By Anna Pitingolo, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Any regular trip home is always something to look forward to, whether it's for a holiday, celebration, or just a random visit. But a homecoming is always a little bit different, with more excitement and anticipation in the air.
Head coach Amanda Lehotak has been itching to bring her team to her home state of Nebraska, and will finally have that opportunity this weekend when the Nittany Lions take on the Cornhuskers in a three game series.
The matchup marks the first time in program history that Penn State will play Nebraska at Nebraska. Since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011, it's been a waiting game for when the Nittany Lions would travel to Lincoln. Lehotak, a native of Omaha, had been eager to circle the date on the calendar, and finally was able to do so when this season's schedule came out.
"Absolutely I'm excited, I'd be lying to you if I said 'no,'" Lehotak said. "And really, just because I do miss so much and I give so much to my job and the coaching and it's always in that season so to be able to go back and share it in front of the people that I love and that support me no matter what and love me no matter what is pretty special."
There's going to be a fairly large contingent on hand to watch Lehotak make her return to Nebraska, including lots of family. One special person in particular who will be on hand is Lehotak's stepdad, who has Alzheimer's, and has always wanted to see his stepdaughter compete back in her home state.
"It was always his dream for us to come back and play there, so for him to see that, hopefully he knows," Lehotak said. "But all my cousins, family, friends, high school buddies are all going to be there so it's going to be pretty cool. Literally everybody in my life lives in Nebraska except me and two other cousins so it's going to be awesome to go back and represent Penn State and play in front of them."
The trip back to Lincoln marks the second time that Lehotak has made her return to Nebraska after leaving the state. She started her collegiate softball career at Ole Miss, where she set the single-season hits record in 2001. After two seasons there, Lehotak transferred to Nebraska-Omaha where she garnered third team All-American honors as well a pair of first team All-North Central Conference selections before graduating in 2003.
"I just needed to go back home," Lehotak said of her decision to leave Ole Miss after two years. "I don't really remember my 20-year old answer versus now my 36-year old answer but I just remember that I needed to go back home and kind of grow up a little bit and UNO gave me that shot. I had the best of both worlds because I got to play in the SEC and then I got to go back and grow up a little bit with my family."
While Lehotak is getting ready and excited for her return home, she's not letting that get in the way of her and her team's preparation for Nebraska.
"On the business side as a coach, I think it's a big series for us," Lehotak said. "It's hard to play at Nebraska, they have one of the best winning percentages at home in the country so for us to go there, it's going to be quite the challenge so we're very focused on that, on how we can beat them at home because they're just historically tough to beat."
The only other time that Penn State has played at Nebraska's Bowlin Stadium was the 2013 Big Ten Tournament. That year, the Nittany Lions went 1-1 with a win over Illinois and a loss to Minnesota.
First pitch for Friday's game is set for 6:30 p.m. followed by a 4 p.m. start time on Saturday and a 1 p.m. start on Sunday.