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VIDEO: Beam - A Mental and Physical Challenge

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - If you were to place two boxes of toothpaste next to one another, they would measure about five inches wide. Now, imagine jumping into the air and landing on top of two toothpaste boxes, four feet off the ground; gymnasts do just that every day when they perform their beam routines.

The Penn State's women's gymnastics team has had a pretty successful run on balance beam so far this season. With a teammate falling in the first rotation almost every meet, the next five competitors have had to "stick" their landings.

"Beam is definitely a mentally challenging event," senior all-around competitor Krystal Welsh said. "If you focus too much on falling, you will probably fall."

Beam strategy changes for most of the gymnasts as they transition to collegiate gymnastics. In club gymnastics, you train yourself to not fall off the beam and you are conditioned to think that the quicker you do your routine, the better.

"I remember in club it was considered a 'good day' if you only fell once in a beam routine," sophomore Emma Sibson said. "Now, we train and focus a lot on the mental side of the event."

In practice, the Nittany Lions employ several mental exercises, transitioning them into competition. As the gymnast approaches the beam, she is taught to focus on a singular voice of one of her teammates, not the crowd or the other events performing at the same time.

"It is funny, we cheer the same way at practice as we do in the meets," Welsh said. "It really is a team effort, from start to finish."

This week, Penn State has moved up to No. 9 in the rankings as they head to No. 14 Illinois this weekend.

"For us to be able to approach beam in this way this early in the season will pay dividends for us later," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "They know how important the event is and they work really hard to help each other." 

By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While other college students attended classes, completed plentiful amounts of homework, and participated in various extracurricular activities, junior Alexis Torres and redshirt senior Nestor Rodriguez competed internationally for Puerto Rico this past fall semester.

"They had a great opportunity to represent their country at the world championship level," said head coach Randy Jepson.

Torres is from Catano, Puerto Rico and Rodríguez is from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Rodriguez was part of the Puerto Rican National Team Gymnasium club team before he started to compete for Penn State. When the opportunity came for the two of them to represent their country, by no means could they turn down the chance.

"We were born and raised in Puerto Rico, so we're part of the team there," said Rodriguez. "Puerto Rico is a small country and they don't have many gymnasts compared to the United States or other countries, so we got to do our job to represent Puerto Rico. We got the opportunity, we're good enough, we made the team, and any athletes at this level is going to say, 'Yes.' This is a dream for everyone, as an athlete especially."

Competing for Puerto Rico against other countries in the world was vastly different than competing at the collegiate level.

"It was a great experience," said Torres. "We were mostly practicing whenever. We only competed once and that's it. It's just like a completion, but it's really different than competing here in the college competitions. It was a definitely a change practicing and trying to train for those competitions and then coming here and trying to practice and train for all the competitions because, here, we compete more consecutively and for those competitions, it's like one day, that's it, and then, we don't compete for months or weeks."

Even though the competitions were different, Torres and Rodriguez still bring a special element to the men's gymnastics team.

"We have the experience on top of every one [on the team]," said Rodriguez. "We've already seen people that went to the World Championship - these are world-class athletes in comparison to college athletes, so obviously, we have that experience on top of them, which is helpful for the team."

Coach Jepson adds that Torres and Rodriguez are great components to the team.

"They're really good," said coach Jepson. "They're just solid guys. They're very clean gymnasts in good difficulty and they're just really big pluses for us. It's great to see Néstor. He's had a career that's been kind of marked by injuries, and we just want to make sure that he's healthy this year and goes out with a strong finish. He's a former All-American and is a wonderful guy to have around as is Alexis. He's a light-hearted and a very talented kid. They bring a lot to the table for us."

With only three meets into the season, it is evident that Torres is making an impact on the team. He was named the Big Ten Co-Gymnast of the Week last week after the West Point Open. Torres has earned four individual titles, two in still rings, one in vault, and one in pummel horse, as well as a Big Ten Honor.

"I just competed," said Torres. "I didn't really win anything or a title. It was just something I saw in the paper, but it definitely motivated me. It made me see for myself that I was doing a good job and in that way, it motivated me to keep going and keep doing a good job."

Unfortunately, though Rodriguez was in Puerto Rico, he was unable to compete due to injury.

"I didn't compete personally," said Rodriguez. "I was recovering from a torn Achilles', but either way, it was a great experience for me just to go watch the team and especially other teams compete and see how they get prepared." 

Rodriguez is currently a senior and could have graduated last year, but by competing internationally, he was given the ability to compete in one final season for Penn State.

"[It] worked out great for Nestor, too, because he was coming back from injury," said coach Jepson. "He could have graduated [last year], but this way, he gets the collegiate season now and he gets to help our team and it was a great situation, a great fit for us. We're really please that they had the chance to get those experiences."

By Astrid Diaz, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A dynamic tradition will continue this weekend when Penn State track and field hosts the much anticipated Penn State National meet, which is set to bring in 27 teams from all over the country to one of the loudest, most energetic atmospheres to date.

The meet has a tendency of bringing out the very best in all athletes and it upholds a tradition of record-breaking, crowd-pumping racing.

"This has traditionally been a meet that has teams from all around the east coast, if not from around the country, because they know we have a fast track here and they want to put up some good marks for their National qualifying spots," said head coach John Gondak.

In last year's meet, the Penn State men broke the facility, meet, and university record in the distance medley relay with a time of 9:26.59.

Additionally, fans saw student-athletes shatter their personal records like Robert Cardina in the heptathlon, Rachel Fatherly in the weight throw, Steve Waithe and Brain Leap in the long jump, and Brannon Kidder was the only athlete from any school to run a mile in under four minutes.

By now, the 2015 Nittany Lions are on full speed, fully healthy and with eyes on the prize. This weekend hopes to be the most competitive to date.

"You're getting to the point in the season now where we've been practicing for four weeks since the break and we're getting close to championship time and everyone is going to start to be in that peak shape...that top shape where they can really put on top performances," said Gondak.

With all the excitement going on, however, the Nittany Lions look to stick with their usual plan - come and conquer.

"The indoor track atmosphere is unlike any other," said Gondak. "People come here and look to be the best they can be," said Gondak. "There's really not one specific event [that I'm most excited about]. The good thing about our team is that we're competitive in all of the event areas. There are so many great races this weekend and so many great field events. I'm excited for it all."

The meet takes place over the span of two days because of the size of the competition so fans, which will be gifted over 500 cowbells for their attendance, are in for an entire weekend of excitement.

"This meet is on the larger side so, logistically, we need to put it over two days. On Friday, we have a handful of field events. We do the sprints, the distance medley, and the 5000m [race]. Then Saturday, [we have] all the open races, said Gondak. It allows for simulating what the Conference meet is going to be like where it's a two-day competition."

The excitement kicks off Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. and on Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

Engineer on the Court: Alan Wisniewski and the Art of Multitasking

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10729300.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was the spring semester of his sophomore year, and Penn State men's basketball forward Alan Wisniewski was facing a dilemma.

He was balancing being a Division I basketball player with the workload that comes with studying industrial engineering, but that wasn't the issue. As a walk-on player, the Sterling Heights, Michigan, native wanted a part-time job to give him some extra money.

Wanting to earn it on his own, he turned to his favorite sandwich shop, Quiznos.

"I was good friends with [the manager], because I used to eat there all the time," Wisniewski said. "I mentioned to him one time, 'I'm not on scholarship I could use the extra money,' He said 'we had a guy quit, you think you could come in for some training before the end of the semester.' That's kind of how it started and he offered me a job."

It may seem like a funny story on the surface, but in reality, it speaks to the type of person that Wisniewski is.

Many players are labeled as "hardworking," but in Wisniewski's case the evidence is right there. Despite being a walk-on and only having a scholarship during the 2013-'14 season, he has shown up everyday the past five years and given the basketball program everything he has while also maintaining his schoolwork and for two years a part-time job.

"Kid's unbelievable," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "His leadership in the locker room, his leadership on the second team. He's totally into Penn State basketball, he believes in the power of attitude. Oh and by the way, he's an engineering major and has a ton of homework and a ton of classes and a ton of labs."

Why has the now fifth-year senior put himself through all that? Well when it comes to Wisniewski, schoolwork has always come first.

Growing up in Michigan, Wisniewski was right in the thick of Wolverine country. When it came time to pick a school however, he was focused on finding a university that gave him the best opportunity to study what he was most interested in, which was engineering.

After considering a number of Big Ten schools, he knew that Penn State was the perfect fit.

"I've always been good at math and science over the years," Wisniewski said. "Growing up those were my strengths in school. I was also interested in business a little bit so I choose industrial engineering, which is kind of a combination of engineering or business. I come from a family of engineers (multiple uncles and his grandfather) as well."

While he played soccer and basketball in high school, college athletics never seemed in the cards until fall of his freshman year when he decided to try out for the Nittany Lions, who were coached by Ed DeChellis at the time.

Standing 6-foot-10, Wisniewski provided Penn State with size that few walk-ons could. Since then, his work ethic and positive attitude have made him both a coach and fan favorite.

In four years (he redshirted the 2010-'11season), Wisniewski has scored 19 points and grabbed 32 rebounds. Still, simply being a part of the program is all that's ever mattered to him.

"I really embrace it," Wisniewski said. "I just try to get the guys better in practice everyday, keep the energy high. I'm usually working with a lot of the younger guys so I'm trying to develop them as players and men and feed off what the coaches are doing."

At the same time, Wisniewski arrived at Penn State solely as a student and his academics are still what drive him. While he is passionate about his major, studying industrial engineering hasn't always been a cakewalk.

Over the past four years, the forward was accustomed to hustling to practice after a long day of class, only to then spend his entire evening with his nose in a book. It wasn't always easy, but it's something he's glad he put himself through.

"Middle of [my college career] I was having sometimes three or four classes a day and spending a couple hours a week doing work," Wisniewski said. "It was really time consuming, I didn't have a lot of free time.

"We have a great academic support group, so we have tutors for any difficult classes you have and they're always there to help you out and always give you the best schedule for what we're doing her with basketball and academics."

And then of course, there was his other talent as a sandwich guru for the popular chain Quiznos. Before the restaurant closed its doors last year, Wisniewski would routinely work 10 hours a week in addition to his other commitments.

The job earned him the nickname "Wiznos," not to mention plenty of visits from his hungry teammates and even Chambers, who brought his family in one night for a meal while his player was working.

"That was one of the more pressure filled situations in my Quiznos career," Wisniewski said. "I had to make a great grilled chicken salad for his wife and that was probably one of the more nerve racking things I've done. She said she enjoyed it so I think it worked out."

Now in his last semester, Wisniewski was able to schedule just nine credits this spring and finally has the chance to relax a bit, though not too much with plenty of basketball still on his plate.

Having accepted a full-time job with the Ford Motor Company, Wisniewski is ready to kick off his engineering career. Until basketball is over, though, he's going to continue to do everything possible to help his teammates.

"Five of the best years of my life, no question about it" Wisniewski said. "Met a lot of great guys, great coaches over the years, built some relationships that will last a lifetime."

"Just an incredible kid, a great ambassador," Chambers said. "He does everything he can for community service, CVC (Coaches Vs. Cancer) to help the program." 

Gilliam and Hill Excited to Be Part of Super Bowl XLIX

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blog_MSU_14_10_2.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's hard to imagine a better script to start an NFL career than the one former Nittany Lion standouts Garry Gilliam and Jordan Hill have crafted with the Seattle Seahawks.

Hill, a second-year defensive tackle, and Gilliam, a rookie offensive tackle, are batting 1.000 in Super Bowl appearances in their short time in the NFL. One trip to the world's biggest football game is a thrill most athletes never get to take part in, so the Penn State duo is not taking anything for granted as preparations continue for Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona (Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on NBC).

"I'm definitely honored to be part of this opportunity and with such a great team," Gilliam said. "Having a chance to play in the Super Bowl in my first year is obviously a huge thing. There are a lot of players who have never even gotten a chance to play in the Super Bowl, so for me to get a chance in my very first year is huge for me."

For Hill, who was a third round pick of the Seahawks in the 2013 NFL Draft, this experience is something he is getting used to.

"I'm just really blessed to have these opportunities, especially back-to-back," Hill said. "Many guys don't even get a chance to experience everything like this. I'm really grateful for the opportunity. And I'm becoming a little accustomed to this, so I'm going to be expecting this each and every year."

Gilliam, who earned a Penn State degree in advertising/public relations following the 2013 season, earned a spot on the Seahawks roster as an undrafted free agent last May. The Carlisle, Pennsylvania, native played in 14 games this season, including one start. Gilliam was a contributor on the offensive line throughout the season, but his shining moment came in the dramatic NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.

Trailing 16-0 late in the third quarter against Green Bay, the Seahawks turned the tide in the game with a gadget play on a field goal attempt. Lined up on the left side of the line during the attempt, Gilliam slipped free into the secondary and hauled in a 19-yard touchdown toss from punter Jon Ryan. A tight end at Penn State from 2010-'12, Gilliam is no stranger to catching passes in games, but this was the biggest play in his life.

"Honestly, I'm pretty sure I blacked out for a split second," Gilliam said. "It was crazy. To be put in that situation and have the coaches trust you with that play and opportunity, and then to go make the play was a surreal feeling. It feels like a dream."

A play that Seattle had practiced all week, Gilliam knew it had a good chance of working in the game.

"It worked in practice, and there is no reason why it wasn't going to work in the game," said Gilliam. "We worked on it for a few days, and it worked out in the game."

Gilliam's score kick-started a rally from the defending Super Bowl champs. Seattle out-scored Green Bay 28-6 during the latter stages of the third quarter, fourth quarter and overtime to win in epic fashion. For Gilliam, the scene in CenturyLink Field brought back visions of a special night in Beaver Stadium.

"It rivaled the night at Penn State when we played against Michigan in the four overtime win," Gilliam said. "You are just standing there in awe and saying, 'wow, I can't believe this is happening.' It was just amazing to see the grind all come together and the character of my teammates in that situation...No one thought we were going to win that game in the second half, let alone the fourth quarter. It was huge, and it shows the kind of guys we have on our team."

Hill, who graduated from Penn State with a recreation, tourism and parks management degree in 2013, came on strong in the second half of the regular season. He had a sack in five of Seattle's last six games, including two against San Francisco on Dec. 14. He finished with 19 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2014.

"Especially during the second half of the year, I just felt more comfortable and able to go out and just play football," Hill said.

A calf injury sidelined Hill following the final regular season game (placed on injured reserve on Jan. 6), but the tenacious defensive tackle has been an active part of Seattle's playoff run.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy because you rarely ever see a team that wins the Super Bowl and gets back there," Hill said. "It goes to show how much hard work everyone in the organization puts in."

Gilliam and Hill add to Penn State Football's illustrious history of Nittany Lions in the Super Bowl. Penn State has had at least one alumnus in 44 of the 49 Super Bowls, including 18 times in the last 20 years. A total of 105 Nittany Lions have been on Super Bowl rosters.

For two of the most prideful Penn State alums, it means a lot to represent the Blue and White on the biggest stage in sports.

"Penn State is such a great University, and obviously the list of great players who have come out of Penn State is so impressive," said Gilliam. "For me and Jordan to be able to represent Penn State is huge for the University, and both of us are from Harrisburg, so it's big for our hometown. And it just goes to show that if you grind, no matter what circumstances you come through, if you keep your head focused, you can make it to the top."

"It means the world to represent Penn State because Penn State means so much to me," said Hill. "Me being a local guy from Steelton right outside of Harrisburg, I wanted to be a Nittany Lion first before I even thought of wanting to be in the Super Bowl. To continue to have the support means a lot."

Adding to the bond between the two former Nittany Lions is the tie to Central Pennsylvania. Both are proud to be representing the Harrisburg area. By no means was it an easy journey for either player to reach the top level of the sport. Both battled through adversity growing up in tough areas, but you won't find two more humble individuals when it comes to the pride in playing for the folks from their hometowns.

"Especially for the younger kids in the community where we are from, to be able to inspire them and show them that they can do whatever they want if they put their minds to it, that's the main thing I am so happy about making the Super Bowl in my first year," said Gilliam. "You know, I cam from nothing and didn't take the easy route to get to where I'm at now. But if you keep focused and don't let the hurdles get to you, you can make it to wherever you want to go."

The Seahawks and Patriots are in the final stages of a busy week in Arizona. While this is Hill's second-straight trip to the Super Bowl, he said that the experience is unmatched.

"You really can't compare the experience to anything else," Hill said. "It's once in a lifetime. It's just one of those things that you just have to do it to even process what is going on around you."


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Back On the Grind: Nittany Lions Excited For Year Two Under Cooper

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By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a typical winter evening in State College on Friday, Jan 23. The temperature was in the low 30s, there was snow on the ground, and yet Rob Cooper had one thing on his mind - baseball.

When you're the head coach of a Big Ten baseball team like Penn State, that's the way you have to think.

"It's 70 degrees and sunny in here, man," Cooper said while looking around the team's indoor practice facility at Holuba Hall. "Look if you're not motivated for the first day of team practice, to get the chance to prepare to represent Penn State University, than there's something wrong with you and you shouldn't be here."

While the Nittany Lions have been training individually and in groups all winter, the squad officially kicked off practice on Jan. 23 in preparation for the 2015 campaign. With their first game less than three weeks away, the Lions know there's no time to be wasted.

Luckily for the second-year head coach, his players share the same mindset as him in regards to getting the season going.

"It's just pure excitement right now," junior relief pitcher Jack Anderson said. "We've been putting in a ton of work the whole fall and winter. We're just really excited to come out and see who's going to make a difference."

Both Cooper and the players enter this campaign feeling more comfortable than they did a year ago, the head coach's first season. Although it didn't take long for the Lions to embrace Cooper's upbeat, high-energy approach, both parties have grown now that they have learned what to expect from each other.

Last year, Cooper adapted the mindset that everyone was a newcomer. Yes, he knew who his veterans were, but at the same time he was aware of the transition that every player would have to make and adjusted accordingly.

Now in his second season, Cooper is stressing accountability with his players, especially the returning ones who are expected to mentor the freshmen.

"All of those guys last year were freshmen from the standpoint of not knowing what to expect," Cooper said. "Sometimes that first year can be like drinking water from a fire hose. So now, you've upper classmen who have been through the program for a year. They know that ok, there's a reason why we're doing this today because it's going to get us ready for these kinds of experiences during the season. And they can help educate the younger guys and bring them along."

That being said, Cooper doesn't believe in easy when it comes to training. The coach is passionate about practice and made sure his team's first session last Friday was as close to a real game as possible with an eight-inning scrimmage.

The Nittany Lions kick off their season with a weekend series against Elon on Friday, Feb. 13, and will play 36 of their 49 regular season games this season (73 percent) on the weekend. Because of this, Cooper wants his players to start treating their days off from class as business right now.

"Friday, Saturday and Sundays for us are game days," Cooper said. "We've got to get our pitchers and our team in the habit of playing [those days]. We've got to get our rotation on schedule. So today (Friday) we're going to intra-squad. It's going to take up a lot of our time."

From a player standpoint, the Nittany Lions are determined to show how much they've improved from last season's 18-32 mark. The Blue and White showed plenty of promise in 2014, winning 10 of 11 games between March 17 and April 5.

Now, the Lions are looking to show they can win on a consistent basis. While the team graduated a number of seniors, they also return key players like Anderson, junior outfielder and top of the order threat James Coates, sluggers in outfielder Greg Guers and corner infielder J.J. White and promising sophomore shortstop Jim Haley.

"We have a great squad this year, we should win games," Coates said. "There's no doubt about it, we have no excuse not to. Great facilities, great coaches, we have everything we need to succeed. If we just believe in ourselves and play a faceless opponent we should come out on top." 

Coates and his teammates know that becoming a top-tier team is a process, but that doesn't mean they're content with where they're currently at. A college baseball career only lasts so long, and the Nittany Lions want to make it count while it lasts.

"We talk about, this is the first year for this team and this is the only time we'll be together, this specific team," Coates said. "Next year we'll get new guys and more guys will leave. Hopefully we'll start something special here."

Nittany Lion Role Players Deliver in Win Over Minnesota

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10729261.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the days leading up to the Nittany Lion basketball team's matchup against Minnesota, head coach Patrick Chambers preached the importance of each player stepping up and assuming a bigger role.

With second-leading scorer and rebounder Brandon Taylor sidelined with a sprained knee, the Lions were certainly in need of production from their role players. Against the Gophers, that need was met by a variety of Nittany Lions throughout the game.

In a back-and-forth contest, Penn State received 43 percent (27 points) of its scoring from its bench as the Lions held off the Gophers 63-58.

"When BT went down, maybe some people wrote us off, but our team stayed confident," senior guard and leading scorer D.J. Newbill said. "The next guy stepped up and everybody came out there with confidence and did their job. Everybody did their job today."

Not only was Taylor unavailable, but Newbill also struggled for much of the first half, going just 1-5 from the field for two points. With their best player needing support, the Lions got a boost from three other backcourt players, Payton Banks, Devin Foster and Geno Thorpe.

Making his fourth start of the season, Thorpe tallied nine points, with eight of them coming in the first half to go along with four rebounds, two steals and his usual hyper-active defense. Banks and Foster both had career-high scoring days, with nine and eight tallies, respectively.

"We're so used to D.J. Newbill being so efficient," Chambers said. "He got 11 boards, 12 points and five assists, I'll focus on that. But it's great to see other guys step up, Geno in the first half, Payton in the first half, Devin Foster throughout the game. I was happy for those guys because they were patient and waited their turn and now they're getting their turn and making the most of it."

Although Banks, Foster and Thorpe just missed out on scoring in double figures, the true importance of their performances was the timing of the plays they made, not just the amount they scored.

With the Lions down 18-15 and just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Thorpe nailed a timely 3-pointer that tied the game and kick-started an 18-5 Penn State run to end the half. A huge part of that stretch was Banks hitting three triples, the most the redshirt freshman has made in a game this season.

"I didn't have the best night, so those guys stepped up," Newbill said. "Those guys really kept us in the game and really helped us take the lead up to 10 by halftime."

In the second half, it was Foster's turn to spark the Lions. After not registering a point in the first 20 minutes, the junior college transfer tallied eight in the second and made two particularly clutch layups.

First, with the score knotted at 43-43 and just over 10 minutes remaining, Foster grabbed an offensive rebound off a Newbill miss and drove hard through a sea of Gophers for the basket and a two-point lead. When Minnesota quickly regained a 46-45 advantage, the 6-foot-2 guard was at it again, taking a long pass from freshman Shep Garner and driving to the hoop to give the Lions a 47-46 lead they would not relinquish.

It's been a challenging season for Foster, who's had to adjust to a new campus and level of play after spending two years at Vincennes University in Indiana. Having played double-digit minutes the past three games however, the junior seems to be hitting his stride.

"At first, it was just making the transition from junior college to Division I," Foster said. "Just the physicality, the speed of the game. And now I'm adjusting and just playing hard each and every possession, in practice and on the court in the game."

As good as those players were, Penn State needed Newbill to play like his clutch self down the stretch and the captain delivered, scoring nine-straight points and 10 of the Lions' last 14 in the final seven minutes. Overall, he scored 10 in the second half while providing key rebounds and assists to give him his aforementioned stat line.

It was the type of teamwork that Chambers loves to see. While the coach was obviously pleased to have multiple players contribute, having his go-to-guy come through was just as good.

"I was really excited about our team stepping up for D.J. when he wasn't himself," Chambers said. "And then for a fifth-year senior to step up the way he did, command the ball, make great decisions, had a couple dimes, get himself to the free throw line, that's what you want your leader to do...and D.J's done that all year long." 

2014-'15 Men's Hoops Blog - Penn State vs. Minnesota

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to's live, interactive coverage of the 2014-'15 men's basketball season. Tonight, the Nittany Lions welcome Minnesota to the Bryce Jordan Center.

Live Blog 2014-'15 Men's Hoops Blog - Penn State vs. Minnesota

Nittany Lions Using Upcoming Weekend as Test for Postseason

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10728106.jpegBy Matt Allibone,, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At the beginning of every season, the Penn State wrestling team finds itself looking forward to one thing - the month of March and the prospect of the postseason.

As exciting as it is to compete at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, the Nittany Lions still have five dual meets and over a month to go before those events arrive. Still, that doesn't mean they've lost sight of the task at hand.

This weekend, head coach Cael Sanderson and crew will travel to Michigan for a Friday night dual with the Wolverines in Cliff Keen Arena before trekking to East Lansing for a Sunday afternoon matchup against Michigan State. For a team looking to defend their fourth consecutive conference and NCAA tournament victories, the matchups are excellent preparation.

"The Big Ten is the toughest conference in the nation and it's exciting to go back-to-back and get those tough matches in there because this is all practice before nationals," redshirt-freshman 141-pounder Kade Moss said. "So it's exciting that we get to wrestle against the toughest kids in the nation to get ready for that."

With 10 duals meets already under its belt, Penn State is very much in the middle of the season's grind. While it can be easy to lose focus, the Lions know that each dual presents them with the opportunity to face an opponent that they could easily see again down the road.

This weekend is a perfect example of that. With both the Wolverines and the Spartans being Big Ten teams, there is always a strong possibility that one of their wrestlers will wind up facing a Nittany Lion again this season at one of the postseason tournaments.

That right there is plenty of motivation for the Blue and White to remain focused against both squads. At the same time, any type of competition is enough to excite Penn State's wrestlers.

"We're in Big Ten Schedule, a lot of these guys we're going to see at nationals and Big Tens so you want to kind of separate yourself from them now," senior heavyweight Jimmy Lawson said. "Then you're going into nationals with confidence, so that's the focus.

"For me [winning these duals] is very important, it builds confidence not to mention it has a lot to do with seeding which can come into play. My goal is to not lose any matches. I'm sure my teammates feel the same way. We're all competitors, nobody wants to lose."

While both schools have wrestlers who could end up facing a member of the Nittany Lions again this season, Michigan features a particularly strong lineup that will be sure to challenge the Lions on Friday.

The 15th-ranked team in the nation, Michigan has eight ranked wrestlers, with six of them (133-pounder Rossi Bruno, 149-pounder Alec Pantaleo, 165-pounder Taylor Massa, 184-pounder Dominic Abounader, 197-pounder Max Huntley and heavyweight Adam Coon) in the top 10. The Wolverines are also coming off of an impressive 34-6 win over Indiana on Sunday.

"I think Michigan has a really good team," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "On paper they're favored in the majority of the weight classes. So we've got to wrestle. They have a nice little intimate atmosphere there...we're definitely excited about it. In the dual meets there's certainly a lot of parity no doubt about it."

Having eight ranked wrestlers of their own, the Nittany Lions feel good about their chances. The dual will give a handful of freshmen, including 165-pounder Garett Hammond and 184-pounder Matt McCutcheon, the chance to compete against a top opponent while veterans and top-ten grapplers like Lawson, 133-pounder Jimmy Gulibon and 197-pounder Morgan McIntosh will be challenged as well.

Lawson's bout at heavyweight against the sophomore Coon will be especially interesting. Both wrestlers are ranked in the top-ten (Lawson is sixth, Coon is seventh), yet the pair has never faced each other before.

In order to prepare, Lawson has listened to the advice of his teammate and fellow heavyweight Jon Gingrich, who faced Coon last season and dropped a tough 2-1 bout to him.

"Wrestling with Jon is good practice for wrestling [Coon] because he knows how he likes to wrestle and he knows his tendencies," Lawson said. "At the end of the day you've got to wrestle your match. I think knowing what a guy's tendencies are and knowing where they're vulnerable at is important."

Coming off of a tight 17-16 loss to No. 2 Minnesota, the Nittany Lions are hungry to taste victory. If anything, the close setback has only given them further confidence that they are on the right track to be at their best in March.

"That's one of the positive things, you always see things you can improve upon," Lawson said. "[Minnesota is] a tough opponent and a team that's probably picked to win nationals and we lost in bonus points so that's something that can be easily fixed. It's all about the national tournament."

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