VIDEO: #WGYMonday - Meet Lauren Li

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team is just 12 weeks away from opening their 2015 campaign and each Monday we will introduce you to a member of the squad. Our #WGYMonday series will kick off with Lauren Li from Plano, Texas.

By Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In just their third year as an NCAA Division I women's hockey team, the Nittany Lions are off to their best start in program history. 

This past weekend, Penn State (2-2-2) traveled to Schenectady, New York, to faceoff against Union (1-4-1) in a two-game series. After defeating the Dutchwomen, 4-1, on Friday night, the Blue and White rallied to a 2-2 tie on Saturday afternoon.

Not only are the Nittany Lions off to their best start in program history, but they are also unbeaten in their last three contests, going 1-0-2.

"I'm certainly very pleased with the poise and perseverance to stick with the game plan," said head coach Josh Brandwene.

In Friday night's three-goal victory, freshman Caitlin Reilly scored her first career goal to give the Blue and White an early lead. Experience led the rest of the way for the Nittany Lions as juniors Shannon Yoxheimer and Amy Petersen as well as sophomore Sarah Nielsen each scored.

Saturday's matinee was no different, as Petersen scored to even the game at 1-1. Then, sophomore Kelly Seward scored three minutes into the third period to tie the game, 2-2.

"We have a great balance of experience and youth, and we made a lot of strides as a hockey team again this weekend," said Brandwene. "We have a lot to build on and still some things to get better at. Never satisfied.

Penn State went on the offensive against Union, outshooting the Dutchwomen in both games. The Nittany Lions outshot Union 36-21 in Friday's win and 37-22 in Saturday's tie.

According to Brandwene, puck control and communication led to such dominant play in the attacking zone.

"We did a good job all weekend of puck possession," said Brandwene. "Just great poise, great work ethic and puck possession and control. We really distributed it well. Good communication and lots to build on there."

The line of Laura Bowman, Amy Petersen and Hannah Hoenshell led the Nittany Lions offensively, scoring a pair of goals, recording five assists and taking 24 shots.

Petersen has been on fire, scoring three goals in as many games.

"I'm really pleased with Laura, Amy and Hannah's effort this weekend," said Brandwene. "They were really strong at both ends of the ice. They did all the little things. They generated some great scoring chances. If they keep working hard, great things are going to happen for them."

While Celine Whitlinger started in net Friday, Hannah Ehresmann got the nod on Saturday. Both continued their impressive play between the pipes. Whitlinger made 21 saves en route to her first win of the season, and Ehresmann swatted away 20 shots to preserve the tie.

"Great efforts from both Celine and Hannah on the weekend," said Brandwene. "Whenever we had breakdowns and little moments here and there, they both came up very big for us. I'm really pleased with the goaltending."

The Nittany Lions will look to continue their unbeaten streak when they return home to Pegula Ice Arena on Sunday to faceoff against Princeton at 7:00 p.m.

Nittany Lions Draw and Fall to Alaskan Teams in Brice Goal Rush

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions arrived in Fairbanks last Wednesday, after traveling 4,160 miles, ready to compete in the Brice Goal Rush tournament against Alaska Anchorage and Alaska for the first time in program history.

Friday night, Penn State (1-1-2) and Alaska Anchorage (3-0-1) reached a 3-3 tie following overtime, and after allowing two third-period goals in the final minutes of Saturday's game, the Lions were defeated, 4-3, by Alaska (4-0).

Although the team made the 4,160 mile journey back home with a tie and its first loss of the season in hand, head coach Guy Gadowsky is happy with the overall effort.

"For the most part, I thought we performed well," Gadowsky said. "We were ahead in the third both nights. In one we let them come back, and in the other game we lost. That's certainly a maturation process that we have to go through, but I'm very optimistic that we'll get it quickly because we had to go through that last year."

Moving forward, the Lions will need to dig deep and find ways to hold off the opposition in the final minutes of play, which is a not a new concept for the team.

"I thought we played pretty well until the last five, ten minutes of both games," said senior Max Gardiner. "We have to find a way to win those games. Come Big Ten play, we're going to be playing good teams every night. Those are the types of games we're going to be in. To be successful in the Big Ten, we're going to have to find a way to win those games."

While the results were not what the Lions were striving toward, the team once again found success on the power play. The Blue and White scored three goals with the man advantage throughout the course of the weekend, two against Alaska Anchorage and one against Alaska.

The team also received its first five-minute power play, which it took full advantage of.

"I think one of the goals is to always score on a five-minute major," Gadowsky said. "That's the first five-minute major power play that we've had. We've given up eight. When you get a five-minute power play, it certainly looks good.

"I think it's a little bit of a factor of we're focused more on it than we were last year because we're further in our process, and I think we're putting ourselves in better positions by just making better decision all around. We're on the power play instead of killing, which is very much opposite last year."

Gardiner, who had not recorded a point since November of last year, scored the Lion's goal on the five-minute penalty.

"It was a beautiful goal, and it's funny because he was playing extremely well, very well in his own end," Gadowsky said of Gardiner. "He made really good decisions, so to see him score a goal, and such a beauty, was really great."

Bailey and Scheid Return to Alaska

While this trip was the first to Alaska for the majority of the Lions, Casey Bailey, an Alaska native, and Eric Scheid, a former student-athlete at Alaska Anchorage, both made their returns to the state.

Even with the bit of added pressure, both forwards did their best to contribute.

"I actually thought they both played very well," Gadowsky said. "Casey scored, and Eric Scheid led our team in shots Friday night. I thought both of them played extremely well."

Against his former team, Scheid won eight of his nine faceoffs and tallied six shots. His lone goal of the weekend came the following night when the team took on the Nanooks.

Bailey, who had the opportunity to play in front of his family and friends, scored Friday night, which allowed him to settle in and focus on the games at hand.

"It was definitely a lot of fun," Bailey said of playing in his home state. "It was a little bit nerve wracking the first night, but I think after the first period or so I calmed down. I was excited to be able to see all my family and friends. They were pretty enthusiastic about being able to watch me play, so it was a good weekend."

Thompson Injury

Friday even also marked a scary experience for the Lions, especially for defenseman David Thompson. With 3:32 left in the overtime period against Alaska Anchorage, Thompson required medical assistance for an abdominal laceration and was ultimately take off the ice on a stretcher.

Luckily, the defenseman's injury could have been much worse. Thompson was taken to the local hospital for stiches, but Gadowsky is confident he will be back on the ice shortly.

"Yeah, he's going to be great," said Gadowsky of Thompson. "He's going to be fine. They took really good care of him. It was scary at the start, and we took every precaution, but he's going to be back at 100 percent very soon."

Alaskan Adventures

When not at the rink, the team made the most of exploring Alaska and experiencing all Fairbanks had to offer.

The Lions took a trip to Eielson Air Force Base and were given a private tour by Penn State hockey alumnus Maj. Joe Bassett.

"I think every one of our student-athletes won't forget their Alaskan experience," Gadowsky said. "I think it opened their eyes a little bit. I think it was different.

"We had a chance to meet one of our hockey alumni that works as a fighter pilot at Eielson Air Force Base, which was a great experience. Overall, obviously we would have loved to have won, but the overall experience I think was excellent."

By M
att Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Andrew Wolverton has weathered plenty of rough storms during his four years as the goalie of the Penn State men's soccer team.

Just last season, he and the Nittany Lions lost their last two regular-season games and still rebounded to make it to the Sweet 16 a month later.

The senior goalie knows the team doesn't have to lower its goals this season just because it lost its second-straight game Saturday night to Michigan State, by a score of 2-0.

"There's a lot of things we can learn, and I think the biggest thing is taking those and working on the things that we aren't doing as well these last two games and getting back into it," Wolverton said. "This isn't the first stretch we've gone through in my four years where we haven't had a couple of good games in a row."

The Spartans entered the game with an 8-2-2 record, and early on, the two teams looked evenly matched, as neither squad was able to take control of the game in the first 20 minutes.

It was then that the Michigan State offense got going, as Jason Stacy blasted a shot off a corner kick from 20 yards out past Wolverton to make the score 1-0 at the 20:43 mark.

Five minutes later, Jay Chapman slipped past the Nittany Lions' backline and put a pass from Adam Montague in the back of the net to give Michigan State a 2-0-halftime lead.

"[Stacy] hit a nice shot and that was a little disappointing," head coach Bob Warming said. "We talked about it at halftime said that would be the last one of the year like that.

"The first 25 minutes of the game, they hardly touched the ball, we passed it so well. I thought it was as good as we've passed the ball all of year."

With the rain picking up in the second half, the Nittany Lions registered nine corner kicks and outshot the Spartans eight to zero yet couldn't get on the scoreboard with Michigan State keeping its defense packed in the back all half.

"Once you get behind a goal to Michigan State, that team is so well organized defensively, you can have a lot of possessions and pass a lot of balls between the centerline and 35 yards out," Warming said. "That's when things get tough." 

Having watched his team generate the number of corner kicks and shots that it did, Warming is pleased with the effort of his players. Moving forward, he wants them to work on improving the quality of their chances.

"When you take a long time to build the ball up, it allows them to get nine players behind the ball," Warming said. "And then things get tight when you've got a bunch of big bodies in there."

Warming knows the Nittany Lions can produce good shots, as they created plenty during a 10-0-1 start to the season that included four victories over Big Ten opponents.

If there is one thing that reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year believes after over 30 years in the business, it's that its one thing to stay positive when you're playing well, and another to keep the same attitude after a tough loss.

With four regular-season games remaining prior to the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, there is still plenty of time for the Nittany Lions to get back on track.

"Everybody goes through tough stretches in one way or another, in sports or in life and everything else," Warming said. "This is where your character gets tested, when things get tough. Things aren't right now and we don't want to make excuses."

After having a week in between its last two games, Penn State has a short turnaround with West Virginia coming to State College on Wednesday. The Nittany Lions will look to get back to the form that had them outscoring opponents 21-3 over their first 11 games.

"Really just stay focused and keep working hard," Wolverton said. "Just keep working and it'll all fall out how it should."


Monday Notebook: Lions Hosting Penn State White Out

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10453730.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Always a favorite of the fans and players, the Nittany Lions will host a Penn State White Out on Saturday when they welcome border rival Ohio State to Beaver Stadium for an 8 p.m. kick on ABC.

After practicing three times during the bye week, the team opened Ohio State week preparations on Sunday afternoon. The team's off day is Monday. Practice will resume on Tuesday as the Nittany Lions prepare for the seventh game on the 2014 schedule.

Beaver Stadium will be a sea of white on Saturday evening as all fans are encouraged to wear white under the lights. The history of the Penn State White Out in Beaver Stadium stretches back to the 2004 season. The first organized student white out took place during the Purdue game on Oct. 9. The first full stadium Penn State Whiteout was on Sept. 8, 2007 against Notre Dame.

Penn State and Ohio State have met during organized Penn State White Outs in 2005 (student white out) and 2012 (all stadium). Saturday's game will mark the eighth full stadium Penn State White Out in Beaver Stadium's history. The full list includes the following games: 2007 vs. Notre Dame, 2008 vs. Illinois, 2009 vs. Iowa, 2011 vs. Alabama, 2012 vs. Ohio State, 2013 vs. Michigan.

On the field, the Nittany Lions enter Saturday's game with a defense ranked among the top units in the country in three of the four major statistical categories. Penn State is No. 1 in rushing defense (60.8 ypg), No. 6 in scoring defense (15.2 ppg) and No. 6 in total defense (283.3 ypg). Penn State is No. 1 in the Big Ten in all three of those categories.

Saturday marks the 30th meeting between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes. Ohio State holds a 16-13 edge in the all-time series between the two programs.

Lions in the Stat Rankings
Several Nittany Lions remain among the leaders in national and conference statistical categories. Here is a weekly breakdown of Penn State players in the stat rankings:

QB Christian Hackenberg - Hackenberg is leading the Big Ten in passing yards per game at 272.8 yards per game. He ranks third in the Big Ten in passing yards at 1,637. He is second in the conference in completions per game at 22.33.

WR DaeSean Hamilton - Hamilton is 14th nationally (first in the Big Ten) in receptions per game (7.2). He ranks 21st in the nation and second in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game at 93.5.

WR Geno Lewis - Lewis ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 85.3 receiving yards per game and 5.3 receptions per game.

LB Mike Hull - Hull leads the Big Ten and is ninth in the nation in solo tackles per game at 6.7. He is second in the Big Ten and 17th nationally in total tackles at 10.7 per contest.

K Sam Ficken - Ficken is sixth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in field goals made per game at 2.00.

Early Look at the Buckeyes
The Buckeyes enter the week on a four-game winning streak after cruising past Rutgers at home on Saturday. Since dropping a 35-21 decision to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6, the Buckeyes have been red-hot on the offensive side of the ball. During the four-game winning streak, Ohio State has averaged 56.0 ppg.

The winning streak includes a 2-0 start in Big Ten play following a win at Maryland (52-24) and Saturday's triumph over the Scarlet Knights (56-17). The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in total offense at 533.8 yards per game. The unit is second in scoring at 46.5 points per game.

Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett leads the conference in total offense (333.0 ypg) and pass efficiency (182.1). Barrett has thrown for 1,615 yards and 20 touchdowns. Additionally, he has rushed for 383 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns.

Defensively, Ohio State is ranked fifth in the Big Ten, allowing 319.5 yards per game. The Buckeyes are ranked second in the conference against the pass (181.7 ypg) and sixth against the run (137.8). Linebacker Joshua Perry leads the Ohio State defense in tackling with 45 stops on the season.

Saturday marks Ohio State's second true road game of 2014.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Astrid Diaz, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The intensity meter is about to spike as the Penn State cross country teams head to Indiana State University on Saturday to compete in the 2014 Pre-National Invitational.

Penn State will face its toughest competition to date with 83 teams competing, 40 women's and 43 men's.

"This [meet] is a much larger competition approximately 80 teams will be there this weekend," said head coach John Gondak. "We competed well this weekend but I think we can be even better."

They will look to greatly improve their outing from the women's 13th place and the men's 17th place finish in 2013. The team has two focuses in their game plan.

The Pack

Penn State is focused on running smart, emphasizing the importance of beginning to race strong and ahead of the competition as it sets the tone for the finish line.

"I hope that this weekend we can pack up and be further up into the pack. When you have 40 teams, it's an amoeba of people that move through the course and where you start is where you get stuck for a while," said Gondak.

The men's team is focused on improving from their previous race and staying packed together from as early as the first 800 meters. They plan on using their newfound depth as an advantage.

"We have a lot more experience. We run all the workouts together as a team. The front-runners are there but the four, five, and six guys are up there and running together, too," said sophomore Conner Quinn.

The women want to improve noting they hold the same mindset they always do; to win. 

"The mindset is to stay more as a pack. I just really want to the team to do well," said junior Tori Gerlach.

"We had a solid showing last [meet] but it needs to be our best this weekend."

The Course

The course at the LaVern Gibson Championship is much larger and more complex than the one at the Blue and White golf courses and it will be a big test for the Nittany Lions' fitness.

"Indiana State has a dedicated cross-country course that hosts the national championship meet and there's specific criteria that the course needs to be," said Gondak.

The straightaways and turns are measured to specific standards with straightaways and turns distanced farther or closer apart than the runners are used to.

"It should provide us a good opportunity to compete well this weekend," said Gondak.

"It's a very different course so I'm looking [forward to] seeing how other teams stack up against each other," said Gerlach.

This weekend will be the teams' only chance to check out the course before its possible return to Terre Haute in late November for the NCAA National Championships.

Looking Forward

Ahead for the Nittany Lions is a whirlwind of competition as the Big Ten Championships are next on the schedule. However, the team won't let the pressure get to them.

"We will be seeing a lot of Top Ten teams at Pre-[Nationals]. We will see a bunch of guys and teams that will be contending for the national title but we're a good team, [too]" said Quinn. "We are taking it one meet at a time."

The women and men will begin at 11:00 a.m. and 11:35 a.m., respectively. The women will run in a 6k Blue race and the men will compete in an 8k Blue race in hopes of earning NCAA qualifying points.

Hull Right at Home Making Plays at Middle Linebacker

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10442216.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When you think of Penn State Football's core value pertaining to unrivaled work ethic, you should visualize Mike Hull.

The senior captain knows one speed when he is working out, practicing and playing in games.

A fierce competitor, Hull is the benchmark for leaving everything on the field for the Nittany Lion defense. While his actions speak louder than words, Hull's production through the first six games of 2014 speaks loudest of all.

Simply put, the middle linebacker has been tremendous during the first half of the season for the Nittany Lions. Averaging 10.7 tackles per game, Hull has been instrumental on a Penn State defense that is ranked in the top 10 nationally and leads the Big Ten in three of the four major statistical categories.

"He's probably the most productive MIKE linebacker that we've been around," head coach James Franklin said. "He's quick; he's strong; he's smart; he's unbelievably passionate about this team. He goes to work like that every single day. He's been a pleasure to work with."

"Anybody that knows anything about college football should watch (him)," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "(He) has played as good at middle linebacker as anyone in the country."

Hull moved to middle linebacker prior to this season after playing at one of the outside linebacker positions since he stepped on campus in 2010. He has embraced the move to the middle, and he feels right at home in a comfortable spot.

"Honestly, I've played middle linebacker my entire life," said Hull. "My dad taught me the right way since I was little on how to read linemen and how to read pullers, and things like that. I developed a knack for that in middle school. Moving back to the middle this year really lets me take advantage of those instincts I have learned over the years."

What separates Hull from most players on the field is his instinctual football IQ. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to make a play. Hull thinks a big piece of his play-making ability comes from Coach Shoop's scheme that allows the defense to play with instincts instead of thinking too much on the field.

"Coach Shoop and Coach Pry do a great job with us at the walkthroughs every single day at practice," Hull said. "The other thing is communication. You need to do a great job communicating during every period at practice. Off the field, I make sure that I have all of my assignments down so that I don't have to think when I'm out there."

Hull's 10.7 tackles per game put him in elite company. Only four Penn State players have averaged 10.7 or more tackles for a complete season since 1970 (Greg Buttle 1975, '76; Andre Collins '89; Shawn Mayer 2002; Dan Connor '07). Granted, there are six more games to play, but thus far, the results speak for themselves.

"When you are out there just reacting to things and not thinking about playing, it makes it easier to make plays and work at full speed," Hull said.

Hull is the quarterback of the Nittany Lion defense. Shoop often says that Hull is knowledgeable enough to call a game from the field in an emergency situation.

"He has an understanding of the defense as well as any player I have ever coached," Shoop said. "He's very confident out there. He knows the gameplan inside and out, which enables him to play fast."

There is an open dialogue between Hull and the veteran defensive players with Shoop. They bounce ideas off one another to cater the defensive scheme to best fit the strengths of the players on the field.

"When we are able to talk with Coach Shoop on the same level and let him know what we like and what he likes, it makes the whole thing run a lot more smoothly out there," Hull said. "I really think he gives us the freedom to make calls that other defensive coordinators across the country don't."

The aggressive nature of the Nittany Lion defense fits Hull's style to a tee.

"I really like how we are an attacking defense and how we get down hill on every play," Hull said. "Coach Shoop gives us the freedom to change the calls a little bit depending on the formation. We have a little more freedom to be in a position to make plays."

A Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, native, Hull looked up to Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee growing up in Western Pennsylvania. All three hail from the Pittsburgh area, and Hull shares some of the fundamentally-sound traits and tenacity of Posluszny and Lee.

"I followed them closely and watched how they played the game with such intensity and passion. I just tried to emulate those guys growing up," Hull said.

Like the rest of the senior class, Hull has seen just about everything during his college career at Penn State. This season is special to No. 43, though. Hull wanted to leave his mark on the linebacker position and Penn State defense in 2014. Through six games, there is no doubt that Hull is a man on a mission.

"This is something I wanted to make sure happened for my senior year because Penn State is such a special place with a strong tradition of great defenses," Hull said. "At the mid-way point, we have a lot to work on, but I'm happy with the way the defense has performed so far."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Saturday can't come soon enough for the Penn State men's soccer team.

Not just because it's an opportunity to take on conference rival Michigan State. For the Nittany Lions, it also represents a chance at redemption.

The last time the Lions stepped on the field, they lost for the first time this season, an uncharacteristic 4-0 defeat on the road at Maryland.

Now, with another Big Ten opponent on deck, the Blue and White are anxious to prove they are the same team that opened the season with a 10-0-1 run.

"They say great teams never lose twice," senior captain and midfielder Owen Griffith said. "After a loss that bad, [this game] is going to be huge for our confidence and overall league standings and all that stuff."

After going 11 straight games without a defeat, the pressure on Penn State to avoid mistakes was enormous. Now that it is behind them, they can get back to concentrating on each game instead of worrying about finishing undefeated.

That doesn't mean that the Nittany Lions aren't taking the lessons they learned against Maryland seriously, they are just trying to keep the big picture of the season in perspective.

Entering the season, the team's goal was to win the Big Ten and win a national championship, and nothing about that has changed because of one loss.

"After the loss, we were all devastated and the bus ride home wasn't the best of the season," redshirt junior Kyle MacDonald said. "After reassessing all of our goals, which are the same as at the beginning of the season, we all realized that if we remain that strong unit that we were at the beginning that nothing can tear us apart.

"Getting a loss at this point of the season isn't the end of the world. It does take a little pressure off us and now we're just looking to go further and make another run."

During the team's training session on Wednesday, MacDonald and his teammates certainly didn't look like a group that was hung up on a loss.

With rainy conditions keeping them inside, the Lions looked loose and upbeat as they played racquetball in Rec Hall with assistant coaches Chad Duernberger and Michael Behonick.

Still, when asked about the rest of the season, Griffith was honest and said that staying focused is more important now than ever, as the team doesn't want to enter the postseason out of synch.

"Definitely there was pressure [being undefeated]," Griffith said. "But there's always going to be pressure when you're playing at the highest level of college soccer. We're right in the thick of the season and this is the part of the year we play all the good schools.

"Every team no matter what is going to be a battle. It's not like you get one hard team and then you get a break the next game. We're going to have to come out and prove we're much better than we were [against Maryland]."

Not only is Saturday's contest going to be back at Jeffrey Field, it will also be the main show in town with the football team on a bye week and other teams including women's volleyball and women's soccer on the road.

The Lions know there will be plenty of fans in attendance, and they are eager to give them a good game.

"One of the best, if not the best fan section in the country," MacDonald said. "They give us support more than they can even imagine. Just the whole atmosphere of Jeffrey Field under the lights with the support of the community, we look forward to that every time."

Taking a Look at the Spartans

A year after making it to the Elite Eight, Michigan State is once again one of the top team's in both the Big Ten and the country.

Entering Saturday, the Spartans are ranked 16th in the nation and have an 8-2-2 record with a 2-1-1 mark in conference play.

The team's three leading scorers from last year, Tim Kreutz, Adam Montague and Jay Chapman have all returned, though the team has gotten it's biggest spark from new addition Jason Stacy.

A junior transfer from Michigan, Stacy was forced to sit out last season but has been very productive in his first year in green and white, leading the team in goals (three), assists (six) and points (12).

Also returning is goalkeeper Zach Bennett, who has started every game for Michigan State the past two seasons and has only allowed five goals in 12 games this year.

Head coach Damon Rensing, a former player and 10-year assistant with the Spartans, is in the middle of his sixth year at the helm of Michigan State. During that time, he has led them to four NCAA Tournament appearances.

"They're another team that's doing really well in the Big Ten," Griffith said. "They have some dangerous guys and besides Maryland, probably the best team that we'll play in the Big Ten. It'll be a good match." 

The Quiet Leader: How Church's Production Speaks Louder Than Words

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9249253.jpegBy Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- One aspect to any winning soccer team is a powerful defense. The defense is the backbone of the team and for the Penn State women's soccer team this is no exception.

So far this season, the Nittany Lions have proved they have one of the Big Ten's sturdiest backlines by allowing just 10 goals in 15 games. Through it all, Whitney Church has been leading the way.

A senior center back, Church is taking every opportunity to make sure her last year with Penn State is one to remember.

"As my last season with this team I try and take it game by game. I still am giving it my all but am making sure I enjoy my last year," said Church.

One of the team's most experienced players, Church has established herself as one of the leaders of the Nittany Lions' defense.

In her decorated college career, Church was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team in 2011, as well as being Big Ten Defender of the Year and All-Big Ten first team in 2012 and All-Big Ten second team in 2013.

As a mentor, Church is known as the "quiet leader" on the team because she leads by example and represents everything a defensive player should be.

"She's the leader, the voice, and the organizer of the team. She is your reliable center back that every team needs," said head coach Erica Walsh.

"To me she's the best center back in the country," Walsh added.

One of the squad's veterans, Church has racked up the most playing time on the team this season by playing a total of 1,307 minutes out of a possible 1,350.

"When I go out on the field I want to know I gave it my all. I want to walk away from the game knowing I did everything I could to help my team," said Church.

With her career winding down, Church wants to be someone the younger players on the team can look up to.

"I try to always be an example for my team," Church said. "I go about my business and hope I inspire others to play their best."

As a defensive player, her role on the team is less about scoring and more about being able to read plays and command and retain possession of the ball.

"Her biggest strength is the way she reads the game so well," said Walsh. "She can read the game better than any opponent. She's the steady force on the team's defense the other girls can always rely on."

One of the most dependable players on the field, Church allows her teammates to play aggressive as they know their defense is ready for any situation.

"She never ceases to amaze me," said senior midfielder Kori Chapic. "Her dedication to the game and skill level are what make her such an asset to the team. Having a player as dependable as Whitney allows us to play with more confidence.

"In soccer, being in the right position is critical. It's the difference of being two steps to the right or to the left that can change the entire game and Whit always seems to be in the perfect place at the right time."

Church may be in the middle of her final season, but that doesn't mean she still isn't trying to improve her game and leave a lasting mark on the program.

Part of her role as the "quiet leader" means Church's dedication to the game speaks louder than any words could.

"I try and lead by example and want to be a symbol of someone who is always trying their best. I work hard not only for myself but for their team as well," said Church.

Nittany Lions Volunteer with LifeLink PSU Students

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photo (8).jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Approximately 25 members of the Nittany Lion football team spent some time with students from LifeLink PSU at the Lasch Football Building on Thursday afternoon.

In the October spirit, the Nittany Lions and LifeLink special education students carved and painted pumpkins on the patio of the Lasch Building. The group of 12 LifeLink students toured the football facility with members of the staff before heading on the patio to carve pumpkins with the Nittany Lions.

Founded during the 2002-'03 academic year, LifeLink serves special education students to help them in academic programs and gain independence. LifeLink partners with Penn State students to help the individuals in the State College Area School District Department of Special Education. The LifeLink students are between the ages of 18 and 21 years old.

The group of football student-athletes and LifeLink students had a blast on Thursday. As always, in the spirit of Penn State Football's core values, the group engaged in a competition to see whose pumpkin turned out the best. The pumpkins will be used during Fall Harvest Festival at Shaver's Creek in Petersburg, Pennsylvania.

The bye week gives the team an opportunity to interact with members of the community and engage in activities with groups like LifeLink. In addition to working with the United Way earlier this month, the Nittany Lions spent time with Bellefonte pee-wee football teams on Monday. A group of Nittany Lions will also participate at the Centre County Down Syndrome Society's Buddy Walk on Saturday.

On the field, the Nittany Lions will return to practice on Sunday in preparation to the Oct. 25 matchup against Ohio State (8 p.m. on ABC).

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Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony