By Andy Kuros, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Former high school softball all-conference honoree Ashton Mensinger came to Happy Valley with the game she loved as a mere afterthought. The current senior had no idea she would eventually become not only a Penn State student-athlete, but a valuable Nittany Lion pitcher in the circle.
It all started Mensinger's sophomore year, when she decided to become the softball program's team manager. The supply chain and information systems major once again served as manager her junior year, marking a full two years that she was involved with the team.
However, Mensinger was more than just your average team manager. She would pitch to the players as often as she could, whether it was during batting practice or throughout specific hitting drills.
"I would throw in the cages a lot and I would throw front-toss and different things for the hitters," Mensinger said.
Head coach Amanda Lehotak, who noticed how Mensinger would take every opportunity to throw to the team's batters when serving as manager, talked about her transition from not playing softball for three years to pitching for the Nittany Lions.
"We put it out that we were looking for managers and pitchers, because your pitchers can only throw so much and there's nothing like a live arm," Lehotak said. "She's been pitching for us for a year or two and this year with some injuries coming in, we knew we needed someone else and asked her to join the roster."
Mensinger reminisced about being told the news of a lifetime.
"All the coaches came in and sat down and asked if I would like to join the team," Mensinger remembered. "I didn't know what to expect. It was just crazy going from a manager to actually being on the team."
"I grew up watching softball and watching all these games on tv, especially Division 1 schools," Mensinger added. "I never thought that I would be on the field."
For the Pennsylvania native and four-time high school softball letter winner, the process of transitioning to a player that coach Lehotak can turn to in times of need in the circle wasn't as hard as it seems.
"I love the competitive aspect of it and just being able to play. I don't really think I got nervous," she said about transitioning from a manager to an official Nittany Lion pitcher. "I feel like I was prepared and ready."
"She's been a great addition to our team," Lehotak added.
With regards to her long journey to get the opportunity to wear the blue and white on the diamond, Mensinger didn't hesitate in crediting her teammates when asked about her favorite part of joining the program.
"Just getting to travel with the team, getting to spend time with everybody on and off the field, and getting to know everybody," she said. "It's been really fun."
Mesinger and the rest of the Nittany Lions will prepare to host in-conference Illinois for a three-game series this weekend at Beard Park. First pitch for game one is Friday at 8 p.m.
By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Junior attackman Nick Spillane played a major role in helping No. 12 Penn State men's lacrosse to its first program win against Johns Hopkins last week, as the Nittany Lions upset the Blue Jays 14-12.
After spending his first two years with the Nittany Lions in the midfield, Spillane has embraced his new role at attack this season in light of junior Grant Ament's injury. Although the position swap was a big change for Spillane at first, he's finding his stride.
"It's gotten a lot better, I've definitely gotten more comfortable throughout the year," Spillane said. "The way we play offense has definitely made it a little bit easier with that free flowing style. It's great playing with guys that are so focused on each other and don't care about individual stats, but how the offense in general does."
Spillane had a stellar outing against the Blue Jays, scoring two goals to go along with a personal-best five assists. Spillane also picked up honors from the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association for his performance Saturday afternoon.
Now starting to reap the benefits of his hard work at the new position, Spillane has experienced some bumps along the way.
"This has been a process," Penn State head coach Jeff Tambroni said. "Never in the struggle has he allowed himself to wallow in self-pity and when he's had great success, you would never know. I think that's what has allowed him to maintain his hunger and his trajectory to where he is right now."
There were many adjustments Spillane had to make to play the 'X.' Not only did he have to get used to playing behind the net, but he also had to learn to draw the coverage of the opposing team's best defender.
Spillane hasn't had to face the challenge alone though, receiving constant support from his fellow teammates.
"Whether I had a really good game or a bad game, everyone's confidence in me has just stayed really high," Spillane said. "That's made it so much easier knowing that everyone is behind me and supportive because it's definitely not easy to step into a role like that."
One of Spillane's biggest supporters and mentors has been Ament himself. Even though Ament has been sidelined this season, he has remained actively involved with the team.
Although Ament has been a source of help and advice for everyone on the team, he and Spillane have forged a special relationship as the season has progressed.
"He's been great with staying involved," Spillane said. "I talk to him about what he sees throughout the game because he has a great mind for the position and the sport in general. It's definitely been an open conversation between him and myself throughout the entire year. He has given me some pointers throughout games and practices, so he's definitely made my transition a little easier."
While Spillane and Ament are two unique individuals, it wasn't a coincidence the coaching staff selected Spillane to step into the open spot on attack. With Spillane's talented skillset and mind for scoring, moving him made the most sense to Tambroni.
Fellow attackman, sophomore Mac O'Keefe, also sees similarities between Ament and Spillane, which has made the transition easier for the other members of the offense.
"They're pretty similar," O'Keefe said. "They both have very good vision and their heads are always up looking to make a play."
Looking ahead to Sunday night, the Nittany Lions will head to New Jersey to take on No. 10 Rutgers.
Although Tambroni hopes the team's win over Johns Hopkins will provide an extra boost of momentum, he also doesn't want the victory to prompt complacency.
"It can certainly provide confidence and justify the work and the collaboration that this group has put in, and that's what you hope," Tambroni said. "It can also go the other way. You can tend to be a little short-sighted with wins like this and start to think about big picture instead of focusing on the details. We have to make sure there is still a sharp focus on our daily goals and an attention to detail on a daily basis versus end results."
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a strong game of their own, losing only to top-ranked Maryland by a single goal, 11-10.
Sunday night's game could also prove to be of great importance later in the season, as both the Nittany Lions and the Scarlet Knights are on the cusp of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
All that aside, the Nittany Lions are sticking true to their own strategy, focused on improving their own game instead of concentrating all their attention on Rutgers.
"I think our guys are just going to have to continue to go out and play hard and play together," Tambroni said. "There's no magic or secret to our success, it has been a selfless collaboration and if our guys stay connected to that foundation, we'll be in a good position."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football wrapped its 2018 spring season with the annual Blue-White spring game. In the culmination of a series of 15 spring practices, the Nittany Lions took to the field in front of more than 70,000 fans for a final session before breaking until training camp.
There's wasn't exactly anything Penn State head coach James Franklin learned from the final spring practice of the season Saturday, instead focusing on yet another standout spring crowd, in addition to a few final flashes from some promising young talent on the roster.
An estimated 71,000 packed into the stands at Beaver Stadium, marking the fifth consecutive year the Nittany Lions have drawn 60,000 or more for the spring game.
The energized crowd was treated to a glimpse of the future early with wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer connecting with quarterback Trace McSorley for the first of two touchdown grabs.
"It felt good," Hippenhammer said reflecting on his first trip to the end zone as a Nittany Lion. "I prepared all spring for that moment and it finally came and I just executed."
Hippenhammer's second touchdown catch came on a 29-yard toss from quarterback Sean Clifford in the fourth quarter.
"This is kind of who Mac is, Mac's a gamer, he happens to make plays in big spots," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne said. "I can see it in his eyes, especially after that first series where you could tell he was really focused and locked in. When he does that, he's hard to deal with."
Nearly 400 miles from Beaver Stadium, Penn State baseball was battling with Michigan. A two-sport student-athlete though, Hippenhammer was in Happy Valley instead of Ann Arbor. It's a unique situation in today's typical student-athlete path, but a scenario that Franklin noted is absolutely do-able with the right individual and the correct situation.
"Penn State was a school that I felt would give me the opportunity to play both [sports], Hippenhammer said. "When I got here, coach Franklin had discussions with coach Cooper so I knew it was real."
Part of the agreement between Hippenhammer and Franklin though meant keeping academics in line.
"He crushed it in the classroom and did better than I even anticipated," Franklin said. "Coach [Rob] Cooper had a spot for him and I know he has been really pleased for him. Once spring ball started we shut him down with baseball because he is on a football scholarship and now once spring ball ends he will go back to doing baseball as well as his academic responsibilities."
Prior to spring ball though, Hippenhammer's day started with football winter workouts bright and early in the morning before heading over to baseball for an afternoon practice following a full day of classes.
"It's a lot of going back and forth," Hippenhammer said. "You just have to keep a balanced mindset and stay focused. It was a really long day but for me I think it was worth it because my dad always told me to play both as long as you can so I'm just making the most of the opportunity I was given."
As he has done consistently through the spring season, Franklin gave credit to the blue team's offensive line, consisting of mainly Nittany Lion starters. Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover noted last week that the level of competition drove the group all throughout the spring season.
Come Saturday, Michal Menet emerged to take a firm hold on the starting spot at right guard.
"I think staying healthy has been a huge thing for me to be able to develop my skills and techniques every day," Menet said.
As both Franklin and Menet noted postgame, dealing with nagging injuries early in his career set him back. Now fully healthy, it was Franklin who noted Menet is now one of the more improved Nittany Lions from the end of the season to now.
"We think he has the ability to play all three inside positions, right and left guard as well as center, we think he may have a really bright future at the center position as well with his quickness," Franklin said. "He creates some flexibility, which is what we are trying to create throughout our program, guys that can play multiple positions, solve problems for us, but overall I have been very, very impressed with him really since the end of the season."
Looking at the offensive line as a whole though, Menet noted the Nittany Lions have built on strengthening the finishers mentality, which on occasion plagued Penn State in 2017.
"I think everybody is really buying into all the techniques and fundamentals that coach Limegrover has been teaching us," Menet said. "I think we've been taking strides every day."
If Franklin had to name a player of the game Saturday though, he'd look to cornerback Zech McPhearson, who finished with three pass breakups and two tackles.
"We've created a lot of depth and competition at that position so it's exciting," Franklin said. "He's a guy who I think has really kind of showed since the end of the season that he means business and is going to factor in for us this year."
That business-like mentally all started when McPhearson shifted his mindset following the end of the season. He wanted to play.
The work doesn't stop with spring ball though, as McPhearson noted this offseason is going to be very big for the emerging Nittany Lion.
"In the offseason I definitely want to get stronger, maybe get a little bigger but keep working on my speed," McPhearson said. "I feel like that helps me a lot driving on routes and things like that."
It was of course hard to miss what looked like a second James Franklin on the field Saturday. Instead, it was Penn State alum, actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key who joined the Nittany Lions as a guest coach.
"I really, really could not be more appreciative of you guys asking me to come and guest coach," Key said postgame. "The welcoming spirit and atmosphere of this university is the same as it was when I attended and I think for the most part I can see that the players are spry and dedicated and I look forward to the fall."
More from Key below.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football hosted its annual Blue-White spring game Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium. Catch up with Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin following the final spring session.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football is set to cap its 2018 spring season with the annual Blue-White spring game Saturday afternoon. In the 15th and final spring practice of the season, the Nittany Lions will take to Beaver Stadium for a 3 p.m. outing with live coverage on the Big Ten Network.
In a different place than perhaps any spring season under the head coach of Penn State head coach James Franklin, the Nittany Lions have a mixture of depth and veteran experience, all responsible for driving yet another productive slate of practices.
On the heels of a second consecutive 11-win season though, what's next for Penn State following a series of departures that has more than 10 former Nittany Lions headed toward the upcoming NFL Draft is especially intriguing.
Among the intrigue of course is the addition of six early enrollees, a vital group who arrived in Happy Valley at just the right time to work their way into the mix at a variety of critical-need positions.
"I'd make the argument that this is where the mid-semester guys are so valuable because without them, it would obviously change the way we would run the game and the way we run spring practice," Franklin said earlier this week after breaking down the format of the spring game.
Released yesterday, Penn State's blue and white rosters feature mostly one's on the blue squad with two's and three's competing for spots assigned to the white team.
While Franklin described Saturday's Blue-White game as one final opportunity for total team evaluations, it's whole new game day experience for Penn State's newest Nittany Lions.
The Nittany Lions took spring practice 12 to Beaver Stadium last weekend, as all six early enrollees passed through the tunnel under a completely different circumstance.
"I went up to Coach Franklin and I said this is what I committed here for," linebacker Micah Parsons said. "Even with the fans not there, I just imagined them from when I was a recruit and it was just insane."
For tight end Zack Kuntz, it was special moment among the early enrollees as they gazed around before eventually finding each other on the field, this time for practice instead of a visit.
Ask any Nittany Lion early enrollee and they'll describe the process of transitioning from a high school senior to a college freshman as anything but easy.
all done very well," Penn State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach
Brent Pry said. "They work, they want to do right. They want to do everything
they can to compete with the old guys. They want to play. That's why they
enrolled early. They want to play in the fall, they don't want to redshirt."
The willingness from the group to compete at the highest level from winter workouts on through spring ball has been both obvious and impressive to staff members to teammates.
"About a week before I came here, Coach Pry said winter workouts are pretty tough but I was thinking it would be like a normal hard work out that I've been through," Parsons said. "That first one was probably one of the most intense workouts I've ever been through in my life."
Parsons can remember his first few winter workouts where he often finished last. Progressing through the winter, he worked his way toward the middle.
"I think I stayed right in the middle all the way until the last winter work out," Parsons said. "I came in and I didn't get any sleep the night before because I was thinking about the last winter work out. I said to Coach Pry, I'm going to come in top five in this 400 lap."
Fueled by his work ethic and a desire to earn his spot from the very beginning, Parsons finished in the top four.
A quick glance up at the record holders listed the wall inside the Lasch weight room already has Parsons on it. Listed under linebackers, a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash in winter 2018 - Parsons, M.
In the thick of spring practices, there were still wake-up call moments, learning to adjust to the speed and tempo of the collegiate game and of course, an experienced offensive line.
"I came in off a blitz and Chasz Wright, a fifth-year senior, 346 pounds, I was running across the middle a little high, but not too high, and I tried to come in and he just knocked my block right off," Parsons said.
In his transition from Mike to Will linebacker though, Parsons soaked in everything from his teammates, learning best by listening.
"As a young guy you just listen and learn," Parsons said.
For someone like Kuntz, he listened when his veteran teammates told him find time for the JUGS machine.
"I try to get 100 balls before practice, 100 balls during practice from reps and everything and 100 balls after practice," Kuntz said.
His only problem?
Being the only early enrollee on the offensive side of the ball doesn't always match his schedule with his fellow newcomers. So Kuntz opts to work alongside his lifting partner, junior tight end Danny Dalton.
Within the first week of arriving on campus Kuntz met with the quarterbacks to begin learning the offense, taking points from quarterback Trace McSorley before putting them into action on the field.
"Coming early I knew it was going to be a challenge but I knew it was going to be an advantage as well," Kuntz said. "Being able to get reps right away, I'm learning it by physically doing it. If I do something wrong, now I know if I'm in that situation again, this is what I do should do instead of what I did before."
Come Saturday, both Parsons and defensive end Nick Tarburton will represent the blue team. Kuntz, along with safety Isaiah Humphries, cornerback Trent Gordon and linebacker Jesse Luketa are all slotted on the white roster.
Penn State's Blue-White game features the Nittany Lion roster split into two teams (blue and white) with quarterbacks wearing the opposite jersey color of their team. With regular scoring, all four quarters will be 11 minutes in length with a running clock, and the final 2:00 of each half at game timing. Stoppages will occur for penalties and change of possession. Each team will have two timeouts per half at 45 seconds each, with an additional 1:30 timeout at the first change of possession after the 6-minute mark in each quarter. There will also be a 2:30 break at the end of the first and third quarters.
Penn State fans will have the opportunity to receive autographs from their favorite Nittany Lions Saturday from 12:15 - 1:05 p.m. outside five stadium gates at Beaver Stadium. Team posters will also be available while supplies last.
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