitter @BadgerWHockey.