UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football returned to spotlight Friday morning as the Nittany Lions hosted a media day session ahead of the upcoming Fiesta Bowl matchup.
It has been a busy couple of weeks for head coach James Franklin, the staff and the team. While the Nittany Lions are focused on closing out the semester academically, the staff is busy on the road recruiting as well as adjusting to a few coaching staff adjustments.
"A lot of moving parts with graduations and grades," Franklin said. "A lot of moving parts with recruiting and the ups and downs of that and also from a staff perspective. I like where we're at. I'm glad to be back in town, see my family, have a practice here a little bit later on today and can get back to some form of normalcy or whatever you would call that, in college football."
New to their roles but not to Penn State, offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and special teams coordinator Phil Galiano joined defensive coordinator Brent Pry for their first media sessions as coordinators.
For Rahne, it's an exciting opportunity, one he's been working toward for a long time and one Franklin noted, he'd also be interviewing for a long time too.
"It's funny, because I tell our guys and I tell our coaches, I'm not a big believer in resumes," Franklin said. "I'm not a big believer in interviews. I get it, especially with people you don't know, but the reality is, Ricky Rahne has been interviewing for this position since he was a graduate assistant for me at Kansas State. Ricky was the offensive graduate assistant and Scott Frost was the defensive graduate assistant on our staff at Kansas State so he has been preparing and interviewing for this responsibility for a long time."
For Galiano, it's an exciting opportunity as well, having mentioned turning other full time opportunities down opting to stay at Penn State in his former role as a defensive consultant.
"It was in a time where last season I was looking to try to find a place and had a couple of full time job opportunities that I wound up turning down, choosing to come here to Penn State because this is where I wanted to be and where I would like to be for a very long time," Galiano said. "I knew one year I might just have to go and prove myself and try to do the best job I could and hopefully get rewarded for it. I appreciate Coach for seeing the job I did and rewarding me for it."
Winning in the
The push to the end of the semester can range from stressful to relatively stress free depending on the individual with managing practices, lifts and early bowl preparations.
"I only had one final but still it was pretty tough dealing with football and studying and trying to manage other things can get pretty hard," senior corner back Christian Campbell said.
Come Saturday, a total of 15 new Penn State football graduates will earn their degrees with 17 total graduates brining Penn State's total to 23 Nittany Lions with 26 degrees ahead of the Fiesta Bowl against Washington.
Going out on Top
Certainly for Franklin, the goal every week is to go 1-0, and that mentality is no different as the Fiesta Bowl draws closer. Looking to send out a special senior class with a win as well as generate some momentum ahead of 2018, Franklin made note that there's no doubt in the importance of taking advantage of the extra time together.
"I think it's important that you end the season on a positive note so everybody feels good and there's good mojo and obviously I do think it has an impact of going into the following season based on all of the things I just mentioned - the extra practices, the last time people have seen you, how they view you, they start talking about your returning players, the previous season and the bowl game and how it ended," Franklin said.
Contending with Pettis
Penn State's punt coverage team will be tested against the nation's leader in punt returns (20.4 avg) in Washington's Dante Pettis. Having returned four punts for touchdowns this season to break an NCAA record for career punt return touchdowns (9), he's a focus for second team All-Big Ten true sophomore punter Blake Gillikin.
When asked about true sophomore running back Miles Sanders and his development, Franklin noted that he has seen improvement in a variety of areas from ball security and protect to more physical changes in overall strength.
"I look at it a little bit like when I was in Green Bay, we had Brett Favre and we drafted Aaron Rodgers," Franklin said. "Aaron was able to come in there and sit behind Brett for a couple years, learn and take it all in. How many times do you see in that league, a guy get drafted in the first round and they are forced to play, and sometimes they are not ready."
Fiesta Bowl Excitement
For most if not all of the Nittany Lions, hearing the Sunday selection of Penn State and Washington matched up the Fiesta Bowl only brought excitement.
"I was just excited," Oruwariye said. "I was kind of thinking about Arizona, what we're going to do out there. I was quick to find the hotel we're going to stay in, which is really nice. I'm just excited for another big game, a New Year's Six bowl and just more time with this family."
Perhaps nobody has been more impacted by Rahne than tight end Mike Gesicki, who has spoken throughout the season about the level of confidence he's gained from Rahne.
"I am really happy for coach Rahne, he honestly deserves this more than anybody," Gesicki said. "He puts so much time into the preparation and everything that goes into our game plan each and every week. He is one of the smartest coaches on our staff and I think he is going to do a great job for us. I think he has had a huge impact on me and the player that I have become and I am really excited. When he first got the job, I called him and I said, "Hey man, congrats." I am obviously disappointed that he is not going to be coaching the tight ends anymore, but I told him, "if you are not going to be able to coach me, I still want 10 touches in the bowl game if you are out there calling plays. I want the ball a little bit.' I am excited for him."
CITY, Mo. - Penn State women's volleyball saw its 2017 season come to a bitter
close Thursday evening. In a back and forth battle that saw everything from
highs and lows to even a few head scratching moments, the outcome of the
longest national semifinal matchup in NCAA history didn't favor the Nittany
"I'm not disappointed in the players or the university that I work at," Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. "I am certainly disappointed in, you know, the outcome of the match. I thought the kids played hard. And other than serving and some passing issues, I thought we were competing well in a tough environment."
After turning around at 25-18 loss in the opening set, the Nittany Lions settled in on the game plan and gritted out a pair of tight wins in the second and third sets before pinning the Huskers seemingly right where Penn State had intended to finish it off.
The Nittany Lions came just one point shy of ending it all in the fourth set, but an error held off the win as the Huskers battled back to force a fifth and deciding frame.
"I think we clearly had opportunities to win the match, but we didn't win the match," Rose said. "You recognize the efforts of the other guys and this business and you appreciate the efforts of your seniors, and we had a lot of kids that were seniors. Certain programs get judged by winning national championships and not just their day-to-day effort. The efforts that we've had over the course of time have placed us into a little different area."
True to any Rose coached team, the Nittany Lions would not go down in an NCAA Tournament outing without a fight, weathering their fair share of swinging momentum shifts made all the most emphatic by the force of a record-setting crowd of nearly 19,000, clad in mostly red.
"I thought there would be times when we were up and they would get back into it and then it would be really close at the end and then we'd be battling for deuce games," senior first team All-American Haleigh Washington said. "I think we had a lot of great fight at the end but it just isn't enough. You can't have fight and make a lot of errors, it just doesn't work."
Untimely errors came at seemingly the costliest moments, as the Husker defense narrowed the margin of error to the tiniest of slices for Penn State, keeping everything off the floor and forcing the Nittany Lions out of system with pressure from the service line.
In sets two, three and four, Penn State shot out to at least a 3-point lead in the early part of the frame before Nebraska came storming back to even the score before taking the Nittany Lions the distance.
"I think we started off strong in a lot of our games, we had a lot of early leads, but I think we let those runs get away," Washington said. "We had to get that lead and maintain that lead and go back and forth and swing until the end of the game. Instead we get the early leads and they get to the spot and they get the run. That can't happen in this level and this game. They have to continue to sideout and hold the lead. It was just something we let slip away."
Perhaps no momentum shift was larger than the last, as a Husker kill sparked a 5-0 run that flipped a once 6-4 Penn State advantage into a 9-6 Nebraska lead.
"We were leading up until 7," Washington said. "It's not like the momentum was completely gone and they ran away with it in the fifth game. We were still battling but just couldn't hold on to that lead and maintain it."
Back-to-back kills from All-Americans Simone Lee and Ali Frantti proved not enough as Nebraska closed out a 15-11 win in the fifth set to end the match.
More than the obvious sting of the final score, Penn State volleyball will forever have the contributions of yet another highly decorated senior class to reflect on long after this year's NCAA national champion is crowned.
Each blazing their own path to greatness across the last four years, Penn State's trio of All-Americans in Lee, Washington and Frantti close out their careers in the blue and white with more than 1,000 career kills, having scaled the record books and collected a vast variety of honors and awards along the way.
Their legacy won't be defined by the final score but rather by the things they've learned along the way, the joy they've brought to their coaches, the community and of course, the teammates they've impacted forever.
"Haleigh has definitely been the biggest mentor, I just went up to her and hugged her and she's so solid and she's so compassionate and just an amazing player," redshirt sophomore Tori Gorrell said. "Learning from Haleigh is obviously what I need to do, she just has so many shots. Simone and Ali, those two girls, they literally do it all, I could not imagine being in their position. They're so crazy good."
Tucked in the belly of the Sprint Center, void of the usual laugher and lighthearted energy, the Penn State locker room may have been silent postmatch, but the contributions of the 2017 senior class, will proudly prevail.
By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A long layoff from competition hasn't stopped Penn State's Anthony Cassar from staying focused. The redshirt sophomore starter at 197 pounds was out of the lineup the past two seasons, but now wrestling at 100 percent, he's poised to continue to wrestle his way to the top.
"I'm feeling great," Cassar said. "This has been something I've been visualizing and working toward for what felt like forever. Two solid years and three counting my redshirt year of just hard, hard work and waiting for this moment to show everybody what I've been working on. I'm just having fun doing what I do best."
Cassar is out to a 7-1 start including a Keystone Classic title this year, and Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson likes what he sees.
"Health wise he's 100 percent," Sanderson said. "He just needs experience. He wrestled a few folk style tournaments as a true freshman a long time ago. The last two years he has been injured so he hasn't really been wrestling much folk style. He's got a lot of great tools and a lot of potential."
The sophomore hasn't been discouraged by his injuries and the coaching staff continues to see him improve. Cassar has two wins over ranked opponents this season.
"He does some phenomenal things," Sanderson said. "He's got a great feel and when he pulls the trigger he usually scores. So we want him to pull the trigger more often, but he's a big strong kid, he's getting better every match and the better the opponent the more we learn."
On December 3 against Lehigh, the pressure was on for Cassar with his team trailing, 19-17, and only two bouts left. The Rocky Hill, New Jersey native responded with an 8-3 decision over Jake Jakobsen giving the Nittany Lions a lead they wouldn't relent.
"That was a great environment," Cassar said. "I definitely felt the nerves and was excited, but once I got out there it's really just a testament to what you do (in practice). I didn't have to think and I did what I do in here which is work hard."
While the Nittany Lions shift their focus to opening the Big Ten dual slate against Indiana, another obstacle stands in the way - finals week. Sanderson made specific note that the Nittany Lions are scheduling around finals at the moment to give the team optimum time to wrap up the semester on top.
"Their focus is on their academics right now," Sanderson said. "Our workouts are around their academics. They need to finish strong."
As the Nittany Lions continue to work through December, January brings a big change with six dual meets and the Southern Scuffle on deck. Sanderson thinks his team is ready for the challenge, as he won't be doing anything drastic in the room.
"It's not really anything too complicated," Sanderson said. "Our guys are training as soon as they get to school and a lot of these guys train throughout the summer. We're ready to compete. We want to compete a couple times a week and we're looking forward to that stretch of the year."Penn State hosts Indiana to begin the Big Ten slate at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17. The Nittany Lions are 18-0-1 all-time against the Hoosiers who feature just one ranked wrestler.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the first time since 2014, Penn State women's volleyball is back in the NCAA national semifinals, now just a day away from moving one match closer to a potentially historic ultimate outcome.
"Whatever sport you play, this is what you should be dreaming about," Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. "This is the platform, that's why you work hard, why you do the things you do to try and get yourself in a position to compete for a national championship and to be in this case, one of four teams left."
The NCAA national semifinal field couldn't be more stacked with perennial contenders, with the top-ranked Nittany Lions among three of four teams (Nebraska and Stanford) to have won it all in the last four years.
With individuals from nearly every team bringing NCAA championship experience at the highest level, there's no doubting both semifinal matchups have the potential to be among the most memorable.
Penn State has familiarity among both sides of the remaining contenders on each side of the bracket. The Nittany Lions knocked off defending NCAA national champion No. 3 Stanford twice in the early part of the season. Perhaps no opponent is more familiar than fifth-ranked Nebraska, a team that handed Penn State its only loss of the season so far.
"When that happened we had a lot to learn from it," senior Heidi Thelen said. "We just had to focus on getting back in the gym the next day and knowing that we still have an entire season. Coach told us in that moment, if you win the rest of your matches you can win the Big Ten and that's what we did, and now, he said if you win six more matches you can win a national championship."
With the Huskers owning wins in each of the last six outings, Nebraska also sent Penn State home in the NCAA regional semifinals last year, marking a second straight year the Nittany Lions departed the tournament in the round of 16.
"We know that our last two years we've gone out in the sweet 16 and it's something that we've always wanted to come back to the final four and make it to that final destination, but we're not done yet," senior first team All-American Simone Lee said. "That's always something we look to and hold in the back of our minds that even though we've reached our goal to be Big Ten champions and we've reached our goal to get to Kansas City, now let's reach our goal to win the national championship."
For Rose, among familiarity on the big stage and in the Big Ten, while it certainly helps, he looks toward the big picture.
"I don't look at it as anything other than an opportunity to do something hopefully that these players will remember for the rest of their lives," Rose said.
Instead, when in the historic main gym of Rec Hall he tells the team to look up.
"I tell them to look up and see a lot of banners," Rose said. "Some banners that have six or something championships - that a lot of people have come before them and worked really hard and they're representing the University and they're representing a lot of alumni who put a lot of time in when they weren't chartering and getting all the bonuses and gifts the players get today."
Sewed on to one of those banners though is 2008, the year a then-top ranked Penn State captured its second consecutive NCAA national championship with a straight set win against No. 2 Stanford to close out a perfect 38-0 record, a feat the Nittany Lions would achieve once again the following year.
To get to the title game though, the Nittany Lions took down a then-No. 4 Nebraska team in an epic five-set victory in front of an NCAA record crowd of more than 17,000 fans at the Quest Center in Omaha.
It was the last time the two teams have met in the NCAA national semifinals and surely one many Nittany Lion faithful won't soon forget.
That's not on the minds of this year's squad though, as the group of Nittany Lion seniors will look to punctuate their Penn State careers the same way they opened them up - with a national championship crown of course.
This year's Huskers have won each of their last 17 matches dating back to a 3-1 loss to Wisconsin in early October, earning a spot in the NCAA national semifinals with a four-set win against fourth-seeded Kentucky last weekend.
Among the best nationally at stifling their opponents hitting percentage, Rose noted the Huskers bring strength from the service line.
"I think the impact of their serve has a lot to do with limiting other people's offensive numbers," Rose said. "I think their floor defense is really good. They don't block a lot of balls but certainly [Briana] Holman and [Lauren] Stivrins are strong blockers in the middle and I think [Mikaela] Foecke and [Annika] Albrecht block well. They're just a good team. All of the players play well together. Their libero's good. They bring a couple of defensive kids to shore them up a little bit."
Four Huskers earned All-America honors this afternoon, including Albrecht, Foecke and Holman, alongside senior setter Kelly Hunter, who earned a first team selection.
"We're playing a bunch of seniors and they've been playing the same lineup all year," Rose said. "I don't think either team is hoping to do something different, I think both teams are hoping to play well and rely on their inherent strengths."
First serve between Penn State and Nebraska is set for 7 p.m. ET Thursday in the first of two NCAA national semifinals at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The matchup will broadcast live on ESPN with Karch Kiraly, Paul Sunderland and Holly Rowe on the call.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball wrapped up the week with a dominant 74-54 win against George Washington to head into finals week on high note.
The Nittany Lions shot out to a hot start and never looked back, in control from start to finish.
For Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, it was Josh Reaves who set the tone, pushing the lead to nearly 20 with a steal and dunk in the first half to stretch the momentum in an already surging opening frame.
"Josh has a lot of energy, he's long, he can jump high," Shep Garner said. "He's a great person to have at the top of the press. He puts a lot of pressure on the guards and we get the steals out of it and he can finish it. We get dunks and layups and and-1's and that gets our team going. We knew that we were going to use that press a lot tonight and we were prepared."
Five Nittany Lions reached double figures for the fourth time this season as Penn State settled in off of Reaves' momentum for a balanced offensive outing.
Penn State shot 59 percent from the field in the first half as Garner sent the Nittany Lions into the locker room leading 48-19 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. GW's 19 first half points marked the second time this season the Nittany Lions have held an opponent to less than 20 points in the first half, also tying a season-low mark.
The offensive outing was hardly the highlight for Chambers and the rest of the team, as the focus all week in practice was centered around getting back to the basics, defense and rebounding.
"We had a long week of practice," Garner said. "Our main focus was defending and rebounding. we really harped on it in practice and it really showed tonight. We were ready to defend. We held a good team to 19 points in the first half."
Penn State commanded a 25-7 advantage on the boards in the first half, including a 9-1 mark on the offensive glass. On the night, Penn State out-rebounded GW 42-25, marking Penn State's third-highest mark on the glass this year and the most since grabbing 43 against NC State.
Mike Watkins led the way for the Nittany Lions, with a game-high 12 rebounds to along with 15 points for his second double-double of the season.
Watkins' consistency has been nothing short of key for the Nittany Lions and a welcome addition to his game for both coaches and teammates.
"He was great all week," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. "He has just really matured and been really consistent and that is what we need from Mike. We need Mike dialed in on everything, and they are starting to throw him the ball a little bit."
In the last three games, Watkins is averaging nearly 19 points per game, coming off a career-high 22-point outing against Wisconsin on Monday.
His consistency though starts in practice, as Watkins spent the week wearing a weighted vest, testing his limits along the way.
"He's been wearing that vest, he was trying to get ready for the game," Garner said. "He thought he was going to be super light today. He's been dominating. dominating practice, dominating the games. That's one thing I've been mentioning to him over and over. Dominate, every possession, just dominate. He's been doing it, he's making our life that much easier."
The Nittany Lions will take a few days off to turn the focus toward academics with finals week quickly approaching.
"We need to finish strong academically," Chambers said. "That is extremely important to me and to our administration. We are going to take a couple of days off here so our guys can focus on their academics. We will do something late on Tuesday but will come full force on Wednesday. But it is really important to give some time away to focus on what they need to do."
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