By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As NCAA Tournament play approaches, the Nittany Lions are eager meet a familiar opponent, set to open the first round against Delaware. Penn State fell short in its first loss of the season in the first meeting against the Blue Hens during the regular season.
"The last time we played them was not one of our best games and we've grown so much from that point in the season," sophomore midfielder Maddie Morano said. "I think we're all excited to put that progress into play and put them up to the challenge. I don't think we're completely letting that loss go, we're keeping it in the back of our mind as motivation and re-focusing what we did in those games to improve upon it and just bring everything we have to the table for this weekend."
The Nittany Lions powered through both the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament with a 16-4 overall record, ready to bounce back from a loss in the Big Ten finals.
"We're always trying to learn a lot from our last game," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "I really like the way that we competed in the Big Ten Tournament this year, starting with our Iowa game and finishing all the way with Michigan. We had a lot of 70 minutes of intensity on the field, but I feel that we really need to do a better job of our awareness of positioning on the field, our vision of our options as well, so we've been working on doing a better job with possession.
"This season marks Penn State's 32nd all-time appearance at the NCAA tournament. Last season, Penn State fell to Princeton in the first round, but the Nittany Lions feel confident their progress in tempo and aggression will show at their second showdown with the Blue Hens.
"I honestly don't feel pressure and I don't think the team feels pressure," Morett-Curtiss said. "I think we just are hungry for this opportunity and anticipating playing Delaware again. [The earlier meeting this season] wasn't our best performance of the season and I felt that we controlled a lot of the game but didn't really put the focus inside our 25's in the game, so that's really what we've been working on this week at practice, that inside-25 defending and inside-25 attacking. We're excited we have another shot."
Penn State's playing much differently than it did early in the season though, highlighted by continuous improvements that have only elevated the level of team confidence.
"I think you see when we're playing from the beginning of the year, we've really improved from the beginning of the season," Morett-Curtiss said. "It really makes the team feel that confidence. We've been very aggressive at the start and at the end of the game so we haven't really had any of those lulls in the game with regard to our tempo and intensity, which I really like. We've been working hard, but we have to work smarter."
Among continuing improvements, Penn State has devoted film time to focusing on improving defensive play.
"We need to do a little bit better job backing into our defensive end. Staying up, pressuring the ball. But we've definitely improved from an attacking standpoint and with our communication with each other."
For Dembrowski, it's all about showing up, as NCAA Tournament time has arrived.
"This past weekend was tough for us and I think it's really motivated us to go into the tournament and show up strong and show people we're in it to win it," Dembrowski said.Penn State will travel to Storrs, Connecticut to face Delaware at 2 p.m. Saturday.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a few days separate Penn State football from its return to Beaver Stadium following back-to-back road trips.
Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin and wide receiver Saeed Blacknall met with members of the media following practice Wednesday evening. Catch up on a few highlights from the media session.
We Salute You
The Nittany Lions welcomed members of Penn State's ROTC programs for the final few periods of practice. Following practice, coach Franklin and the team took time to shake hands and briefly meet with the practice visitors.
"We just want to be appreciative and respectful and obviously there are so many different groups and organizations on campus and in the community and with it being our military appreciation game this weekend, we wanted to make sure we connect with those guys," Franklin said.
Something that has now become yearly tradition, Franklin noted the Nittany Lions have forged relationships with the group, now exploring possibilities for teambuilding and leadership projects in the future.
Growing up in New Jersey, Blacknall noted that he has plenty of connections and relationships with individuals on the Rutgers roster. While he's not communicating with them during game week, he noted it's kind of like high school when they actually line up on opposite sides of the field.
"It's like a throwback, like a high school reunion and you're just coming back and you know how they play and they know how you play," Blacknall said. "Obviously you've gotten better because you're in college but it's just one of those things that's cool to me."
Speaking of High School ...
During playoff season, Blacknall's high school team only lost three games. The final loss of course came against now current teammate Jason Cabinda's high school team.
"It was snowing, it was a terrible day," Blacknall said. "My quarterback couldn't even drop back to throw a pass to me. I was open so many times and you just had him bull-rushing through the line sacking my quarterback probably 10-15 times and then they handed the ball off to him every play. I think it ended up 21-0, it's something I don't like to think about, he always jokes about it too."
Blacknall of course noted that in his junior year, it was his team that sent Cabinda's high school team off the field with the loss to get to the state championship.
Focus on Physicality
Franklin noted that playing with more physicality is more of a mindset than it is something that can be drilled in practice.
"I think sometimes we're happy with just blocking the guy as well as we think we need to, to get the job done rather than sending a message and trying to finish a guy and pancake blocks and things like that," Franklin said. "I had a talk with a number of guys this week, these guys have done this. They've done it in their careers and they've done it in high school, I've seen it but they've kind of just been satisfied with what we've been doing."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's basketball is less than two days out from its official regular season opener. Nittany Lion head coach Patrick Chambers met with members of the media Wednesday afternoon for the first time since media day to preview Saturday's 4 p.m. opener against Campbell.
For Chambers, the Nittany Lions are better connected as a team than they've ever been, with a pair of exhibitions providing an early look at how the increased chemistry has translated to the court.
In his seventh year at the helm of the program, Chambers noted the Nittany Lions are right where they should be, but the emphasis Friday will all come down to playing hard and competing.
Echoing what he said postgame following an exhibition win against Bloomsburg, the dress rehearsal is over, and the focus has shifted toward stringing together promising spurts to shape a cohesive 40 minutes of Penn State basketball, all beginning with the 122nd season of Nittany Lion hoops, which starts Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Chambers noted that the original plan was to open the 2017-18 campaign on the road, but one thing after another brought the Nittany Lions back to the Bryce Jordan Center for their opener, opting for a 4 p.m. tip time due to Lady Lion game at 7 p.m. in addition to Penn State's annual homecoming parade.
"I think it's going to be awesome, I'm hoping people get up here early," Chambers said. "Hoping there's going to be excitement on this campus - I know there will be, especially with homecoming and the game."
The Nittany Lions kick start the season with four games across an eight-day stretch, but all four games are at home with Penn State also hosting Montana and Columbia in the University Park Regional of the Legends Classic, which wraps up at the Barclays Center in New York the following Monday and Tuesday.
Following the opener, Penn State will also host Farleigh Dickinson at 5 p.m. Sunday.
The fast and furious start to the season is by design for Chambers, who said consistency is the top priority when it comes to challenges facing the Nittany Lions this year.
"We're the same team that beat Michigan State and we're the same team that beat Maryland and the same team that beat Minnesota, the same team that beat Georgia Tech," Chambers said. "We had some really great wins, but can we be consistent the next night? That's what I'm looking for."
Outside of the tight turnaround scheduling, there's also something called mental conditioning playing into the consistency, two words the Nittany Lions have been hearing and maybe even feeling, a lot from Chambers.
"They think practice is over and we'll do one more drill," Chambers said. "In practice, doing a shooting drill and it's got to be crisp and clean. I keep talking about mental conditioning, mental conditioning. The charity event came at a great time, to do that for hurricane relief was awesome and Lafayette did a wonderful job of welcoming us down there but it turned out to be mental conditioning for us too because we're able to play back-to-back."
A Great Day to be a
Earlier today, Penn State announced new roster additions in Rasir Bolton and Myles Dread, who have both signed a National Letter of Intent during the early signing period.
Chambers couldn't be more thrilled with the early signees, noting both check all the boxes when it comes to a pair that checks all the boxes from winning experience to competitive drive.
"Myles can play one through four, he's that tough," Chambers said. "When we first started recruiting him, he was playing small forward - lost some weight, got in shape, changed his body. He was always a very good shooter, that was always the case."
He also noted Bolton's shooting skills and high IQ as strengths.
"He [Bolton] played for a really, really good AAU program in Team Loaded and he's playing down in Massanutten right now and they're playing at a really high level," Chambers said. "It's a different stage and he's got to go against the best. The one thing I've asked him to do is really work on being more vocal and leading, and he's done that. He's been the loudest guy in the gym, positive or negative."
A Quick Glance at
Campbell will also open its 2017-18 campaign Friday afternoon, coming off a 19-18 season that included an appearance in the Big South final and an appearance in the CIT quarterfinal round.
Led by fifth-year head coach Kevin McGeehan, the Camels return the core pieces from last year's team, including All-Big South guard Chris Clemons, who finished the year ranked second nationally with 25.1 points per game with a school-record 904 points last season. Clemons also recorded six 30-point games, scoring at least 29 on three other occasions last year.
"From what I'm hearing, he's averaging 40 in his exhibition and scrimmages," Chambers said. "I've watched some tape already on them and he's dynamic, he's like an Allen Iverson except probably a better outside shooter. He can really score the basketball."
By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State men's hockey, success is found in doing the little things, something that's at the forefront of weekly preparations for the Nittany Lions.
"We know we have to improve, but just trying to do the small things right every day," assistant captain and senior defenseman Erik Autio said.
The Nittany Lions travel to Indiana this weekend, returning to Big Ten play against the newest conference member, Notre Dame. Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky isn't making the focus totally on the opposition this week in practice though, instead the focusing on improvements within the program.
"Right now we're all on us," Gadowsky said. "Where we are, I don't care if it's conference or nonconference, it's pretty well defined what we are doing this week."
After tying the Fighting Irish in game one of last year's series in South Bend, a win in game two marked the beginning of an 11 game win-streak for the Nittany Lions. In order for history to repeat itself this weekend, the defensive unit has to improve.
A point of emphasis for the Blue and White has been defending against the odd man rush. Last weekend alone, the blue line allowed three goals on nine power play opportunities.
"I think we have to initiate starting defense earlier," Autio said. "Right now we're backing up too much on top of the goalie."
Penn State's skillset on defense will be put to the test this weekend with the Fighting Irish already finding success in scoring on the odd man rush. Notre Dame leads the Big Ten offensively on the power play, converting their last nine of 35 opportunities.
The Nittany Lions will also look to rectify a slow start coming off puck drop. Mercyhurst scored in the first 13 seconds of game one, something the Nittany Lions will look to reverse headed into a four-game road swing.
"We just have to come in with the mentality of winning the first five minutes," senior defenseman Trevor Hamilton said.
The areas of improvement don't fall solely on the shoulders of the defensemen though, rather on the team as a whole. As Hamilton noted, it's a group effort for both forwards and defenseman to get back and help the goalies.
On a more positive note, freshman Cole Hults continues to step up, making an impact in his first season for the Nittany Lions.
Hults registered a pair of assists in each game of last weekend's series, extending his career-high point streak to eight games. He's also continuing to build the connection alongside Autio as line partners."I feel like we have a lot of chemistry, we've been building that ever since he stepped on campus," Autio said. "Obviously he's an amazing player, a smart player, so it's really easy to play with him."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football returns to action Saturday, returning from the road to host Rutgers in Beaver Stadium. Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin met with members of the media in his weekly press conference. Offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez and wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins also joined for a pair of media sessions.
Following back-to-back road trips, Beaver Stadium is a welcome atmosphere for the Nittany Lions.
"It's great to be home. It's great to be back for homecoming," Franklin said. "It's great to be hosting military appreciation. It's great to be in our own surroundings and in front of our fans and loved ones and things like that. That's great."
For wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins, returning to Beaver Stadium is all about the comforts of home.
"There's no environment like here. The fans are great," Thompkins said. "The environment is great. We feed off it as a team. We do a great job at home, as you know. It's just good to get back to your bearings. And being in an environment that you're comfortable playing in."
An area of improvement identified by Franklin has been increasing physicality up front. For Gonzalez, that's an area that comes down to mindset and the way the Nittany Lions approach practice. More specifically, it's incorporating everything into more of a finishers mindset, working through the whistle the entire week of practice rather than holding out for gameday.
"I think it's a huge challenge not only for me, but for the rest of the offensive line and I think that's the real emphasis this week, to try to improve that. That's what we do every week to try to improve our physicality. I think that will be our mindset this week, and just try to be as physical as we can against Rutgers."
On The Quote Board -
- Franklin on improvements to handling in-game momentum shifts.
"On a positive note, one of the areas that I thought we've been struggling on defense this year with sudden change and I thought our defense handled the three turnovers extremely well. Those three turnovers came out to be two punts and one take away. So that was a real positive. We want to build on that."
- Thompkins on blocking.
"I knew that the biggest thing coming into Division I football is blocking. People are big. They're strong. And I'm for the that big. I'm not that strong. But blocking is all about Hart. That's the one thing Coach Gattis tells us is you can train all you want, blocking drills, all this and that, but is it comes down do you want the person behind you with the ball want to score. And I want receiver person on offensive to score. I go all out for blocking and my teammates.
- Gonzalez on Rutgers.
"It's a challenge every week to try to face a defense like them. They're physical. They're a big group. And they're coming off a few games where they've won. Obviously they're coming off a hot streak. It's always going to be tough. And they're going to come in and try to knock us off. And they're going to come in with a lot of momentum, so we just have to be prepared for it."
- Thompkins on how running back Saquon Barkley has handled himself in the last few weeks.
"One thing that I admire from him [Barkley] is he's a team player, he's not one of those guys that goes in demands the ball. He knows the type of players we are as receivers. He knows the type of player Mike is at tight end, he knows Trace and et cetera. But that's one thing that he handles very well is he knows he's not the only piece to the puzzle and he's willing to sacrifice that for the success of the team."
- Franklin on Barkley
"Saquon is one of the better football players, if not the best football player I've ever been around. He's able to be explosive in so many different ways, and that's what we want to do. We want to get the ball into his hands in a lot of different ways. I think that gives us the best opportunity to be successful."
- Gonzalez on where his game has grown the most this season.
"I think I've just gained more confidence in my game. I think last year, toward the beginning, I wasn't really confident. It took a while to build it up and I wasn't really clicking with the offensive line, I was kind of a lone wolf. I think this year I just made a lot of changes. Obviously with my faith, just believing in the process and believing in my abilities and the confidence grew. It's a product now and I've been playing pretty decently."
- Thompkins on dealing with adversity.
"One thing I would say is that even though it's a tough loss you also learn from wins as well. Just because you win a game doesn't mean you didn't have mistakes. Whether it's a win or a loss, with maturity it becomes even though we've won, hey, I did not play a perfect game. There's things that I need to work on and improve. That just comes with, like you said, maturity. That's something we have as a team, is we know that no matter how much we win by or how much we lose by, the mistakes will show. And that's something that you have to take into account, understand what happened, why it happened, and then just go on to the next week."
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