December 2017 Archives
GLENDALE, Ariz. - With Washington in desperation mode, the outstretched hands of senior linebacker Brandon Smith snatched up a Husky fumble to clinch the game. It was perhaps a perfect ending.
In mid-November, when reflecting on his decision to turn down Ivy league scholarship offers to walk on and pursue his dream to play at Penn State, it was Smith who said ultimately, it came down to simply having faith and going for it.
For more than just Smith, much of the narrative surrounding the 2017 Penn State senior class has been all about belief - and going for it.
"I think this team is a team that believes in themselves," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "Starting last year, once we kind of got on a roll, this team believes they're going to win every single game they play against every single opponent. You look at our season, there were some ups and downs and twists and turns and adversity, but these guys never stopped believing in one another."
Through unpredictable moments along the way, when guided by its steady senior class, there has been no shortage of the get up and go for it mindset when a challenge is presented.
"This just means just getting Penn State back where we were, back where we're supposed to be," senior safety Marcus Allen said reflecting on the win. "We had a chip on our shoulder coming into this game."
It's a chip that's been there for a while, since the day most of these Nittany Lions committed to Penn State, extending on through the disappointment they saw in the eyes of their seniors around this time last year. From a macro to micro level, it's turning 7-6 records into back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time since 2008-09, and defeating a Washington team that entered the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl with significant hype in all three phases of the game.
Most of that's in the past though, and Saturday, in its winningest bowl game in program history, Penn State extended its streak, adding another chapter to its proud Fiesta Bowl history with a 35-28 win against Washington.
Led by a seemingly surgical performance from quarterback Trace McSorley, it was the Nittany Lions who were executing in all three phases of the game in their 2017 curtain call.
"I think as a team, you saw the final product today," senior tight end Mike Gesicki said. "We were able to grow all season long, we had great bowl prep and today, from the offensive line to the defensive line, everybody on the defensive side and everybody on the offensive side, we did a great job and we were able to capitalize on every opportunity."
McSorley shattered the Penn State bowl record for career passing yards, bolstering his total with 402 yards of total offense (342 passing, 60 rushing) to become the first Nittany Lion in program history to surpass 400 yards of total offense in a game twice in his career.
He twice found senior wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton for a pair of touchdown passes, his second, for 24-yards, coming at a critical moment in the third quarter to send Penn State ahead 35-21.
"Yeah, it was really, really important, because momentum was starting to swing there," Franklin said.
The key to his stunning success came on third down, as he went 12-for-12 for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Producing 11 first downs, eight of his third down passes went for at least 11 yards or more.
McSorley would hardly take credit postgame though.
"Our offensive line did a tremendous job the whole game but really on third down," McSorley said. "They had a different sense of urgency to themselves on the third downs. And then you've got guys like Ham [DaeSean Hamilton] and Saquon, they did a great job separating versus man. We knew that was going to be a challenge this week that they were going to come up try to press us at the line and not give us a lot air, suffocate the air out of the zone. And we'd have to win against man and be accurate with the ball. And that's something our receivers did a great job getting open and making plays on third down."
For offensive lineman Ryan Bates, getting better on third down started as early as the offseason.
"This whole offseason, that was a big emphasis compared to last year because last year that was one of the things we struggled with," Bates said. "It showed today on the field and the whole season really, how much we worked on it."
Headed into the game, Washington hadn't allowed a team to score more than 30 points in a span of 26 games, armed with the nation's No. 1 ranked rushing defense.
"The whole week we heard how big their defensive line was, how good a good defense it is, running game, only gave up 96 yards average," Barkley. "We got 92 on one play."
Just like fans have become accustom to this year, Barkley dazzled, ripping off a 92-yard touchdown run to tie for the longest run in Penn State history, while also setting a Fiesta Bowl record for the longest run.
Defensively, Penn State stifled the Washington run game, keeping star running back Myles Gaskin to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
"Coach [Brent] Pry reiterates it every week, playing harder, playing hungrier and being humble," senior corner back Grant Haley said. "We knew we had a challenge in their running attack and their quarterback, we did a lot of different things, we kept the pressure. I can't give enough credit to the d-line tonight, they played unbelievable."
The Nittany Lions also held All-American punt returner Dante Pettis in check.
"Big factor in the game was limiting the impact that their punt returner was going to have in the game," Franklin said. "It helps if you don't punt. We didn't punt very much. And then when we did I thought Blake [Gillikin] did a great job of banging the ball deep down in the corner with enough hang time that they had to fair catch it."
More than the stats, in years to come, it might be tough to remember Saturday's final score. Penn State fans won't have to look too far though to find the lasting legacy of a senior class that won't long be forgotten.
"Coming here in a time that wasn't so easy to commit to Penn State from an outsider's perspective and now we're leaving this program as a top 10 team, back-to-back 11-win seasons, a Big Ten championship ring and now a New Year's Six Fiesta Bowl ring, it's something we're going to cherish for a long time," Gesicki said. "I'm really happy to be able to go out with these guys."
Offense: Gesicki, Bates
Defense: Haley, Cothran
RELATED LINKS: I Live Blog I Fiesta Bowl Media Day Highlights I Offensive Media Roundup I Defensive Media Roundup I Travel Day I Fiesta Bowl Media Central I Head Coaches Press Conference Photo Gallery I Nittany Lions in the NFL - Week 16
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - It's the eve of the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, as ninth-ranked Penn State (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) prepares to meet No. 11 Washington (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) in its seventh appearance at a bowl destination that's proven both triumphant and historic across the years.
While the Nittany Lions and the Huskies have never met in the Fiesta Bowl, Penn State is making its first trip back to the event since 1997, when it captured a 38-15 win against Texas on New Year's Day. With a 6-0 all-time record in the Fiesta Bowl, perhaps no outing is more unforgettable than in 1987, when the Nittany Lions claimed their second national championship in program history with a 14-10 victory against Miami.
Although proudly in the past, Penn State head coach James Franklin noted the Nittany Lions haven't spent much time discussing Fiesta Bowl history, instead focusing on being present in the moment, preparing for the challenge ahead.
Arriving in the desert the day before Christmas Eve, the Nittany Lions did a typical Sunday walk through before kicking up the intensity for bowl practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
From feasting at Fogo de Chao to Topgolf and kickball, the Nittany Lions also had plenty of time to celebrate, with the fall semester finished, graduation complete, and even the early signing day period out of the way all before arriving in the Valley of the Sun.
"I've been very impressed with our players and staff," Franklin said. "We talk all the time about bowl games and about being present and enjoying the time they have, doing the different types of things like Topgolf and things like that. But when it's time to meet and practice and work hard, they have to be able to be mature enough to flip the switch back and forth, and our guys seem to handle it pretty well."
Turning toward Washington, as Franklin says, the Huskies have all the right ingredients to be successful at the highest level. Perhaps mirroring the Nittany Lions in many ways, Penn State will have one last opportunity to send its senior class off on a high note.
"I think obviously when you're playing these Pac-12 style offenses, you better keep playing for four quarters," Franklin said. "And you better have a finisher's mentality because I think University of Washington can put up big points and they've got explosive players and they've got a veteran quarterback."
With a pep rally scheduled for Friday afternoon, the Nittany Lions will be greeted by fans who have traveled across the country to see the 2017 in action one final time. Preparations are all but nearly complete, all that's left to do is take the field.
"These guys love to play football, so going out on the field, sometimes that's really what they're looking forward to," offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said. "They want to go play ball and they love to be able to be with their teammates and play football and that's the thing that they love to do. I think that's a thing that's really overlooked on great teams, especially in college. The teams that love to play the most, those are the teams that are the best."
What to Watch For -
1. When asked about the Penn State defense, Washington head coach Chris Petersen noted that a challenge in approaching the Nittany Lions, is the variety of talented individuals who can all make plays when called upon.
"You watch them play as a defense and there's not any one guy that has this huge name out there because they're all making tackles," Petersen said. "And that's what I think a good defense does. It's not any one or two guys that keeps showing up, it's like they're all getting a piece of this thing and I think that's one of the things that really makes a defense special, and I think they've got that."
Led by linebacker Jason Cabinda (85), Penn State has seven different Nittany Lions with at least 40 tackles on the year and 30 different individuals who have at least assisted on a stop in the back field this year. Ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense, Penn State is allowing opponents just 15.5 points per game.
2. Washington All-American defensive tackle Vita Vea said earlier this week that outside of consensus All-American running back Saquon Barkley, the one person the Huskies have to contain to stay in the is quarterback Trace McSorley. Owning the top two single-season passing touchdown totals in program history, McSorley enters the matchup with the second-longest active touchdown passing streak in FBS (27). He also became just the second individual in Big Ten history to record 25 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season, having registered nine games this year with both a rushing and a passing score.
"He's the engine to the offense," All-Pac-12 first team defensive back Taylor Rapp said. "Anytime we can play a dual-threat quarterback like that, it can be pretty frustrating, because like I was telling all the other guys, our DBs can cover down all the receivers, lock them down, do our jobs, but Trace can scramble outside of the pocket for a little bit and scramble for a first down. So that can be frustrating."
3. There's no doubting the impact that Barkley has on any given outing for the Nittany Lions and the Huskies are well aware of the strengths he brings. Barkley has toppled program records and ascended to the top of record books at a staggering pace, most recently recognized as the Paul Hornung Award winner as the most versatile player in the nation, among a host of other postseason accolades. Barkley heads into Saturday's matchup ranked second in the nation with 179.50 all-purpose yards per game as just the 24th individual in FBS since 2000 to total more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in a single season.
"He does everything so well," Rapp said when asked about Barkley. "He's so versatile. He can catch the ball out of the backfield a lot. He can run the ball well inside the tackles and once he gets outside in space, it's so hard to tackle the guy, he makes people miss so much."
to Watch For - Washington
1. Among the things keeping Franklin up at night, one of the Huskies he listed was Washington's Dante Pettis.
"You're talking about a guy that owns the NCAA record for returns for touchdowns," Franklin said. "Nine is a lot. So that's scary."
Ranked tops in the nation in punt returns (20.4), the All-American earned first team All-Pac-12 honors at two positions this year, also averaging 11.6 yards per catch with 62 receptions on the year. Penn State has been successful in containing top returners on special teams this year though, something the Nittany Lions are confident about headed into the challenge.
"Our special teams unit, we love a challenge," Nick Scott said. "We take a lot of pride in facing guys who are dynamic in the return game and shutting them down. That's something we've done really well and hopefully that's something we can keep going. It takes a lot of hard work, confidence and just a mentality."
2. When listing what he sees in the Washington defense this week, Barkley said something along the lines of, "you all know about Vita Vea." While the Nittany Lions are averaging 41. 6 points per game on the year, Washington hasn't allowed an opponent to score more than 30 points in the last 26 games dating back to 2015. For Franklin though, Washington's defensive strengths are more than just its interior defensive tackles.
"You've got 6-5, 340 pounds, and 6-3, 320 pounds, and they play like it," Franklin said. "And I think they do a really good job of complementing those two interior d-tackles with what they do on their perimeter with their secondary. They do a great job of defeating blocks and fitting runs and playing what we call trap coverage where they'll trigger the corners and things like that, make it really difficult."
3. Washington running back Myles Gaskin was also among the Huskies keeping Franklin up at night. As only the third Husky in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in three seasons, Gaskin is a key explosive component in the Washington offense. Described as both speed and elusive by the Nittany Lions this week, Penn State isn't overlooking the junior second team All-Pac-12 honoree.
"He's a very good back," linebacker Jason Cabinda said when asked about Gaskin this week. "I think he runs hard. I think he has really good vision. He's able to get to the outside and kind of challenge the edge of the defense."
The Final Word -
When asked about preparing for a Washington team that's similar to the Nittany Lions with strengths in all phases of the game, Franklin noted that it all comes down to fundamentals.
"It's going to come down to blocking, tackling, protecting the football, not giving up big plays on defense, trying to create a few of them on offense, momentum-type plays," Franklin said. "And that's typically the case is playing good, sound football, not doing the things that are going to beat you."
For Franklin, it's those things that could beat you, that happen to creep up during bowl season, with the gap in between the regular season and gameday causing conditions for potential errors.
"I know our players and coaches have tremendous respect for Washington for what we've seen and what we've game planned," Franklin said. "At the end of the day it's going to come down to the team that plays the hardest and plays the smartest and finds a way to finish."
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Gameday is drawing closer as Penn State took to the field one last time for practice this afternoon. Prior to the practice, nearly the entire team as well as all Nittany Lion coaches participated in the Fiesta Bowl media day event.
Spanning an entire hotel ballroom, the team was divided up based on academic majors, with a few Nittany Lions taking spots around the room at podiums.
Penn State head coach James Franklin kicked off the event, taking to the podium to field questions from a variety of reports. Upon receiving a question about who media members might want to get to know a little better, Franklin noted that's actually part of what's so special about college football.
"You've got so many kids from so many different backgrounds and perspectives," Franklin said. "To me, probably the most valuable guys in our program are the guys that you don't know anything about. The guys that make the program run, the guys that allow us to practice the way we want to practice, the guys that sacrifice so much with their name not being in the newspaper, with them not scoring touchdowns. But we talk all the time about every single person in our program has a significant role that impacts this team."
Much like the ballroom on Fiesta Bowl media day, Franklin once again shared how the Nittany Lions go about planning the locker room setup.
"I think most of you guys know how we do the locker room," Franklin said. "It's different than most locker rooms where most people sit by position. We also break our entire locker room up racially. So the whole locker room is broke up like that so guys are forced to get to know each other on a very, very deep level."
Whether it's the locker room configuration or merely the conditions created by the staff surrounding the team, it's obvious the Nittany Lions are a close bunch.
"These are guys here, I mean best friends between DaeSean [Hamilton] and Mike [Gesicki], Jason [Cabinda], Saeed [Blacknall, me and Saquon [Barkley], the list goes on and on," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "Just our chemistry and continuity off the field, I think, really helps us on the field. We're that much more comfortable with each other on the field. We know where guys are going to be at and how they're going to run a route or go through the mesh or whatever it might be. Just our chemistry off the field it helps us huge on the field."
Among the 100-some stories, it's of course impossible to capture all of the special bonds this team shares. For now though, check in with a few of those special relationships from media day.
Field with Grant Haley
When most Nittany Lion fans hear his name, images of his historic blocked field goal returned for a touchdown last year against Ohio State might be top of mind. His on-field accomplishments go on and on as the All-Big Ten honorable mention selection is a crucial component of the Penn State secondary.
What fans might not know about the senior advertising and public relations major, is that he has a passion for writing too. On his bucket list, is writing a book, something he's already making serious progress toward completing.
It started from scribbles here and there, as Haley jotted down ideas before eventually deciding to put his book concept in writing.
"As of now, I'd say I probably have 70-75 pages done," Haley said. "I don't know if I'll finish it anytime soon but it is something that's on my bucket list to finish a book so we'll see how it goes."
While not too many people know about the book, among those who do, are Haley's roommates, including Koa Farmer, who happened to be a little disappointed he did not get cast as a character.
"I asked him if I was in the book and he said no, it's not that kind of book," Farmer said with a laugh.
of the Special Teams Unit
It's often from coaches and teammates that Nittany Lion Nick Scott is referenced as the leader of the special teams unit. A veteran on the field and a team captain this year, there's no doubting his presence and leadership on the field.
If you ask him though, having a positive attitude is where it all begins.
"I try to be the most positive player that I can, the most positive person. That's who I am off the field as well," Scott said. "I like to make guys laugh, I like to be goofy, it's my personality. However I can influence people in a positive way, whether it's acting a fool in the locker room or giving them words of encouragement in the locker room, that's what I do."
Although admittedly put on the spot, when asked about who he has become closest with, he turned to classmates Johnathan Thomas and DeAndre Thompkins.
When Thompkins first met Scott, he remembers someone with dreads, but for both Thomas and Thompkins, they remember the comedy too.
"He was just really goofy," Thompkins said. "He was just one of those guys that as soon as I met him, we connected on another level because we had the same mindset with stuff. We had the same jokes, sense of humor and right off the bat we connected in that way."
Per team tradition, when selecting his "ultimate teammate," Thomas selects Scott.
"He's reliable," Thomas said. "He holds everybody to a higher standard, whether it's in the locker room, on the field or during workouts. He's accountable and just a great teammate. He brings the juice and brings the energy."
Balancing when to be loose and when to be focused, Scott has no trouble finding the line.
"He's one of those guys when we're in the locker room, we're joking, we're having fun, we're laughing, as soon as he flips that switch, everybody else flips that switch with him and that's the things he carries with him on the field with him as a special teams leader and one of the guys the freshmen look up to," Thompkins said.
Learning from Johnson
For true sophomore Miles Sanders, having patience in his development from last year to this year has been a humbling experience. Working his way on to the field in his true freshman year last season proved anything but easy, as he navigated challenges along the way.
"Last year, my freshman year, I put the ball on the ground a couple of times, this year one time and you can't let that affect you because someone is always watching you," Sanders said. "So it's about always keeping good body language."
During the offseason, Sanders opted to work on the mental side of his game, then altering his body language too. Preparing to be ready whenever his number was called, Sanders looked toward someone like wide receiver Juwan Johnson.
Working with Johnson throughout the offseason, Sanders took note as the wide receiver who had two receptions in 2016, grew into one of McSorley's key targets with 48 catches for 635 yards and of course, his first career touchdown, a game-winner in the final seconds of a tense road victory at Iowa.
Just as much as Sanders sees in Johnson though, he sees the same in perhaps his newest post-practice catching partner.
"Miles is special," Johnson said. "The big thing about him is he had to be patient and that's the one thing about him, you have to maximize your opportunity so whenever you get the ball, I just told him you have to maximize it because you never know when you're going to be back in the game or what have you."
Sanders has continued to grow, having opened the season with three carries for 44 yards and a touchdown against Georgia State before rushing for a then-career high six times for 25 yards against Michigan. He closed out the regular season with 42 yards on seven carries at Maryland, also grabbing a 3-yard pass.
While Johnson still has yet to decide who might join him on the field post-practice, he noted that Sanders is a good suggestion.
"Anyone is welcome who wants to work hard," Johnson said. "DaeSean [Hamilton] and Mike [Gesicki] were a huge impact on me in catching the ball and just being there for me and the talks after practice. Anybody who wants to work hard and have a good conversation after practice is somebody that I would like to have in the group."
Conversation with Sandy Barbour
Penn State Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour met with media members following the Fiesta Bowl media day session to discuss a variety of topics both within the department as well as across the greater collegiate athletics landscape. Listen in.
and Senior Carry-Off
As is tradition, Penn State swapped all kinds of jerseys on the practice field this afternoon before closing out the final full Fiesta Bowl practice with a unique ceremony. Each senior on the team is able to select which group of teammates will carry him off the practice field while the entire team watches and cheers along.
By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A goalkeeper's helmet is far more than just a piece of safety equipment worn during each game. Instead, a goalkeeper's helmet represents individuality and all the things they hold close, acting as a personal canvas.
For Penn State men's hockey's three goalies, the process of designing a helmet took each one of them in a different direction but each one started in the same place with the same person. The team's equipment manager, Adam Sheehan, is tasked with initiating the process, handling the logistics while giving them suggestions and ideas or helping with sketches.
"I tell [Sheehan] what I want to do and he gives me his ideas back, so it's not all me or all him," sophomore goalie Peyton Jones said.
Another key figure in the early parts of the design stage, is typically painter Jason Livery, head of Head Strong Grafx. A custom painter for 28 years, Livery traveled all over the world before creating his own custom goalie helmet painting business.
"Once we get the ideas from the goaltender my designer creates a pre-paint rendering of what all the elements will look like on the mask," Livery said. "Once they approve it, I paint it based on that rendering. I might change it and add is some elements of my own style but for the most part it will be pretty close to the rendering."
The often intricate masks fans see each goalie sporting this season are special to all of them, but each for unique and individual reasons. For some, the first of a few helmets, but for others it's either the only or the last helmet they'll ever have for the rest of their career in Hockey Valley.
Fortunately for Nittany Lion fans, this is only Jones' first gameday helmet, which means he'll get one more with two more seasons in net. Not only was this Jones' first helmet of his Penn State career, but the first helmet he has ever had a hand in creating for himself.
"I went online right away looking at different things different goalies did," Jones said. "This was my first real helmet I designed and it was pretty special to me because it was a school that I dreamed of going to."
For senior goalie Matt Erlichman, his helmet is his first as well as his last. The Pennsylvania native joined the team his junior year after playing two years with Penn State's ACHA Division II Ice Lions.
Joining the team late, his mask junior year looked similar to those around him, but for his senior year when asked if he wanted a custom helmet, it was a no-brainer.
"[Sheehan] asked me if I wanted a helmet and I said, 'Yeah, I'd love a helmet, I never had actually had a helmet designed,'" Erlichman said. "I just started throwing some things together, looking at different helmets."
Junior goalie Chris Funkey was on the opposite end of the spectrum from his teammates, with his current helmet being the last of his college career. With a passion Penn State evident on all three masks, Funkey knew he had a few adjustments he wanted to make headed into the process off designing his current helmet to make it better than his last.
"I didn't want to do as much for myself for the helmet as I wanted to do for the university," Funkey said. "So I definitely wanted to make sure I fashioned in some important things."
In addition to the multiple Penn State logos on his helmet, Funkey wanted to do something to make his last helmet even more special. On the chin, Funkey's helmet is painted with temperature magic FX paint which shifts color in temperatures less than 65 degrees, revealing hidden snowflakes and an image of the historic Nittany Lion Shrine.
Funkey is among a group of very goalkeepers in all of college hockey and even the NHL with temperature magic FX paint technology on his helmet./p>
Inspiration Behind the Mask
Many young goaltenders grow up watching hockey, dreaming of the day they will have their own custom helmet like the pros they watch on TV or from the stands.
While some look to professional goalies for inspiration, some find it in their own locker room. For Funkey, his helmet is modeled after former Penn State goalie and his own former mentor, Matthew Skoff (2012-16).
"[Skoff] had the toque version of the helmet where it looks like a winter hat and I thought that was really cool," Funkey said. "I wanted to get that to honor him being one of the first Division I Penn State goalies for four years."
Penn State's two other goalkeepers though, decided to look a little farther outside of Hockey Valley for inspiration.
Every young goalie has a role model at the professional level they watch and try to emulate, not only in their style of play, but also in their mask design. Jones looks to one of the best in the world who happens to be a five-time NHL all-star and an Olympic gold medalist.
"My favorite goalie is Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and on a lot of his helmets he puts the laces of the jersey," Jones said. "So on my helmet, that's one thing I wanted to incorporate."
On the front part of the chin is where Jones chose to put the jersey laces on his helmet.
Things were no different for Erlichman, who looked to the same goalies he had been admiring for years when it came time to design his helmet.
"I always loved [Sergei] Bobrovsky's because he was my favorite goalie in the NHL and Tuukka Rask just because all his helmets are awesome," Erlichman said. "I based the helmet off those two."
Erlichman drew inspiration from the classic brick wall design from Bobrovsky's old-style helmets, adding a bit of a twist. What looks like drops of spray paint all over the brick wall were added to shake up the traditional design.
All three goalies utilize their own mask to tell their own individual story, including things they hold close, opting to showcase these elements on the back plate of their helmets. While the elements might not be on full display all the time, they are always close.
Funkey's back plate showcases a Penn State tradition very dear to many students on campus, THON. With Funkey's busy hockey schedule, being a part of the 46-hour dance marathon can be a challenge. With THON weekend typically taking place in the middle of the season, it is not always a guarantee he can attend.
Fortunately, last year, the Illinois native was given the opportunity to attend THON with some of his teammates, an experience he will never forget.
"We were there for the last 15 or 16 hours and it was honestly a really life changing experience," Funkey said. "I just couldn't think of a better way or a better thing to represent the school than by putting the four diamonds of THON on the back of my helmet."
Jones' back plate honors two friends and teammates, Eric "Ebo" Eberling and Alexander "Zander" Thomas, who he lost his senior year of high school.
"My two buddies are on the back who are the most special to me," Jones said. "I put that on the back of my helmet to have them with me every time that I play."
Accompanying the numbers of his friends is a quote that reads, "Life is not measured by the years you live, but the lives you touch."
For Erlichman, playing on the varsity hockey team was a goal he was hoping to reach before his time was up in Hockey Valley. Finally achieving his dream, it's been a surreal experience and he knew he wanted to make his team and school the focal point of his back plate.
"I wanted something more Penn State than just a logo, and I went with the Lion Shrine," Erlichman said.
Accompanying a hand-drawn version of the Lion Shrine is also Erlichman's nickname "Lichsy" which former teammate Vince Pedrie gave him just weeks into his junior season.
"I got that nickname from the team a few weeks into the season when I walked into the locker room and Vince Pedrie looks at me and goes, 'Has anyone ever called you Lichsy?" Erlichman said. "I was throw off completely because it doesn't really come from my name."
Needless to say the nickname has stuck around since, representing a special memory Erlichman will always carry with him on and off the ice.
After spending weeks on the design process followed by months of painting and waiting, the moment a goalie sees their mask for the first time is truly a magical one. All those long practices and conditioning sessions somehow seem worth it when a goalie gets to hold their mask for the first time.
Even though almost every one of the team saw Erlichman's helmet before he had the chance to, it didn't take anything away from a moment he had been waiting for his whole career
"I was blown away how great it came out, I couldn't ask anything better," Erlichman said. "I am so happy I got a helmet and I'm going to keep it forever."
Even though this is Erlichman's first and only mask Penn State, it will be one he can always keep to cherish a part of his college career.
Having been through the process before, Funkey was familiar with the moment having worked hard and waited for so long for. This time though, there was the bittersweet twist of this being his last mask, but he found solace in the fact that he got everything he wanted on his final helmet.
"My jaw dropped, I couldn't get over how well it came out," Funkey said. "I was like a little kid on Christmas morning honestly, it was so cool."
Jones has experienced success in the relatively short time he has been in goal for the Nittany Lions and his current helmet has stayed with him through the journey. The sophomore will have a new helmet to start out his junior year which will also be his last in his college career.
Although getting his current helmet was very special to him, Jones is already planning for his next one. Just don't expect to get any insight into what will be on it.
"I do actually have some stuff but it's a surprise I want to keep for when I get the helmet," Jones said.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - It's another day closer to the 47th annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, as Penn State opened the morning with defensive press conferences before heading to practice.
Nittany Lion defensive coordinator Brent Pry joined linebacker Jason Cabinda, corner back Grant Haley, safety Marcus Allen and defensive tackles Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran.
Pry noted he woke up this morning thinking about Washington running back Myles Gaskin. Entering Saturday's matchup with nine rushing touchdowns across the last three games, his 19 rushing scores ranks third in the NCAA.
"He's just a very dynamic back," Pry said. "We've seen backs similar to that model but I don't know that we've seen one as good at it, just the cuts and the explosiveness, the balance, sees the hole, can catch the ball out of the backfield. Super impressed with him."
For Cothran, Gaskin's elusive ability to make people miss, makes him all the more difficult to defend.
"That's one of his main strengths, is being able to be elusive and making jump cuts and certain things, being able to make people miss and bounce things outside," Cothran said. "Maybe not into the gap that the play might have been built for but kind of making something on the run. He's really good at that so that's definitely why we're harping on gap accountability so much because it's definitely necessary to win this game for sure."
Outside of Gaskin, the Huskies are led by a veteran quarterback in Jake Browning, who's currently third in FBS with a .688 completion percentage.
"They have a mature guy at quarterback," Cabinda said. "They kind of give him the green light to make a ton of audibles at the line of scrimmage. He's a very smart quarterback. I can tell he has a very high football IQ. He's good at identifying the defense, and what they're in. I think having a ton of disguise and hides is going to be crucial to our success."
As both Haley and Cothran, limiting Browning's ability to extend plays will prove key as the defense will ultimately focus in on caging him the pass rush, something Penn State has spent time working on in practice.
"It's a challenge for us and it's a challenge for the d-line," Haley said. "We're excited to go against a quarterback that's good in all aspects of the game."
Looking at Pettis
Penn State is also keyed in wide receiver Dante Pettis, who earned first team All-Pac-12 honors at two positions (wide receiver and return specialist), also a special teams threat ranked tops in the nation in punt returns (20.4) and punt return touchdowns.
"I just think his vision, his balance, his vision and his explosiveness, it's the same thing that we see after the catch," Pry said. "Take away the route running and all those things, when he catches the football, which they do a nice job of getting the ball to their skill player who can do something with it, he's just one of those guys who is dangerous with the ball."
Blessing and a Dream Come True
Much like the seniors from yesterday, the opportunity to play in the Fiesta Bowl is the culmination of so much hard work and the dedication from a group of seniors who were once not even counting on the promise of a postseason bowl game.
"When I first got here, they said we wouldn't be in a bowl game until my senior year and we've been blessed with coach Franklin coming in and bring a lot of these good recruits, a lot of my good friends who I have made throughout the years," Cothren said.
More than the bowl games though, the growth experience and the legacy they'll leave behind is certainly something the seniors are reflecting upon this week.
"I think coming in as freshmen, we kind of all got together and we kind of talked about with coach Franklin, what we want our legacy to be here," Haley said. "Over the last four years, I've seen guys and players grow as men on and off the field and it's been an amazing experience. Just thinking about the last four years, playing from the Pinstripe Bowl to playing in the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, it's been a dream come true."
- Haley on how he'll remember Allen.
"The thing with Marcus is, he is just a guy who - he has been the same person he is ever since he walked in the door. I don't think anybody is going to change who he is and I love that about him. He's going to have that high energy, high character. He's a great person and a great football player and I'm excited for him."
- Cothran on how much the Rose Bowl loss has stuck with him in terms of concluding his senior career on a high note.
"It's been gnawing away at me. It's never the way you want to be able to leave out and obviously seeing how hurt those seniors were last year, the way that that ended. Me being a senior this year, I mean, I definitely want to go out on a positive note. This is something I've definitely been looking forward to for a long time."
- Pry's early thoughts on who will step up to fill in the gap of a departing Cabinda.
"I think that that's one of the challenges this spring. We're fortunate we've signed three guys at the position that will come in early as well as the guys currently in the unit. Cam Brown is a candidate, has played a lot of football now to this point. Of course Ellis Brooks, a young man that we redshirted that we're really excited about. Jan Johnson is another guy very similar to Brandon Smith - a guy that walked on and really caught our attention, physical guy that gets the game, that's smart."
Kickball with HopeKids
Following practice, the entire team joined more than 100 children from HopeKids Arizona for kickball and autographs as part of the Fiesta Bowl Charities initiative.
"We came out here and made these kids' day giving back to the Arizona community," wide receiver Saeed Blacknall said. "You see the kids having a blast with smiles on their face and it's just the little things that we all take for granted sometimes. It kind of reminds us and brings us back to earth because we're always so busy worrying about a game and things like that."
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Penn State football held its first full Fiesta Bowl practice on location this afternoon outside of a usual Sunday walk through. Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and several Nittany Lions from the offensive side of the ball kicked off the morning with a press conference event at the media hotel, marking the first media opportunity since Penn State touched down in Phoenix.
Now settled in, the focus this week is all about being present, staying in the moment and making the most of a final opportunity for the entire 2017 Nittany Lions to be together.
"One thing that I've been preaching to them is just to be present," Rahne said. "I think that in a bowl game atmosphere, you have to be where you are. That's what's going to make this experience great for everyone. This is all about being present in the moment and really focusing on what you're doing."
With activities packing the schedule and more down time than usual, enjoying every aspect of the trip, while also balancing responsibilities, is key for the Nittany Lions.
"When you're out at the different bowl events like when we go to TopGolf later on or the Brazilian steakhouse tonight, being able to enjoy that, and enjoy that with your teammates," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "A lot of these seniors will be moving on and you won't get this time back with them so being able to enjoy that, enjoy hanging out at the hotel in the PlayStation suit where guys are arguing over Madden, but when you get into meetings and you get into practice, it's being focused there, getting the most out of every single meeting and every single practice."
While making the most of each event is key, the end goal is something Penn State is keenly aware of as the days tick closer to game day.
"Ending the season on a sour note is not anything that we want to do so we just have to make sure that everyone is making sure we're putting our best foot forward and really investing in this game plan and investing in this game so we can go out there and give ourselves the opportunity to win and perform at our best level," wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. "It's going to mean a lot."
The stinging and perhaps familiar feeling of a bitter loss at the end of a successful season is something the Nittany Lions aren't overlooking, spending time this week reflecting on how a Fiesta Bowl win would be rightful and fitting end to the year, as well as a complete way to send out an impactful senior class.
"To be where we're at now with an opportunity to win the Fiesta Bowl and send these (seniors) out on a high note, having been the guys that came here when the sanctions just came out, to last year winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl - and that not working out for us," McSorley said. "No one in their right mind would have thought that would have been happening when they were coming here and now to be able to go out, on a high note, winning the Fiesta Bowl, is something that would complete those guys' legacy."
Looking at Washington
The Nittany Lions are well aware of the challenge the Huskies bring defensively, ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing defense led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and second team All-American defensive lineman Vita Vea.
"I mean, their defensive front and those linemen, they're big guys," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "It's obviously going to be a challenge for us up front. They're definitely going to try to focus in and stop the run."
For consensus All-American running back Saquon Barkley, even with the challenge, Penn State will continue to approach every game the same, pouring over film and fine tuning the game plan this week. Barkley also spent time dissecting each of his runs from the regular season, looking for good things to try again in addition to areas to improve.
"It's a fun challenge," Barkley said. "The same way you approach that is the same way you approach every other game, especially in the Big Ten. I think in the Big Ten, we're well known for rush defense. Going against Ohio State and Michigan and Michigan State and those teams week in and week out, I think they helped us prepare for this moment."
Drawing on those Big Ten experience has been particularly helpful as Penn State prepares for Saturday.
"When you kind of look at some of the teams that we've faced and try to compare and see what might be similar, kind of one thing that jumps out to me would be Michigan with how they'll play some man-coverage and be aggressive on the outside and try to let the guys inside and use their abilities, beat one-on-one blocks and things like that," McSorley said. "I think Michigan with their scheme and then Ohio State with kind of their speed and ability in the back end, mixed with kind of their size and athleticism up front."
The Nittany Lions see just as much of a challenge in Washington secondary too, with both Gesicki and Hamilton noting both the corner backs and safeties are among the biggest Penn State has seen to date.
"They're one of the bigger units that we've seen all season, really athletic guys as well," Hamilton said. "They play great technique, they really didn't allow many explosive plays on them throughout the whole season - through the air at least. They're a really sound unit, they've been playing together for a really long time, they've got a lot of playmakers back there."
On the year, Washington has held its opponents without a pass longer than 40 yards or a rush of more than 35 yards. Having allowed just one scrimmage play of 40 or more yards this year, the mark stands for the fewest in FBS.
-Barkley on his conversation with Stanford running back Bryce Love regarding advice on attacking Washington.
"It wasn't really advice because me and him, our offensive styles are completely different. Even when you watch the game you can't really watch how they attack them because the personnel is different. We have completely different personnel. I just asked him how he attacked the defense. What was his mindset? Was it more speed? Was it more power? And if you watch the game, he uses a lot more speed and he had a really good game, had success against that defense."
McSorley on how he'll remember Saquon Barkley 20 years from now.
"In 20 years if someone asks me, the first thing that will come to mind is the type of player he is and the once in a generation talent he is, but the more you kind of sit back and think about it, he's an extremely high-character guy."
"It's been a pleasure to get to know him and be in the backfield with him over the last couple of years and I think that's something I'll be able to kind of cherish throughout the rest of my life. One, the tremendous player that he is, but then to be able to know him as a person, how he carries himself and being able to tell my kids one day, you're watching the highlights of Saquon Barkley at Penn State and them amazed by him - but you don't know he was one of the best guys I've ever been around in my life."
on getting back to familiarity with newly hired tight ends coach Tyler Bowen.
"T-bow [Tyler Bowen] was here when I was a freshman, he was a graduate assistant, so I have a relationship with him already and then obviously him coming out here, he just brings a different perspective and I think it's good for me. In my four years here he's my third tight ends coach so I think I've been able to pick different pieces from each of the coaches and develop my game because they're kind of critiquing me in different ways to help me get better."
Two Minutes with A.Q.
Former Penn State letterman and current starting center for the Arizona Cardinals, A.Q. Shipley stopped by practice to speak with the team. From what he sees in Barkley to his message to a few of the Nittany Lions, a snapshot of what he had to say.
PHOENIX - The Penn State football flight touched down shortly after 5 p.m. at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. With a relatively quick flight, the Nittany Lions flew in style, treated to special seating pods allowing the team to stretch out for the duration of the flight.
Upon arrival, Penn State received a festive greeting, with live music fans lined up on the tarmac to greet the team, staff and families exiting the plane.
Moments after leaving the plane, Penn State head coach James Franklin, wide receiver Juwan Johnson and corner back Christian Campbell took time to meet with members of the media for quick press conference just off the side of the tarmac. [Press conference transcript HERE]
"I know our coaches and our fans and our players and letterman couldn't be more excited about this opportunity," Franklin said. "Penn State's got a tremendous history with this bowl game and we're looking forward to playing an exciting game come Saturday. I have a lot respect for the University of Washington and a lot of respect for coach Petersen and what he's been able to do over his career. I think it has the chance to be a fantastic bowl game."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Penn State's annual senior day came and went this year, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin opted for a different approach when asked about his first class.
By a simple season count, sure - it's Franklin's first class, as the fourth-year head coach prepares to lead the Nittany Lions to their second consecutive New Year's Six bowl appearance.
When asked during a Wednesday post practice session earlier this season though, Franklin replied it's actually not his first class, noting instead, it's auspiciously blended with previously committed recruits as well as a few from the previous institution and even some signed in the mad recruiting scramble after he arrived on location in Happy Valley.
He made no shortage of comments on how impactful the class has grown to be, but either way, a deeper look at the 2017 senior class reveals something truly remarkable.
What's revealed is a group of young men who were all presented with a unique challenge, one familiar to those before them, and by the end of their journey, one forever unknown to those who will come after them.
To put it simply, these seniors arrived in Happy Valley in perhaps some of the most uncertain conditions, committed to the promise of potential. Through ambiguity, they carried on, ushering in an era that some might even go so far as to call a rebirth.
Their stories are all unique. While some surround surging success, others are spotted with adversity.
By now though, they are the stories most Nittany Lion fans know by heart.
The common theme among them all? The will to win, and heart to never give up along the way.
It was between Penn State and Ohio State during Mike Gesicki's recruiting process. Ultimately opting for the Nittany Lions, he did so to the tune of a collection of Ohio State fans reaching out telling him to have fun losing to the Buckeyes for the next four years.
"When we beat them my junior year and ended up going on to win the Big Ten Championship, that was kind of something that I held close to me just because I remember everybody saying that we weren't going to be able to do it," Gesicki said. "Everybody doubted us. Nobody even thought that was a possibility. For us to be able to achieve what we were able to achieve in these past four years is really special to me."
For DaeSean Hamilton, Grant Haley and Jason Cabinda, there was of course, the same excitement surrounding their Penn State decisions but questions still lingered as they signed on without even so much as the promise of a postseason bowl game.
"I think coming to Penn State now, it's easy," Gesicki said. "I think now, if you don't go to Penn State it's like what are you doing, why would you not want to go to Penn State. We had 111,000 people at a game this year in a stadium that's supposed to hold only 107,000. There's so many reasons why to pick Penn State now, dating back to just four years ago when my class was picking Penn State, there were so many reasons why not to pick Penn State but we understood what potential we could have coming here together as a class and we were able to do it."
As with most things in life, the seemingly overnight success didn't happen overnight.
"Guys had been through multiple head coaches so you could see a difference between player personalities and the way people were toward the coaching staff," Haley said. "I don't think anything was different for me, but for them you could tell. There was something in their mind that was kind of holding them back a little bit and really becoming that Penn State brotherhood from freshman to senior class where everyone is so closely connected."
Penn State went 14-12 in the first two years of their Nittany Lion careers, with scholarship reductions and injuries opening opportunities for members of the now-senior class to be thrust into major roles.
They rose to the challenge.
"When we first got here we had seven or eight guys play our freshman year and played a good role - started some games and stuff like that and played really big roles on special teams," Cabinda said. "It started there."
Cabinda didn't start the first four games of the season his true freshman season, but can remember clearly to the day when he got the call. The Friday before Penn State's home outing against Northwestern, Sept. 27, 2014.
"Friday comes around and the redshirt lift is at 6 a.m., so boom - I go and I do the redshirt lift," Cabinda said. "I get out of class and coach [Brent] Pry calls me around 9:45 a.m. and says hey, you're starting tomorrow. Meanwhile I just did heavy squat, heavy deadlift and my legs are shredded apart. [Dwight Galt] calls me as soon as I get out of class and he says hey, we need you in the building, we need to regen you. He throws me in the ice tub and I think was sitting in there for like 20-30 minutes trying to get my legs back."
He can even remember the day Marcus Allen got the call up too.
"I still remember when Marcus [Allen] got his first start against Ohio State in a white out," Cabinda said. "He was freaking out before that game. I will never forget the anticipation for him that week before when [Ryan] Keiser went down. Everybody just had his back, supporting him, saying you got this, you're ready for this moment and all those kinds of things. Without your teammates, I don't know if you can go out there and perform."
Undoubtedly, it's the bond between teammates that kept the foundation solid, as a once young group continued to grow from those who came before them.
For Gesicki, it was Jesse James.
"It's the older guys who are there for you," Gesicki said. "When I was a freshman here, Jesse James was a huge role model for me and a guy who I looked up to. You kind of see it go full circle when I'm the old guy and a guy like Danny Dalton comes up here his freshman year and he hits that freshman wall and then he tries to talk to you about it and you've been there before, you've been on the other side of that conversation."
For Cabinda, it was Mike Hull.
"I think to me, a guy who really affected me, affected my mindset, the way I look at the game and the way I prepare, that's Mike Hull," Cabinda said. "There's no doubt about it. Seeing that guy work, seeing the way he played, he left it out on the field day in and day out."
Ask any senior and names like Michael Mauti, Allen Robinson and Anthony Zettel will all come up, often followed by the stories of how they helped shape the mindset and work ethic of a soon-to-become senior class who would continue to carry on an already proud tradition of grit and tenacity in the face of adversity.
"I think coming in with this class, when we came in we had goals of changing his program around and it took a year to two years to really get to that point but I think deep in our hearts we really knew that we could change this program around," Haley said.
Following a 24-17 loss to Georgia in the TaxSlayer bowl, there were still plenty of questions remaining as the 2016 season rolled around.
"Going into the going into the third year of our season with the coaching staff, is was like kind of a question mark there," Haley said. "Like what are we going to do, how are we going to turn this around and get Penn State back to where we want it to be and obviously last year, even the first four games, it was tough. We were 2-2 and a lot of people were down on us."
By Oct. 22, 2016, momentum shifted, as the Nittany Lions upset then-No. 2 Ohio State at home in a thrilling 24-21 comeback win for the ages.
"Playing Ohio State last year, it was a special moment," Haley said. "I think for me, it was just all shock. There's a culture change because everything just came and fell into place. Almost two years earlier, the struggles that we had, barely making it into bowl games, 7-6 records."
Surely, the Ohio State victory takes a rightful place in history, but for a few of the seniors though, there were moments prior to the stunning win where the feeling of something special sparked.
"The game that everybody forgets about is the Minnesota game in which we're losing at halftime, we haven't really got anything going yet and we put together a second half come back and we ended up pulling that one out in overtime," Gesicki said. "Without that game, it doesn't matter if two weeks later we beat Ohio State, because without winning that game, there's not the excitement that comes along with being Big Ten champs because we wouldn't have made it there."
Through the 2017 regular season, including conference championship games, Penn State is 21-5, which is tied for the eighth-best record in FBS during a two-year stretch from 2016-17. Among just five losses across two seasons, the last three have been by a total of seven points.
More than any win total, championship or record set in the record book could every showcase though, is the lasting legacy the group of seniors will leave behind.
On Wednesday, Penn State welcomed 21 Nittany Lions in a 2018 signing class ranked the highest in program history since rankings began in 2000. On Saturday, Penn State will pack its bags and hit the road, with an intriguing matchup against No. 11 Washington in the 47th annual Playstation Fiesta Bowl on the horizon.
With one final thing left to do, for these seniors, perhaps all that really remains is passing the torch.
"You look at what we came in here saying we wanted to and then being able to do that, it's a huge accomplishment in itself," Cabinda said. "To us, the most important thing is being able to pass along that torch, making sure it's something these guys can pass along and make sure they remember the values, our roots and what got us here to begin with, so we can continue the success and bring the longevity back to Penn State that we all know."
There's still work to be done though, leaving no time to look back and no time to reflect.
That moment though, will come.
"Obviously when the guys leave here, after our bowl game and our last game together, we'll sit back and we'll talk about it and cherish it for a little bit. I think I'll really sit back and think about it when there's really nothing else that I have to do and I just relive my college days and what we were able to do here," Hamilton said.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State signing day came early this year, with new NCAA rules allowing prospective student-athletes to make things official earlier than the typical February date.
Come Wednesday, excitement and anticipation filled the Lasch Football Building as months and months of hard work resulted in one of the most intriguing signing classes, tabbed the highest rated since rankings began nearly 20 years ago.
"I want to thank our staff for all the hard work they've put in in developing these relationships," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "That's coaches as well as our recruiting staff, as well as our administrative staff. I want to thank our players. I also want to thank the families and high school prospects out there that believed in us, and want to come and help us continue to build."
The Lasch Building opened bright and early, with Franklin arriving well before sunrise. Staff members, coaches, families and supporters soon streamed in, as festivities began in the "war room" right around 7 a.m. As the sun peeked through, Penn State first signee of the morning became officially official as linebacker Nick Tarburton kicked off the day with a 7:33 a.m. signing.
"It was a race for his mom to be number one in the boat today, just like Nick, ultra-competitive," defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. "It was important to get him here first."
Penn State saw its first of three five-star recruits sign on the dotted line, as wide receiver Justin Shorter made his signing day announcement official surrounded by his family at 7:37 a.m.
In the first six announcements alone, Penn State saw commitments in the top-ranked individuals from four different states, including Shorter (New Jersey), tight end Pat Freiermuth (Massachusetts) and running back Ricky Slade (Virginia).
The Nittany Lions only added to the list later in the day, with perhaps the grand finale coming in the official signing of five-star athlete Micah Parsons, making him the third consecutive prospect ranked No. 1 in the state of Pennsylvania to become a Nittany Lion.
A simple glance at the class through part one of the early signing day period includes 21 signees, 10 on offense, nine on defense one kicker and one athlete. Among six new Nittany Lions hailing from the state of Pennsylvania, what is perhaps more profound is that the members of the class span 12 different states and into a different country, reaching as far as Florida and Texas.
For assistant head coach, defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, the diving into states like Texas and Florida was anything but an easy task, noting that as Penn State's win total continues to increase, the yes on Penn State also continue to multiply, making the Nittany Lions a game changer, with a total of four 2018 early signees coming from either state.
"It was tough, obviously, we hadn't dove into, especially, Texas and then Florida," Smith said. "They are heavily recruited areas and we made some inroads there. We feel like this is just the beginning to tapping into both those states. We are happy with the three guys we got. Obviously, to go down into Houston, which is a hotbed, and also Tampa and Dallas, we just hope to get one or two more each year if we can."
Franklin announced that six Nittany Lions will join Penn State next semester, naming Parsons among the group.
"Excited about the fact, obviously, about the class overall, but I'm also excited we've got six guys that should be here in a couple of weeks," Franklin said. "They'll be here mid-semester, Trent Gordon, Isaiah Humphries, Zack Kuntz, Jesse Luketa, Micah Parsons, and Nick Tarburton will all be here in a couple of weeks. I think as you guys have seen, we've played freshmen, and whether that's guys that graduated early and came in December or come in the summer, they're going to have an opportunity to compete."
That group includes one tight end, one athlete, one safety, one corner back and two linebackers.
Also from the group, Franklin noted that Penn State fans can expect to see Parsons at middle linebacker this spring, with the option for things to change depending on how he progresses.
"We're going to play Micah Parsons at mike linebacker this spring and see how that goes," Franklin said. "We know he can move back to defensive end. But we're going to have him here for spring ball and see if he can do that. Right now, we don't have a defensive end committed in the class."
Speaking of Parsons
From committed to decommitted to committed again, even Franklin noted that the story of Parsons' recruiting process will likely end up somewhere in his memoirs from when he's retired. Building the relationship early though, Pry recalled one of the first times he caught Parsons live.
"Coach Spencer and I watched him play live for the first time when he was in 10th grade and when we walked away, our jaws dropped at the performance," Pry said.
Since the day he arrived on campus though, a focus on securing talent in the state of Pennsylvania has consistently been at the forefront of Franklin's approach. When looking at Parsons, Franklin pointed to true sophomore running back Miles Sanders, a once top-ranked incoming Nittany Lion from Pennsylvania, as a sort of turning point for those who would come after him.
"I think Miles [Sanders] got this thing started," Franklin said. "Very appreciative of Miles and his mom for kind of getting it going. Miles made it cool to stay home and play at Penn State."
Penn State also saw Nazareth, Pennsylvania wide receiver Jahan Dotson opt to return home to Happy Valley in his commitment.
"Recruiting, in-state kid we were trying to connect with," Franklin said. "Kind of ups and downs, twists and turns in this recruiting process, but at the end of the day things worked out the way they were supposed to work out. We were able to keep an in-state, local player home, which I think is a win-win for everybody. Him having an opportunity to get a world-class education and play big-time football and do it in front of everybody he loves."
Dotson joins a trio of wide receivers in this year's signing class poised with potential, something that has wide receivers coach Josh Gattis extremely pleased.
"When you look at our receiving core, we signed three very talented receivers [Jahan Dotson, Daniel George, Justin Shorter]" Gattis said. "All three are a little bit different; they bring a different skill set to the room which we are really excited about."
Gattis also referenced what he and the staff are deeming the best tight end duo in the country, with Freiermuth joining Camp Hill native Zack Kuntz.
"[Zack] Kuntz, I think is very similar to a lot of ways to [Mike] Gesicki," Franklin said. "High school wide receiver, probably a little further along as a tight end than what Mike was. But both big bodied guys that can really run. Kuntz at 6-7, 215 pounds or so came to camp and ran in the 4.6s for us, which is really impressive. Obviously, with [Pat] Freiermuth, you've kind of got the complete opposite. You're talking 6-5-, 215-pound road grader, tough guy with really soft hands."
While its just a small snapshot of all the early signees have to offer for the Nittany Lions, Franklin also noted that the work isn't over, with a second opportunity coming up in February proving just important as today's announcements.
"I think we'll have some more action in the next day or so, and then I think we could have some more action, guys that we're still involved with for the second signing day that we knew they were going to wait until the second signing day," Franklin said. "So there are still some moving parts out there."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball used a balanced scoring effort to top Binghamton in an 80-65 nonconference win Tuesday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The final score doesn't quite tell the whole story though, as Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers noted he's proud of Penn State's second half effort.
Although the Nittany Lions shot out to a 10-2 lead early, Chambers knew Penn State wouldn't be able to sustain the momentum. As the Bearcats battled back to tie the score and momentarily jump ahead by three on the strength of a Tyler Stewart triple, 19-16, Penn State opted to regroup.
Moments later, Tony Carr connected on a 3-pointer to even the score before a Lamar Stevens dunk sent Penn State back on top. Although Penn State held on for a 39-36 lead at halftime, Chambers remained confident the Nittany Lions would find their footing.
Less than a minute into the second half, Shep Garner ignited a 9-5 scoring streak with a pair of triples that pushed the Nittany Lion advantage to double figures, 53-41 with 15:17 left to play.
Binghamton wouldn't go quietly, narrowing the gap to eight with 5:20 remaining. Penn State continued to look toward its success from the 3-point line as Reaves and Garner connected on three consecutive treys to bolster the advantage back to as many as 15 with fewer than three minutes left in the game.
On the night, Penn State shot 59 percent from behind the arc, marking its best outing since shooting 52 percent in the win at Iowa.
All five Nittany Lion starters finished in double figures, with Stevens leading the way with 16 points. Much to the pleasure of Chambers, the Nittany Lions dished out 17 assists, marking the most in a nonconference game this season, led by a career-high tying nine helpers from Carr.
Perhaps more difficult than digging deep for the win against Binghamton or what's to come against Rider though, is maintaining focus.
"I'm proud of our guys for the second half," Chambers said. I didn't think we played as well, again, Binghamton give them credit, but we were finding ways. This is such a difficult time for our kids, our players, because you have Christmas, you want to go home, nobody's here, there's so many distractions on the outside with the holidays."
Reaves, who finished with 15 points, four assists and two steals, only echoed what Chambers said about the unique time of year.
"It's difficult knowing that break is coming up and people are trying to go home for the holidays and finals are over and people are just so relieved of the stress and everything, so, I feel that it's time to lock in more," Reaves said. "I try to tell my teammates, I know that we're off of school and we have a break but basketball is not over. We still have games to play, practices to do, treatments to go to so, it's definitely difficult."
For Chambers, the remedy to locking in, comes in mindset.
"We just have to stay present," Chambers said. "We have to keep these guys here, spend time with them because we can. Tomorrow, bring them back in, do some cold tubs and some lifting and some stretching and doing some film work, maybe shoot some free throws because we've been going for seven straight days and that's including exams and we looked a little sluggish in the first half. We found a way to win but we have to be smart about these next couple of days and try to keep these guys on task."
That means relying on leadership too, with Chambers pointing to Garner, who made five 3-pointers for the first time since mid-November, with at least four in five of 13 games this year.
"He made big shots but I want him to lead too," Chambers said. "I'm looking for him to really emerge and not let us miss a step here, not let us stub our toe, to continue the process of getting better. Those are the shots that we've seen him make in the past and he'll continue to make them for us."
After a seven-day grind that included a dominant road win at George Mason, Chambers noted there will be a bit of time away from the court, as he'll host the team for a Christmas party at his house tomorrow evening.
It's back to work Thursday though, with practice scheduled before Friday's gameday routine. Penn State and Rider is set to tip at 7 p.m. from the Bryce Jordan Center, with live coverage on BTN.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's been more than 35 days since Penn State wrestling took to the mat in Rec Hall, and about two weeks since the last time the Nittany Lions took to the mat to compete.
Come Sunday, Penn State opened its Big Ten dual slate in typical Nittany Lion fashion, bolstered by the strength of a healthy lineup.
"It's nice having a healthy team ready to roll," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said.
The Nittany Lions saw both Corey Keener and Vincenzo Joseph return to action at 133 and 165, respectively.
Competing for the first time since the Keystone Classic, Corey Keener highlighted in his return, closing out productive second and third periods with a pair of late takedowns for an 11-3 major decision.
Following Keener's win, Penn State's Jered Cortez ignited the spark, battling to a close 6-5 win against No. 12 Cole Weaver.
Coming off his first loss of the season in the Lehigh dual, Cortez spent the last two weeks focusing on letting it fly, avoiding what he called a tendency to lock up a bit. Before stepping on the mat though, Cortez relied on the words of coach Casey Cunningham.
"Coach Casey said to just go play wrestle, go out there and you're great when you play wrestle and flow and just throw yourself in there," Cortez said.
Tied at 3-3 headed into the second period, a second period takedown followed by a late third period escape secured the decision for Cortez, who earned his first win against a ranked opponent this season.
"A 6-5 match, obviously 11 points on the board, it wasn't a 2-0 match so I think adjustments made from Lehigh were just letting it fly and giving myself more opportunities to wrestle where I'm good," Cortez said.
Despite the deadlocked score, Cortez wasn't keeping track of the score in his head, instead focused on the words of his coach.
"I was just wrestling, I was just letting it go and I felt him pressure in, and that first takedown I hit was kind of off that same situation," Cortez said. "I felt him pressure in and I'm good there so I took advantage and scored."
Penn State then saw back-to-back pins from Zain Retherford (149) and Jason Nolf (157). Retherford built up a big first period lead before pinning Davey Tunon at the 3:42 mark. Nolf followed, making quick work of Jake Danishek with a pin at the 1:30 mark for his eighth fall of the season, sending Penn State into the break leading 19-3.
Although Joseph earned the win by forfeit, Mark Hall came out dominant for a 17-0 tech fall at 174 before Bo Nickal (184) brought the sold-out crowd to its feet with his fifth pin of the season in less than a minute at 0:42.
While his fast pins have piled up the bonus points for the Nittany Lions, Nickal would actually prefer to be out on the mat a little longer.
"It's fun to get out there and wrestle a little bit more so I think moving forward I'm going to try to let the matches go a little longer because I like being out there," Nickal said. "I'm not really going to let the guy off his back if I get him there so if it happens quick then I guess that's the way it goes."
As the holiday season approaches, Sanderson noted that part of staying fresh and hungry means taking time to spend with loved ones, as the team will spread out to take the next week at home.
"I think it's important that they get home and spend time with their families, enjoy the holidays and the Christmas season," Sanderson said.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football returned to spotlight Friday morning as the Nittany Lions hosted a media day session ahead of the upcoming Fiesta Bowl matchup.
It has been a busy couple of weeks for head coach James Franklin, the staff and the team. While the Nittany Lions are focused on closing out the semester academically, the staff is busy on the road recruiting as well as adjusting to a few coaching staff adjustments.
"A lot of moving parts with graduations and grades," Franklin said. "A lot of moving parts with recruiting and the ups and downs of that and also from a staff perspective. I like where we're at. I'm glad to be back in town, see my family, have a practice here a little bit later on today and can get back to some form of normalcy or whatever you would call that, in college football."
New to their roles but not to Penn State, offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and special teams coordinator Phil Galiano joined defensive coordinator Brent Pry for their first media sessions as coordinators.
For Rahne, it's an exciting opportunity, one he's been working toward for a long time and one Franklin noted, he'd also be interviewing for a long time too.
"It's funny, because I tell our guys and I tell our coaches, I'm not a big believer in resumes," Franklin said. "I'm not a big believer in interviews. I get it, especially with people you don't know, but the reality is, Ricky Rahne has been interviewing for this position since he was a graduate assistant for me at Kansas State. Ricky was the offensive graduate assistant and Scott Frost was the defensive graduate assistant on our staff at Kansas State so he has been preparing and interviewing for this responsibility for a long time."
For Galiano, it's an exciting opportunity as well, having mentioned turning other full time opportunities down opting to stay at Penn State in his former role as a defensive consultant.
"It was in a time where last season I was looking to try to find a place and had a couple of full time job opportunities that I wound up turning down, choosing to come here to Penn State because this is where I wanted to be and where I would like to be for a very long time," Galiano said. "I knew one year I might just have to go and prove myself and try to do the best job I could and hopefully get rewarded for it. I appreciate Coach for seeing the job I did and rewarding me for it."
Winning in the
The push to the end of the semester can range from stressful to relatively stress free depending on the individual with managing practices, lifts and early bowl preparations.
"I only had one final but still it was pretty tough dealing with football and studying and trying to manage other things can get pretty hard," senior corner back Christian Campbell said.
Come Saturday, a total of 15 new Penn State football graduates will earn their degrees with 17 total graduates brining Penn State's total to 23 Nittany Lions with 26 degrees ahead of the Fiesta Bowl against Washington.
Going out on Top
Certainly for Franklin, the goal every week is to go 1-0, and that mentality is no different as the Fiesta Bowl draws closer. Looking to send out a special senior class with a win as well as generate some momentum ahead of 2018, Franklin made note that there's no doubt in the importance of taking advantage of the extra time together.
"I think it's important that you end the season on a positive note so everybody feels good and there's good mojo and obviously I do think it has an impact of going into the following season based on all of the things I just mentioned - the extra practices, the last time people have seen you, how they view you, they start talking about your returning players, the previous season and the bowl game and how it ended," Franklin said.
Contending with Pettis
Penn State's punt coverage team will be tested against the nation's leader in punt returns (20.4 avg) in Washington's Dante Pettis. Having returned four punts for touchdowns this season to break an NCAA record for career punt return touchdowns (9), he's a focus for second team All-Big Ten true sophomore punter Blake Gillikin.
When asked about true sophomore running back Miles Sanders and his development, Franklin noted that he has seen improvement in a variety of areas from ball security and protect to more physical changes in overall strength.
"I look at it a little bit like when I was in Green Bay, we had Brett Favre and we drafted Aaron Rodgers," Franklin said. "Aaron was able to come in there and sit behind Brett for a couple years, learn and take it all in. How many times do you see in that league, a guy get drafted in the first round and they are forced to play, and sometimes they are not ready."
Fiesta Bowl Excitement
For most if not all of the Nittany Lions, hearing the Sunday selection of Penn State and Washington matched up the Fiesta Bowl only brought excitement.
"I was just excited," Oruwariye said. "I was kind of thinking about Arizona, what we're going to do out there. I was quick to find the hotel we're going to stay in, which is really nice. I'm just excited for another big game, a New Year's Six bowl and just more time with this family."
Perhaps nobody has been more impacted by Rahne than tight end Mike Gesicki, who has spoken throughout the season about the level of confidence he's gained from Rahne.
"I am really happy for coach Rahne, he honestly deserves this more than anybody," Gesicki said. "He puts so much time into the preparation and everything that goes into our game plan each and every week. He is one of the smartest coaches on our staff and I think he is going to do a great job for us. I think he has had a huge impact on me and the player that I have become and I am really excited. When he first got the job, I called him and I said, "Hey man, congrats." I am obviously disappointed that he is not going to be coaching the tight ends anymore, but I told him, "if you are not going to be able to coach me, I still want 10 touches in the bowl game if you are out there calling plays. I want the ball a little bit.' I am excited for him."
CITY, Mo. - Penn State women's volleyball saw its 2017 season come to a bitter
close Thursday evening. In a back and forth battle that saw everything from
highs and lows to even a few head scratching moments, the outcome of the
longest national semifinal matchup in NCAA history didn't favor the Nittany
"I'm not disappointed in the players or the university that I work at," Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. "I am certainly disappointed in, you know, the outcome of the match. I thought the kids played hard. And other than serving and some passing issues, I thought we were competing well in a tough environment."
After turning around at 25-18 loss in the opening set, the Nittany Lions settled in on the game plan and gritted out a pair of tight wins in the second and third sets before pinning the Huskers seemingly right where Penn State had intended to finish it off.
The Nittany Lions came just one point shy of ending it all in the fourth set, but an error held off the win as the Huskers battled back to force a fifth and deciding frame.
"I think we clearly had opportunities to win the match, but we didn't win the match," Rose said. "You recognize the efforts of the other guys and this business and you appreciate the efforts of your seniors, and we had a lot of kids that were seniors. Certain programs get judged by winning national championships and not just their day-to-day effort. The efforts that we've had over the course of time have placed us into a little different area."
True to any Rose coached team, the Nittany Lions would not go down in an NCAA Tournament outing without a fight, weathering their fair share of swinging momentum shifts made all the most emphatic by the force of a record-setting crowd of nearly 19,000, clad in mostly red.
"I thought there would be times when we were up and they would get back into it and then it would be really close at the end and then we'd be battling for deuce games," senior first team All-American Haleigh Washington said. "I think we had a lot of great fight at the end but it just isn't enough. You can't have fight and make a lot of errors, it just doesn't work."
Untimely errors came at seemingly the costliest moments, as the Husker defense narrowed the margin of error to the tiniest of slices for Penn State, keeping everything off the floor and forcing the Nittany Lions out of system with pressure from the service line.
In sets two, three and four, Penn State shot out to at least a 3-point lead in the early part of the frame before Nebraska came storming back to even the score before taking the Nittany Lions the distance.
"I think we started off strong in a lot of our games, we had a lot of early leads, but I think we let those runs get away," Washington said. "We had to get that lead and maintain that lead and go back and forth and swing until the end of the game. Instead we get the early leads and they get to the spot and they get the run. That can't happen in this level and this game. They have to continue to sideout and hold the lead. It was just something we let slip away."
Perhaps no momentum shift was larger than the last, as a Husker kill sparked a 5-0 run that flipped a once 6-4 Penn State advantage into a 9-6 Nebraska lead.
"We were leading up until 7," Washington said. "It's not like the momentum was completely gone and they ran away with it in the fifth game. We were still battling but just couldn't hold on to that lead and maintain it."
Back-to-back kills from All-Americans Simone Lee and Ali Frantti proved not enough as Nebraska closed out a 15-11 win in the fifth set to end the match.
More than the obvious sting of the final score, Penn State volleyball will forever have the contributions of yet another highly decorated senior class to reflect on long after this year's NCAA national champion is crowned.
Each blazing their own path to greatness across the last four years, Penn State's trio of All-Americans in Lee, Washington and Frantti close out their careers in the blue and white with more than 1,000 career kills, having scaled the record books and collected a vast variety of honors and awards along the way.
Their legacy won't be defined by the final score but rather by the things they've learned along the way, the joy they've brought to their coaches, the community and of course, the teammates they've impacted forever.
"Haleigh has definitely been the biggest mentor, I just went up to her and hugged her and she's so solid and she's so compassionate and just an amazing player," redshirt sophomore Tori Gorrell said. "Learning from Haleigh is obviously what I need to do, she just has so many shots. Simone and Ali, those two girls, they literally do it all, I could not imagine being in their position. They're so crazy good."
Tucked in the belly of the Sprint Center, void of the usual laugher and lighthearted energy, the Penn State locker room may have been silent postmatch, but the contributions of the 2017 senior class, will proudly prevail.
By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A long layoff from competition hasn't stopped Penn State's Anthony Cassar from staying focused. The redshirt sophomore starter at 197 pounds was out of the lineup the past two seasons, but now wrestling at 100 percent, he's poised to continue to wrestle his way to the top.
"I'm feeling great," Cassar said. "This has been something I've been visualizing and working toward for what felt like forever. Two solid years and three counting my redshirt year of just hard, hard work and waiting for this moment to show everybody what I've been working on. I'm just having fun doing what I do best."
Cassar is out to a 7-1 start including a Keystone Classic title this year, and Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson likes what he sees.
"Health wise he's 100 percent," Sanderson said. "He just needs experience. He wrestled a few folk style tournaments as a true freshman a long time ago. The last two years he has been injured so he hasn't really been wrestling much folk style. He's got a lot of great tools and a lot of potential."
The sophomore hasn't been discouraged by his injuries and the coaching staff continues to see him improve. Cassar has two wins over ranked opponents this season.
"He does some phenomenal things," Sanderson said. "He's got a great feel and when he pulls the trigger he usually scores. So we want him to pull the trigger more often, but he's a big strong kid, he's getting better every match and the better the opponent the more we learn."
On December 3 against Lehigh, the pressure was on for Cassar with his team trailing, 19-17, and only two bouts left. The Rocky Hill, New Jersey native responded with an 8-3 decision over Jake Jakobsen giving the Nittany Lions a lead they wouldn't relent.
"That was a great environment," Cassar said. "I definitely felt the nerves and was excited, but once I got out there it's really just a testament to what you do (in practice). I didn't have to think and I did what I do in here which is work hard."
While the Nittany Lions shift their focus to opening the Big Ten dual slate against Indiana, another obstacle stands in the way - finals week. Sanderson made specific note that the Nittany Lions are scheduling around finals at the moment to give the team optimum time to wrap up the semester on top.
"Their focus is on their academics right now," Sanderson said. "Our workouts are around their academics. They need to finish strong."
As the Nittany Lions continue to work through December, January brings a big change with six dual meets and the Southern Scuffle on deck. Sanderson thinks his team is ready for the challenge, as he won't be doing anything drastic in the room.
"It's not really anything too complicated," Sanderson said. "Our guys are training as soon as they get to school and a lot of these guys train throughout the summer. We're ready to compete. We want to compete a couple times a week and we're looking forward to that stretch of the year."Penn State hosts Indiana to begin the Big Ten slate at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17. The Nittany Lions are 18-0-1 all-time against the Hoosiers who feature just one ranked wrestler.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the first time since 2014, Penn State women's volleyball is back in the NCAA national semifinals, now just a day away from moving one match closer to a potentially historic ultimate outcome.
"Whatever sport you play, this is what you should be dreaming about," Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. "This is the platform, that's why you work hard, why you do the things you do to try and get yourself in a position to compete for a national championship and to be in this case, one of four teams left."
The NCAA national semifinal field couldn't be more stacked with perennial contenders, with the top-ranked Nittany Lions among three of four teams (Nebraska and Stanford) to have won it all in the last four years.
With individuals from nearly every team bringing NCAA championship experience at the highest level, there's no doubting both semifinal matchups have the potential to be among the most memorable.
Penn State has familiarity among both sides of the remaining contenders on each side of the bracket. The Nittany Lions knocked off defending NCAA national champion No. 3 Stanford twice in the early part of the season. Perhaps no opponent is more familiar than fifth-ranked Nebraska, a team that handed Penn State its only loss of the season so far.
"When that happened we had a lot to learn from it," senior Heidi Thelen said. "We just had to focus on getting back in the gym the next day and knowing that we still have an entire season. Coach told us in that moment, if you win the rest of your matches you can win the Big Ten and that's what we did, and now, he said if you win six more matches you can win a national championship."
With the Huskers owning wins in each of the last six outings, Nebraska also sent Penn State home in the NCAA regional semifinals last year, marking a second straight year the Nittany Lions departed the tournament in the round of 16.
"We know that our last two years we've gone out in the sweet 16 and it's something that we've always wanted to come back to the final four and make it to that final destination, but we're not done yet," senior first team All-American Simone Lee said. "That's always something we look to and hold in the back of our minds that even though we've reached our goal to be Big Ten champions and we've reached our goal to get to Kansas City, now let's reach our goal to win the national championship."
For Rose, among familiarity on the big stage and in the Big Ten, while it certainly helps, he looks toward the big picture.
"I don't look at it as anything other than an opportunity to do something hopefully that these players will remember for the rest of their lives," Rose said.
Instead, when in the historic main gym of Rec Hall he tells the team to look up.
"I tell them to look up and see a lot of banners," Rose said. "Some banners that have six or something championships - that a lot of people have come before them and worked really hard and they're representing the University and they're representing a lot of alumni who put a lot of time in when they weren't chartering and getting all the bonuses and gifts the players get today."
Sewed on to one of those banners though is 2008, the year a then-top ranked Penn State captured its second consecutive NCAA national championship with a straight set win against No. 2 Stanford to close out a perfect 38-0 record, a feat the Nittany Lions would achieve once again the following year.
To get to the title game though, the Nittany Lions took down a then-No. 4 Nebraska team in an epic five-set victory in front of an NCAA record crowd of more than 17,000 fans at the Quest Center in Omaha.
It was the last time the two teams have met in the NCAA national semifinals and surely one many Nittany Lion faithful won't soon forget.
That's not on the minds of this year's squad though, as the group of Nittany Lion seniors will look to punctuate their Penn State careers the same way they opened them up - with a national championship crown of course.
This year's Huskers have won each of their last 17 matches dating back to a 3-1 loss to Wisconsin in early October, earning a spot in the NCAA national semifinals with a four-set win against fourth-seeded Kentucky last weekend.
Among the best nationally at stifling their opponents hitting percentage, Rose noted the Huskers bring strength from the service line.
"I think the impact of their serve has a lot to do with limiting other people's offensive numbers," Rose said. "I think their floor defense is really good. They don't block a lot of balls but certainly [Briana] Holman and [Lauren] Stivrins are strong blockers in the middle and I think [Mikaela] Foecke and [Annika] Albrecht block well. They're just a good team. All of the players play well together. Their libero's good. They bring a couple of defensive kids to shore them up a little bit."
Four Huskers earned All-America honors this afternoon, including Albrecht, Foecke and Holman, alongside senior setter Kelly Hunter, who earned a first team selection.
"We're playing a bunch of seniors and they've been playing the same lineup all year," Rose said. "I don't think either team is hoping to do something different, I think both teams are hoping to play well and rely on their inherent strengths."
First serve between Penn State and Nebraska is set for 7 p.m. ET Thursday in the first of two NCAA national semifinals at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The matchup will broadcast live on ESPN with Karch Kiraly, Paul Sunderland and Holly Rowe on the call.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball wrapped up the week with a dominant 74-54 win against George Washington to head into finals week on high note.
The Nittany Lions shot out to a hot start and never looked back, in control from start to finish.
For Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, it was Josh Reaves who set the tone, pushing the lead to nearly 20 with a steal and dunk in the first half to stretch the momentum in an already surging opening frame.
"Josh has a lot of energy, he's long, he can jump high," Shep Garner said. "He's a great person to have at the top of the press. He puts a lot of pressure on the guards and we get the steals out of it and he can finish it. We get dunks and layups and and-1's and that gets our team going. We knew that we were going to use that press a lot tonight and we were prepared."
Five Nittany Lions reached double figures for the fourth time this season as Penn State settled in off of Reaves' momentum for a balanced offensive outing.
Penn State shot 59 percent from the field in the first half as Garner sent the Nittany Lions into the locker room leading 48-19 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. GW's 19 first half points marked the second time this season the Nittany Lions have held an opponent to less than 20 points in the first half, also tying a season-low mark.
The offensive outing was hardly the highlight for Chambers and the rest of the team, as the focus all week in practice was centered around getting back to the basics, defense and rebounding.
"We had a long week of practice," Garner said. "Our main focus was defending and rebounding. we really harped on it in practice and it really showed tonight. We were ready to defend. We held a good team to 19 points in the first half."
Penn State commanded a 25-7 advantage on the boards in the first half, including a 9-1 mark on the offensive glass. On the night, Penn State out-rebounded GW 42-25, marking Penn State's third-highest mark on the glass this year and the most since grabbing 43 against NC State.
Mike Watkins led the way for the Nittany Lions, with a game-high 12 rebounds to along with 15 points for his second double-double of the season.
Watkins' consistency has been nothing short of key for the Nittany Lions and a welcome addition to his game for both coaches and teammates.
"He was great all week," Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. "He has just really matured and been really consistent and that is what we need from Mike. We need Mike dialed in on everything, and they are starting to throw him the ball a little bit."
In the last three games, Watkins is averaging nearly 19 points per game, coming off a career-high 22-point outing against Wisconsin on Monday.
His consistency though starts in practice, as Watkins spent the week wearing a weighted vest, testing his limits along the way.
"He's been wearing that vest, he was trying to get ready for the game," Garner said. "He thought he was going to be super light today. He's been dominating. dominating practice, dominating the games. That's one thing I've been mentioning to him over and over. Dominate, every possession, just dominate. He's been doing it, he's making our life that much easier."
The Nittany Lions will take a few days off to turn the focus toward academics with finals week quickly approaching.
"We need to finish strong academically," Chambers said. "That is extremely important to me and to our administration. We are going to take a couple of days off here so our guys can focus on their academics. We will do something late on Tuesday but will come full force on Wednesday. But it is really important to give some time away to focus on what they need to do."
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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