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Freshman midfielder Anna Brandt during the game against Northwestern at Penn Park on April 3. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

For freshman midfielder Anna Brandt of Penn women's lacrosse, the path to becoming a major player in an Ivy League lacrosse program did not take the traditional route. 

Brandt's mother Tammy was the one who first put a stick in her hands, as she had her own experience with the sport. During her youth, she played both lacrosse and field hockey, and she passed on the tradition to Brandt as well as Brandt's older sister Kailyn, who played Division III field hockey at Washington College for four years.

Both Brandt’s mother and older sister had a huge impact on how she viewed herself and the role sports could play in her life.

“I think they were just very good feminist figures,” Brandt said. “They sort of taught me sports aren’t just for men. You can be a strong female athlete and still excel in the classroom. And I think they were both just really good representations of that, and I just wanted to embody that.”

While Brandt played both sports during her youth in White Hall, Md., it was in lacrosse that she found her best fit. Brandt took this love for lacrosse and set her goals as far as she could imagine. She played varsity for Hereford High School and club for M&D Black, a nationally ranked program. Like athletes everywhere, she missed out on her 2020 lacrosse season. But prior to that lost season, Brandt had already committed to play lacrosse for Army.

Plans fell through, however, in May of her senior year of high school. That left her without concrete plans post-high school graduation.

She eventually wrote to coach Karin Corbett of Penn women's lacrosse, and they spoke on the phone throughout the rather unique recruiting process. Brandt visited campus and met the upperclassmen of the team before she made the decision to come to Penn.

Brandt had to take a gap year due to the timing of her decision, but she didn't spend that time idle. She worked and took classes, and she practiced her lacrosse skills tirelessly in preparation for joining an Ivy League lacrosse program. So when she finally took action on the lacrosse field — nearly two years after her last full season — she was ready.

Throughout her debut campaign, her hard work has paid off in numbers.

Brandt has scored three hat tricks so far, and she sits in the top five in points scored for the Quakers, having made 16 goals this season. And still, Corbett says that she is improving every day. Between her large arsenal of offensive skills and her defensive cognizance, Brandt's progress is encouraging for her coach, who credits her strides to her work ethic.

“She has a strong fight. She wants to go to goal, she wants to win. And she also wants to get better every day, so she’s a really easy kid to coach,” Corbett said. “She’s all in, and it’s so fun to see that. She’s pushing the team from behind as a freshman — in her work ethic, in how she takes the coaching, in how gritty and competitive she is every day, not just games.”

While Brandt thrives on the lacrosse field, there are still some things at Penn that she’s figuring out, including the unique environment Penn is situated in.

“I’m not a city girl,” Brandt said with a laugh. 

Growing up in White Hall, Md., which she described as a more rural area, every day has been an adjustment, but she enjoys the help of her more city-oriented teammates.

Similarly, she credits her teammates — especially the upperclassmen — with helping her tune to the balance between academics, athletics, and social life, as well as helping her adjust to collegiate play.

“They genuinely want everyone younger than them to grow up and excel just as much as they did. That’s why we excel today,” Brandt said.

She could laud her teammates all day, from senior defender Ellen O’Callaghan, who keeps the team grounded, to offensive players like junior attacker Niki Miles and senior attacker Taylyn Stadler.

“Everyone here wants you to be your best, so they’re going to do anything possible to make sure you reach that,” Brandt said.

That kind of selfless support has been valuable for Brandt and has allowed her to embrace and enjoy her Penn experience so far.

“One of the greatest things about Penn is that everyone here is so smart, so talented,” Brandt said. “You get people from all different places in the world, all different aspects of life. And I think that’s one of the most intriguing things. I’ve been able to meet so many incredible people from all different walks of life, and [it's] really opened my eyes and given me more perspective.”

Regardless of the path she took to Locust Walk, Brandt is savoring every opportunity. Her resilience and perseverance has gifted her this moment, and it’s clear that she’s not taking it for granted.

“This means the world to her. She’s going to give everything to it. And you feel it every day,” Corbett said.