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WILKES-BARRE - The final leg of the 2014 Penn State Coaches Caravan kicked off with a sold out lunch stop in Williamsport and a dinner event in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday.
Week three will feature a new lineup of Penn State head coaches joining James Franklin on the road. Baseball's Rob Cooper, men's hockey's Guy Gadowsky and men's volleyball's Mark Pavlik boarded the modified Fullington bus on Tuesday morning when it rolled out of the Bryce Jordan Center parking lot shortly after 9:30 a.m. Take a look through highlights of day seven on the Penn State Coaches Caravan.
Stop No. 13 - Williamsport (Pennsylvania College of Technology)
A sold out crowd of 270 Penn State fans filled the Field House on the Pennsylvania College of Technology campus for the first of five stops during week three. What makes the Caravan so unique is the variety of head coaches who entertain the crowds. With the addition of Cooper, Gadowsky and Pavlik to kick off this week, nine head coaches have now been a part of the 13 total stops.
Fresh off leading the Nittany Lion men's volleyball team to a 25-7 overall mark and a spot in the NCAA semifinals, Pavlik is on the Caravan for the third-straight year. The men's volleyball squad battled eventual national champion Loyola to a 3-2 setback on Loyola's home floor during the semifinals. That being said, Pavlik has firsthand experience of what a home crowd advantage can do for a team. He can relate to Franklin's vision of a sold out stadium during every home game.
"I know what a great home crowd can do for a team. We experienced it," Pavlik said. "A sold out venue makes it so much more of a challenge for an away team."
Cooper, who finished up his first full season as head coach of the Nittany Lion baseball team on Saturday, addressed the sold out crowd following Pavlik. The Lions made significant progress from 2013 to 2014, and Cooper is excited for what is ahead.
"Being a part of the Penn State family is unbelievable," Cooper said. "This coaching fraternity is an amazing thing to be a part of."
It was fitting for Cooper's first stop to be in the home of the Little League World Series. Cooper joked with the crowd that his two young sons both asked him immediately after being hired at Penn State if they could attend a game at the Little League World Series in August.
"Here we are in the epicenter of youth baseball," Cooper said. "You know what it is like to be a part of a championship event...There are good things ahead (at Penn State)."
Gadowsky stepped to the microphone following Cooper. Still fired up after his first season of leading the Nittany Lions inside Pegula Ice Arena, Gadowsky could not be more appreciative of what the fan base does for the men's hockey program.
"The atmosphere you created in Pegula made me a cool dad again (with my kids)," Gadowsky joked.
"The best part about Pegula is that it takes a little piece of Beaver Stadium and puts a roof over it," Gadowsky said. "It's awesome. I love being in there...The reason it is so addictive is because of Nittany Nation."
Coach Franklin headlined the 13th stop with the final speech of the afternoon. The fan response to his message has been superb during all three weeks, and Tuesday's lunch was no exception.
"This has been great getting out here on the road and connecting with as many people as possible," Franklin said.
The bus moved east across the state to Wilkes-Barre for the first evening stop of the final leg.
Stop No. 14 - Wilkes-Barre (Genetti
Hotel & Conference Center)
The second stop of the day took place inside Genetti Hotel & Conference Center downtown Wilkes-Barre. Nearly 400 enthusiastic fans filled the Grand Ballroom on Tuesday night. Luzerne County is home to more than 8,500 passionate Penn State alums.
Wilkes-Barre will forever have a place in Penn State hockey history. Coach Gadowsky led the Nittany Lions to their first victory as a Division I program on Oct. 13, 2012 against American International. David Glen's goal 38 seconds into overtime sealed the first win. That game took place inside Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre.
"Forever, this place will have a soft place in my heart," Gadowsky said.
In 2013-'14, Gadowsky led the Nittany Lions to three victories over Michigan and one over Ohio State during the inaugural season of Big Ten hockey. The fans inside the room on Tuesday are excited about Penn State hockey's future, and Gadowsky's peers are tremendously impressed with the progress the program has made in such a short period of time.
"These coaches are ordinary people who do extraordinary things with their programs," Pavlik said.
"To compete in this conference, we need all of your support," Gadowsky said.
The fan base plays a paramount role in supporting all of Penn State's teams. Pavlik, Cooper and Gadowsky each reminded the fans in attendance of what a full Beaver Stadium every Saturday in the fall does for their programs. The atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium during a game before a sold out crowd speaks for itself. The same is true for Pegula Ice Arena, Rec Hall and Medlar Field, in the case of the other coaches on the Caravan Tuesday night.
That being said, the Coaches Caravan is an opportunity for the coaches to not only talk about their programs, it is a way to say thank you to the fans for their support. Like Coach Franklin has said throughout the Caravan, the people make Penn State special.
"Penn State is like a community...It gives us an opportunity to interact with you," Franklin said.
Franklin took time to recognize offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan and passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne, who were in the Wilkes-Barre area recruiting on Tuesday and stopped by the event to say hello to the fans.
The Caravan rolls into Coach Franklin's alma mater, East Stroudsburg, on Wednesday for lunch before an evening reception at the Sands in Bethlehem.
Day I - 165 miles
Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles
Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles
Total - 1,499 miles
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