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Lions Complete Strong Week With Weekend Sweep

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By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

Rob Cooper knows his team's season won't be defined by one game, one series or one week. But, he also knows that his team's season can be moved in the right direction after one game, one series or one week.

Penn State had a weekend just like that as they swept Central Connecticut State, marking the program's first home series sweep since May of 2012 against Illinois.

"I'm just really proud of our guys this weekend," Cooper said. "It was something we challenged them with was that since I've been here we haven't had a true sweep. Our guys really wanted to go and get that and we did a heck of a job."

The Nittany Lions outscored the Blue Devils 22-6 on the weekend and received three promising starts from starting pitchers Nick Hedge, Taylor Lehman and Nick Distasio. Two of those players, Lehman and Distasio are a part of a cluster of freshman that have contributed all season, including in big ways this weekend. 

Lehman gave up one hit in seven innings in game one of the Sunday double header striking out eight and walking just two. Biasi came in relief for the final two innings allowing just one hit and striking out three. Distasio followed their performance allowing four hits in six innings while striking out five. Both starters received their first career wins, as well. 

"One thing that's been cool, whether it's been both of those guys or Nick Graham, Marko Boricich or Sal Biasi, you have some true freshman that are making an impact and doing some neat things," Cooper said. "Mixing them in with the veterans is a neat deal."

Penn State's veterans certainly matched the performance of its younger players over the weekend, especially offensively. Seniors Ryky Smith and Aaron Novak combined for 14 hits and seven RBI on the weekend leading Penn State's offensive attack, much to the liking of their starting pitchers. 

"It was a great feeling having these guys behind me getting a lot of runs on the board because it's a lot easier to pitch when you are up that big," Distasio said.

Novak, now hitting .390 on the season with four doubles, three home runs and 18 RBI, is perhaps a microcosm of this Nittany Lion team. He's a player that saw regular playing time in his first two seasons at Penn State, then was mainly a defensive replacement his junior season and wasn't a starter to begin his senior season. But, those roadblocks didn't stop him from beginning 2015 with a monster campaign.

"It's awesome," Cooper said of Novak's hitting. "That's self-made because at the beginning of the year he wasn't in the starting lineup and we told him what we needed to do to get in there.

A guy can make one of two choices and say 'this is coach's fault that I'm not playing' or he can say 'this is what I need to do to get in the lineup every day' and he did. His approaches and his swings and the way he's slowing the game down offensively is pretty fun to watch."

Novak currently is top-five in the Big Ten in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage through 22 games.

Just like Novak, Penn State as a whole has recently taken a rather undesirable start to the season and begun to turn it back in the right direction. Now winners of seven of their last eight, wins are coming more consistently, but Cooper stressed that they still have a lot of work to do.

"There are so many things that we need to clean up still," he said. "We're not perfect, we've just been winning some games."

With that said though, Cooper won't deny that there has been a difference in the way his team has been playing over the past few weeks. 

"It's been making that choice to play hard and compete every day," Cooper said. "I want to stress how hard we are playing and our competitive spirit. Our play has been something really fun to be around."

Penn State will be back at Meldar Field at Lubrano Park for two home games this week against Binghamton and Kent State with both games set for a 6:30 first pitch on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

Coffey and the Lions Defeat Rutgers in First Big Ten Game

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By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When the Penn State women's lacrosse team traveled to Rutgers this weekend, it did so for a historic matchup. The Nittany Lions played in their first-ever Big Ten game, downing the Scarlet Knights, 15-8.

The Nittany Lions dominated in a number of categories, including the draw. In the first half alone, Penn State (8-3, 1-0 B1G) controlled 12, allowing Rutgers (1-10, 0-1 B1G) only three possessions. That trend continued throughout the game, as the Blue and White won the draw 19 times of the 25 attempts.

"The draw is huge," said senior midfielder Tatum Coffey. "If you look at statistics, draw controls will be very similar in relation to the score. So, the draw is always big. It's kind of like an unspoken thing that if you get the draw, you win the game. We did a great job against Rutgers at that."

Coffey, who hails from New Jersey, had a game-high five points with three goals and two assists. Playing in her home state on Saturday allowed her family and friends to attend the game.

With added support for not only herself but also the entire Penn State team, the Nittany Lions' excitement grew. The Blue and White were fired up and ready to play. They knew coming out with a victory was the only option. Penn State would win this historic Big Ten matchup.

"At halftime, I hear my best friend yelling Tatum," Coffey said. "I recognized her voice, and I looked up and saw her with my whole family, my cousins, my mom, my dad and my Nona, who can barely make it to games. So, I saw everyone, and it made me so happy. I don't think them being there gives me an edge. It's more that it puts me in an even better mood than I was already. The fact that they can all stop what they're doing and come support me is the best feeling ever."

In addition to Coffey's three tallies, Maggie McCormick and Katie O'Donnell also secured hat tricks for the Blue and White. Steph Lazo added two goals of her own, while Madison Cyr, Kelly Lechner, Maggie Gallagher and Kristin Brent all scored one a piece.

The team took 33 overall shots to Rutgers' 23 and were six-for-seven from the free position. As usual, this dominant offense did its best to make every shot count.

Nevertheless, more important than a productive offense, the Nittany Lions came in with confidence, which was a defining factor of the game.

"We were just all on the same page, starting off on the same note, on a good note," said Coffey. "We want to show who we are and prove who we are in the Big Ten conference. I think we all have that mindset that we want to prove that we are a top team and that we can succeed in the Big Ten."

With such a high competition level in the conference, beginning this stretch with a win is exactly what Penn State needed. The team knows it can compete with the best, and it is ready to see what teams like Maryland, Northwestern and Ohio State have to bring.

"I think it was extremely important for us to start off right because you just want to go out strong and end strong," the senior said. "We knew we had confidence coming into that first conference game. So, I think that's what is great about us in our conference. We have a lot of confidence this year, and we're ready to bring it home."

The remainder of the season will not be easy for Penn State by any means, but it will be competitive, entertaining lacrosse. This is Big Ten.

By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a 2013-14 campaign that resulted in just four wins, it was hard to gauge what was in store for the 2014-15 Nittany Lions. However, after notching a program-best 17 wins this season, Penn State already has its eyes set on next year.

 

"I'm so proud of the 2014-15 team for their hard work, their dedication and everything that they accomplished this season," head coach Josh Brandwene said. "So many big wins. So many great moments for this program. 10-5-4 in games decided by a goal or less says everything about this group in terms of what they've become. They're winners, and that is just something that we are going to build on going forward."

 

For the first time as a Division-I program, the Nittany Lions finished with a winning record and third place finish, its highest CHA conference regular season finish ever. Four times as many wins as last season, Penn State was the most improved NCAA team. Furthermore, the Blue and White earned its highest CHA Tournament seed at No. 4 and scored its most power play goals in a season with 23 and shorthanded goals with three.

 

Such success banked on playing in a family-like atmosphere day-in and day-out.

 

"Well I think one of the biggest things at the beginning was creating a new culture and new environment," forward Shannon Yoxheimer said. "We really achieved that and instilled that into everyone's minds. Everyone really, really enjoyed being in the environment that was created. It was very genuine and a very close-knit environment. That's one of the biggest accomplishments outside of our actual hockey performance that we had as a team."

When looking back on the historic season it is difficult to choose one game or play that was the most memorable. According to Yoxheimer, the home sweep against then No. 6 Mercyhust is hard to top, andfor Brandwene, there are so many exciting performances to reflect upon.

"I think you can look back at the season and really reflect on a number of those incremental big stepping stone moments," Brandwene said. "One goal win against St. Cloud in our first weekend as a young team was big. Coming back to beat RIT in overtime in their building was big as an incremental moment. And certainly you can look at the sweep of then No. 6 Mercyhurst here at Pegula as a big moment for this team. Then there is the playoff series. To win a 1-0 game for our first playoff victory says so much about their poise, and their patience, and their willingness to stick to the game plan. And then to close out the series in another close, hard fought game was another big moment for this program."

One of the most important and dynamic aspects of this past season's squad was the quick emergence of the freshmen. Forward Caitlin Reilly closed the season with six goals and ten assists, while Bella Sutton tallied seven scores and eight assists on defense. Sutton stood out so much on the blue line that she was named to the CHA All-Rookie Team.

"I'm so proud of the entire freshman class," Brandwene said. "We asked so much of them this season, and they are just such a hard working group. We asked so much of [Bella Sutton] this year, and for her to perform to the level that she consistently did all year long, such a well-deserved honor to be on the CHA All-Rookie Team."

Upcoming senior playmaker Yoxheimer echoed the words of her head coach.

"I was definitely really impressed [with the freshmen] because it's a really hard transition coming into college hockey," Yoxheimer said. "It's a lot different. There's more systems, more things to get down, and all of us were already very familiar with those, so I was really impressed that they were able to just come in right away. They were contributing. They had the systems down. I think we are all really proud of them, and it says a lot about who they are."

With eight freshman, four sophomores, 13 juniors, and zero seniors on the team this past season, the Nittany Lions are in a perfect position to standout next year.

"Perfect storm coming together for us next season with a tremendous junior class that will be seniors for us next year," Brandwene said. "An unbelievable senior class. Laura Bowman and her entire class will be juniors next year. It's so important to speak about their contributions. Laura making all-conference, Amy [Petersen] had a great season at both ends of the ice - on the power play, on the penalty kill - Kelly Seward great year at both ends of the ice - power play, penalty kill - and Sarah Nielsen, what a job she does in her role, as does her whole line. So you have that. You have our freshman class who will be sophomores next year, and a great recruiting class coming in. Perfect storm. Can't wait to get started."

Bowman, who was named to the All-CHA Second Team, led Penn State with a program-best 31 points (16 goals, 14 assists). She now holds the single season record for points, goals and shorthanded goals (two). Her line mate Amy Petersen netted 11 goals and accumulated 15 assists. Yoxheimer, who wore the "C" on her sweater, mustered 12 goals and eight assists.

One of the most integral parts of this team, however, was between the pipes. The Blue and White had one of the best one-two goalie punches in the country. Junior Celine Whitlinger finished with a 13-11-1 record, 2.17 GAA and a .933 save percentage, while freshman Hannah Ehresmann posted a 4-5-3 record to go along with a 2.35 GAA and a .927 save percentage. Ehresmann's play was so exceptional that she was selected to the CHA All-Rookie team along with Sutton.

"Tremendous seasons for both Celine Whitlinger and Hannah Ehresmann," Brandwene said. "Just fabulous jobs in net. And then the togetherness that all three of our goaltenders have. We refer to them as the sisterhood. That just speaks volumes about the atmosphere, and it says a lot about Celine as a leader that we have such togetherness with that group."

The Nittany Lions earned the CHA's Team Sportsmanship Award, handed out to the team that totals the fewest amount of penalty minutes during conference play. Penn State's disciplined play led to a conference-best 7.2 penalty minutes per contest.

Brandwene is right. With all the experience returning to the program, the Nittany Lions have a perfect storm brewing for next year.

"We're going to be a really, really tough group to play next year," Yoxheimer said. "Right now the goal is to get stronger, focus on competing every day during the offseason, but having in mind that first game of next year when we're training."

Lions Come Close in Big Ten Opener, Fall to Buckeyes

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10949404.jpegBy Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion men's lacrosse team kicked off its Big Ten conference schedule by welcoming Ohio State to Happy Valley on Sunday. Despite a late rally, the Nittany Lions fell to the Buckeyes, 10-8. 

Penn State got off to a quick start with senior Michael Richards scoring the first goal of the game, bringing the home crowd to its feet.

"Luckily [James] Burke passed me the ball and I just happened to be in the right place and luckily it went in," said Richards.

Although the Nittany Lions struck first, it was the Buckeyes who would return with five unanswered goals in the first half.

During the fourth quarter momentum shifted in favor of the Lions. Rallying from six gols down, sophomore Nick Aponte kick started a scoring spree for the Nittany Lions. Followed by goals from Brian Prestreau, Dan Craig and Matt Florence, the Lions came within two goals of tying the game.

"[The momentum] was nice, it's just we can't have that that late in the fourth quarter you have to have it earlier in the game," said Richards.

Richards also credited the change in momentum to several players that stood out in Sunday's game.

"I think that once we started winning faceoffs with Drake Kreinz, and James Burke played his heart out picking up ground balls, I think they did an insane job," said Richards. "I think those guys really made the difference coming out and then our offense did their job, when we actually gave them the ball, they did their job."

Penn State powered through its slow start and proved their skills and endurance can keep pace with the tough opponents they've faced.  

"I think we realized that we can absolutely hang especially with all the close games we've had," said Richards. "We just have to realize that you need to put in a full 60 minutes, you can't just play in spurts. We know exactly what we can do and we have the power to do it we just have to put a game together."

Head coach Jeff Tambroni was satisfied with his teams overall performance against their long-time foe, but knows there is always room for improvement.

"Our kids came to win today and we were hoping not to play in the first Big Ten conference game here at Penn State, we were hoping to win," said Tambroni. "So I think that's going to probably put a cloud over, unfortunately, the kind of day that it maybe could have been at Penn State. But the other side of it is I thought our guys competed and I said that to them in the huddle, one thing I learned about them is that they gave an effort until the end."

With the first Big Ten game under their belts, the Nittany Lions look to learn and build off their experiences from Sunday's game. As soon as one game ends, the focus then turns to the team's next game; this week will be focused on Maryland. The team works one game at a time, a theme set early on in the season in attempts to focus all energy on one opponent.

"We have a short week of preparation against a really good Maryland team, so it's just going to be on us as a staff and as a team to get excited about a really good opportunity and opponent," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "You know to win a game like that could change a lot, so from this moment on we'll go into the locker room, we'll start talking about that."

The Nittany Lions will spend this week gaining momentum for their road trip to Maryland on Saturday. 

By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Less than 24-hours after Penn State claimed the Big Ten conference title in a hard-fought battle, the men's gymnastics team headed back to Rec Hall for the individual event finals on the final day of the Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships.

Seven gymnasts from Penn State competed in 10 routines Saturday evening. Take a look at the amazing accomplishments from the Nittany Lions.

Trevor Howard

Junior Trevor Howard competed in four individual event finals, the most of any Big Ten gymnast and earned a spot on the podium on three occasions.

He seized the lone individual title of the night for Penn State. With a score of 15.750, Howard defended his Big Ten still rings title from the year prior.

"It's an awesome feeling," said Howard. "Being home and winning it, you can't beat it. There are so many great competitors out there and seeing routines, stick after stick, it definitely put more pressure on me, but it was still fun to go out there and compete." 

Howard tied two other gymnasts for third place on vault with a score of 15.100. He also recorded 14.675 on floor exercise for fifth place and placed eighth on parallel bars.

In addition to all of these accomplishments, Howard was named the Penn State Sportsmanship Award Honoree, an award given to student-athletes who has distinguished themselves through sportsmanship, noble citizenship and good academic standing. Furthermore, it was announced that Howard was selected for the first team All-Big Ten team. 

"It's always an honor to make the team like that," said Howard. "Just being able to represent your school and knowing you're on the first team is a huge success."

Matthew Felleman

With a score of 14.950, senior Matthew Felleman ended his Big Ten career with a second-place finish on high bar. 

"It feels great because it's my senior year, my last chance to make a name for myself and for Penn State and to accomplish what we did today, it's an honor and I couldn't be happier."

After the championship, it was announced that Felleman would join his teammate Howard in being an honoree for the first team All-Big Ten team.

Felleman also earned the Big Ten all-around title Friday evening with a score of 87.200. It was the third Big Ten all-around title in Penn State history. 

Thad Lawson

Freshman Thad Lawson was the only other Nittany Lion to compete in multiple events after qualifying for the floor exercise and vault event finals. 

Even as a rookie, Lawson did a great job in both events. He placed fourth overall on floor exercise with a score of 15.000 and got ninth place on the vault after posting 14.775. 

Tristan Duverglas

Senior Tristan Duverglas joined teammate Howard on the still rings' podium after recording 15.375 to claim fourth place.

"It's an incredible feeling [to be on the podium senior year]," said Duverglas. "This is something we've been chasing after for the past three seasons at Penn State and being able to do it my senior year and end it off with a great note, I really couldn't ask for anything more. It's an amazing feeling, especially being at home."

Leroy Clarke, Jr.

With a score of 14.450, redshirt-sophomore Leroy Clarke, Jr. tied with one other gymnast for fifth place in the high bar final and was able to join Felleman on the podium.

Craig Hernandez

Craig Hernandez ended his senior career on the podium Saturday evening as well by placing fifth on pommel horse (14.750). 

Alexis Torres

After having to sub out Friday evening due to an injury, junior Alexis Torres returned to competition Saturday evening. He placed 10th at 14.425 on still rings.

Coach Jepson

"The weekend was just outstanding," said head coach Randy Jepson. "The guys just competed really, really well...Tonight, we can relax a little bit and the guys can unwind and rest in the fact that they're the Big Ten Champions this year, so that's exciting."

At the end of the championships, coach Jepson was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year for the third time in his career. He previously won the award in 2003 and 2008 after claiming the Big Ten title in both seasons.

"I've got a great staff and a great group of guys and it's a tribute to our organization," said coach Jepson. "We're a family. From the guys, all the way up to the top, and I mean to the very top of Penn State. It's beyond me and the staff."

Looking Ahead

In only 11 days, the men's gymnastics team will be competing in the NCAA Championships in Norman, Okla, with hopes of winning the team's first national championship title since 2007.

"We still have a lot to improve on," said Howard. "Getting our hit ratio up, our sticks, that's going to be a huge factor in the NCAA's...and just trying to pristine all that we do in every event. We know [Oklahoma] is a good team and we're looking to take them off their podium and their pedestal, so we're ready."

Nittany Lions Sweep Weekend, Remain Atop EIVA

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10934375.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 8 Penn State (12-9, 6-0 EIVA) defeated EIVA opponents Princeton (9-8, 5-2 EIVA) and NJIT (8-9, 1-6 EIVA) this past weekend in the South Gym at Rec Hall to not only extend its match winning streak to eight, but also increase its cushion atop the conference standings.

On Friday night, the Nittany Lions topped the Tigers in straight sets. However, late Saturday afternoon's match against the Highlanders required five sets to determine the outcome.

After losing its first six matches of the season, Penn State has learned how to win.

"A lot of our [positive] turn came in practice," outside hitter Aaron Russell said. "We just wanted to make a statement that we were going to work our butts off every single day in practice, and we've been having good practices. We just have a more competitive nature. We love playing right now, and we want to keep it rolling. We don't want to lose."

In Friday night's match, Penn State trailed in several statistical categories, but took advantage of Princeton's 28 service errors to win in straight sets (25-19, 25-21, 25-23). The Tigers had more kills than the Nittany Lions (40-32), a better hitting percentage (.427 vs. .356), and more assists (38-25), yet the Blue and White prevailed.

"This was a game with some very odd rhythm to it with the 28 missed serves," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I don't think we particularly blocked well. I don't think we played defense particularly well. I thought we served the heck out of the ball. I thought that even though we hit .356...this was a match where there wasn't a lot of rallies."

Senior Aaron Russell continued his torrid pace, swinging a team-high 12 kills on a .348 hitting percentage. Redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose, who has been terrific filling in for redshirt senior Nick Goodell, posted ten kills on a team-high .571 hitting percentage.

"I think the biggest thing with Jalen is just that he's proven to himself that he can play and play well," redshirt junior Matt Seifert said. "For [Penrose] being his first couple of starts I think that's really big just getting out there...He's doing a great job."

The story was written a little differently late Saturday afternoon, as the Nittany Lions needed five sets (27-29, 25-15, 23-25, 25-16, 15-13) to outlast conference foe NJIT.

"I thought tonight's match was a great show of resiliency," Pavlik said. "Coming off of a pretty emotional match and a pretty intense match last night with Princeton...and then to come here less than 24 hours after you play...from the latter part of game three on, I thought we played well."

In set one the Blue and White looked to have total control, but NJIT never gave up, winning the frame in extras, 27-29. Penrose accumulated eight of his total 21 kills on .700 hitting in the opening game.

"You have to be clean as a unit, making sure that we're making good first contacts to allow Taylor [Hammond] a good set to get...any of the guys the ball and just execute," Penrose said.

Penn State took no prisoners in set two, using timely kills from Matt Callaway, Chris Nugent, Penrose, and Russell, as well as four digs from Connor Curry to win, 25-15.

Jabarry Goodridge and TJ Jurko each tallied six kills to pace NJIT, as the Highlanders battled back to win, 23-25.


"They forced us to play a little bit more," Russell said. "They kept a lot more serves in.... They were scrappy, too. They forced us to play in long rallies."

With their backs against the wall, the Nittany Lions, thanks to six kills from Russell, took down the Highlanders in the fourth game, 25-16, to force a decisive fifth set.

Penn State turned to Russell yet again in the final set. Last week's EIVA Offensive Player of the Week tallied five kills in the last frame to will his team to victory. He finished with a match-high 26 kills on a .362 hitting mark. Setter Taylor Hammond added 59 assists to keep Penn State in system.

Up next for the streaking Nittany Lions is a road trip next Saturday against EIVA opponent George Mason.

"It's always difficult to play in [George Mason's] gym," Russell said. "They always play hard. They pack the place. They have a lot of energy and emotion. I personally like playing there because it's closer to home, and I get to see a lot of friends and family.... They're definitely looking forward to playing us, so we have to be prepared and ready."

VIDEO: James Franklin Spring Practice Update - March 28

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Spring Football - Versatility, Depth Highlight Linebacker Corps

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's fifth of 15 spring practices on Saturday inside Holuba Hall. The Nittany Lions practiced in full pads on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday this week. Saturday's session included several periods of live scrimmaging. The team will return to the field on Monday to begin week two of spring ball. The Blue-White Game presented by AAA will kick at 4 p.m. on April 18.




Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Anita Nham, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 2015 Big Ten Champions. That's just one name to call the Penn State men's gymnastics team. But these Nittany Lions are more than that - they're warriors.

"I was just thrilled with the guys' efforts and being relentless," said head coach Randy Jepson. "We talked a lot about being in warrior mode, what that means, and I've seen glimpses of it, but I haven't seen my team have that for a while and we've struggled in some years where we haven't stepped up and really knocked it out the park when we needed to be warriors, but we did it tonight."

Penn State outscored Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio State with a final team score of 436.700 to capture the conference crown in an electrifying and close fashion after having to overcome misses, falls and injuries.

The championship came down to the wire in the final rotation. It was a close matchup between Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Penn State with Michigan leading the competition. Michigan ended the night with a score of 434.750, a 72.850 lead over Penn State.

However, the men's gymnastics team didn't let that deficient affect them as sophomore Christian McSwain, sophomore Dominic DiFulvio, freshmen Thad Lawson and senior Matthew Felleman all had great routines in floor exercise. They brought the team within 13.15 points of tying for first place.

In came junior Trevor Howard, the final performance of the evening for Penn State. Even though Howard knew that the Big Ten title was on the line, this didn't bother him.

"[There wasn't a lot of pressure]," said Howard. "I had this feeling before in the NCAA's when it was here [two years ago] and this was three times better because I know that I can hit this set. I've had a lot of injuries that's kind of held me back this year, but in my last pass, I could see in my peripheral vision, the whole crowd standing up and yelling as loud as they could, and that just gave me the final drive to push through the last pass and just put it on my feet, so I didn't really feel any pressure. I knew I was at home, my family was behind me and my brothers were warriors and I was ready to deliver for them." 

Howard needed to earn a score higher than 13.15 to give Penn State the Big Ten win and he did just that. He finished the night off with a score of 15.100, and coach Jepson had no hesitation when placing Howard last in the lineup.

"[Howard's] freshmen year, he was the NCAA floor champion on that same floor, in that same spot," said coach Jepson. "If there's any guy you want going last, it's the NCAA floor exercise champion and he's a warrior. He just is. When he came out to do the floor set, I knew that he would make it, I didn't have a doubt...[After the routine, I told Howard] 'I had you last because I knew you would be a warrior. I'll take a whole team of warriors just like you," and it was a great moment."

The Nittany Lions opened with a bye in rotation one, after being introduced to roaring applause from the 1,060 fans inside Rec Hall.

"It's an honor and privilege to win at home with this crowd, the best crowd I've ever experienced," said Felleman. "I couldn't be happier to do it at home."

In addition to the team win, Felleman won the all-around title with a career-best score of 87.200.

"I'm still shocked right now because I wasn't thinking about my all-around score at all going through the competition," said Felleman. "I was 100 percent team right there and that [win] just surprised me."

The men's gymnastics team started the competition on pommel horse in rotation two where they posted a final score of 69.250. Senior Craig Hernandez recorded 15.200, the highest score of the evening.

Still rings were next in rotation three. Penn State tallied a team score of 74.950 and Howard earned a career-high score of 16.100.

Next up was vault on rotation four. Lawson posted a career-high of 15.050 to push Penn State into fourth place in team standings with 217.950.

The Nittany Lions headed to parallel bars for rotation five. Felleman, DiFulvio, and junior Leroy Clarke recorded high scores for the team and junior Alexis Torres started to compete, but was unable to finish due to injury.

Freshman Quest Hayden subbed in for Torres and made his Big Ten Championships debut.

"I was just trying to be super calm," said Hayden. "I knew that we were going to be down a point for Alexis, for me subbing for him, so when I went in, I just had to be calm and hit a clean routine." 

With a teammate out, the men's gymnastics team knew that they had to recover. Lawson opened up high bars in rotation six and with his solid performance, he got the team's and crowd's energy back up. Clarke, Felleman, Howard and Hayden also competed to give Penn State a team score of 72.350.

Penn State was in fourth place with a score of 361.900, but the floor exercise helped to win it all.

"I looked down the line at the floor lineup, knew we had a very good floor lineup and that we could win it," said coach Jepson. "I pulled them together and said, 'Guys, this is within our reach. We just do our job and it can be ours,' and they did that."

With the first Big Ten title in seven years, coach Jepson couldn't be more thrilled for the men's gymnastics team.

"I'm just so happy for them," said coach Jepson. "They pay a big price, they really do. We ask a lot of our guys and to have them step up and receive the trophy and get the accolade, today they were the best team. That was wonderful to see. They really deserved it. There's more to the season, we got to come back tomorrow and do a good job and then a couple more weeks, we go to the NCAA's, so it all starts over again, but for tonight, they're the Big Ten Champions. I'm really happy and proud of them."

Spring Football: Versatility, Depth Highlight Linebacker Corps

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Replacing a guy like All-American Mike Hull is no small feat, but the future of the linebacker position is in great hands thanks to increased depth and a corps of versatile athletes.

With more depth at each position than in recent seasons, Linebacker U hasn't skipped a beat during the first week of spring ball.

Returning junior starters Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman highlight a group looking to make a big impact on the Nittany Lion defense in 2015.

"We have more depth, and that's the special part about it," Wartman said. "We have more guys who can get on the field and play."

In addition to Bell and Wartman, graduate senior Ben Kline returns after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury, and rising sophomore Jason Cabinda is back and primed for a bigger role than he had in his rookie campaign. Additionally, juniors Gary Wooten and Von Walker, along with sophomore Troy Reeder, are among a long list of guys battling for playing time. While each guy plays to his strengths, the unit is unique in that most of the personnel can fill a variety of the positions.

"I think with this group, you have a bunch of versatile guys," Wartman said. "You have Brandon (Bell), who can go out there and play in the field and then also come in the box and play with us as a 'Will' or 'Mike'. Then you have me, and I can play 'Will' or 'Mike'. (Ben) Kline can play 'Will' and 'Mike'. Gary (Wooten) can play 'Will' or 'Mike'. I think year's group is just a lot more versatile."

Head coach James Franklin often uses the "iron sharpens iron" mantra to talk about how one side of the ball can play a paramount role in the growth of the other side of the ball. The same can be true within a unit. With increased depth at linebacker comes increased competition for playing time.

"It pushes you because you know you have someone behind you," said Wartman. "Everybody wants to play, so there is going to be someone behind you. But you can learn from him. When you have quality competition, the first guy is learning from the second guy, the second guy is learning from the third guy and the third guy is learning from the first guy, just from watching film and practicing. You can learn from everyone. All together, the linebacker corps has more quality from top to bottom since I've been here."

Assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry is a big reason for the unit's seamless transition into spring ball following the graduation of Hull, who will go down as one of the program's all-time best. Pry expects a lot out of his players, but the mutual respect between the student-athletes and position coach creates an environment conducive to both learning and progress.

"He's the type of guy that when he talks to you, you know he is going to shoot you straight," said Kline.

"Coach Pry has this type of passion in his voice when we are on the field," Wartman said. "He is a serious guy, but at the same time, he is easy going. He's the type of guy who is going to demand your attention, but he's going to have fun. Guys aren't feeling pressure to be perfect. Guys know to do their job on the field. Don't think, just play. He's helped us all out a lot by telling us to just go out and play."

Pry and the linebackers are always on the same page. Sure it has a lot to do with the talent in place on the field, but the buy-in from players stems from Pry's ability to teach the unit and put the players in the best position to be successful within the framework of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's scheme.

Another factor in the unit's ability to hit the ground running this spring is the return of Kline, who is a respected voice in the locker room and an undisputed leader of the unit.

"Ben brings a positive attitude and plays the way a Penn State player should play," Wartman said. "Even when he and I were fighting for the same spot and he got hurt, he still stood there on the sideline and cheered me on. And that had to be one of the hardest things to do. Then I remember when my playing time went down and he went in, I cheered him on. I just think he brings the team-first mentality. That's what this game is all about, team-first guys like Ben Kline."

It's been a long road for Kline to get back onto the field following a pair of injuries during the last two seasons, but he's excited to return and ready to go to work.

"It just feels good to get back out there with everybody, running around and playing some ball. It's been a lot of fun," Kline said.

Like Wartman, Kline is excited about the unit the Nittany Lions will put on the field at linebacker in the fall.

"We have a lot of guys who just work really hard," Kline said. "We have good depth, and everyone wants to work hard. We are young and athletic. The way Coach Pry has been coaching everyone up is awesome."

Granted there is a long way to go until the season commences on Sept. 5 at Temple, but Wartman said he feels like everyone on the roster is more comfortable within the framework of the daily routine, and it has carried over into productive meetings and practices this spring.

"It's another year. We all feel strong, faster and have more confidence," Wartman said. "As a defense, we have high standards for ourselves. Guys know that last year was good, but we want this year to be even better."

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Nittany Lions Look Back on First Winning Season

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By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the 2014-15 Penn State men's hockey season now in the books, the team has a number of accomplishments it can be proud of. In a year the team thought may be free of program firsts, the Nittany Lions certainly had their fair share of new, historical experiences.

The team secured its first winning season, its first national ranking, its first season sweep over a team. The Blue and White downed all of its conference opponents at least once this year, defeated a top-five team and even had two Hobey Baker Award Nominees in Taylor Holstrom and Casey Bailey.

With such monumental achievements throughout the season, it is clear that the future of Penn State hockey is extremely bright. This program will only continue to grow.

"I like the direction we're going," head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "I think we improved a whole lot last year. I think we improved this year, and I'm optimistic it will continue."

With only eight total wins and three conference victories in 2013-14, the Nittany Lions entered this season expected to finish last in the Big Ten. However, they were ready to prove everyone wrong.

They ended this season 18-15-4, which is more than double the win total Penn State had last year. Furthermore, the team went 10-9-1 in the conference, finishing out the regular season in fourth place and staying in contention for the regular season title until its final weekend series.

Maybe the most talked about aspect of this year's squad was its ability to shoot the puck. The team averaged 39.2 shots per game; however, there were numerous games when it racked up over 50 attempts.

While shooting may have become a major part of Penn State's identity, the Nittany Lions are still in the process of building the program.

"You're never quite done," said Gadowsky. "When will we have the identity that they know what we're all about? I think we're getting there. I don't think we're there yet, but we're getting there."

Unlike last season, Penn State will not return almost its entire roster. Seven seniors, including captain Patrick Koudys, assistant captain Nate Jensen, Jacob Friedman, Max Gardiner, PJ Musico and Peter Sweetland, will all graduate. Additionally, the team will lose its leading scorer in Bailey, who decided to move on to the next stage in his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

These leaders will not be easy for the Nittany Lions to replace, but Penn State still has a number of players key to its identity. People such as David Goodwin and Eric Scheid will be heavily relied upon up front, as will the emerging Scott Conway, while defensemen Luke Juha and Connor Varley will need to secure the blueline.

Even with eight players leaving, the Nittany Lions will still find success come October 2015.

"This is our third year," said Gadowsky. "Everybody that signed up to come on knows that they're going to be relied upon. That's maybe part of the attractiveness to come in. So, if they're going to take full advantage of the opportunity that's been given to them, they know that they're going to have to come in in very good shape because they are going to get the opportunity to contribute at a very high level right off the hop."

This season was certainly a major stepping-stone for a young, emerging program. Success is in the cards for Penn State hockey.

"Hopefully what's next is that we'll continue to cultivate and elevate our culture in terms of work ethic and commitment, what we control," Gadowsky said. "We're not necessarily put our minds set to one specific thing. We have a lot of ideas in our head, fantasies in our head with what is going to happen with this program, and we look forward to all of them. But, we're not picking what's going to happen next. We're just going to continue to build our culture and continue to add on to our foundation, and good things are going to happen."