UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's lacrosse is gearing up for its final home game of the regular season against Michigan. Come Saturday afternoon, the Nittany Lions will also hold their annual senior game to honor graduating seniors.
Among Jeff Tambroni's earliest recruiting classes, the eighth-year head coach is especially proud of how far this group of student-athletes has come.
"When I look at Penn State lacrosse as a whole, the word that comes to mind is 'culture,' and I think this senior class has had a significant and positive impact on our culture," Tambroni said. "The overall investment in terms of what it means or what it takes to be a Penn State lacrosse player can be attributed a great deal to this group."
The Nittany Lions will be graduating seven seniors, including three of their four team captains.
Midfielder and captain Ryan Keenan will continue his lacrosse career at the nest level, drafted to the MLL 54th overall by the Ohio Machine.
As Keenan is looking forward to playing at the next level, he has the coaching staff and his fellow teammates to thank for helping him get there.
"It has been an awesome experience but I have to thank my teammates, I couldn't have gotten here without them," Keenan said. "The everyday practice and intensity of being a Penn State lacrosse player, along with the work ethic, [has prepared me for the next level]."
Keenan was recruited by Tambroni when he was in high school, but even then, he knew he wanted to be a part of a program where he could help lay the groundwork for future teams.
Even though it would require hard work and dedication, Keenan and other members of the senior class were up for the challenge of changing the culture surrounding what it means to play lacrosse at Penn State.
"When I came here, I just bought into Penn State lacrosse and building the program brick by brick," Keenan said. "It resonated with me and the kind of person I am. I wanted to build up and be the first one to change the culture and be a part of something new. That's what a lot of guys, especially in my class, came here for."
The senior class ushered in what Tambroni and the seniors call a 'culture shift' in the program, focusing on aspects like hard work, discipline and being a good teammate. The senior class has exemplified these ideals in the last four years and hopes rising Nittany Lions will continue to follow in their footsteps.
"Our preparation and our work ethic, I think those are the biggest things our senior class will leave behind," Keenan said. "Hard work in the weight room, doing extra work on off days, team comradery and team chemistry, we do a lot of things that bring this team closer together."
Redshirt junior Mike Aronow is the lone Nittany Lion captain who will remain in Happy Valley to play out his last year of eligibility. Even though he'll watch his own recruiting class and some of his best friends graduate in just a couple weeks, he will bring valuable leadership experience to next season's team.
"If you can have a redshirt or hold over from time to time who has that experience, that does carry on that class and maturity, it's always a positive," Tambroni said. "I think [Aronow] has done that. You bring back a two-year starter, a captain, that knowledge of that it meant to decide [to commit] at that point and to watch Penn State grow, I think it can only be a benefit."
Penn State's captains aren't the only leaders it will be parting with though, as many other members of the senior class also took leadership roles, like defenseman Chris Isenberg.
Although Isenberg was forced to spend a good chunk of his four-year career sidelined due to injuries, he learned from the challenges and accepted a new role as an emotional leader on the team.
"I definitely saw my mentality pivot from being discouraged and angry at the idea of not playing to the overall big picture - that it's not just me playing lacrosse but me and my team," Isenberg said. "That's one of the biggest aspects of the 'culture shift,' we're not a selfish team, we're extremely selfless and we enjoy success amongst each other and not just individually."
Although the journey back to the field was long and frustrating for Isenberg, being able to play the last few games of his senior season alongside his teammates made it all worth it.
Injuries made him cherish the little moments throughout the season, leading up to what could possibly be his last game inside Panzer Stadium with his fellow seniors.
"I just appreciated everything and coming back and playing," Isenberg said. "It's one of the best things I could have asked for, just to know I get to play with these guys to finish out my career."
With a small class of seven, the group has been able to grow extremely close. As they approach the end of their time in blue and white, they have taken time to reflect on everything they have had to overcome to get to this moment."We're the last ones standing and we've been through so much together on the field and off the field," Isenberg said. "It's definitely going to be a really emotional day."
By Brian McLaughlin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Dani Fey has gained more experience than she could ever imagine as a freshman for the Penn State softball team, starting 39 games so far this season.
An invaluable part of this Penn State team, primarily because of her versatility and athleticism, Fey has had an up and down season. She settled in early as the Nittany Lions leadoff hitter, before some ups and downs in Big Ten play. Despite that, Fey has continued to work hard and has truly earned her significant amount of playing time.
"It's been really exciting," Fey said. "I just came in with my head low, grinding, just trying to do my best and work hard every day and it has paid off, I haven't exactly had the freshman year that I wanted but it's definitely something that I've learned from and stuff that I've taken from this season that I will be able to fix better for next season."
Coming from a small town, Bangor, Pennsylvania (population just over 5,000), Fey has been able to perform much of her first season with the Nittany Lions in front of family and friends.
"I get to see my family every weekend basically which is really nice. I feel bad for the kids that don't so I'm really thankful for that," Fey said. "Just being from Pennsylvania and growing up around Penn State stuff and a whole bunch of Penn State fans, and being the first kid from my high school to go to Penn State was huge and my town blew up which was really cool. I've always been a Penn State fan and always followed the stuff going on here."
That was one of the big aspects of Fey's decision to attend Penn State. The atmosphere at Penn State was more comfortable to her allowing her to succeed.
"It was a really easy decision for me (to come to Penn State)," Fey said. "It came down to two schools and it was really late in the recruiting process and this felt more like a home. It's better for me academically and from an athletic standpoint too."
Since arriving at Penn State, Fey has been a staple throughout head coach Amanda Lehotak's lineup, providing a spark with her ability to draw walks and cause havoc on the bases. Despite the ups and downs, her attitude has never changed and continues to work to improve.
"We call (Dani) Tori Dubois Jr. because she is kind of sporadic like Tori was her freshman year," Lehotak said. "For Dani I think she is only going to get better and better. She has had a pretty good, productive freshman year and doesn't even give herself enough credit."
"My roles models are probably Gianna (Arrizurieta) and Tori (Dubois)," Fey said. "Tori basically said in another article I'm her mini me. We are very similar and I love looking up to her in the outfield and as a hitter because she is obviously really good at both."
Fey has also been a huge contributor on the defensive side, making multiple highlight reel catches in right-field while appearing multiple times at catcher. It was this versatility that allowed her to see the field so early as a true freshman.
With the season winding down Fey knows she has a lot to improve before coming back as a sophomore. She also has plenty to be proud of and has lots of accomplishments from her freshman season. Likely an impact player next year, Fey will be a mainstay in the lineup and be a table setter once again in Lehotak's offense.
"She's athletic, has an arm, has speed so once she goes home and relaxes this summer she is just going to get better and better," Lehotak said. "We are very excited to have her back next year."
By: Briana Zuccarelli, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- With the final game of the regular season approaching, the Penn State women's lacrosse team says goodbye to six graduating seniors.
On Saturday, seniors Katie O'Donnell, Maggie Gallagher, Bridget Chakey, Allie Dolder, Madison Day, and Shelby Wells will be honored for their time on the team during the senior game against the Michigan Wolverines.
"It's sad," said Gallagher. "I don't want to leave yet. I have had a great four years and I don't think I want it to end. Not being able to play a competitive sport anymore is going to definitely be different. So, I think it's going to be a different transition. It's just really sad."
This senior class will be recognized by not only their families and teammates, but from the coaching staff as they have led the team to great success from the moment they each walked onto campus. When they first arrived at Penn State, it was a whirlwind of emotions, but they each knew they had a job as a member of the lacrosse team, and that was to compete.
As freshmen, the team headed to the Big Ten Tournament, where they defeated Northwestern in the second round and took down Ohio State (13-7) to earn the program's first Big Ten tournament title. As sophomores and juniors, they experienced back-to-back NCAA national semifinal appearances. This marked the first time PSU had made back-back appearances in nearly 30 years.
"These seniors have been a huge part of our transition forward," head coach Missy Doherty said. "I mean in their four years here we won that Big Ten Championship and went to two Final Fours. They've really helped us take this program to the next level.
With three successful years in the books, the seniors are looking to make one final run in play, and then plan to move their focus on competing for another Big Ten Championship title. Although success was a major accomplishment for this class, Doherty believes their leadership has set them apart from the rest.
"I think that is what's special with Penn State and our program," she said. "Our seniors are the first to include the freshmen and make them feel like they are a part of the family. There is no hierarchy when it comes to behavior and our classes; it is one team."
As they prepare for their final matchup of the regular season, the seniors recalled some of their favorite memories as Penn Staters. While most said they enjoyed winning the Big Ten championship as freshman, O'Donnell had a different memory in mind from the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
"I would definitely say sophomore year, going down to Florida for that first weekend and getting that first win over a No. 2 team," O'Donnell said. "To be the underdogs going into that game and coming out on top was just really awesome. To be able to be a part of the first time this program has went to a Final Four in so many years was just really amazing."
The team will look to move to 10-7 for the season and 4-2 in the Big Ten conference on Saturday. This game will be bittersweet for this team, but the senior class has much to be thankful for knowing they left their mark on the program.
"I would definitely say, looking back, the best part of being a student-athlete, especially here at Penn State. All the opportunities we're given," said O'Donnell. "I'm just really grateful for the positions I've gotten to be in in the past four years and being a part of this program."
Andy Kuros, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -After falling behind 5-3 in the fifth inning of game one vs Bucknell, the Nittany Lions clawed their way back into the game and nearly completed a late comeback. Senior Gianna Arrizurieta's RBI triple and sophomore Kennedy Legg's game-tying RBI groundout in the 6thinning helped Penn State tie the game at 5-5, forcing extra innings.
Even though Bucknell eventually scored two runs in the 10thresulting in a victory, the Blue and White showed tremendous fight in their valiant comeback effort.
"I was really proud of our fight in game one," head coach Amanda Lehotak said postgame after the Nittany Lions' doubleheader against Bucknell. "I feel like it could've gone either way. We again continued to be fighters, we just couldn't get the big hit."
Here are some takeaways from the Nittany Lion's doubleheader with the Bison Wednesday evening.
Player of the Game- Haley Vallejos
Although seven different players registered a hit in game one of the series, Penn State was led offensively by freshman Haley Vallejos. The Arizona native went 3-4 from the six spot in the order, setting a new career high in hits in a single game.
"I've been in the cages doing different things with my swing," Vallejos credited to her big game. "What I was doing originally wasn't really me. I had a great individual (practice) beforehand and I'm definitely more relaxed and not overthinking anymore. I'm just letting the ball come to me and trying to hit it as hard as I can."
Vallejos' offensive success led Lehotak to move her catcher to the cleanup spot in the lineup. Despite the change in batting order, to a new role with much greater importance, it was business as usual for Vallejos.
"I don't really think about where I'm hitting (in the order). I just try to get on base no matter what," Vallejos said. "Where I bat in the lineup doesn't affect how I play."
The first year Nittany Lion has certainly come into her own as of late. Vallejos' three-hit performance rose her average to .217 to go along with her strong defense behind the plate. Even though she went 0-2 in game two, her great defense behind the plate and seven combined put-outs in the two games proved to be a great help for the Nittany Lions defensively.
Outfielders Tori Dubois and Christa Wagner also made big contributions in the first contest, recording a combined 3 hits and 3 runs batted in.
The senior pitcher, and former team manager, turned in two good performances in the circle Wednesday night. Mensinger threw 3.1 innings over the course of the doubleheader and only allowed a total of two earned runs. Her season ERA now stands at 3.45, a very impressive for someone who is pitching in their first season since high school.
Penn State will now turn its attention to Illinois, as the Fighting Illini will visit Beard Field for a three-game series this weekend.
By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn Relays have always been known as a carnival to most track and field athletes. This meet is held at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is the largest and oldest track and field competition in the United States.
This year marks the 124th Penn Relays, where more than 15,000 participants from high school, colleges, and track clubs come to compete. For Penn State head coach, John Gondak, the meet means more to him.
"Personally, I grew up in Philadelphia, so heading home for the weekend is always nice. I think the best part about the Penn Relays is it's a carnival. It's a fun meet, there's great crowds, there's great competition," Gondak said. "We just work with the team to go down there and enjoy the experience and do something that they are no often to get the chance to do. If you're competing at the stadium Friday or Saturday it might be the only chance you have to run in front of 30-40,000 people, so it's a pretty exciting atmosphere."
For freshman pole vaulter Katie Jones, this meet offers an opportunity to be back somewhere that she's used to competing. Jones competed at the Penn Relays when she was a junior in high school at South Williamsport.
"It will be nice to be back. Everywhere that I've competed for Penn State has been a new place for me. Going back to somewhere that's familiar to me will be fun. It's also always fun to have my parents there watching," Jones said.
When Jones was last at the Penn Relays competing, she broke her best height. Having that moment made her memory of the Penn Relays positive. She says that the competition pushed her to compete her best.
"It was a lot of fun, I had a big PR that meet. I cleared 13' for the first time, so it's really special. The stadium was huge, it was raining that day, so there weren't as many fans. The competition had all be over 12', so the competition was really good," Jones said. "It was big meet, it actually had more competition than states for me. It was more than just Pennsylvania competitors, it was people from other states."
Along with the crowd, other aspects of the meet and stadium make it a great atmosphere for Jones to compete.
"Just being there. You have the different awards that are given and all the action that's going on around you. Pole is right along the home stretch, so it's always so cool being in the middle of all that action and watch everything that's going on while you're competing," Jones said.
Although it is a bonus to have competed at this large meet before, the transition from high school competition to college is something that athletes have to take into consideration. Gondak says how Jones has made this transition smooth so far but will need to have that continue into the weekend at the Penn Relays.
"Each person transitions from high school to college differently. The events are different, the competition is different and you're back to that freshman year of high school thing again where you're sometimes wide eyed and taking in the competition," Gondak said. "Katie has done a phenomenal job of transitioning to wearing a Penn State uniform. I am very proud and excited of everything she has accomplished so far this year. "
Individual events at the Penn Relays win a watch if they come in first place. Gondak explains how last year they had a lot of athletes come close to winning one of these famous Penn Relays watches.
"The field events will have opportunities to win individual watches, and I think we have a lot people in position to do that. I think last year we had one winner and a lot of second and third placers, so hopefully we can add to that winning column this year when we go down there," Gondak said.
Even though this meet is more of a carnival to most, Jones is going to use it as a preparation for the Big Ten Championships in two weeks.
"I want to build and try to improve whether it's height, technique or consistency. I just want to continue to improve and get ready for Big Tens," Jones said.
Gondak is confident that Jones will continue to do just that as she heads into the 124th annual Penn Relays this weekend.
"She probably had her best meet of the year last weekend, so I'm excited for her to continue that momentum this weekend at the Penn Relays, a location she's had a lot of success at in the past," Gondak said.
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