December 2017 Archives
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."
By Andy Kuros, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No.18 Penn State extended its unbeaten streak to eight games following a 7-4 victory against Robert Morris in front of a crowded Pegula Ice Arena.
Sophomore forward Denis Smirnov, who scored a goal in Friday night's 5-2 win, capped off a great weekend with two more goals and two assists in the second game of the series to match a career-high mark.
After he was sidelined for the last few weeks, Smirnov, who is second on the team in goals scored, is picking up right where he left off. For Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky, he's an important addition back into the lineup.
"He adds a lot of offensive creativity to us, that's for sure," Gadowsky said. "His vision and creativity is really difficult to replace and it's fun to watch."
When asked about his recent success, Smirnov gave credit to his line mates, sophomore forwards Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro.
"Playing with those guys is fun," Smirnov said. "They're a little faster than me, so I always try to keep up with them."
The line played a crucial role in the potent Nittany Lion offensive attack Saturday. Skating together, they found the back of the net a combined four times to lead Penn State offensively.
Sucese scored two goals to go along with an assist, while Biro registered an assist of his own.
Despite the line's renewed success since reuniting, the unit of Smirnov, Sucese and Biro hasn't seen much time on the ice together this season.
"Not one of those units is the way it was at the start of the year," Gadowsky mentioned.
As a result, Smirnov noted the importance of hard work, keying in on the amount of practice the unit has spent dedicated to building chemistry to gel as a unit.
"We know what we have to work on," Smirnoff said. "We get out there as a line and work on some things together."
Come this week, it's seemingly paying off.
The Nittany Lions, who returned home after playing the first game of the series at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, registered 44 shots in tying a season high mark with seven goals.
For Gadowsky, he's pleased with his team's offensive performance headed into a nearly month-long break before returning to Big Ten play in early January.
"I thought we moved the puck really well," Gadowsky said. "When we got to the (attacking) zone, I thought we did a good job.
By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The showering of blue and white confetti falling to the court is an image that won't soon be forgotten at Penn State. For the 13th time in program history and the first since 2014, Penn State women's volleyball is headed back to the NCAA national semifinals.
The top-ranked Nittany Lions swept Michigan State 25-23, 25-13, 28-26 in an all-Big Ten regional final affair at Rec Hall on Saturday night.
Although ending in a sweep, the Nittany Lions had to grind it out until the final point, with both the first and third sets hotly contested.
The two teams battled back-and-forth in the first set with the Spartans taking an 18-16 lead late in the frame before a critical dig from sophomore Kendall White on an Autumn Bailey attack shifted the momentum in favor of the Nittany Lions.
"That's a great attacker on the other side, she led the match in kills," head coach Russ Rose said. "It wasn't a surprise to us that she was going to get the ball and she took a great swing. Certainly trying to dig Bailey inside the block was something that we focused on."
Arriving at 2-0 after the intermission, by the time the third set arrived, 25 points weren't enough to clinch the set for either side. The Nittany Lions staved off two set points before rallying to win the set and the match.
Penn State's blocking was a huge advantage in the win as the Nittany Lions out-blocked the Spartans 14.0 to 8.0. Senior Haleigh Washington led the way with a match-high 10 blocks, including three solo stuffs, while fellow senior Heidi Thelen added four.
"We work really hard as a team and we did a great job keying in on what we were actually planning," Thelen said. "We did that and stuck to our game plan, listened to the coaches and fed the ball to Kendall."
Being in the Big Ten, both the Spartans and Nittany Lions were familiar opponents coming into this match with the Nittany Lions winning the first two regular season matches in four sets each.
"We had three great matches with them this year," Rose said "We have great respect for Michigan State and we're excited about the results of the match."
A couple of key Nittany Lions made impacts in the third set, as Penn State once again showcased its depth when called upon.
Senior Lainy Pierce had a critical service ace late in the third set, but perhaps the most notable substitution was for redshirt junior outside hitter Nia Reed.
"Lainy came in and served well," Rose said. "Nia [Reed] brings really good energy when she comes in. She's a really offensive-minded player and the energy is good. Everyone likes her because she is a good kid."
Reed had three kills on six attacks for a .500 hitting percentage, all at the very end of the third set.
"I was excited to go in and be a part of my first elite eight," Reed said. "I'm happy that my team has enough confidence in me to go out and make a play. They're not worried about setting me because of that confidence."
The win puts the Nittany Lions just two matches from a potential record-setting eighth NCAA national championship.
This year, Penn State has cleared the regional-round hurdle, one it had stumbled upon in the two previous seasons, including an especially heartbreaking loss to Nebraska in last year's regional semifinals, that brought back some all too familiar scenarios.
"Not all experiences are good, but they're all valuable," Rose said. "When Simone got blocked at match point, I'd seen that before. The difference is we were able to rally and come back to win the match."
For this senior class, winning a national championship in their freshman year is something that has driven them to increase their work ethic.
"We went freshman year and I didn't see the court, but it was still an awesome experience," Thelen said. "Now, actually being a part of it on the court is something different and really exciting. I'm happy to spend these moments with my teammates and we want to win, so we're going to work hard."
The Nittany Lions will face none other than No. 5 Nebraska in the NCAA national semifinals, a team that not only ousted them from the tournament a season ago, but also handed Penn State its only loss of the 2017 season in the Big Ten opener.
Revenge, however, is not a word in Penn State's vocabulary.
"We're going to play our game, do what we can do and expose our own strengths. It doesn't matter who's on the other side of the net," junior Bryanna Weiskircher said.The match will take place Thursday night in Kansas City, with the winner moving on to Saturday's NCAA national championship game.
By Will Desautelle,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Top seeded Penn State continued its postseason run Friday afternoon, advancing to the NCAA regional finals with a straight set win against Missouri.
While the Nittany Lions had their moments of struggle during the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, Penn State ultimately defeated Howard and Pittsburgh in four sets each. Come regionals though, Penn State dominated in nearly every aspect of the match to complete their first sweep of the postseason against the Tigers (25-17, 25-18, 25-19).
Seniors Simone Lee and Ali Frantti led the way for the Nittany Lions with 15 kills and 11 kills, respectively. Senior Haleigh Washington also chipped in nine kills, while Tori Gorrell had five kills and three blocks. Lee, Washington, and Gorrell all hit .500 for the match, while Frantti was right behind the trio at .455.
Despite the Tigers being unseeded in the NCAA Tournament, they entered the matchup playing their best volleyball of the season defeating No. 19 Kansas and No. 16 Wichita State to advance to the NCAA regionals. Penn State head coach Russ Rose and the Nittany Lions did not take them lightly.
"To beat two ranked teams to get here is a great recognition of a strong team and program and we knew that we were going to have to play well to advance," Rose said.
One of the top storylines coming from the match was the disparity in hitting percentage, which was in heavy favor of the Nittany Lions. Penn State hit an efficient .432 for the match, while Missouri hit just .212.
A big reason for the efficiency came in Penn State's aggression from behind the service line.
"I think you always have to serve tough especially get to the tournament," Lee said. "It's just something that we have to do. We work on serving every single day, so we should be able to serve tough in big matches like we did this afternoon."
The aggressive serving put Missouri frequently out of system throughout the match, which prevented them from getting top hitters Kira Larson and Alyssa Munlyn as involved as they normally are. Larson finished with eight kills on 18 attempts, while Munlyn found the floor just once on 12 attempts.
"If you don't serve tough you're going to be at the mercy of the other team's offense," Rose said. "Nobody gets this far in the tournament without having good offensive players. The impact of the serve was great, but the most important component was we only had one service error."
Four different Nittany Lions recorded at least one ace, including two each from setters Abby Detering and Bryanna Weiskircher. Penn State had six total aces to just one error all afternoon.
"That was really the best part of the equation from where I was sitting because when you're getting good pressure and not making mistakes it certainly enhances your chances of being in the game," Rose said.
While the sweep looks nice, the Nittany Lions still believe there is still plenty of room for improvement for tomorrow's regional final matchup.
"Our passing should have been a lot better tonight, but we got lucky with some plays," Frantti said. "When we go to the elite eight that can't happen, so we've got to clean up some of the errors that we're making."
Regardless of result, tomorrow will be the last match at Rec Hall for the seniors on this team. The opportunity for a final outing at Rec Hall comes in a quick turnaround, as Penn State preps for Michigan State Saturday at 8 p.m. with a trip to the NCAA national semifinals on the line.
"We'll come up with a game plan against teams that we played earlier [in the season], but everybody is hot at this point in time so you're playing people when they're in the same mindset as you are," Rose said.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's been a fast and furious start to the season for Penn State men's basketball. Coming off a stretch that featured six games in 14 days, including a pair of December Big Ten tests.
At 7-3 on the year, for Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, it's the last three games that have given the Nittany Lions a look at exactly where they're at upon returning to the nonconference slate for the remainder of the month.
"I treated NC State, Iowa and Wisconsin - that's going to be our schedule in the Big Ten," Chambers said. "There's going to be very similar setups and we have to be mentally tougher to say, 'we have to compete the same way every single night, no matter if you're making, missing shots or turning the ball over.' We want to see a consistent effort."
Consistency and mental toughness are at the forefront of the Nittany Lion focus this week as Chambers stressed a desire for just a little more postgame following a bitter 64-63 loss to Wisconsin - something he's seen a little too common in the three-game stretch.
"The last six minutes, you see that we still have more to give," Chambers said. "That's really what I'm going to talk to them about. The mental conditioning aspect of it where we have to know next possession, next play, missed shot, made shot, turnover, great assist, whatever. We still have to play at a certain level to be in the upper echelon of the Big Ten."
While the mental conditioning aspect of the game might seem a bit more individual, Chambers noted there are many different situations he'll draw up in hopes of inspiring the next-level toughness.
"I'm always trying to challenge them and push their buttons a little bit to get them to get more out of them to see where we can get these team," Chambers said. "We see where we need to go now, I think it was a great litmus test for us."
Among other areas, Chambers pointed to an increase in production from the bench. More than just stuffing stat sheets though, it's the bench's energy that's crucial to team success.
"It's the energy level, the juice and the fire that we need off of our bench," Chambers said. "I just don't want to drop off in intensity in what we're trying to do. Jamari [Wheeler] has been fantastic. He works so hard, the ball's going to fall for him and he's got to shoot. I already told him, you have to shoot the ball, you're open, you've been shooting beautifully."
Although limited against the Badgers, Wheeler was a key contributor off the bench against both Iowa and NC State, finishing with a career-high four assists to only one turnover against the Hawkeyes in his collegiate Big Ten debut.
"These practices are going to be critical for our young guys and guys coming off the bench," Chambers said. "Obviously GW is going to be a great test, they just beat Temple. We're going to have a great challenge."
George Washington heads to Happy Valley with momentum, having won its last three straight in an 8-day stretch. Among the streak, GW's Jair Bolden is averaging 18.3 points per game, alongside Yuta Watanabe, who's leading the way with 18.7 points per outing in the span.
Regardless of momentum though, for Chambers, the remainder of this week has been all about Penn State and of course, the details.
"We had a great opportunity and they didn't seize it and they understand that we have to do simple better and take care of the details," Chambers said. "I think offensively, we can cut harder, run harder, screen harder. Defensively, we can be in stances more, although our defense is still one of the top 20 defenses in the country, it can be better."
By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A native of Plymouth, Minnesota, Penn State hockey freshman Alex Stevens comes from a part of the country where hockey is seemingly in everyone's blood. Often growing up both living and breathing the sport things were no different for Stevens.
"I starting playing actual hockey when I was five," Stevens said. "I probably had my first pair of skates by three."
In between playing pee-wee hockey and finding his way to Penn State, Stevens skated a total of 120 games in the USHL with three different teams. The defenseman registered a total of 48 points, on 12 goals and 36 assists.
Stevens ended his three seasons in the league with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. While only on the team for about two months, he helped lead the team in a run in the playoffs, making it all the way to the Clark Cup Eastern Conference Finals.
"It was kind of a blur," Stevens said. "Once we hit the playoffs we were just a great team, kind of like here, everyone was close, everyone worked hard. Playoffs were a fun time."
Growing up not far from the University of Minnesota, playing Big Ten hockey had always been a dream of his.
Although growing up watching the Gophers play, a team he'll get an opportunity to play against in Hockey Valley in late February, Stevens knew as soon as he stepped on campus, he'd be pulling on the blue and white for the next four years.
"It was a dream school for me once I saw the facilities," Stevens said. "Not just because of our awesome rink at Pegula but the student academic facilities are top-notch too."
Stevens saw his first time on the ice against Arizona State and Michigan State, having registered seven shots to date.
"My mentality is just wanting to get better every game, every shift," Stevens said. "The coaches preached to me to move pucks as quickly as I can, so that's what I've been trying to do."
The freshman also put his shot to the test in the overtime shootout against the Spartans in game two of the series. Stevens shot third behind junior Andrew Sturtz and sophomore Brandon Biro.
While the choice to put Stevens in the shootout lineup was clearly a first, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky shed some light on his decision, telling the media at recent availability that Stevens has the highest scoring percentage on the team when they simulate shootouts in practice.
"He's got a bomb and he's got a really good shot," Gadowsky said. "That was a no-brainer to play him."
While the freshman still only has three games under his belt, both Stevens and the coaching staff remain confident that even while missing the first part of the season, he will improve and gain synergy with his teammates with more ice time.
"It's hard to judge him right now fairly because those are his first three games and everybody else has played numerous," Gadowsky said. "I think when you take that into consideration he's done many things very well and I do think there's a certain aspect of his game that he'll have to tighten up if he's going to be successful."
By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com
student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the 15th consecutive year, Penn State women's volleyball has advanced into the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals.
The Nittany Lions are now only four matches away from a national championship, with a chance to move two matches closer this weekend.
For the first time since 2010, Penn State will host third and fourth round matches, meaning it's the first time any of the Nittany Lions on the active roster have been a part of a home regional.
"When you're away for that second weekend, home court advantage does play a factor," senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington said. "There are some very competitive gyms to play in. Being on your own court and sleeping in your own bed is a huge thing."
The University Park regional has a distinct Big Ten flavor, as three of the four teams hail from the conference. The No. 1 Nittany Lions are joined by Missouri, Illinois and Michigan State, all three of whom upended a seeded team in the second round.
"They've made it this far in the tournament, so they're obviously doing something right," Washington said. "No matter what their records are, they're still very good teams. We still need to be ready for them and be prepared for them like we are for any other team."
Overall, six Big Ten teams remain in the bracket, the highest total of any conference.
"It verifies what I said earlier about how strong the conference is and how teams even in the middle of the pack are threats to win the national championship," head coach Russ Rose said.
The Nittany Lions went a combined 4-0 in the regular season against Illinois and Michigan State, but being familiar with an opponent and attempting to beat them for a third time can be a double-edged sword.
"I think it's equal, they're familiar with us as well," Rose said. "They've played each other and are preparing for each other knowing they might get another conference opponent."
Penn State's third round opponent, Missouri, is fresh off a 3-1 victory against No. 16 Wichita State in Wichita. Coming from the SEC, the Tigers are joined by other conference top-four seeds in No. 2 Florida and No. 4 Kentucky.
"They come from a great conference," Rose said. "They've earned their position in the tournament and we need to focus on those facts."
The Nittany Lions know they made some mistakes in last week's victories over Howard and Pittsburgh, and that isn't the type of play that they need to advance in the tournament.
"Our passing was a little bit shaky," Washington said. "There were times when people would come in and be really good, and there were times when they would be really bad. Following the game plan is something we need to focus on a little bit better as well."
The Nittany Lions improved from Friday to Saturday, but losing a set in each of those matches brought out some factors that are going to be important to fix moving forward.
"We played much better Saturday night than we did Friday night and we're going to have to play better this week," Rose said. "I would think that's standard across the board for everybody in the tournament. If you don't play better, someone is going to beat you."
Keeping the ultimate end goal in mind, it's one that's especially important to the senior class.
"Even if you play well, there's no guarantee that you're going to win," Rose said. "If you don't play well, especially because you're distracted, then you have a lifetime to look back and realize you missed a great opportunity to do something with these people."
Limiting distractions and keying in on a laser-like focus is key to the group of seniors who already know what it takes to make it to championship Saturday.
"We really have to focus on doing the small things right," senior outside hitter Simone Lee said. "Those are the things that lead us to being more successful and even more anticipating of things to come."
Somewhat lost in the preparation for the upcoming matches is the fact that this will be the last weekend playing in Rec Hall for eight Penn State seniors.
"It's kind of crazy," senior outside hitter Ali Frantti said. "I was talking to my mom about that today about me potentially only having two games left here. It's going to be kind of emotional but I can't really think about that because of the tournament."
Friday's match is set for 2 p.m. in Rec Hall, also broadcasting live on ESPNU with Michigan State and Illinois following in the later match. The winners of each match will meet in the NCAA regional finals Saturday at 8 p.m. in Rec Hall.
By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Arriving on campus four years ago, Penn State women's volleyball's Nia Reed was just a regular freshman, excited to be on campus and part of a team that had just come off a national championship.
Coming out of high school, she was an All-American and a three-time New Jersey Player of the Year at Immaculate Heart Academy, among a decorated line of Penn State prospects.
Before she could play in any competitive matches, an injury sidelined her for the entire year. Watching her new freshmen teammates succeed around her while she recovered, Reed knew the road back wasn't going to be easy.
She never failed to see the positives in her situation though, as the injury only inspired her to work harder to get back to where she wanted to be.
"It definitely set me back a year, but I did redshirt," Reed said. "It's not like that cost me a year of eligibility. It was a year that I could get stronger and control my skills."
While sidelined, Reed was able to observe some Penn State greats in action, like Micha Hancock, Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney. Watching those former Nittany Lions and how they carried themselves taught Reed a lot about what it would take to compete at Penn State.
Seeing the 2014 team eventually take home the program's seventh national championship in 2014, although she did not seeing the court, Reed was still very much a part of the team.
"I learned a lot from that championship year," Reed said. "Even though I couldn't play, coach Rose still let me travel so I learned a lot from that and just sitting on the bench. Players like Micha, Megan and Aiyana, just watching them helped me to learn visually even though I wasn't on the court."
When her sophomore year came around and she was healthy for her redshirt freshman season, her resilience showed. With time, Reed has steadily seen her playing time increase, as well as a consistent rise in her production.
After tallying 29 kills and 11 blocks in her first two full seasons, Reed has accumulated 62 kills in her redshirt junior year to go along with 20 blocks in 23 matches played.
"I've definitely improved my ball control, limiting errors as well," Reed said. "Freshman year, after my injury, there was a lot of time in the weight room and I definitely came back stronger from that."
Now in her fourth year in the program, Reed has built a strong relationship with those in the senior class, those she came to Penn State with. It's a unique relationship, with Reed having an extra year of eligibility remaining, but the intensity with which they attack each practice and each point has not waivered.
"I've learned a lot from them on and off the court," Reed said. "They're great people to be around. We compete everyday front row and we're very close. They're really good people and great competitors. Just to be able to compete with them in the gym every day going hard is a blessing."
That competition and camaraderie has spread throughout the entire team and playing against one another in practice has only strengthened all of them as players, especially Reed.
"She works hard, wants to be good and is certainly our most physical player," head coach Russ Rose said. "I have a lot of confidence in Nia. Otherwise she wouldn't be in the rotation as a player."
Reed's physical play is a large part of why the Nittany Lions are 31-1 on the season and the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Only four matches away from a national championship, she knows how special it would be to take home a second title in four years.
"It would mean the world to me," Reed said. "I think we're a bookend team and this is my class. But to win it next year and have another chance next year to come back and win it again in my fifth year would be amazing."
It would be one of Reed's defining moments, adding to the team's first Big Ten championship in four years, which has already been locked up.
"Winning the Big Ten title was amazing, definitely because we hadn't done it before and we finally were able to win it. If we hadn't have won, it'd be the first class not to win one, so no pressure," Reed said"
That title has been her favorite memory at Penn State so far, but winning a national championship would surpass that easily.
The challenge of Reed's role is in its inconsistency, as playing behind Ali Frantti, Simone Lee and Simone Lee at outside hitter doesn't always guarantee she will be on the court. When her number is called, Reed always rises to the occasion.
"Coach always says everybody needs to be ready, on or off the court," Reed said. "It's not about who starts the game, it's about who ends it. I'm ready for whatever and I go in and do my best."
Reed's mentality of always being ready has served her well over her career and eventually, it will be time for her to take over as one of the team's main leaders. In true Penn State fashion though, she's just taking the opportunity one game at a time.
"I haven't thought about it that much," she said. "Yeah, my class is leaving me, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to come back another year and to be a leader for this team next year, emotionally, physically and mentally. I'm still focused on what's ahead."
By Brian McLaughlin,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - All season, Penn State Lady Lions' head coach, Coquese Washington has stressed how young her team is, and that constant learning that takes place.
The Lady Lions do not have one senior on their roster, which is composed of five juniors, four sophomores and three freshmen based on their eligibility.
"We've got a lot of weapons, and I think our best games this year have been when we have utilized all those weapons," Washington said. "If we can find a way to be more consistent in that and find a way to get those contributions every night, I think we will be in really good shape going into conference play."
The freshmen in particular have had to step in right away and contribute big minutes especially when Teniya Page missed time early in the season. In particular, in Page's absence freshman guard Kamaria McDaniel has stepped forward playing almost 23 minutes per game and has averaged just under 10 points a game at 9.6.
"Coming in I wasn't going to be able to take that many shots," McDaniel said. "I have to get in the game and I have to knock down shots. Because I know when I get in the game I have to make those shots. Coach has done a great job of putting me in spots to be successful and my teammates do a great job of getting me open."
Other freshman Alisia Smith and Sam Breen have both contributed in all nine of Penn State's games so far. Both have lower numbers than McDaniel, but have never the less gained experience in each game played. Breen is a forward with the ability to stretch the floor from 3-point range, and Smith, another forward has shown physical play on the post early in her career.
Against Wake Forest on November 30, the Lady Lions were faced with a press. After at first being taken aback, the team was able to adjust and conquer the press in the second half. It is that ability to learn on the fly and take coaching that has made the young players so special.
Since the game against Wake Forest the Lady Lions breezed through a win over Manhattan, and won a hard fought battle against Fordham. Coming off of those wins, Penn State will next take to the road and travel to St. Bonaventure on Saturday. The team knows how important it is to bring energy while on the road, especially off the bench in the form of McDaniel.
"It's just about being competitive, I love to see us winning and that just drives my energy," McDaniel said, "I just try to come in and see what the team needs and bring that and if it's the energy then that's what I will bring."
Washington has added that while the team is young, they are ready to play against anybody. The trust in teammates has gone a long way in their ability to adjust and improve throughout games.
"I think we are growing by leaps and bounds; we seem to take big steps from game to game. We had some big growth in Vegas and I think that's a credit from their willingness to learn lessons from watching and learn from each other and go out there and try something differently," Washington said. "They have to have trust in themselves and trust in each other that they can go out and make adjustments on the fly and I think that's how they are going to grow over the course of the season."
Moving forward, Breen and Smith will work to continue to see their playing time grow throughout the season and contribute on the court, adding to the work McDaniel has already done. Against Fordham, Smith saw seven minutes of action and picked up time late in the game to help seal the victory.
Something that has allowed McDaniel to see large quantities of action is her great self confidence in her game.
"She (Kamaria) has come in with a lot of confidence as a freshman and her confidence didn't get shook by any means with having a game where she was 0-5 against Wake Forest. That didn't shake or rattle her confidence. She got back in the gym and got to work," Washington said. "I think it's really uncanny for a freshman to come in with that kind of confidence in their abilities and it doesn't rattle them from having a different role than she did in high school. I think that is one of her strengths and I think that has allowed her to be successful early this year."
Along with McDaniel's confidence in herself she has no doubts about how good this team can become.
"We are confident in each other and a confident team is a scary team," McDaniel said. "We believe in what we can do. We are going to go out and execute the game plan every night. We are going to worry about ourselves and control what we can control and bring the energy."
The young Lady Lions are learning and growing each day on the court, and when you add confidence to that mix, there is nowhere to go but up.
By Tom Shively,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Down 54-44 to Fordham with just under six minutes left in the game, it didn't seem like the Lady Lions' night.
Who the Rams didn't have, however, was Teniya Page, as she proved once again why she is the leader of this team and one of the best players in the Big Ten with an outstanding fourth quarter to give the Lady Lions a 65-60 victory Wednesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Page made her last five shots on the night, and shot a scorching 11-for-15 from the field in only her fifth game back of an offseason injury. She also added a season-high 27 points and team-high eight rebounds, all part of a 16-0 run late in the fourth quarter to bring the Lady Lions all the way back and give them the lead for good.
"It's always a part of the game plan to get Teniya shots, because she is an incredible shot maker," head coach Coquese Washington said. "She's still feeling her way and I think it's tough when you don't play basketball for months and jump back in the middle of the season. I think tonight, it finally came together in the fourth quarter. But we don't want to be a team that has to rely on Teniya having fourth-quarter heroics."
Shot selection changed for Page in the fourth quarter as she got more and more into a rhythm, and she just got hot at the right time when her team needed it the most.
"There were shots that were open in the first three quarters that I just didn't take," Page said. "Coach told me that I needed to be more aggressive, and that's what I did."
Page's comeback efforts on the offensive end were supplemented with much better defense and rebounding, as the Lady Lions made Fordham look lost down the stretch and force a lot of questionable shots.
Forward Jaylen Williams was a big reason for that, coming up with two huge blocks late in the fourth quarter at a point where every possession was so valuable to the Lady Lions.
"Jaylen's blocks were really big," Washington said. "We talked in the timeouts about how we needed to get stops. We had been playing zone, and we got some big defensive rebounds. We decided to go man-to-man when we were up three with about 45 seconds left, and Jaylen came up with a big block to get the ball, and we were able to go down and get to the free throw line."
The Lady Lions were much improved on the defensive side, as Fordham shot only 18 percent from the field in the fourth quarter and managed only 11 points.
"We talked about some rotation things that we needed to do better, and we wanted to do a better job contesting shots," Washington said. "In the first half, they got too many wide open looks, and we certainly didn't want to give them that. I thought in the second half, we did a better job of moving and contesting their threes in the zone."
Rebounding was a drastic turning point as well, as the Lady Lions pulled down 12 in the fourth compared to only 11 in the other three quarters combined. It was the only quarter in which they outrebounded Fordham.
"I thought the last four minutes of the game, we did a much better job securing defensive rebounds," Washington said. "The first three quarters, they were a lot more aggressive. But that aggressiveness, at the same time with them going to the boards when we actually got defensive rebounds, we were able to get going in transition."
While it wasn't the most conventional win for the Lady Lions, it was the third straight as they now move to 8-2 on the year. Penn State next travels to St. Bonaventure for a 7 p.m. game on Saturday.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It came down to the final seconds of play, but Penn State men's basketball couldn't complete its comeback attempt, falling short against Wisconsin in the Big Ten home opener.
For Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers, Penn State did all could, climbing back from a nearly 20-point second-half deficit to arrive within one in the final seconds of regulation.
"I'm proud of my guys competing to the end," Chambers said. "They put us in a position to be successful. I thought we executed our end of game stuff as good as you can. To come back from that deficit, we dug a little deeper because we looked a little sluggish in the first half."
Trailing 31-25 at halftime, Penn State struggled out of the locker room as the Badgers went up by as many as 17 points with 9:40 remaining.
Signature to a Chambers-led team though, the Nittany Lions weren't going to go quietly.
"We're a team that never gives up, no matter the deficit," Shep Garner said. "We're a team that never gives up and we always preach one possession at a time. We focus on the possession that we're on, whether it's offense or defense, we try to compete the best we can on each possession and try to get back in the game."
With fewer than nine minutes left in the game, Garner sparked a 23-9 scoring streak, bringing Penn State within three, 60-57, with a clutch triple forcing Wisconsin to call a timeout with 1:53 left to play.
"I thought we needed it at that time, I thought it was perfect for the time," Garner said. "I knew once we got going, once the crowd got into it a little bit, we would go on a run. I just knew I had to start something to get us going."
A pair of Garner free throws out of the break drew the Nittany Lions within one, 60-59, as Penn State continued to trade foul shots with the Badgers.
Trailing by one with 15 seconds on the clock, Penn State collected a board off a missed free throw attempt to send the ball the other direction, but a missed Tony Carr 3-point attempt clipped the comeback attempt.
"I thought we had the right matchup and Tony made that decision," Chambers said. "Whatever Tony thought. I am not in his vision, I am on the sideline. I don't know what he saw. But he is a heck of a player and he makes really good decisions, so I am going to trust that decision."
The Nittany Lions certainly won't spend time dwelling on the final possession or the outcome though.
"We're a team that sticks together through thick and thin and we didn't lose the game on that shot," Garner said. "It's a long game, a lot of mistakes from start to finish. We're confident in him [Carr] to make those shots. He didn't make it tonight, but we didn't lose the game on that play. He's fine."
While Chambers noted there's plenty to learn from, Penn State can also take pride in a few positives.
Mike Watkins led all scorers with a career-high 22 points for his second career 20-point outing. He grabbed eight blocks and totaled a Big Ten career-best seven blocks, helping to limit Wisconsin All-American Ethan Happ to a 3-for-12 outing from the field.
"Even though we kept him to nine points, the three assists he made were critical," Chambers said. "He's was in a little bit of foul trouble and again I thought Mike did a really good job on him, but it was our team for the most part that did a really good job on him."
Watkins was one of three Nittany Lions in double figures, alongside Carr (16) and Garner (13). Carr led the team on the boards, setting a Big Ten career mark with nine rebounds against the Badgers.
With Penn State's next Big Ten game scheduled nearly a month from now, the Nittany Lions will get back to work, spending the next three weeks wrapping up the nonconference slate.
"We are going to watch this film," Chambers said. "We are going to dive into Iowa a little bit more and we will have a good film session on Wednesday and try to get better. I didn't think we played our best basketball, and we still gave ourselves a chance to win. Let's give Wisconsin some credit though, but we still gave ourselves a chance. We had the ball, down one with 10 seconds and the ball was in our best player's hands. That is all we can ask for at that stage."
By Patrick Anglin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When he was hired to take over as head coach this past summer, Jeff Kampersal knew he needed a strong Director of Operations for his team. The Director of Operations is a prestigious position that operates behind-the-scene for all the Penn State athletic teams. Kampersal didn't have to look far to find his ideal candidate. What better individual for the job than Chris Demczuk, a freshly-graduated Penn State alumnus with four years of intern experience for the hockey team?
"They spoke positively about [Demczuk's] work from previous years," Kampersal said. "I thought it was important to have a connection to the past. He already knows all the ins and outs."
Demczuk had spent the last four years as a Penn State student pursuing a bachelor's degree in journalism. During his studies, he served as a student intern for the team. After graduating in the spring of 2017, Demczuk accepted a full-time offer as the Director of Operations for the women's hockey team. His journey has been an exciting one so far, centered around a deep love for the sport of hockey.
"I actually decided to come to Penn State because they were getting a Division I hockey team," Demczuk said. "I was a big college hockey fan and I was looking into sports journalism, so I figured what better place than Penn State, because they have so many great athletic teams and you can meet so many more people than you could at a smaller school."
Demczuk enrolled at Penn State in the fall of 2013, and immediately took the necessary steps to get involved in his favorite sport in any way possible. The rest is history for him.
"I started right away, my first year, as an intern." Demczuk said." The next year they needed someone to travel with the team, so I started to travel my sophomore year through my senior year."
Traveling on the road is both a pleasure and big responsibility. Demczuk enjoys the opportunity to see new places but is also kept very busy on the road trips.
"On the road, my biggest responsibility is video," Demczuk said. "Cutting clips during games and ensuring that our hockey technology is up and running so that coaches and players can analyze film. Also, making certain that logistically our travel runs smoothly."
The move from student intern to Director of Operations is a big one, but Demczuk's skills and experience made it a seamless transition for both him and the team.
"My senior year, I took over more of the tasks around here, such as the meal planning," Demczuk said. "Now I'm full-time and I get a little bit of everything. The biggest things are logistical tasks like planning trips, setting up meals, taking care of video needs for opponents and for us. Helping the coaches prepare on a weekly basis."
It's a lot of responsibility for one individual, but Demczuk manages to stay on top of things due to his efforts to remain organized and his high work ethic. The director of operations also credits his time at Penn State as a major component to his success.
"A lot of it is knowing people around campus, and knowing the campus," Demczuk said. "I understand what the girls do on a daily basis. I understand their work-load outside the rink. I understand having to walk across campus to class since I had class there too."
Not only was attending Penn State beneficial to him, but Demczuk also mentions that his time in the journalism major has set him up for monumental career success.
"A large portion of my job is communication, with other teams, with the [team] staff, our players and coaching staff," Demczuk said. "My journalism degree has definitely helped with that."
As Kampersal has said, Demczuk has both a wide base of knowledge on how the team should operate and the insight to take care of business when needed. The entire coaching staff is impressed with his ability to go above and beyond what is asked.
"There are little things that I don't even know about that he does that help us run smoothly," Kampersal said. "He takes care of things almost instantaneously. The meals on the road, the video breakdowns, the playbooks that he makes for us. He does all that stuff without direction. He just takes initiative and gets things done. He's been awesome."
Kampersal summarized his thoughts on Demczuk with a laugh and a smile.
"Hopefully Chris will be around here for a long time."
Demczuk also hopes to be around for a while, and has greatly enjoyed his time working with Penn State athletics so far. His mantra is a simple one:
"I just like watching hockey and being a part of it."
By Tom Shively,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a long day to be a Manhattan guard, as Penn State women's basketball's relentless pressure helped lead the Lady Lions to a 78-46 victory at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Jaspers had their hands full from the start, as Penn State came out in a full-court press for a significant portion of the first half and disrupted Manhattan from initiating any sort of offensive flow. Manhattan had 21 turnovers on the day, leading to 18 easy fast-break points for the Lady Lions.
"It's good that we can be aggressive at the beginning. We like to be disruptive and not let our opponent settle into an offensive rhythm and offensive confidence," head coach Coquese Washington said. "It was good that early on we got some deflections, which made them a little more concerned about breaking the press as oppose to running their offense. That helped us get out to an early lead."
Penn State's suffocating defense held the Manhattan starters to only four points in the first quarter, and the Lady Lions enjoyed a 26-11 lead after one period.
Sophomore guard Amari Carter was a huge factor in the press, as her active hands grabbed four steals.
"That's always the plan. Get out, get fast, get some deflections and steals. We played some great defense all day and got ahead of the pack," Carter said.
The defensive intensity was one of the main reasons Penn State was able to take a 16-point lead into halftime, despite having a stretch of 5:21 without scoring a point to end the first half.
"I think we're starting to develop an understanding and a rhythm," Washington said. "You need that sixth sense when you're out on the court like you know where everyone is going to be. Every game, we get a bit more comfortable in our rotations on defense."
The Lady Lions put forth a very balanced scoring effort as well, as five different players reached double figures on the afternoon. Carter led the way with 16, including connecting on both of her attempts from beyond the arc.
Despite not making her usual dent in the stat sheet quite yet, junior guard Teniya Page totaled seven points in 25 minutes of action. Now in her fourth game back healthy and second game starting, Page has been consistently building up her minutes back to where they were a year ago.
Her impact can undoubtedly be seen on the court, especially with some of the younger players who have been looking for a leader to emerge.
"We're getting a lot more comfortable in our rotation. We have a lot of young players, and they need the experience of practice and games. There's a certain rhythm that you get into in games and they just need that experience," Washington said.
The Lady Lions excelled at the charity stripe as well, knocking down 22 of their 25 free throw attempts. Free throw percentage will be huge once conference play comes around, so the coaching staff has made it a point of emphasis early in the year.
"We've made them shoot a lot of free throws because it's important to take advantage of a lot of those opportunities when we get them. When people are getting to the line, focusing and knocking them down, it's certainly helpful," Washington said.
The Lady Lions look to continue their hot start on Wednesday against Fordham. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. from the Bryce Jordan Center.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Bowl selection Sunday is complete as No. 9 Penn State has officially accepted its invitation to the Fiesta Bowl, set to meet No. 11 Washington December 30 in the 47th Fiesta Bowl.
Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin made rounds this evening on a pair of teleconferences to talk with local and national media members following the announcement.
Earlier this weekend, Franklin announced a variety of staffing changes, led by the promotion of Ricky Rahne to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. With the position locked up, Franklin noted Rahne will be calling plays at the Fiesta Bowl.
"Ricky is a rising star in the profession. We've been together now for a long time, I know Ricky very well personally, I know Ricky's family very well. I know him professionally, I know how smart he is, I know how passionate he is about this game," Franklin said.
For Franklin, so much of his decision to promote from within came down to relationships, noting that Rahne had recruited every single one of Penn State's quarterbacks on the roster, who will have the luxury of a familiar offensive system and coach moving forward.
"I know he's excited, I know we're excited. It's different and what's great about Ricky is, he's very comfortable in his skin and although we're going to keep the offense the same, I want him to take it and run with it and I know he will," Franklin said.
Franklin also added tight ends coach Tyler Bowen and moved defensive consultant Phil Galiano to special teams coordinator, as well as Josh Gattis to passing game coordinator and Matt Limegrover to run game coordinator. Franklin also added that graduate assistant Mark Dupuis would handle coaching the running backs until Penn State is able to finalize its 10th assistant coach per NCAA rules.
With so many additions and moves, Franklin noted it's huge the Nittany Lions will have some time to get adjusted as a staff, spending crucial time feeling out different situations as they arise.
One situation of course, and one Franklin mentioned he and his staff discussed today, is where Rahne will call plays from.
"For our players, they are used to having the offensive coordinator on the sideline but at the end of the day, it's what's the best thing for Ricky to call the offense, is it the booth or the sideline, we're working through some of those things right now," Franklin said.
History and West Coast Experience
As one of Penn State's most frequent bowl destinations, there's no shortage of historic outings spanning generations of Fiesta Bowl appearances. Perhaps most notably, during the 1986 season, when the Nittany Lions defeated Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl to clinch its second national championship. With a 6-0 record in Fiesta Bowl outings and experience on the west coach in last year's trip to the Rose Bowl, not much of that matters for Franklin, who's keeping focused on the present.
"I think last years' experience will help, but once again, it's truly about the teams that go on the field in 2017 and making sure that we're prepared and that we execute," Franklin said.
Looking at Washington
Washington enters the matchup ranked first in the FBS standings in rushing defense, marking an opponent with a top-ranked statistic Penn State has already seen twice this season.
While Franklin noted he hadn't yet had a chance to take a look at the Huskies on film, there's no doubting the challenge.
"It's a challenge," Franklin said. "I think those challenges also present opportunities to get better and really test yourself and see how good you are. It's going to be a tremendous challenge. It's funny because I read an article about Washington's defense I thought was really good a couple of weeks ago that I forwarded to all of our coaches about how they play nickel and how they've had different guys playing at nickel position."
Fiesta Bowl Extras
- Penn State and Washington last met in the 1983 Aloha Bowl, one of only two meetings between the two teams, with the other dating back to a 1921 trip to Seattle.
- The Nittany Lions are 6-0 in Fiesta Bowl appearances, most recently defeating Texas to cap the 1996 season.
Fiesta Bowl Appearances
Dec. 25, 1977 - vs. Arizona State (Penn State 42, Arizona State 30)
Dec. 26, 1980 - vs. Ohio State (Penn State 31, Ohio State 19)
Jan. 1, 1982 - vs. USC (Penn State 26, USC 10)
Jan. 2, 1987 - vs. Miami (Penn State 14, Miami 10)
Jan. 1, 1992 - vs. Tennessee (Penn State 42, Tennessee 17)
Jan. 1, 1997 - vs. Texas (Penn State 38, Texas 15)
By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A pair of back-and-forth sets saw Penn State women's volleyball in a familiar position. For the second night and a row, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament split the first two sets of the match.
Penn State advanced to the NCAA regionals, but it wasn't easy by any means as the Nittany Lions prevailed in four tight sets, 25-20, 23-25, 25-22, 25-19.
The Nittany Lions expected nothing less from their second round opponent, as in-state rival Pittsburgh is as familiar as opponents come for Penn State, having met in both spring scrimmages and in last year's NCAA second round.
The ACC champions hung with the Big Ten winners the entire night, but especially in the first two sets. The first set saw 11 ties and three lead changes, with the Nittany Lions finally pulling away late to take a 1-0 lead.
Penn State started the second set off hot, only to fade late after a couple of service errors at critical junctures.
"I thought we made a lot of errors tonight," head coach Russ Rose said. "A lot of hitting errors, a lot of things that we need to be better at. We do this in the next round, we're in trouble."
The turning point in the match came midway through the third set. Both Penn State and Pittsburgh played evenly to an 8-8 score, but the Nittany Lions went on a 5-0 run and didn't look back for the rest of the set.
Haleigh Washington was the main catalyst of the rally, contributing a block or a kill on four of the five points during the run.
"Haleigh is an amazing player, so just giving her the ball nine times out of 10, you know she's going to score," senior Abby Detering said. "Getting that lead and having her scoring and doing so well had the team so pumped up."
Washington's presence at the net was felt all night, as her .483 hitting percentage and seven blocks helped the Nittany Lions secure victories in the third and fourth sets.
Overall, the Nittany Lions tallied 17 blocks on the match, but it was the timing of the blocks that helped Penn State pull out a victory down the stretch.
Penn State totaled 14 of its 17 blocks in the third and fourth sets, seemingly halting the Panthers at any time Pitt picked up momentum. In addition to Washington's seven blocks, Tori Gorrell had seven, Heidi Thelen had five and Simone Lee had four.
"We had a good game plan on what we wanted to do," Rose said in terms of the team's blocking strategy. "Early, both teams were doing a good job avoiding the block but I thought our size wore them down a little bit at the end. I thought Haleigh and Tori did a really nice job blocking overall."
Penn State clearly wore down the Panthers, as they hit only .268 and .057 in the third and fourth sets, respectively after hitting well over .300 in the first two frames.
Lee attributed the effort in the final two sets as a testament to will, understanding Penn State had been in a similar situation against Howard the night before, but was able to turn it around.
"We knew that we had to play better and it was going to be a battle," Lee said. "Pitt wasn't going to roll over. We had to pick up our passing just a little bit more and when we did that in the third and fourth sets, it really helped us be successful."
The Nittany Lions are very familiar with the word "success," in the second round, as Penn State advances to the NCAA regionals for the 15th consecutive year, hosting regionals for the first time since 2009.The University Park regional is now set, matching Penn State against Missouri after the Tigers upset No. 16 Wichita State in the second round. Should the Nittany Lions advance, it's an all-out Big Ten party as Penn State would play the winner of Michigan State and Illinois, after the Illini upset No. 8 Washington in five sets to round out the regional field.
By Will Desautelle,
GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - Top-seeded Penn State was tested in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, defeating the Howard Bison in four sets (25-10, 22-25, 25-15, 25-16). The Bison, however, gave the Nittany Lions a scare with their second set win and kept things interesting in the final two frames.
"I would like to recognize Howard on a great season and a terrific effort tonight against us," Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. "I thought they played hard. I thought they played well and it sure looked like they were having more fun on the other side of the net."
Sometimes being the number one seed in the tournament comes with added pressure, but Rose did not feel this was a huge issue for his team.
"We had a great practice yesterday, so I thought we were ready to play, but Howard is a different team to play because they're small, athletic and quick, and they hit the ball differently than maybe some of the players we're accustomed to seeing in the conference." Rose said.
Penn State's edge in size paid off, as the Nittany Lions out-blocked the Bison 11.0 to 4.0, but Howard countered with plenty of scrappy defense and some aggressive serving to get Penn State out of system.
"They play hard, they always play hard," Rose said. "I think [coach] Sean [Kupferberg] does a great job with his team. They play with great pride and play with a lot of enthusiasm. They earned the game and we didn't give them the game.
One of Penn State's greatest strengths this season has been the amount of experience in its veteran leadership. With so many upperclassmen to point the team in the right direction, the Nittany Lions have the ability to overcome these types of droughts.
"I think the players are aware of what they have to do. They understand the level of play that it takes to advance," Rose said. "Had we had a younger and more inexperienced team we could have lost our composure and lost the match."
Penn State found encouragement from other Nittany Lions stepping up alongside Simone Lee, who was named the Big Ten Player of the Year earlier in the week, but tallied just five kills on 18 attempts.
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Haleigh Washington, had another excellent performance with 13 kills and five blocks. Tori Gorrell also added 11 kills and three blocks out of the middle spot, while Ali Frantti chipped in 12 kills and six digs.
"I didn't think Simone had a great night, but that can happen," Rose said. "I thought Ali passed really well. I thought Haleigh and especially Tori hit really well. I thought Tori was really our best attacker this evening."
Gorrell was also a key piece in Penn State's Big Ten title clinching win at Minnesota last weekend, contributing nine kills on 14 attempts with no errors. Playing behind Washington has not allowed her to put up big numbers this year, but she has been a valuable second middle for the Nittany Lions.
"It's unfAortunate that we didn't set her more during the year," Rose said. "She wasn't able to get recognized with any sort of [postseason] awards because we didn't set her enough and yet she was hitting close to .500."
That certainly didn't affect the way Gorrell played Friday though.
"All year the coaches have been saying find the open space and to move around," Gorrell said. Tonight I thought the setters did a really good job of finding me in the gap."
Penn State will take on the Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall in the second round.
The Nittany Lions offered some high praise for the Panthers, noting they know what they'll need to improve ahead of the matchup.
think we need to serve a little bit more aggressively if we're going to get
Pitt into their out of system then our block has to be a lot cleaner,"
Washington said. "I thought our block was a little too sloppy tonight, which is
something we need to work on since Pitt is going to swing away. They have a lot
of good weapons and we need to make sure that we're disciplined on our block."
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