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Seniors Prep for Final Rec Hall Dual

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By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Nittany Lions prepare to host Buffalo Sunday, the seniors are also ready for their final dual meet in a Penn State singlet at Rec Hall. Ahead of a special ceremony planned to honor the eight Nittany Lion wrestlers set to depart the program, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson took just a moment to reflect on the group. Read More

Seniors Prep for Final Rec Hall Dual

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By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Nittany Lions prepare to host Buffalo Sunday, the seniors are also ready for their final dual meet in a Penn State singlet at Rec Hall.

Ahead of a special ceremony planned to honor the eight Nittany Lion wrestlers set to depart the program, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson took just a moment to reflect on the group.

"This has been a special class," Sanderson said. "These guys have had a lot of success in their career but it's a little strange because senior day is the national tournament really. Hopefully Saturday night is the last match and that's kind of our mindset, but at the same time you have to take a second and reflect, and we are very grateful for the seniors and their leadership and the example they've set."

For Sanderson, the real time to reflect comes roughly a month after the season at the team's end of the year banquet following the NCAA national championship. When asked about a few individuals in the class though, Sanderson spoke to imprint the Nittany Lions would leave behind when the time arrives.

Two-time NCAA champion Zain Retherford is among the eight Nittany Lion wrestling seniors.

"Zain's brought everything," Sanderson said. "He has been a great example, he's a tenacious competitor, consistent. Every day he has been in here he's giving us his best and he does the same thing in the classroom. Socially he has been a great leader. Very rarely do you have all those things align in a leader and we've been fortunate the last five years to have Zain in the program. He's been a special one."

For Retherford, it isn't just the success he will remember when his Penn State career comes to a close in mid-March.

"(I'll remember) the relationships I've made with the team, my teammates, with my coaches here and outside of that, with the student body too," Retherford said. "The time I've had here, the experiences, the places we've gotten to travel, I'll just remember all the experiences. I think that will be the biggest thing."

Throughout his career, Retherford has lost just three matches and enters the weekend three pins away from eclipsing the Penn State career falls record. During his time at Penn State, the three-time All-American has always been keen on keeping his focus locked in on the task at hand, taking things one day at a time.

"If you look too far ahead or focus too much on the past results and things that have happened, you don't really compete as well," Retherford said. "I think that's just something I've learned about myself. I compete my best when I'm focusing on the next task at hand. That's what is true to me, so I'm just going to focus on what's ahead."

For someone like junior Nick Nevills, he's learned so much from his senior teammate, but perhaps the most from his work ethic.

"I've never been around somebody that has ever worked this hard and somebody who has pushed himself to a different level," Nevills said. "It's laser-like focus, it's almost unreal. It seems like when it's time to focus, he's a robot, where he can just tune everything out except for what he's doing in the moment. It's pretty cool, but he can also just switch it right back to relaxing and having fun the second we're done with practice. He can put a huge smile on his face and make anyone else on the team laugh."

Penn State will also celebrate the contributions of Matt McCutcheon within its senior group. Although he hasn't been on the mat much this season, his impact and legacy is greater than what the fans might see from the outside looking in.

"Matt has been one of my all-time favorite people in the program," Sanderson said. "He's just a great leader and everybody trusts him. He's a great competitor - this year he's just banged up. Just a great individual, a kid that you would trust with anything and an honest kid. I don't know if there's a better compliment than that, he's an honest, hardworking kid. He means enough to us that he has been with us everywhere and will be through the remainder of the year." 

Both McCutcheon and Retherford will join fellow seniors Jered Cortez, Corey Keener, Carson Kuhn, Devon Van Cura, Ethan Wissler and Kenny Yanovich in Rec Hall for one last time, Sunday at 2 p.m.

Bonus Points
Sanderson noted whoever starts at 197 pounds Sunday will most likely get the nod to represent the Nittany Lions in the postseason. Both Anthony Cassar and Shakur Rasheed have battled for impressive wins this season, leaving Sanderson with a tough decision that he's yet to make.

McLaren and Gear Leading By Example

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions will be back home at Rec Hall this weekend for an EIVA home-opening series. Penn State will lean on the quiet leadership of Matt McLaren and Kevin Gear once again this weekend, kicking things off with Sacred Heart before closing out the weekend against Harvard. Read More

McLaren and Gear Leading By Example

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is off to a 1-0 start in EIVA play following a road win at Saint Francis last weekend. The Nittany Lions will be back home at Rec Hall this weekend for an EIVA home-opening series against Sacred Heart and Harvard.

For Penn State, Sacred Heart is particularly an enticing matchup, considering the outcomes of its two matches last season against the Pioneers. Although Penn State won the EIVA, Sacred Heart defeated the Nittany Lions both times they met last season.

"It should grab our attention and hold our respect for them," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "They've worked really hard to get where they are as a program. Our guys certainly shouldn't underestimate them coming in because they are a team that can be dangerous and they proved it to us last year."

Prior to the season-opener, Penn State made it a team goal to finish undefeated in the EIVA this year. While Sacred Heart provides perhaps some extra motivation after the results of last year's two matches, Penn State acknowledges every EIVA opponent as a challenge.

"We've been the top team in this conference, so we've always had that target on our backs but what we try to do every match, as a whole, is just look at every EIVA match as the same," middle blocker Kevin Gear said.

With right side Calvin Mende still out, Matt McLaren has continued to step up for the Nittany Lions. At Saint Francis, he finished with 12 kills and three service aces in the three set sweep. While McLaren's production has continued to increase throughout the last few games, his coaches and teammates have not been surprised by his emergence this season.

"You've heard the phrase from every coach to 'practice like you play,'" Pavlik said. "What you see out there with [McLaren] on Fridays and Saturdays, we see Monday through Thursday. There's no difference."

McLaren's teammates only echoed the words of Pavlik.

"We've kind of been looking at [McLaren] these last couple of weeks as the standard because he's one of those guys that everything he does in practice, you see him do in the match," Gear said. "There's no doubt in our mind what we're going to get from him. Every single time he's going to do what he needs to do." 

Jalen Penrose also noted how McLaren has been both a terrific offensive option on the court this season, and a teammate who leads by example. 

"He has brought everything," Penrose said. "If you watch the matches, you can see that he has this tenacious effort where it is everything or nothing and to him it's always everything. I love it, and it really helps fire us up a lot."

Similar to his teammate, both McLaren and Gear are two of the more quiet leaders on the team. Preferring to lead by example, both have been two of the most consistent Nittany Lions on the team this season. 

"I bring what I can to the table every day," Gear said. "I'm not that talkative but I like to feel that through my actions I come in and do the work that my teammates need me to do and keep everybody on track." 

Penn State will lean on the leadership of McLaren and Gear once again this weekend, kicking things off with Sacred Heart Friday at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall. Penn State closes out the weekend against Harvard at 4 p.m. in Rec Hall's south gym.
By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After three consecutive high-scoring meets, the Nittany Lions are making significant strides as they reach midseason. Most recently, Penn State faced Ohio State, posting the team's highest score of the season with a 196.025, in addition to tallying its second-highest score of the season on the floor exercise (49.075). Read More

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After three consecutive high-scoring meets, the Nittany Lions are making significant strides as they reach midseason.  Most recently, Penn State faced Ohio State, posting the team's highest score of the season with a 196.025, in addition to tallying its second-highest score of the season on the floor exercise (49.075).

"Ohio state was a turning point for our program," head coach Sarah Brown said. "I thought we handled ourselves very well under pressure, and in a really loud and energetic environment that will be similar to postseason. I think what we've been trying to do is practice like we compete and compete like we practice. So I think it's a balance between coming into the gym and trying to create pressure situations where we can try to simulate the meet, but then when we get to the meet my number one goal is to make it feel like practice, so trying to control those nerves and make sure we don't feel an extra amount of pressure, that we just do what we do well and we've continued to be more calm in competitions as the season goes on." 

One Nittany Lion that remained calm and competed at a high level was junior Sabrina Garcia on the floor exercise, posting a 9.875 to tie for first with teammate Briannah Tsang and two Buckeyes in the event. 

"I definitely think we've gained confidence, become more consistent and hit more routines, and with that confidence I think we'll continue to go up," Garcia said. "With each meet and each practice between the meets we're focusing on the details, so we're focusing on sticking the landings, hitting the handstands, and working on the little things that will improve our scores."

In addition to her impressive floor score, Garcia nabbed a career-best score of 9.925 for her first balance beam title of the season.

 "Before the beam and as I was going through the routine, I was just saying my words, doing what I do in practice, and I went up there with complete confidence in myself and my capabilities in my routine," Garcia said. "Once I finished, it was almost relieving that I was finished and I knew what I was capable of."

Junior Mason Hosek also contributed to the Nittany Lions' team beam season-best score of 49.050 by tying for third with a 9.800. 

"The biggest improvement all together on the beam is just within our mentality," Hosek said. "We kind of changed our mentality from trying to hit a beam routine and hoping we'd make it, to knowing we're going to hit it, and showing the judges what we can do. We're going to continue to hit and show everyone what we got, and finish off the season strong." 

Brown found that the best way to coach the gymnasts into perfecting their routines was emphasizing character and attitude first and foremost while competing.

 "In general, just our attitude going into beam was so much better, we had a certain level of confidence that I knew we had in us that I had seen in practice that I just hadn't seen in competition," Brown said. "I actually talked a little bit less about gymnastics before beam, and talked about the general mood, tone and confidence that I wanted to see from each of the athletes, and I think that that carried over into their routines."

 The Nittany Lions have seen progress all season long, and there are multiple contributing factors to that success.

"Each week we sit down and talk with our sports psychologist and kind of pick a theme for each week," Brown said. "I feel like every theme that we've had and every meeting we've had has kind of been working toward this point, where we're finally trusting each other and the system, because we're starting to see those results week in and week out." 

Penn State is looking ahead to a two-week home slate, which is always a positive for the team, whose confidence shines through in Rec Hall. As the season progresses, the Nittany Lions can also look ahead with hope as the regional qualifying scores for championship meets will be released in the coming weeks. 

"I want to have a good showing this week and next week," Brown said. "Then it's going to be about pacing ourselves after that, because we're on the road for four weeks in a row and that is going to get challenging, but that's what we've been preparing for.  In terms of the way the RQS comes together, having those road scores late in the season should be great for our team."

Garcia and Hosek have faith in not only their own progress, but the progress of their teammates, specifically those who are younger and new to the program.

"I think it comes with relying on our training, having trust in each other and our coaches, and continuing to go into each meet with the mentality that we got this and we have the capability to be great," Garcia said.

"As a team, we've been getting significantly more confident each meet," Hosek said. "Even with the small mistakes we're having each week, it's like we're showing a progression all the way through the end of the meet every week. So travelling and coming back home now, I just feel like this is an uphill battle but we're going to keep rising, I'm extremely excited, I think there's nothing but great things to come of this team and I can't wait to see where we go." 

On top of perfecting their routines and team spirit, the gymnasts emphasize the importance of staying grounded and level-headed, no matter the competition they face.

"All the teams we're going against are obviously a competition each time, so there's no team we're going into knowing we're better or expecting to win, we go in with the same attitude each meet," Hosek said. "But I think that coming home is really nice after being away for a little bit, and building our confidence back at home is really nice before we go away for four weeks again, so it'll be really nice to start us on a drive where we're going up."

 After a full change in coaching staff, a new set of freshmen on the squad, and some new competition, the team is pleased with how the season has been progressing.

"The underclassmen have their footing pretty well now, we're into the mid part of the season, and I think the best advice I have is just to get into treatment as much as you can, resting on our days off, but besides that I think that we're doing all that we can in and out of the gym," Hosek said.

 Grateful for Brown's style of coaching and encouragement throughout the season, Hosek feels that the team has nowhere to go but up.

 "Purpose and composure have been our main two words," Hosek said. "I personally always feel like I come out there with an attacking attitude, that's been my word, and I think that that's shown in the way I've competed and the way our team has competed you can see that we have more composure, and there's always a purpose when we finish the meet. I think that's really been showing and she's really done a great job of helping us find our flow." 

No. 28 Penn State returns home to Happy Valley to host Cornell and Penn in a tri-meet format. The meet is slated for a 4 p.m. start at Rec Hall on Feb. 17.  

THON Features: Higgins Reaches Dancer Goal

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State baseball gets underway in 2018 Friday afternoon. The Nittany Lions travel to Elon, North Carolina for a three-game series as part of a 12-game stretch away from Happy Valley. Read More

THON Features: Higgins Reaches Dancer Goal

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every February, thousands of Penn State students and members of the community gather at the Bryce Jordan Center for one of the biggest weekends of the year.

Penn State's THON takes center stage Friday, as more than 700 students will dance for 46 hours straight to raise money for childhood cancer treatment and research.

One of those dancers is Penn State field hockey's own Delani Higgins, who will dance on behalf of the Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) along with four other Penn State student-athletes from the same organization.

For Higgins, dancing has been her goal for a while, dating all the way back to her high school days in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania.

"I've always wanted to dance in THON," Higgins said. "My high school had a mini-THON and I danced every year in that. I've always gone to athlete hour here as well with my team, which was a really cool way to be a part of THON."

Higgins has learned a lot from former Nittany Lion Carly Celkos, her teammate on the field hockey team who graduated last year. Celkos represented SAAB as a dancer in THON 2017, and she has been a source of guidance for Higgins as the senior prepares for a big weekend.

"Carly told me to get involved with my committee, rules and regulations, and that helped me figure out that I really wanted to dance," Higgins said. "I told Liz Johnson (Student-Athlete Welfare and Development Director) that I wanted to dance and I did whatever I had to do to make it happen. I raised enough money and now here I am."

Higgins and Celkos have also been texting back and forth, with the former dancer giving some key advice to Higgins about THON and the week leading up to it. 

"[Celkos] told me to stay hydrated, especially in the days before dancing and then making sure I have the right shoes and get enough sleep so that I can make it through the full 46," Higgins said. "She said to stay in the moment and have fun because it's such a special event. I can't think about what I'm feeling, only who I'm dancing for." 

While the whole 46 hours will be packed with dancing, making friends and interacting with the THON children, Higgins is looking forward to a few specific events.

"Definitely the pep rally and the final four hours are what I'm most excited for," Higgins said. "For the pep rally, being part of my team and having them support me is going to be really cool. The final four is always amazing, getting to hear from all the families that have been effected by this disease and helped by THON. It's really emotional and a remarkable moment."

Penn State SAAB has two THON families, one of which is very close to Higgins and the field hockey team. The team's athletic trainer, Renee Messina, has a daughter who battled pediatric cancer. Both Renee, Isabella and the entire Messina family have been a huge part of the Penn State field hockey family over the years.

"I'm very close with the Messina's and not just because they're our Four Diamonds family," Higgins said. "Renee took me through my ACL recovery and all that went into that so we really bonded through those experiences. Being able to dance for that family and represent that family is a huge honor for me." 

Higgins also views THON as a chance to represent Penn State athletics, something she is used to doing as a student-athlete but looks forward to doing so in a less conventional way.

"You always see these athletes being so strong on the field and representing athletics just shows that we're involved in so much more than just sports," Higgins said. "We really are a part of this community."

Preseason Five: Penn State Opens 2018 on the Road

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State baseball gets underway in 2018 Friday afternoon. The Nittany Lions travel to Elon, North Carolina for a three-game series as part of a 12-game stretch away from Happy Valley. Read More

Preseason Five: Penn State Opens 2018 on the Road

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State baseball gets underway in 2018 Friday afternoon. The Nittany Lions travel to Elon, North Carolina for a three-game series as part of a 12-game stretch away from Happy Valley.

 

Opening a new season with a fresh slate, Penn State will have to find a few replacements due to graduation. Among the departures, the Nittany Lions will look to fill roles held by starters Nick Riotto and Christian Helsel. Penn State's top starting pitcher, Sal Biasi, will also need replaced as he signed with the Kansas City Royals after being drafted in the 11th round of the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

 

Junior pitcher Justin Hagenman is poised to take Biasi's spot as the ace on this year's staff. Hagenman has been in the team's top three starters in his first two years and has the skills and experience to lead the rotation this year.

 

Penn State does return its top five hitters from last year in terms of batting average. Sophomore Mason Nadeau and junior Jordan Bowersox return as above-.300 hitters, figuring to be an effective duo at the top of the lineup this year.

 

Earlier this week, head coach Rob Cooper, Hagenman and junior catcher Ryan Sloniger took the podium for spring media day. Here are five takeaways from the session headed into opening weekend.

 

Forgetting the Past

Cooper made it clear from the beginning of his press conference that he and the team were not happy with last year's performance, noting things will be different this season.

 

"As a team we did not have a year that we feel is acceptable for Penn State baseball," Cooper said. "Over the course of the last 10 months we've done a lot of thinking about it and looking back on it, the truth is as a coaching staff we didn't do a good enough job for these guys."

 

Cooper said he doesn't want to dwell on past mistakes but focus on what the team can do better this year. With a team more committed than ever, Cooper's excited to see how the closeness translates to wins.

 

"I'm really excited for what these guys have put forth this fall," Cooper said. "I'm excited about our coaching staff. I'm excited about the effort that we've all put in together and I think everybody's going to be real excited to see what kind of team we can put out there this year."

 

Manual of Excellence

Last year, the Nittany Lions decided to seek out a way to change the team's culture for the better.

 

A group of Nittany Lions led by Hagenman and Sloniger soon decided to put together what Cooper called a "manual of excellence." The manual examines what it means to be a Penn State student athlete and what the team can expects from each individual.

 

The manual also focuses on four pillars: leadership, toughness, competing and selflessness. Together, Hagenman, Sloniger and the rest of the team leaders presented the manual to the entire team.

 

"We realized that we needed a change in everything that we do and we thought of four things that could really change how we do things," Hagenmen said. "From that, we put those in the manual and introduced them to the rest of the team." 

 

Throughout spring practices, the team has also substituted one practice a week for a culture workshop to talk about the four pillars and bring a strong, centralized culture back to the locker room. For Cooper, building a strong team culture can turn a team around quicker than any drill.

 

"The culture and the competitiveness I think is so much more important than [drills], so we just decided we're going to make this a priority," Cooper said.

 

Starting Rotation Announced

Cooper also revealed the weekend's starting rotation this week. Hagenman, as expected, will start Friday's season opener, senior lefty Taylor Lehman will start Saturday and sophomore Dante Biasi, Sal's younger brother, will get the nod Sunday.

 

Hagenman led the team in innings pitched last season with 80.1. He started 14 games for the Nittany Lions and finished with a 5.49 ERA.

 

Lehman worked primarily out of the bullpen last season. He started just three games on the mound but led the team in total appearances with 26.

 

Lehman struck out 35 in just 32 innings and also tallied one save during the 2017 season. With Biasi gone, Penn State will rely on Lehman for more starts and more innings this season.

 

The younger of the Biasi's, Dante, will be making his first career start Sunday, having sat out last year with an injury.

 

In 2016, Biasi was drafted in the 22nd round of the MLB Entry Draft by the Chicago Cubs but chose to pursue an education and a collegiate career at Penn State.

 

The starting rotation could certainly change from week to week but this lineup gives fans an idea of what to expect early in the year.  Both Cooper and Hagenman also raved about how deep the pitching staff is this year, with Cooper adding it's the deepest h has been a part of.

 

For Hagenman, it's the freshmen who are impressing him so far, with the potential to contribute early.

 

"[The freshmen pitchers] are right on the same level as anyone else," Hagenman said. "They're pushing us as much as we're pushing them. Every spot is open and they're going after them and I think all the pitchers are going to contribute right away as freshmen."

 

Multi-Sport Studs

Penn State also has a pair of multi-sport student-athletes on the roster in Mac Hippenhammer and Matt McCutcheon. Hippenhammer is listed as both an infielder and outfielder while McCutcheon will be part of the catcher's rotation.

 

McCutcheon could potentially be part of the rotation behind the plate with Sloniger and junior college transfer, Shea Sbranti. Although Hippenhammer wasn't involved in fall workouts, he has made an impression on the veterans in his short time with the team.

 

"He brings a fun energy to our team and I think that's made an impact on us," Sloniger said. "We didn't have him all fall for any practices, so for him to come in, he's jumped in like he hasn't missed a beat."

 

For Cooper, Hippenhammer has been a positive influence in the clubhouse so far, while also exceeding expectations.

 

"The thing about Mac is he has a real love to compete, whether it's on the football field or on the baseball field," Cooper said. "He's really worked hard to make an impact in a short period of time. I'm kind of blown away with his progress."

 

The Wait is Over

After eight long months away from the diamond, both the Nittany Lions and coaches are beaming with excitement to get back on the field and compete against someone other than themselves.

 

"As awesome as it is to compete against your team it definitely is something to get that first weekend started and compete against somebody else," Hagenman said. "Pushing each other in inter-squads, it really gets you ready for the season."

 

While the offseason was extremely beneficial in terms of changing the culture and refocusing on how the team can improve, Sloniger is itching for Friday.

 

"I can't wait. I'm ready to get going," Sloniger said. "We go against each other a lot starting in the fall. I'm ready to see someone in a new jersey and a new face. We've put last year behind us, but it's also something for us returning guys that it's a motivating thing for us to come back and have a good year this year."

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