By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Championship season is always the most exhilarating.
This weekend the Penn State cross country team travels to the University of Iowa to begin its post-season and face some familiar foes at the 2014 Big Ten Championship meet.
There's a lot of excitement surrounding the event as the Nittany Lions prepare to face a handful of ranked teams including the No. 1 Michigan State and No. 4 Michigan women and the No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 14 Michigan men.
While the teams will look to build off their previous meets and show improvement against their elite opponents, they're mostly excited about the intensity that comes with conference racing.
A pair of senior women consisting of Lauren Mills and Katie Rodden will travel to the Big Ten Championship for their last time but the days leading up to the race haven't lost their thrill.
"Championship time is always fun. [The] Big Ten [Championship] in general is always a good meet," said Rodden. "It's tradition that ten days out [from the event] we have themed days [at practice]. It's something silly to get us excited."
There were a few nerds and some barn animals running around the course at practice this week but the fun didn't distract the team from their goals.
"Same mindset going in," said Rodden. "Obviously [we're looking for] improvement and I know people were satisfied [last meet] but we know that we can do better. At the Big Ten meet you know all the colors and you can see exactly who you need to beat."
The freshmen women have stepped up to the plate this season showing consistency and determination. They are sure to display their best performance yet at their first conference championship outing.
"Particularly on the women's side Elizabeth [Chikotas] and Jillian [Hunsberger] have been making an impact and have been consistently in the top five this year. I'm excited to see what they can do at the Big Ten meet. It's very competitive but they're prepared," said head coach John Gondak.
"It's exciting to have them. Even though they're freshman they act older and more mature and I'm confident they are going to race well," said Rodden.
On the men's side, the pack is full of depth and experience, a change and advantage compared to previous years.
"[The] upperclassmen are leading the way and they're prepared and have a lot of experience. [They're] looking to make their mark," said Gondak.
Fifth-year senior Matt Fischer is returning to the Big Ten Championship as one of the top athletes after posting a third-place finish in 2013. He is accompanied by strong competitors like Brannon Kidder and Robby Creese.
"We as a team are no different than the other ones. We train the same and there's no need to have expectations lower than any other team," said Fischer. "We have some high goals. We're looking for one of those days where everyone has a great race and there's no better place to do that than at [the Big Ten Championship]."
The teams will rely strongly on their confidence to help them get through the weekend but they're determined to have a great time regardless of the outcomes.
"I'm fantasizing about dream outcomes for the team," said Fischer with a smile. "It's easy to be really engaged because it's a small [competitive] environment."
"It's the Big Ten meet, you're just looking forward to going out and watch everyone go head to head," said Gondak.
The Big Ten Championship will mark its 100th anniversary on Sunday morning at the Ashton Cross Country Course in Iowa City, Iowa. The women are set to begin their 6k run at 10:45 a.m. CDT and the men will compete in an 8k run at 11:45 a.m. CDT.
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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
By Miranda Kulp, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After defeating Maryland to end the regular season, the Penn State women's soccer team is ready for the Big Ten Tournament.
Penn State scored in 25th minute on a shot from Frannie Crouse to claim a 1-0 lead, an edge the Lions would never relinquish in the regular season finale.
With significant postseason implications on the line for Maryland, Penn State shut down the Terrapins to end its regular season with 17-2 overall record.
"We knew Maryland was going to come out fighting since they needed the win," said senior Emily Hurd. "We were able to match their energy right away and I think we did a great job keeping the lead."
Having already clinched the 2014 regular season Big Ten title with its win over Iowa on Sunday, the team treated this game as preparation for the postseason.
"There is definitely a different mindset going into this game," said head coach Erica Walsh. "If we didn't get it right it can turn into a slight letdown but I think the team did great job coming out and looking sharp for the game."
In their last guaranteed game on Jeffrey Field, the Nittany Lions already looked postseason ready on Thursday night.
"The biggest message today was that this game should be treated like the start of the tournament," said Walsh. "We need to continue to grow and keep staying focused. We want them to view this not as the end but as the beginning of something new."
The players know how important the conference tournament is and are using last year's defeat in the semifinals as motivation to come back stronger than ever.
This season has shown the depth and talent of the team, proving the Lions' potential to carry their success into the postseason.
"I think we're continuing to grow and putting together great performances which will carry us all the way through the Big Ten tournament," Hurd said.
Hurd is no stranger to the tournament and understands the demands and strains that are put on the players during the postseason.
"The Big Ten Tournament is so different. It's a lot of games in a short amount of time," said Hurd. "With such a demand on our bodies we need to not only mentally prepare but make sure we stay physically healthy also."
With such a diverse mix of players in significant roles on the roster, this tournament stands as both a last shot for the four seniors and the start of a new chapter in the freshman's careers.
"I'm very excited being a freshman and this being my first Big Ten Tournament. It's nice having the seniors to look up to," said freshman Maddie Elliston.
During the regular season, the freshmen have credited the leadership of the seniors for contributing to the team's success.
The four seniors have seen every high and low possible during their years at Penn State. Although they lost in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament last year, the senior players are motivated to make their last postseason a memorable one.
"These five years have gone so fast. I'm extremely happy I chose this to be my home for the last few years. I still can't believe it's almost over." Hurd said.
The Big Ten Tournament begins on Wednesday in West Lafayette. Penn State will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Game Notes | Gameday Central | Maryland Scouting Report | Coach Franklin Wednesday
Press Conference Roundup | Coach Smith Q&A | Player Q&A Video
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the first time in 21 seasons, Penn State (4-3, 1-3) and Maryland (5-3, 2-2) will collide on the gridiron on Saturday when the Big Ten East Division foes meet at noon (ESPN2) in Beaver Stadium.
The regional foes have met 37 times prior to this week's matchup in Happy Valley. Maryland is the eight-most played opponent in Penn State's history. The Nittany Lions own a 35-1-1 mark in the all-time series against the Terrapins, with the lone setback coming in 1961.
On the heels of a superb second half against No. 13 Ohio State last week, the Nittany Lions enter the eighth game on the schedule with confidence. Penn State's defense kick-started a stretch of 24-unanswered points for the Lions in a 31-24 double-overtime setback to Ohio State last week. The Lions shut out the Buckeyes in the final two quarters of the game.
The Nittany Lions remain ranked among the top units in the country in three of the four major statistical categories. Penn State is No. 3 in rushing defense, No. 7 in total defense and No. 9 in scoring defense. After tallying 19 stops against Ohio State, senior linebacker Mike Hull is ranked sixth in the nation with 11.9 tackles per game.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg led a 77-yard scoring drive in the final three minutes of regulation to send last week's game into overtime. Hackenberg continues to rank among the top signal callers in the Big Ten. He is leading the conference in passing with 265.9 passing yards per game. Coming off a Penn State record-breaking 14-reception effort against Ohio State, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton is the nation's top freshman receiver in receptions (57) and receptions per game (8.1).
Maryland fell to 5-3 on the season following a 52-7 loss at Wisconsin last week. The Terps are 2-2 in conference play during their first season as a member of the Big Ten. Maryland knocked off Indiana (37-15) and Iowa (38-31) en route to a 2-1 start to Big Ten play. The Terrapins are ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total offense (373.9 ypg) and 13th in total defense (458.4 ypg).
Saturday's game will feature the Penn State Dance Marathon (THON) for the event's amazing fundraising efforts in the fight against pediatric cancer. THON will present the logo for the 2015 Dance Marathon and the final total amount raised in the 2013-'14 academic year.
Additionally, the Maryland game will be the annual celebration of all Commonwealth campuses. Two students from each of Penn State's 24 campuses will proudly represent their campus by carrying its banner onto the field during halftime.
Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week eight matchup against Maryland.
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. Head coach James Franklin said it best earlier this week when he talked with GoPSUsports.com. Following the second-half efforts against Ohio State, Franklin wants to see the Nittany Lion offense take the next step against Maryland this week. Penn State found some momentum and success in the latter stages of Saturday's game with two critical scoring drives, which sent the contest into overtime. Freshman Saeed Blacknall hauled in the first touchdown reception of his Nittany Lion career on a 24-yard throw from Hackenberg. The offense also marched 77 yards on its final drive for a game-tying field goal attempt in the final seconds of regulation. Finding consistency in the trenches will be critical for the Lions moving forward, and Franklin is hopeful that senior captain Miles Dieffenbach could see some action for the first time on Saturday.
2. Simply put, the Nittany Lion defense turned in a dominant performance against Ohio State. Hull's stellar 19-tackle effort speaks for itself, but the Nittany Lion defensive line has played at an elite level during much of the 2014 season. The impact Penn State's D-Line has made on every snap doesn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet every week, but the group has been disruptive on a consistent basis. Ends Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan, Carl Nassib and Brad Bars have all made a tremendous impact off the edge. Inside, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson have been among the top interior tandems in the Big Ten. Zettel is leading the defense in tackles for loss (8.0) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (2), which includes his interception return for a touchdown against Ohio State.
3. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop challenges the defense to force more turnovers every time it steps on the field. Penn State's two turnovers against Ohio State played a paramount role in the team's ability to put itself in a position to win last week. The Lions enter the final five games of the season looking to extend the streak of forcing a turnover in five-straight games. The Penn State defense has forced 10 turnovers in the past five games.
What to Watch For - Maryland
1. Maryland senior quarterback C.J. Brown is a dynamic player for the Terps. The team's leader in rushing and passing yards, Brown is ranked second in school history in touchdowns responsible for (50). Brown is one of just 10 active players in the FBS to pass for 4,000 or more yards and rush for 1,000 yards. In 2014, Brown has thrown for 1,316 yards and rushed for 376 yards. He has accounted for 13 touchdowns this season (8 passing; 5 rushing). Brown's favorite target is junior Stefon Diggs, who has big-play ability every time he touches the ball. Diggs, who has at least one reception in 26-straight games, has made 46 catches for 601 yards and scored five touchdowns in 2014.
2. Maryland's defensive unit provides the look of a 3-4 scheme. Senior defensive end Andre Monroe is a name to watch on Saturday. Monroe is ranked third in the program's history with 21.0 sacks. He leads all active players with 32.5 TFL for his career. Maryland is tied with Michigan State in sacks during conference games this season (13). Cornerback William Likely has been a difference-maker in the secondary for the Terps in 2014. Likely has two interception returns for a touchdown this season, and he ranks fourth in the Big Ten in passes defended per game. As a unit, Maryland has 14 takeaways this season.
3. The return game has been a big piece of Maryland's success this fall. The Terps boast the Big Ten's top punt returner and kickoff returner in Likely and Diggs, respectively. Likely has one punt return for a score this season and is averaging 16.3 yards per touch. Diggs is averaging 25.2 yards per return each time he touches the ball on kickoffs.
The Final Word:
Dating back to 1917, Maryland is one of Penn State's oldest foes. Separated by just 198 miles, the Nittany Lions and Terrapins played 37 times from 1917 to 1993. Penn State and Maryland met during every season from 1960-'75 before a one-year break. The two teams then played one another during each season from 1984-'93 before the series took a break. Now, as members of the Big Ten East Division, Penn State and Maryland will meet on a yearly basis. The Nittany Lions are unbeaten in 21 games played against the Terps in Happy Valley. Penn State and Maryland will play at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in 2015. Kickoff is slated for 12:01 p.m. on Saturday with Beth Mowins, Joey Galloway and Paul Carcaterra on the ESPN2 broadcast.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of Penn State men's hockey. This evening, the Nittany Lions take on Bentley.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Sixty-two days ago, head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss took the mic at fall sports media day. With senior captain Laura Gebhart at her side, she told audience members that her team's chemistry would prevail this season. She was right. The Nittany Lions have had a fantastic regular season, with one conference game remaining. Despite some tough losses, including an overtime loss to 2013 NCAA champion UConn, team chemistry and leadership has always prevailed.
New Year, New Turf, New Schedule
The Nittany Lions opened up the regular season with two exhibition games against Pacific and Delaware. With a pair of wins under its belt heading into the regular season, Penn State was able to work out the little things before starting the Big Ten schedule.
The Nittany Lions' home record is nearly perfect. With only one loss at home, coming in overtime against Michigan, Penn State has owned its new turf. Coach Morett-Curtiss said at the beginning of the season that the turf would be a smoother surface than the one before. Since Penn State is arguably one of the fastest teams in the Big Ten, a flatter surface allows for them to play quicker hockey. The Nittany Lions have been able to score in the first six minutes of play, at home, nine times this season. Aside from averaging three goals a game, the Nittany Lions have been able to draw a total of 130 corners this season, which speaks volumes to their offensive strategy inside the circle.
Maryland and Rutgers were new additions to the schedule this year. The Nittany Lions shut out Rutgers 3-0, but lost to Maryland 4-3.
During the game against Maryland, it was clear that senior leadership guides this team. The Nittany Lions were able to narrow the loss margin to just one goal with a strong second half effort from the senior class.
Offensively, the Nittany Lions have benefited from experience, along with the play-making of Jenna Chrismer, the finesse of Taylor Herold, the post play of Amanda Dinunzio and the speed of Natalie Buttinger and Casey Haegele.
Defensively, Penn State is consistent because of senior captain Katie Andrews and fellow senior Katie Breneman. Fifth-year senior keeper Kylie Licata has been solid in net this year.
Senior captain Laura Gebhart will be leaving behind big shoes to fill, as she controls the field from the center mid position. Her versatility on both offense and defense is unmatched by most players in the Big Ten and NCAA in general. Her poise on the field has helped guide the Nittany Lions to many victories this season.
Coming Full Circle
Needless to say Morett-Curtiss's predictions about her team were right. She predicted that Maryland and Rutgers would be tough additions to the schedule. She knew that her senior leadership would lift her team to many victories. She understood that this year had the potential to be a big year for the program.
With one conference game left on Friday against Northwestern, the Nittany Lions will prepare for the Big Ten Tournament and hopefully berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The sky is the limit for this team.
By Meghan Miceli, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "I feel proud that I'm representing Penn State in a different light than the majority of students," diver T.J. Schenkel explained.
During the 2013-'14 season, Schenkel was the top diver for the men, posting personal bests in both the 1 meter and 3 meter events.
In addition to spending hours at the pool each day, Schenkel is working towards a degree in energy engineering.
"It's pretty difficult, I have an extra 20 hours of things to do compared to most of my classmates," Schenkel said. "I pretty much have to get all my work done before 12:30 and practice."
When it comes to practicing, Schenkel has seen a change since his freshman year. The turnover in coaching staff at the beginning of the 2013-'14 season brought a change in training.
"The training is definitely more intense," Schenkel explained. "It's not spending more time at the pool necessarily, but the time that is spent there practicing is more challenging- we went from three morning practices a week to six."
Schenkel especially has noticed a change in training this season.
"The coaches have really hit their groove, and are pushing to take the program in the direction they saw fit from the beginning," Schenkel said. "It's different from last year, but it's definitely a positive."
Practices can consist of weight training, water training, or at times trampoline training to learn new dives.
"Diving is all about staying consistent," Schenkel explained. "It's a lot drills and perfecting the basics. The best way to do that is repetition- dives are built on the easy stuff."
Beginning at six, Schenkel has been diving for more than a decade.
"My mom wanted me to join the swim team," Schenkel said with a laugh. "But I said 'No, I'm joining the diving team.' We still to this day have no idea how I found out about diving but here I am."
Schenkel is the only senior diver on the men's team, and is looking forward to ending his final season on a high note.
"The toughest competition is definitely coming up," Schenkel said. "Michigan and UVa. are both great teams, I'm looking forward to that meet."
Schenkel is also looking ahead to Big Tens. Last year, Schenkel finished 14th at the Big Ten Championships in the 3 meter and is looking to place again this year.
"I'm really working towards scoring more points at Big Tens," Schenkel explained. "Last year I was the first diver to score in about five years, so I would really like to come back and place higher this year."
Although his collegiate career will come to a close in 2015, Schenkel plans to continue to dive.
"There's a big masters program," Schenkel said. "That kind of alleviates the grieving process of ending my career as a Nittany Lion. I'm definitely not ready to be finished with diving any time soon."
Catch Schenkel and the rest of the Nittany Lions on Friday as they take on the Villanova Wildcats in McCoy Natatorium at 3 p.m.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There's been a changing of the guard for the Penn State men's basketball team.
Not just the guard position, where the departure of all-time assists leader Tim Frazier leaves a void, but also with the leadership of the team in general.
Sure, returning All-Big Ten guard and leading scorer D.J. Newbill is looked at as the leader of the program. But Newbill can't carry the Nittany Lions alone, and that's where Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis come in.
Taylor and Travis aren't unfamiliar names with Nittany Lions fans by any means, as both forwards are returning starters. This year however, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers will need them to take the next step as both players and leaders.
"D.J. was a huge leader last year for us, and after meeting with coach, me and BT have to step up and assist him," Travis said. "Especially with a big younger class coming in. Our job is to help D.J. and step up and be more vocal leaders and really take charge there in practice.
"The voice doesn't always have to come from coach, it can come from us as well. Just being out there and being a vocal leader is one of the main things we're going to go out there and do."
It's clear that Chambers thinks highly of both players, as he has named them team captains along with Newbill and senior guard Kevin Montminy.
At media day, the pair looked comfortable talking about their new roles as they sat beside Newbill, a spot that last year was regularly reserved for Frazier.
While it is no surprise for Travis to be named a captain since he is a senior, it will be a slightly different adjustment for Taylor, who is still just a junior.
"For me, it's just learning from [Newbill and Travis] and trying to be the best leader I can be," Taylor said. "It's just learning from the older guys who have been here before, to help the younger guys, because I was a freshman not too long ago."
Being vocal and assertive will certainly be a big part of the duo's responsibility this season, but it will not be everything. The Nittany Lions will need both of them to produce on the court as well.
While both are forwards, they each bring a different skill set to the court. Travis is a banger that has used grit and determination along with every ounce of his 6-foot-7, 235 pound body to lead Penn State in rebounding the past two seasons with 7.2 boards per game over that stretch.
Taylor, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 235 pounds, averaged 4.9 rebounds last season but has the ability to score both in the paint and from outside, having registered 14 double-digit scoring games last season.
The key for them this year will be consistency, as they look to lessen Newbill's scoring burden now that Frazier, last year's second leading scorer, has graduated.
"During the offseason, I worked on a little bit off ball-handling because I can help now, I can dribble a little bit," Taylor said. "Then just working on my intermediate game and working on my post and becoming a better post player because that's something we need here and something we haven't had the last few years."
Consistent scoring down low is definitely something the Nittany Lions need and an aspect that Taylor (9.2 points per game last year) and Travis (8.4 points per game) will both try to work on throughout the season.
It is also a role that Chambers believes Taylor is especially suited for, especially after an offseason in which he trimmed down his physique in addition to working on his game.
The fourth-year coach compared the Tabernacle, New Jersey, native to Draymond Green, the former Michigan State star and current Golden State Warriors forward.
"I compare him to Draymond Green, who could really post up a lot of people, and Brandon worked on that early in the summer," Chambers said. "First part of the summer he chiseled down, he's right around 13 percent body fat where he was up in the 20s when he came in [as a freshman]. He worked on getting stronger and his post-up game, because we need him in the post to get us some easy baskets."
In addition to Taylor and Travis, the Nittany Lions will have plenty of help down low from 7-foot-1 junior center Jordan Dickerson, 6-foot-10 forward Julian Moore and 6-foot-9 junior forward Donovon Jack, who will see plenty of minutes in the frontcourt.
With four players who all started games last year and Moore fighting for starting spots, it isn't guaranteed that Taylor and Travis will start every game. Still, that doesn't change their roles on the team.
"How we handle the reps is just us taking the time and watching the younger guys and what spots they're in," Travis said. "The earlier we make corrections now the less we'll have to make them during the games."
More than half of the Nittany Lions (nine out of 14 players) are either juniors or seniors, and it's that experience that Chambers believes separates this Penn State squad from past teams. A big part of that experience is the duo of Taylor and Travis, and it's their development that could take the Nittany Lions to the next level this season.
"I think right now, I think they're enjoying developing as leaders," Chambers said. "We're spending a lot of time together after practice. We'll have meetings in my office, so far it's been once a week, and we're making really difficult decisions on how to handle life, on the court and in the locker room. It's going well so far."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Penn State defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry M. Smith
spoke with the media on Thursday. The
Nittany Lions host Maryland on Saturday at noon (ESPN2). Take a look at a
Q&A with Smith.
Q: What are your memories of the Penn State-Maryland series? You played in a couple of those games when you were here as a player.
Smith: "Back a long time ago when I played (laughter), the games were always competitive. We've always had players on our roster from Maryland. So there is always a battle for recruiting ground. It was always a physical game. It was always a tough game to mentally prepare for because you knew the physical battle that was coming. We anticipate another tough battle again on Saturday. Both teams have to get back on track after tough weeks. And it is going to be a battle for each to get back on track."
Q: With Troy Apke set to be on the field for the first time on Saturday in the secondary, what have you seen from him in practice?
Smith: "Troy is an extremely athletic kid. He is very explosive. He is very fast. He has very good size. He's also a bright kid. He's going to bring added athleticism to us. He's working really hard in practice to get caught up on his special teams assignments and his secondary assignments. He just brings a wealth of athleticism to us."
Q: How have you guys had to change your play-calling, so to speak, in the secondary with Ryan Keiser out? Coach Franklin has said he was like the quarterback of the secondary.
Smith: "Keiser is the quarterback. He helped us stay in the right call. He is a terrific communicator. Now, with a freshman safety back there, Marcus (Allen) did a really good job back there this past week against Ohio State. He's communicating a lot better each day as we speak. He's getting more reps. There is a little more demand on his communications skills, and he is doing a terrific job. All of the other secondary guys - Adrian Amos, Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams - they have to increase their communication as a whole. It was very loud in the game against Ohio State. We just have to do a better job as a whole, verbally and physically, communicating our signals."
Q: How would you sum up the year Jordan Lucas has put together so far?
Smith: "With Jordan, I think he is playing really good. He has been consistent all year. He hasn't given up many pass completions in his area. He's extremely physical. He knocked the ball out on a hit in the game against Ohio State. He brings a lot of leadership to our secondary. He's a guy that's been through it. He's a guy that when the lights come on, it doesn't matter to him. He can help the younger guys, like Marcus (Allen), to get through those moments. He's brought a wealth of experience to us. We want to try to get him to the point - he hasn't had an interception on the year, but he hasn't had a lot of opportunities, too, which a lot of times offenses go away from who they think is the best defensive back. So his opportunities are limited. I just told him that you have to be prepared for when the one or two come."
Q: You've worked with a number of units in your career, most recently wide receivers, what went into the move to working with corners, and how do you think it has gone?
Smith: "I knew for me to achieve my long-term goals, I needed to get some defensive experience. I didn't think it would come necessarily so quickly. But when the opportunity arose, I took advantage of it. And Coach Franklin had enough trust in me to handle the corners. I think so far this season we are playing really sound football. We have been really consistent in the secondary. And that's the most important trait right now."
Q: What have you seen from the Maryland passing game?
Smith: "In the passing game, they have a tremendously athletic (group) on the perimeter. Stefon Diggs is a very explosive athlete. He leads them with 46 catches. I think he has scored in the last four games. We need to keep him out of the end zone and keep his explosiveness away. Deon Long is a guy who can stretch the field. He is a good-sized athlete who has a lot of playing experience. And then they have another couple guys. Marcus Leak is a guy who can stretch the field. He's very fast. We've got to make sure we contain his speed. And then Jacquille Veii - he's kind of a do-everything guy. They try to get him some touches for him. We have to be able to contain their athletes on the perimeter when they run quick screens and bubbles. If we can contain them, obviously the No. 1 goal for the defense is to stop the run, but at the perimeter and in the secondary, we need to contain their athletes and not let them have explosive plays."
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Coach Brandwene Interview
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Christi Vetter enjoys debate, but there is no debating her athletic versatility.
The 5-foot-11 freshman forward arrived at Penn State having been a four-sport athlete during her high school years at Lakeville North.
She skipped playing high school hockey during her senior year to pursue Nordic skiing. Vetter was a four-year letter winner in golf and a three-year letter winner in cross-country.
"In high school I was a four-sport athlete," said Vetter. "I played hockey obviously. I was in Nordic skiing my senior winter instead of playing for the high school [hockey] team. I was on the golf team, and I ran cross-country."
Vetter is an excellent golfer, which translates well into a hard slap shot on the ice. She holds her high school record for lowest score on the links.
"My lowest score was a 69.... I guess I hold the high school record for now," said Vetter.
The coolest sports story during Vetter's high school career came back in 2012-13 though when her team fell to Minnetonka in the longest game in Minnesota high school hockey tournament history. Current teammates Amy Petersen, Laura Bowman and Hannah Ehresmann beat Vetter and Lakeville North in a six overtime marathon.
Vetter still remembers the story.
"That was awful," said Vetter. "I was on the first line, so I was out every other shift. Once it got towards the second and third overtime it ended up being my line on the ice until we couldn't skate any more, and the second line was on the ice until they couldn't skate anymore.... It was really intense. I dislocated my thumb sometime during the game. I was removed from the ice. They wanted me to stop the game, so I went into the tunnel, had them pop it back in, taped it up, and I finished the game.... It was a nine period game, so six overtimes. It ended around 1:15 in the morning."
In fact, it was Petersen who scored the winning goal on a controversial call. Unfortunately for Vetter and her team, the goal could not be reviewed because those in charge of replay left the rink at 11 p.m.
Vetter's height, strength and hockey IQ make her a perfect fit in head coach Josh Brandwene's system.
The Lakeville, Minnesota, native was a member of the USA Hockey U18 National Team in 2012, but she says that her experiences with the squad are different than collegiate game.
"The U18 National Team it was completely competitive all the time," said Vetter. "You're friends, but you're not best friends. You're competing against them constantly. Here, we are all friends. We're all family. We get along so well, so it's a completely different environment."
Once Vetter stepped foot in Happy Valley, she knew Penn State was where she wanted to play collegiate hockey.
"I came to Penn State because it has a great academic reputation as long as a phenomenal athletic reputation," said Vetter. "And, when I came to visit I knew quite a few Minnesota girls, and they introduced me to some other girls on the team. I thought they were girls with great character, so I wanted to play with girls like that."
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The recipe for success can be modeled after Penn State women's volleyball senior Micha Hancock. The ingredients are simple - be competitive, be tough, work hard, be a leader and be humble.
Hancock is adorned with many awards during her decorated Penn State career. She was the 2013 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, was named AVCA First Team All-America for two consecutive years, was named a finalist for an ESPY, among many other accolades. All of the recognitions begin with Hancock's drive to be the best.
Hancock started playing volleyball when she was very young. Her mom, a volleyball player herself, brought Hancock into the gym with her before she could even walk. When she was nine, she began playing competitive volleyball with her older sister.
The Oklahoma native grew up trying to keep up with her sister, who is three years older, whether it was on the court or off. This is where Hancock's competitive spirit originated.
"Even when we're running to the car, I want to get there first. I've always been pretty competitive," Hancock said. "I feel like it's in my blood."
Hancock's competitive nature grew with her and eventually became a part of her. And it helped her land a spot on Penn State's roster. In high school, Hancock was committed to play volleyball at another college. During spring break of her senior year of high school, she visited Penn State, talked to head coach Russ Rose, changed her commitment... and the rest was history.
"I liked the staff, I loved the campus, I loved the school, and I had heard great things about it, so I made the decision to come here," Hancock said.
Her teammates and coaches have appreciated her competitive nature as well. In fact, Rose's favorite part about Micha is how competitive she is.
"She's really competitive, she's got a great arm and she's physically competitive," Rose said.
Hancock and associate head coach Salima Rockwell have a close relationship and it shows during matches. Against No. 17 Ohio State on Tuesday night, Rockwell took Hancock aside and had a one-on-one conversation with her during a time out. As Rockwell spoke, Hancock nodded her head, seeming to be on the exact same page as Rockwell.
"Micha's awesome. She's so much fun to coach. She's someone that's confident. And she's a severe competitor," Rockwell said.
Playing on the court with a player like Hancock benefits the entire team. Teammate and friend Megan Courtney said she has formed a great relationship with Hancock over the past three years.
"She's like no other person I've ever played with. She's competitive, she's a great role model, she does what she does really well and she expects the best out of you," Courtney said. "She's a great person to play with because she's never too high or too low. She's always consistent."
That's the sound of the crowd in Rec Hall while Hancock serves. The cheer, replicating the sound of a bomb, is because of her aggressive, explosive serve.
Her serve came from playing as both a hitter and a setter in her early years of volleyball. She uses the skills she learned from being an attacker in her serving. Hancock has 322 career aces, a program record.
Being an attacker gave Hancock the skills to become a successful hitter on the team, as well. Against Ohio State, Hancock had five kills on seven swings.
Hancock is both mentally and physically tough. She rallies the team after losing a point, dives for every ball and serves tough.
Freshman Haleigh Washington admires Hancock for how tough she is. Washington said she hopes to play like Hancock one day.
"[It] doesn't matter if we're down, [it] doesn't matter if were up, [it] doesn't matter what's happening, she's a really tough kid. She's a hard worker, she'll hit the ground, she'll dive, she'll roll around, she'll keep going, she'll get criticism," Washington said. "She's a tough kid that can handle a lot. It's really admirable and it's something that I want to develop as a player myself."
Hancock's efforts against Ohio State did not go unnoticed. In addition to her five kills, the senior setter had four digs and a season-high seven blocks. She is working hard both physically and emotionally as a leader of the team, trying to rally the team and increase the level of play during the remainder of her senior season.
"The biggest thing were trying to focus on is coming out of the gate strong. It's nice to have three 3-0 wins in a row, you feel like you're getting tighter with the group," Hancock said. "We needed to have more energy [earlier in the season] and I think we've been showing that with our 3-0 wins."
Hancock has been a hard worker since she stepped on the court. She holds the Penn State record for career aces, she has been named Big Ten Setter of the Year, AVCA First-Team All America, Big Ten Player of the Week, Big Ten Freshman of the Year and much more.
Her hard work paid off in 2013 when the team won the NCAA National Championship. But surprisingly, that isn't her favorite memory as a Penn State women's volleyball player.
"[My favorite memory] was the two years leading up to the national championship because it created the fight we had that third year, my junior year, to win the championship," Hancock said. "And that's the most important thing, just being a team."
Be a Leader:
As a freshman playing in every match, Hancock was guided by seniors, who showed her the ropes of Penn State women's volleyball. Now, as a senior, it's her time to be a leader.
Her goal for her senior season is to continue as a successful leader of the team.
"[My goal is to] lead the best I can, get as much out of this team as we can," Hancock said. "I'm trying to work with the staff, work with the girls individually, watch film, know what I can be better at and ease the path to hopefully compete for a championship."
Hancock's leadership during matches is what sets her apart from other players. In every huddle, she is the one telling her teammate, 'good job', telling the team what to do next and encouraging the team after a lost point.
During timeouts, after Rose talks to the team, it's Hancock's turn, getting the players ready for the next series of points.
She's the first to high-five the player who got the kill, ace or block, and she's the first to lift a teammate's spirit after an error or lost point.
Washington said Hancock's leadership has been efficient and it has helped her adjust to playing college volleyball.
"She keeps us very focused, which is a good trait to have, especially as a leader. She focuses on the next point, focuses on staying calm, focuses on staying excited," Washington said. "She makes sure that we're paying attention, that we're ready for the next play and that we know what's going on. Especially as freshman, we haven't played the game very much, she keeps us locked in."
From a coaching standpoint, Rockwell also sees her success as a leader.
"She's a senior now, she's got that sense of urgency. She wants to win, she wants to be great," Rockwell said. "The girls feel that, they follow along with that. She's doing an excellent job leading this team."
The match against Ohio State on Tuesday was an important match between two Big Ten teams. The Big Ten Network had a camera set up on the court during warm ups and most of the time, the camera was on Hancock.
As she stretched, jogged and talked to teammates, the camera was right there with her. But not once did she act differently, or even acknowledge that that camera was on her.
Courtney said that despite the attention that Hancock gets for her level of play, she always remains humble.
"She gets a lot of hype for how good she is, but if you actually have a chance to talk to her, and sit down with her and actually have a meaningful conversation with her, she is so down to earth," Courtney said.
As a senior, this season is Hancock's last time in a Penn State uniform. She said being a senior feels very different.
"I definitely feel the urgency of senior year and trying to lead these girls, the young ones especially, who have so much talent," Hancock said. "It's great to see them working hard, but also getting them mentally prepared for the years to come. It's really fun."
After graduating, Hancock hopes to play professionally.
"I love the game so much, and that's what I want to do," Hancock said.
The team and the Penn State volleyball community will miss Hancock when she graduates, but her legacy will live on.
"I'm really going to miss her, but I wish her the best of luck in what she does. And I know even then, if she plays professionally or for the national team, she's still going to be humble and great," Courtney said. "She's just an all-around great person, not just a great player."