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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."

By Brian McLaughlin, Student Staff Writer GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State opened the fourth quarter on a 11-to-0 run against Northwestern and never looked back, topping the Wildcats 67-59 Wednesday night in the Bryce Jordan Center. Read More

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By Brian McLaughlin, Student Staff Writer GoPSUsports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State opened the fourth quarter on a 11-to-0 run against Northwestern and never looked back, topping the Wildcats 67-59 Wednesday night in the Bryce Jordan Center. 

The Lady Lions struggled with turnovers in the second and third quarters, allowing Northwestern to open up a lead as large as 13 late in the third quarter. After four consecutive turnovers for Northwestern to start the final frame, Penn State took advantage and brought the energy.

"I think as a group we were lackadaisical to start the game and it took us a while to realize we were down and I think everybody's mentality changed," junior guard Teniya Page said. "It shouldn't be like that, we should come out ready to play but we have to change our mentality and be a little more aggressive on the defensive end." 

Both teams struggled out of the gate to find rhythm offensively, with the Wildcats scoring just seven first quarter points. For the Lady lions it was the second and third quarter where they could not get going, shooting just 31 percent from the field in the second quarter and 33 percent in the third.

"We had a lot of turnovers in the second and third quarters with 17 on the game and in those first three quarters we were turning the ball over a lot. They were also live turnovers which can sometimes be deflating. We didn't really respond to turning the ball over," head coach Coquese Washington said. "In the fourth quarter we were better defensively and didn't turn the ball over. We talked in the timeout about having a lot more energy in the fourth quarter especially in the defensive end." 

Defensively the game changed when Washington switched her team's defense to a man-to-man style and applying a lot more pressure. Amari Carter and Siyeh Frazier each snagged multiple passes from Northwestern to get easy layups. The start to the fourth quarter was able to give the Lady Lions the push they needed to finish the game.

"Positive plays generally can give you a lot of an emotional push, and when you can string two or three positive plays together it really works," Washington said. 

The entire team struggled throughout the game from the field, but all of a sudden everyone was making huge plays in the fourth quarter. 

"We were also getting some key contributions from a number of people. Amari Carter made some plays, De'Janae (Boykin) made some plays in the fourth quarter, Siyeh was all over the place defensively and Jaida Travascio-Green a big three late in the game," Washington said. "Teniya of course got to the free throw line and made some plays. So a big positive was it wasn't just one person we got huge contributions from lots of people on the floor. That makes it a lot harder for the defense to key in on one person." 

Page led the Lady Lions with 22 points, and also contributed with three steals on the defensive end. That defense is an area that Washington believes is extremely underrated in Page's game. 

Penn State will get the next week off before travelling to Nebraska next week in their final Big Ten road matchup of the season.

Pregame Reading: Nittany Lions Ready for Ohio State Finale

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since Penn State's stunning buzzer-beater victory on the road at Ohio State in late January, there's no doubting the Nittany Lions have perhaps the most momentum they've had all season. With wins in four of its next five games Penn State has won its last three straight, returning home to the Bryce Jordan Center fresh off a road win at Illinois. Read More

Pregame Reading: Nittany Lions Ready for Ohio State Finale

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since Penn State's stunning buzzer-beater victory on the road at Ohio State in late January, there's no doubting the Nittany Lions have perhaps the most momentum they've had all season. With wins in four of its next five games Penn State has won its last three straight, returning home to the Bryce Jordan Center fresh off a road win at Illinois.

The Illinois win moved Penn State to 8-5 in conference play, good for sixth in the standings, also marking the most league wins for the program since the 2010-11 season.

Now set to meet Ohio State Thursday in an 8 p.m. tipoff, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers is calling for white out conditions.

"To be able to win the way we did just shows the growth of the program and the talent and buy in of the program," Chambers said. "Really, if that doesn't get you excited to come Thursday night - 8 p.m., whiteout. We need everybody to show these guys support because they play a fun style." 

Bench Development
Increased bench production has been a point of emphasis for Chambers throughout the season. With foul trouble nagging at the Nittany Lions, Chambers was pleased with what he saw from the bench against the Illini.

"I was super excited for our bench guys, Nazeer [Bostick], Johnny [John Harrar] and Jamari [Wheeler] and Julian [Moore]," Chambers said. "They were fantastic to hold down the fort while we were in foul trouble there. I thought they gave us great, great minutes and I let them know that during the game and I let them know that after the game."

Bostick finished one point shy of a Big Ten career-high mark with seven points against the Illini. Wheeler, who currently ranks second in the Big Ten with 42 steals on the year, also dished out three assists in addition to a pair of steals.

All About Us
Headed into a final regular season matchup against Ohio State, Chambers noted the focus still remains on the Nittany Lions.

"It's really about us and what we can control, what we do, what our principles are, what our foundation is and what our mental conditioning says and states," Chambers said. "It's really about us again, to keep taking steps and getting better."

That step-by-step approach to getting better has been a staple of Penn State's continued development throughout the season and something the Nittany Lions have started to see coming together. 

"That's a massive marginal gain at the end of it," Chambers said. "That means you're getting five or 10 and 20 percent better every time you step on the floor or in film sessions. That's the goal with the team right now. Stay present, stay right here, get a little bit better, get that one percent better and then God willing, get ready to compete against Ohio State."

Speaking of Ohio State ...
Penn State's win against the Buckeyes earlier this season was one to remember for sure as the Nittany Lions knocked off then-No. 13 Ohio State for a victory against its highest ranked opponent on the road since 2009. 

It was Carr's three at the buzzer the secured the win, as the Nittany Lions shot a school record 78.6 percent from the 3-point line. Marking its best performance of the year, Penn State went 11-for-14 from behind the arc and 5-for-5 in the second half.

As Chambers noted though, the Nittany Lions aren't exactly going into Thursday banking on another record-setting night from 3-point range.

"I would say if we can defend and rebound like we did in the second half at Illinois, holding them to 16 points, that was be pretty good," Chambers said. "It goes back to our foundation, our identity and who we are. If the shots aren't falling, well now we have to rely on our defense and our rebounding. If we can defend and rebound and get out in transition, well now you're getting easy baskets and you might not need 11 three's. Now you just need good quality shots."

A Bit on Bates-Diop
Chambers called Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop one of the best in the Big Ten and the Nittany Lions will have to contend with his ability to make clutch plays when called upon. 

Just 10 days ago Bates-Diop reached the 1,100 career points mark following a 35-point outing against Illinois. Heading into the matchup he's currently ranked second in the conference with

11 double-doubles on the year. Ranked first in the Big Ten averaging 19.9 points per game, he's also ranked first in the conference and 15th nationally averaging 7.52 defensive boards per game.

THON Features: Teammates Unite For The Kids

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One of Penn State's most impactful weekends on campus has nearly arrived. As more than 700 students take to the floor at the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State football's Charlie Shuman and Nick Scott will be among the passionate individuals dancing for the cure. Read More

THON Features: Teammates Unite For The Kids

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One of Penn State's most impactful weekends on campus has nearly arrived. As more than 700 students take to the floor at the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State football's Charlie Shuman and Nick Scott will be among the passionate individuals dancing for the cure. 

Both Shuman and Scott will dance for the cure for childhood cancer of course, as the annual 46-hour dance marathon kicks off Friday evening. Shuman will dance on behalf of the Penn State Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) for the second consecutive year, while Scott will dance for the first time, representing the student leaders organization. 

While football pairs the two as teammates, it's the desire to support families impacted by childhood cancer that's uniting their cause.

As SAAB's treasurer this year, Shuman had the feeling he would be selected to dance again. It was only cemented when a few dancer spots came open.

For Scott, football experiences sparked his interest, but he chose to go outside of what he calls his "athlete bubble" to do more.

"I think throughout my career I've done a lot through the football program for the community and I wanted to make sure that I left my footprint somewhere other than the football field and influence people other than using my jersey to do so," Scott said. 

Scott took to social media to help raise funds for his organization to earn dancer spots. He started a Facebook page to spread awareness for his cause.

First introduced to THON during his freshman year, Scott was part of the football pep rally routine and made his first visit to the Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey with the team. 

"I got to see what the kids go through on a day-to-day basis and that was really tough for me since the first time I visited Hershey my freshman year," Scott said. "I knew I always wanted to help out people who are struggling, especially kids. I've always wanted to take it a step further and do more outside of the football team."

Last year Scott joined his girlfriend on the floor as a member of her pass list, which gave him a bit more of an idea of what to expect. His pass list this year features Johnathan Thomas, who he'll lean on when fatigue begins to take its toll. 

On the floor for the entire 46 hours though, is Shuman, who Scott won't have to spend too much time looking for when it comes to finding his 6-foot-8-inch teammate for a boost of motivation.

"The first thing he told me was not to expect him to give me any piggy back rides, which is fair," Scott said with a smile. "I understand he's dancing too." 

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Shuman knew he wanted to do it all again from the moment he finished THON 2017 - even though he didn't exactly remember the final moment.

"I was my normal self until right up to the end," Shuman said. "It was really important to read the dancer mail. I had a letter from a kid I know from back home who suffers from cancer so being able to read that, I was like okay, if he can do this every single day, I can do this. One more hour of my life is nothing compared to the battle he has for the rest of his life." 

Shuman's biggest piece of advice for Scott though, is simply to remain positive.

"Charlie's a pretty positive guy so if I get down I'll start to feed off of him a little bit and vice versa," Scott said.

While Shuman can offer tips to Scott and his SAAB teammates ahead of time, it's the type of adventure where preparation comes better through experience.

"You kind of have to experience it for yourself," Shuman said. "I can give everyone as many tips as I want, but everyone is going to react to staying up for 46 hours differently."

Come Friday, the two will actually be on different teams for the weekend, with Scott on the purple team and Shuman on the orange team. 

Shuman's thoughts on the matter?

"We're going with 'compete in everything you do' throughout the weekend for sure," Shuman said.

Pep Rally Prep
There's no sneak peek when it comes to this year's THON pep rally dance from Shuman or Scott, which debuts Saturday night. 

"They're working really hard," Scott said. "I've been a little bit involved, just making sure they're staying on the right track answering any questions they have and what to expect. I think these guys have a real shot."

In the spirit of THON weekend, check out the 2017 THON pep rally dance below.

By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As sophomore gymnast Sam Zakutney returns from his slate representing Canada at Canada Elite in early February, sophomore Stephen Nedoroscik and freshman Brennan Pantazis will get their turn to represent the Blue and White and United States gymnastics this weekend, as they travel to Las Vegas, Nevada to compete against other elite Americans in the coveted Winter Cup. Read More

By Madeleine Balestrier, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As sophomore gymnast Sam Zakutney returns from his slate representing Canada at Canada Elite in early February, sophomore Stephen Nedoroscik and freshman Brennan Pantazis will get their turn to represent the Blue and White and United States gymnastics this weekend, as they travel to Las Vegas, Nevada to compete against other elite Americans in the coveted Winter Cup.

 

"We've been training really hard and are ready to rock it out at Winter Cup," Nedoroscik said.

 

After he secured a spot to compete in last year's United States Championships, Nedoroscik signed and sealed his first opportunity to prove his pommel horse dominance at the 2018 Winter Cup.

 

"Well it's pretty huge because there is only two of us going out this weekend," Nedoroscik said.

 

Nedoroscik's roommate and travel companion, rookie Pantazis, will be competing in the all-around. As a new edition to the Nittany Lions this year, Pantazis impressed and qualified for this upcoming meet through his dynamic all-around performance during the first meet of the 2018 campaign.

 

"Brennan...qualified through...West Point Open this year," head coach Randy Jepson said. "They take the top three all-arounders from each meet around the country. Five different meets and he qualified in."

 

Just as Zakutney returned to the birth place of his gymnastic dreams in Canada, Pantazis' gymnastics career will come full circle as he intertwines his Penn State training with his Silver State gymnastic roots in Nevada.

 

The two impressive and mature underclassmen have a number of daunting tasks ahead of them as they compete amongst the most elite gymnasts in the country and as they look to fill the shoes of past Nittany Lion gymnasts who have had the honor to compete in such a highly coveted event. Last year, Penn State's Leroy Clarke, Dominic DiFulvio, Michael Burns and Favian Valdez represented the Blue and White at the Winter Cup.

 

"It's all the best guys in the country, it's not just the best guys in college," Jepson said. "So, you have the guys who have competed at the World Championships for the USA this past fall. Those are our best guys so you get a good measuring stick to where you are with the best."

 

As the 2018 Winter Olympics forge ahead, Nedoroscik and Pantazis will get their own taste of Olympian company as they compete against the likes of 2016 Summer Olympians Sam Mikulak and Alex Naddour.

 

"They will be ready to go," Jepson said on his student-athletes. "Gymnastics is one of those things where you are in a field of some really good guys, but you really compete against yourself."

 

Since the Winter Cup is a two-day competition, the young gymnasts only have one day to impress in order to qualify for the second day of competition; their performances on Thursday will determine their access to Saturday's events. The stakes continue to grow as a second day of competition will help their qualifying chances for other national competitions and events down the road.

 

"If you qualify for the second day you automatically qualify for the US Championships so you don't have to go through that qualification process again for another meet," Jepson said. "So, it's nice to be able to do that but it's challenging there is fewer spots this year than there have been in the past. The national team is smaller now by a little bit and so that means you know that those spots are really very coveted."

 

The goals are set high for the Nittany Lions.

 

"My goal is to win," Nedoroscki said. "Realistically, just to place enough to get podium."

 

As the entire Penn State men's gymnastics team continues to train and build upon their victory against the Ohio State Buckeyes last weekend, two Nittany Lions will look to carry that momentum into another high stakes competition across the country.

 

"I was really happy with the mental approach from our guys," Jepson said. "They were really fierce and tough. We've been talking about being poised and they showed that's just kind of part of who they are now."

Rested Nittany Lions Ready for Michigan State

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By Andy Kuros, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 16 Penn State will travel to East Lansing, Michigan for its final regular season road series of the year in a crucial matchup against Michigan State. Read More

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