If Annie Hopkins wanted to throw in the towel on her freshman lacrosse season at Augustana College, nobody would have blamed her.
But Hopkins, a standout Mother McAuley graduate, knew her father, Tom, wouldn’t have gone for that.
In her freshman season, Annie lost Tom, her biggest fan, on March 26 when her father passed away, but she persevered and excelled in a way that surely would have made her father and the rest of her family proud.
Hopkins had a memorable first season, helping the Vikings advance to the Sweet 16 of the Division III national tournament while receiving a series of accolades in the process.
“When my dad was diagnosed, I talked to him, and he told me he wanted me out there and playing. I didn’t want to leave, but he told me to go back to school. My dad wanted me to go to Augustana. He was the one who said I needed to play lacrosse and that it was my sport,” said Hopkins. “I wasn’t totally focused, but my coach stayed on me and tried to treat me as if nothing was wrong. I respected that, and that’s how I wanted it; I didn’t want a pity party. That’s not how any of us are. Lacrosse was an escape. My dad kept telling me there was nothing I could do at home. I felt closest to him when I was on the field. He was my number-one fan and my biggest cheerleader. Just thinking about lacrosse was a really big outlet.”
Augustana Coach Sara Tisdale was impressed with how well Hopkins handled the adversity at home.
“Annie’s freshmen year was filled with such heartache, but you would never have known. Annie made it her goal to focus on her success on and off the field because she knew that was what her dad would want,” said Tisdale. “She played with her dad’s initials on the back of her shoes this season, and I would be willing to bet his spirit will live on through her passion. I have no doubt she will play a huge role on our team as a sophomore.”
Before Tom died, Annie’s close-knit teammates made him an oversized blanket in the Vikings colors, and everyone on the team wrote a message to him on it.
It was typical of the support she received throughout the season.
“I had unbelievable support from all my teammates. The whole team came up for the funeral and the wake. I literally felt like I had another family.” said Hopkins. “Coach Tisdale was the first person I called and talked to when my dad died. I know I’ll have that person who stays on me with her. My dad would always get on me about picking up my stick and being lazy; I know I’ll have that with my coach. I love that.”
Hopkins took advantage of a pair of teammates’ injuries to crack the starting lineup. While it took some time to adjust to the talent level in the college game, Hopkins proved her worth throughout the season.
“All these girls had chemistry. I thought it wouldn’t happen for me and I wouldn’t fit in. It took some time for them to get to know me as a player and a person,” said Hopkins. “Everyone in college has either the same talent or is better than you, so that was a big adjustment. Everyone on the team is very competitive. It was a lot different than high school. I kept calling my brother Martin to ask him how he made the transition in football. All of them were better than me, but Martin said I would get there. In the last game, my coach was yelling that I didn’t look like a freshman anymore. That meant a lot.”
Hopkins led all first-year players at Augustana with 24 goals and 16 assists and had an impressive 81.6 percent on-goal shooting percentage for a team that lost to eventual national champion Salisbury 16-3 in the Sweet 16.
Hopkins was named to the Midwest Women’s Lacrosse Conference All-Academic Team on June 17.
She currently has a 3.48 grade-point average with a major in international business and minor in Spanish. In addition, Hopkins was Augustana’s representative on the conference sportsmanship team.
“Annie did extremely well academically, earned the respect of many on campus, including Augustana’s provost, and played a very important role on our team,” said Tisdale. “As a first-year player, Annie picked up on anything we threw at her. She came early; she stayed late, and she soaked up everything the older players had to offer. Annie was off to a great start right from the beginning of the season, earning playing time in high-stakes games at both Sewannee and Centre colleges. Late in the season when a starting attacker tore her ACL, Annie stepped up and played a huge role in our postseason run.”
Augustana finished 19-1 and led the nation in scoring margin and points (goals and assists). The team will return all but one player from this year’s squad.
“Our coach told us that playing teams like Salisbury is how you get better because you will work to be like them,” said Hopkins. “After that game was over, I told myself I was going home and running four miles. Our dream is to beat Salisbury one day. That’s my motivation.”
Hopkins and her teammates will travel to Portugal to play a several games during Christmas break this year.