By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State dives into its bye week after playing perhaps the busiest part of its schedule this season. The Nittany Lions are fresh off of a seven-match stretch in a span of 17 days, featuring outings against many opponents ranked within the AVCA DI-II Top 15.
Head coach Mark Pavlik is looking forward to a week of, noting his team is beginning to peak at the right time.
"Against teams that are ranked above us, we play well enough to potentially end the match before it gets to five sets," Pavlik said. "We're not good in stretches of two or three points where we absolutely have to have one point, and I think if we turn that corner we can be pretty dangerous."
The aforementioned seven-match streak for the Nittany Lions included a four-match series against BYU, Hawaii, Lewis and Ohio State, all of which are ranked in the top 10 nationally. Despite finishing 0-4 in these matches, Pavlik took many positives from the string of matches.
"It's what you do to win a national championship," Pavlik said. "You're going to have to play on a Friday, you're going to have to play on a Tuesday, a Thursday and a Saturday to win a national championship. So, you'll have four matches in eight days against good teams, so it gives you that sense of what it's going to be like in a month and a half."
Over the past several matches, redshirt sophomore middle blocker, Jason Donorovich, has been entered in the starting lineup in place of redshirt senior Jalen Penrose.
Pavlik has been impressed with the energy and consistency Donorovich has brought to the court since being inserted into a starting role.
"With [Donorovich], you know what you're going to get out of him," Pavlik said. "He works really hard in transition, he works really hard with blocking and he's fairly good at independent hands where you'll see some blockers have to move both hands to do something - he can have his be independent of each other."
For Donorovich, it's all about doing what the team needs.
"I'm really trying to work on blocking because if you have a solid block it makes the job for the defenders behind you a lot easier," Donorovich said.
Penn State's two middles in Penrose and Donorovich play with contrasting styles, but both have been very effective at times this year for Penn State.
"You know Jalen is going to go in and put balls away consistently because there's not many people in the country who can stop him," Donorovich said. "I think what I bring is more defense and energy. Whatever we need, I think that's how coach decides who will play when. I think we have two really good options."
The area where Donorovich has separated himself lately, however, has been in consistency, which Pavlik says has made things easier for the team offensively.
"He is finding ways to put the ball to the floor and block balls," Pavlik said. "It's all about trying to score points and if we can get six guys on the court that we know are going to score four points each and not give up any - there's 24 points right there. I think we can then find a way to score one more."
With the week off, Penn State will have extra time to recover from its physically demanding schedule over the past couple of weeks. The following weekend, the Nittany Lions will be on the road against Sacred Heart and Harvard looking to close the gap in the EIVA standings behind George Mason.
By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With indoor season over, the men's track and field team is left with the first indoor national champion since 1990, sophomore David Lucas.
Lucas won the weight throw title at the national championship at Texas A&M on March 10th. Lucas beat the runner-up by over three feet, throwing a new school record and a new facility record of 78'-9.75".
"It's super exciting. It's been 28 years since Penn State's won an indoor men's track and field individual title. I'm super excited to be able go down to Texas and compete and bring us back this national title back for Penn State," Lucas said.
Throws coach, Lucais MacKay, is excited that one his athletes brought home a national title this season.
"It feels really fulfilling, especially with David and the weight because it's kinda from ground up," MacKay said.
Going forward, Lucas learned a lot this indoor season, and he knows that this mark will help him transition into the outdoor season.
"You can't end the indoor season with any more momentum than winning an individual title," Lucas said. "I think that I learned a lot about competing this indoor season, learning how to channel anxiety and all the energy of the competition in a really efficient way to throw my absolute best. I'm hoping to take those same skills that I learned in the indoor season and translate that into how we move into outdoor."
"I think him understanding what competition is about and that it's an opportunity to compete. I hope that messages carry through because that's what we accomplished," MacKay said. "He's a really good athlete, so if it translates to the discus and the hammer and possibly the shot put then so be it."
As for outdoor season compared to indoor, the throwers switch from throwing the weight throw and shot put to throwing hammer, discus, shot and maybe even javelin. Lucas's best event is usually the discus, and he has high hopes of repeating a national title in that event.
"Things like that are always in the back of your mind. Performing at the high level meets and consistently doing that, I think there's definitely something to back up coming from indoor," Lucas said. "I'm comfortable with that level and pressure and having a target on my back. I think I'm just going to roll into shot, and the discus, and the hammer all outdoors and really just get things going from the start and keep building from there throughout the season."
Transitioning from the indoor season to the outdoor season is always tough for the athletes due to the change in events and the change in the weather. In State College it is especially difficult to make that transition due to the weather inconsistency.
"It takes a little while. You have to kind of put the disc on the backburner for at least a month or so of the indoor season. So, it takes a little while to get that going. Obviously with our weather patterns in Central Pennsylvania we aren't outside seven days a week right now or even five days a week," MacKay said.
This is Lucas's second season working alongside MacKay, and he feels that MacKay has prepared him for the level of competition he sees at meets. He is looking forward to MacKay's coaching style as they prepare for the outdoor season.
"I think that he and I really understand how I respond as an athlete and learning how he coaches and building a really good relationship that he and I have," Lucas said.
"Moving forward and trying to replicate the success, he and I sat down and mapped out how the training plan was going to be and how we are going to progress throughout the season," Lucas added. "I'm just going to trust in the training and continue to go through the motions and the same process, kinda like what we did in indoors and then try to peak in a similar manner for outdoors. I want to go and have some fun with the season."
By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's rare for a coaching staff to be as cohesive and work as well together in its first full-time year together--but that's exactly how Penn State's women's gymnastics rolls.
When head coach Sarah Brown took over the reins this past year, she brought with her two trusty sidekicks from her past: assistant coaches Rob Drass and Dallas Becerra.
"When I took over in May, there were a lot of changes that I saw that needed to be me made with the program initially," Brown said. "The most important thing for me was getting to know the athletes and getting a good staff on board. Because there were so many changes that I had been going through personally and so many changes I felt the program needed, I thought it was most important to have people around me that I could trust, and people that knew me the best."
The trio has an interesting history in their web of connections.
Brown first met Drass, who graduated from Penn State, between her sixth and seventh grade years as a gymnast. After going through a personal coach transition, Brown came to Missouri looking for a place to train, where Drass, who was there at the time, took her under his wing. Their relationship was strong and Drass saw her talent, eventually becoming Brown's head coach when she pursued her collegiate career in Mizzou.
"We've seen each other at our best, we've seen each other at our worst, and we know how to read each other," Drass said. "For me, the attraction coming back to Penn State was partly being an alumnus, and helping Sarah restore Penn State gymnastics to its rightful place, and I get to work with someone who I look at as a super person who does things for the right reasons."
Meanwhile, Becerra was a diver at University of Missouri, a shared alma mater with Brown, and left diving behind to become a gymnastics coach. He ended up getting to know Brown at a gymnastics club where she quickly became his mentor. After a few years apart, the two reconnected. Prior to taking on her role at Penn State, Brown served as head coach at Eastern Michigan, where she worked side-by-side with Becerra once again.
For Brown, her past relationships were key in building this staff.
"Dallas and I had a really good working relationship, so immediately I knew that he would be a great fit," Brown said. "Rob and I had talked for years about potentially working together again. Then, I was fortunate enough to be his director of operations while I was in grad school, so we had worked together on different levels in the past. I felt like since he was a Penn State alum, and someone who really understood what Penn State was about, and the timing happened to work out well, and he was kind enough to join me on staff. It's been really fun and we all balance each other really well."
"We can all look at each other and we all know exactly what the other one's thinking and what the other one needs," Becerra said. "In the gym one of us might be tougher and the other one might be there to give the TLC, so I think us being so close helps everything flow."
The three have been together in Happy Valley for nearly a year now, and they've adjusted to the change as a unit.
"Sarah's divvied up the responsibilities for each event so that there's one person that oversees it," Drass said. "Then we all collaborate and talk about each all the time, because the more eyes looking at something the better. We have a very seamless interaction, because we all were friends before, we all knew each other, and it makes it really easy when you work in a place you're very comfortable with where you don't have to feel out the relationships and you know how to be straightforward."
For the two assistants, the collaboration with each other is huge.
"I think it's great to have someone like Dallas," Drass said. "As someone who's been working in this for a while, he keeps me fresh and looking at things from a different perspective, and most of the time it's the way the athletes see things."
"It's really helpful that we can all look at each other and know exactly what the other one's thinking or what the other one needs," Becerra added. "Rob's experience definitely helps me because he's done this year after year, so there may be things I'm thinking that I want to do, but he can give me that advice."
While the staff had a familiarity, there was still the challenge of getting used to new athletes.
"Until you see everybody in each situation, it's hard to know how they tick," Drass said. "But once the championship season starts, the meet season starts, the inner squad starts--all those things help to learn and peel back the layers of the athletes. As a staff, we're learning how to respond to them, and moving forward we're going to get so much better at it."
Freshmen Kourtney Chinnery and Ava Verdeflor, two newcomers, had a great deal of talent in combination with some nerves about the new atmosphere. The two agreed that the stellar coaching staff made the experience better in every aspect.
"They've helped us adjust to college in general, and not just the sport but the transition with everything," Chinnery said. "College gymnastics is way different; school is way different. So, we have to work hard in school so we can compete. They really have helped with our mindset and our growth as people."
As the athletes have gotten used to their new environment, the closeness of the staff has been key.
"There's a formal aspect of the coaching vs. team, but we're also all really close," Verdeflor said. "They know that they work well together. They each bring several different things to the table, and it's just the perfect combination."
That perfect combination has led to a gymnastics family.
season, we came in a little unsure of how things would go, but we knew we were
in it together," Brown said. "It has
become much more like the feel of a family, and I think going into next season
there's going to be more opportunity to learn and grow, and I think we're going
to get to a point even more where don't even have to look at each other and we
Andy Kuros, GoPSUsports.com student staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Third-seeded Penn State will play No. 2 seed Denver in the first round of the Midwest Regional to kick off the NCAA Tournament this weekend. Sent home by Denver in last year's NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, the Nittany Lion postseason rematch against the Pioneers has a different feel to it this season.
"It's been different from last year," Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "Coming off such an emotional Big Ten Championship and then jumping right into the NCAAs, the practices were actually not very good. We were very tired, but this has been different. We've been off, guys have been chomping at the bit and they've really been working hard, so it's been a much different feel. I would say the plan is to just work hard and improve. The workman's-like attitude has really carried over and I like how the guys are approaching it."
Looking toward the familiar matchup, Penn State is well aware of the challenge come Saturday.
"Obviously they're an excellent hockey team, but at this point in the year you're going to play an excellent hockey team no matter what," Gadowsky said. "That's what we've been preparing for even before we knew it was Denver."
Key for Penn State will be its ability to shut down the Pioneers' prolific offense - a task easier said than done. With three players on the team with more than 40 points this season, including NCHC Player of the Year, Henrik Borgström and U.S. Olympic team member, Troy Terry. Along with Jones in net, Penn State's defense will most certainly have a tall task ahead.
"We'll be ready," Jones said.
Penn State is healthy and ready to go though, playing with a home field advantage, with the Nittany Lions serving as the host institution for the weekend at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
"It's certainly exciting being in Allentown," Gadowsky said. "We know we're going to have great Penn State support, which is awesome. That's going to be a lot of fun."
Sophomore goaltender Peyton Jones, who is a native of Langhorne, Pennsylvania talked about playing an NCAA Tournament game so close to Happy Valley.
"It's going to be awesome," Jones said. "I'm going to have a lot of family and friends there. It's only about an hour from my house so it's going to be great playing in front of all those people."
In addition to the hometown advantage, Penn State also has a year of NCAA Tournament experience under its belt. For Gadowsky, it's a helpful addition when it comes to last year's matchup with Denver.
"I think it's comforting because we've done it once before," Gadowsky said. "Not only playing the same opponent, but just the fact that we've gone to a regional and we know what to expect."
Comparing last year to this year, for Gadowsky, the experiences are certainly different but it's the quality, character and much of the same style that is the same for the Nittany Lions.
"Every team is a little bit different, but I think we have the same great feel in the locker room and really quality, competitive guys," Gadowsky said. "That hasn't changed. I think the style is relatively similar, too. We still play to score goals, we get up and down the ice really quickly, but I think every year is different. You go through experiences, both positive and negative, throughout the season and that leads you to where you are."
Penn State and Denver lace up the skates Saturday at 7 p.m. in the PPL Center. Should the Nittany Lions advance, they would meet the winner of No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Princeton in Sunday's quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the summer of 2014, current senior Quest Hayden went to coach at Woodward's gymnastics facility in Pennsylvania before he started his first semester at Penn State. That same summer, current junior Chris Sands left his Lancaster, Pennsylvania home to go train under the staff at Woodward.
Four years later, the two gymnasts have evolved into teammates and even closer friends.
"We understand each other on a personable level," Hayden said. "He's very understanding of me and I am very understanding of him."
Their friendship grew through their combined love of gymnastics. Although only a year apart, Hayden became a mentor for the younger Sands and his evolving gymnastics career.
"Quest and I met at Woodward," Sands said. "He came to coach with (former Penn State assistant coach) Slava [Boiko] and we met there and he helped me through a lot. He is a really technically perfect gymnast. He really knows how the human body rotates and all of the biomechanics and stuff like that and I was not a good gymnast when I was in high school."
"I coached there and trained there, but while we [Hayden and Boiko] were there he [Sands] was a gymnast there, a camper and I coached him a lot," Hayden said. "He was a cool guy and we would always talk and we had lunch together. Me and Slava would work together to help him be a better gymnast."
Through the ties of then Penn State gymnastics' assistant coach Boiko and Hayden, Sands spent his senior year imagining himself in Blue and White.
"Well, I drew a lot of inspiration from Quest Hayden when I came here," Sands said. "He and I have been friends from years so I drew a lot on him. He's done a lot for me. He helped me actually like get interested in Penn State. He's helped me all along the way so I mean I can't thank him enough. "
As Sands narrowed his options between Penn State, Ohio State, Navy and a few other schools, Hayden gave his best-selling pitch in the only way he knew how: gymnastics.
"I was on my recruiting trip on senior night when he [Hayden] was brought in on vault last minute and he came in and absolutely nailed it and stuck that vault and everything," Sands said. "His ankles were hurting, everything was going wrong, but he came through and did that. That was a huge eye opener for me at the time."
As much as Sands needed Hayden's mentoring to focus and evolve his gymnastics career into the dominance he currently displays on rings, floor and the high bar, Sands has been a reliable friend and teammate throughout Hayden's injury prone career, one of the many teammates that has helped Hayden.
"Chris helped me with my injuries, but also the team," Hayden said. "Maybe after my shoulder surgery if I wasn't training for the team and the team's benefit I would have stopped gymnastics, but seeing these guys have a goal and I have a similar goal that I would train just as hard and harder to get back to where I need to be. So, they all helped me."
"He was really a big influence on the progression of my gymnastics that summer  and he helped me through some injuries as well and now it's kind of coming full circle," Sands added.
Both gymnasts are grateful for their opportunity to not only be teammates, but also help each other process and confront the challenges that lay ahead of them as student-athletes in one of the toughest sports, physically and mentally.
"Quest likes to psychoanalyze a lot, I mean he is a psychology major, so that's most of his rehabilitation in a sense," Sands said. "His body is going to heal on its own, but it's helping him through the mental aspect of that helping him stay like up beat with him."
"Me and him [Sands] can always have deep talks with each other," Hayden said. "I'm a pretty silly guy, but deep down I think deep and he understands that."
The two gymnast's roads will diverge as Hayden graduates this spring and Sands returns for his senior season. Even after devastating injuries, Sands believes Hayden's inspirational connection with gymnastics will be a consistent influence in his future beyond the walls of Rec Hall.
"I really hope he [Hayden] finds like his true calling," Sands said. "Gymnastics is one of those things that he is just in love with so he's obviously going to try and continue that...I don't see him leaving the sport anytime soon."
Although Hayden will not suit up alongside Sands next season, Hayden still has high hopes and expectations for the evolving gymnast and the entire Nittany Lion squad.
"For him [Sands] the sky is the limit," Hayden said. "He is a very good gymnast, very talented, very strong...If he works on his technique and form, whatever goals he sets he can reach next year."
After years of learning from one another, pushing each other through challenges and creating a thoughtful support system, the two athletes have created a bond through and beyond the sport that brought them both to Woodward four years ago.
"He's helped me all along the way so I mean I can't thank him enough," Sands said.
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