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Nittany Lions Greeted By Huge Crowd in Dublin on Friday

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irelandblog_18.jpgLIVE GAME BLOG

Gameday Preview | Photo Gallery |  Ireland Day I Coverage | Ireland Day II Coverage

DUBLIN, Ireland - Approximately 10,000 boisterous Penn State fans filled every inch of the cobblestones on Essex Street East in Dublin on Friday afternoon to give the Nittany Lions a warm welcome across the pond.

The crowd began forming around the pep rally stage more than an hour prior to the start of the scheduled event. The Blue and White supporters surrounded the stage from street level to the rooftops. The Nittany Lion, Blue Band, cheerleaders and Lionettes performed before a host of speakers addressed the crowd.

"Penn State nation has descended on Dublin," said Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour.

"You guys take road trip to a new level," said Hall of Fame and Nittany Lion great Jack Ham.

Approximately 20 members of the 2014 squad walked onto the small stage to say hello to the fans in attendance. Juniors Ben Kline and Matt Zanellato spoke to electric crowd.

"We came here to get an unbelievable education and play in front of the best fans in the world. This is what we are talking about," said junior Matt Zanellato.

The Nittany Lions held a walkthrough at UCD on Friday morning before having lunch inside Trinity College. From there, the team filled three double-decker buses for a narrated tour through the city. On seemingly every city corner during the bus tour, the players exchanged "We Are" chants with Penn State fans. Nittany Nation traveled in great numbers to Dublin for the Croke Park Classic.

The support across the pond on Friday was tremendous as the season-opener approaches.

Take a look at some snapshots from Friday's festivities in Dublin.


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After two wins last weekend, Penn State shows that although this team may be young- they mean business.

Already this season, seven of the 11 freshmen have already seen playing time. Several of the freshman players, such as Megan Schafer and Frannie Crouse, have become key players on the pitch.

"She brings a personality to the team we haven't seen for a while," coach Walsh said about freshman Megan Schafer. "She plays a variety of roles and is going to be a big player this season."

Coach Walsh also noted that the upperclassmen are taking on leadership roles.

"This preseason contained a little more teaching and mentoring from upperclassman," said Walsh.

Emily Hurd, an upperclassman on the team, spoke on Monday at Penn State's Fall Sports Media Day about the freshmen class and their performance so far this season.

"[The freshmen] have done awesome," Hurd said. They're obviously a talented group and they're very eager to learn from the leaders on this team and that's what has made this transition so seamless. They want to grow in every game and every practice. They're a fantastic group soccer-wise but off the field and within the chemistry of our team, they've been absolutely fantastic.

"They're putting together performances like that of upperclassmen and they're only their second game in," she said.

With such a diverse group of players, the freshmen bring a wide range of skills and personalities to the team. This year's freshman class comes to Penn State from nine different states.

Making the move from Langhorne, Penn., to Happy Valley, Schafer expressed what experiencing Jeffery Field was like for the first time this past weekend.

"It was awesome and kind of surreal because you grow up always dreaming of playing soccer in college and then the first game at five o'clock comes along and you can't believe it's here already," Schafer said. "We are so lucky to experience this with such great teammates and coaches," she said.

During the team's season opener against West Virginia, Crouse scored the game-winning goal, showing that, although she in her first year, she is a player with a presence.

"The nerves were definitely there, but once you're on the field and the whistle blows, it's like we've done this our entire lives," said Crouse.

During the team's second match of the year against Syracuse, Crouse was one of four freshmen to start the game. The other freshmen that started Sunday's match were Maddie Elliston, Elizabeth Ball, and Emily Ogle.

With the freshmen already making big moves, the Lions look forward to their next game.

Penn State will face Connecticut on Friday night at Jeffery Field. The whistle blows at 5:30 p.m.

2014 Gameday Preview - Lions Open Season In Dublin

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Game Notes | Depth Chart | UCF Scouting Report | Huge Crowd Greets Lions in Ireland

Ireland Day I Coverage | Ireland Day II Coverage | Ireland Photo Gallery

DUBLIN, Ireland - For the first time in its 128-year gridiron history, the Nittany Lion football team will play an international game. Penn State is set to meet UCF in the season-opening Croke Park Classic on Saturday (8:30 a.m. on ESPN2) in Ireland.

Head coach James Franklin will debut as leader of the Nittany Lions when he leads the team onto the infamous Irish pitch inside Croke Park Stadium. The Blue and White enter the season with seven returning starters on both offense and defense. The Lions begin the season with 54 true or redshirt freshmen on the roster.

Penn State traveled to Dublin overnight on Tuesday. After practicing at University College Dublin for three days, the Nittany Lions are focused on the season-opener against a very talented UCF squad. On the heels of a 12-1 season and a win in the Fiesta Bowl, the Knights are under the direction of 18-year veteran head coach George O'Leary.

The long wait is over. The 2014 Penn State Football season is here.  Welcome to an international version of the Gameday Preview for the season-opener against the UCF Knights.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. The Nittany Lions have been more than 3,000 miles away from Happy Valley since Wednesday morning, so game week has been anything but normal from a travel perspective. But the on-field preparations and meetings have been business as usual for the Nittany Lions across the pond. Penn State held three practices in Ireland and usual gameplan meetings throughout the week. The schedule has been as close to a typical game week as possible. As Coach Franklin has said all week, this is a business trip for the team and its staff. The Lions have been exposed to some of the finest cuisine and sites in Ireland during the week, but the group has been focused on the task at hand since it arrived.

10256181.jpeg2. Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg will lead the Nittany Lion offense for the second-straight season. Hackenberg, who was voted captain by his peers during training camp, is an improved player in all facets of the game after a strong offseason in the weight room and on the field. Franklin has noted several times during the offseason that the cast of players surrounding the quarterback is the key group to keep an eye on. Headlining the cast is a pair of senior running backs - Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak - and a corps of veteran tight ends led by Jesse James and Kyle Carter. Keep an eye on the youthful receiving corps made up of Geno Lewis, DaeSean Hamilton, Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall.

3. The Penn State defense had a superb training camp season. A group filled with veterans, the Nittany Lions enter the season with eight defensive starters who are juniors or seniors. The man calling the shots on the defensive side of the ball is fifth-year senior Mike Hull. Hull is the team's top returning tackler (78 stops in 2013). In addition to Hull, defensive end C.J. Olaniyan and safeties Ryan Keiser and Adrian Amos will start as seniors. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop wants to see an attacking style with relentless pursuit of the ball every time his unit steps onto the field.

What to Watch For - UCF
1. The UCF defense features nine returning starters from last year's team that went 12-1. The Knights finished in the nation's top 20 in scoring defense in 2013, allowing just 21.3 points per game. Bednarik Award candidate Terrance Plummer returns as the team's top tackler. He finished with 110 tackles in 2013. The UCF secondary features two Jim Thorpe Award candidates in senior Clayton Geathers and sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn. Geathers recorded 100 stops, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups last season. Glenn had two interceptions and 15 pass breakups.

10256196.jpeg2. The Penn State coaching staff believes UCF has among the top receiving units that the Nittany Lions will face all season. Senior Rannell Hall made 57 receptions for 886 yards and had five touchdowns last year. Junior Breshad Perriman averaged nearly 21 yards per reception in 2013. Perriman finished with 811 yards and 39 catches. J.J. Worton is the third key contributor in the receiving corps. Worton tallied 47 receptions and seven touchdowns last season. Former UCF quarterback and NFL first-round selection Black Bortles is now playing on Sundays. Redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo will make his first career start, but he has a talented cast of receivers on the field to distribute the ball to.

3. The Knights also enter the season with a solid group of specialists on the depth chart. Placekicker Shawn Moffitt is a Lou Groza Award candidate after going 21-for-23 on field goal attempts in 2013. Punter Caleb Houston averaged 42.2 yards per punt last season, as well. Hall (KR) and Worton (PR) are the team's return threats. Hall is among UCF's leaders in nearly every kickoff return category. Worton has 55 punt returns for 573 yards in his career.

The Final Word:
Historic Croke Park will play host to Saturday's clash between Penn State and UCF. Finished in 1913, Croke Park Stadium has a 69,000-seat capacity for the football game. Home of the Gaelic Games, the stadium is a large structure that towers over most of the buildings in Dublin, but does so with an intimate feel inside. The sports and cultural heritage of the stadium can be felt from the moment an individual walks inside. The pitch is hallowed ground not touched by anyone but competitors or the grounds crew. The pitch itself is large enough to fit more than two football fields across it, giving Saturday's game a unique look. The football lines will be centered in the pitch, which provides significant space between the sidelines and the stadium structure. Playing inside Croke Park means a lot to the Nittany Lions.

"There is no doubt that it is a national treasure for them," Franklin said. "Sports are very, very important in this country. I think the whole thing has been surreal in a lot of ways."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Twenty-eight years ago, head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss opened her playbook for the first time as the head coach for the Nittany Lion field hockey team. Since then, her teams have won three Big Ten Championships and have made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament each year. This year, Coach Morett-Curtis and the team are eager to work hard for another successful season.

In a press conference on Monday, Morett-Curtiss used the words "chemistry" and "experienced" to describe this year's squad.

"We have a lot of talented players, but we need to make sure that we're getting them in the right positions," Morett-Curtiss said. "I'm excited about the senior class that we have coming back."

With seven seniors and a pair of fifth-year seniors, the Nittany Lions will bring a level of maturity to the field unparalleled by younger squads in the conference.

Heading into this weekend's home opener, the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 8 by the NFHCA (National Field Hockey Coaches Association), putting them ahead of Old Dominion but just behind Virginia.

For the past ten years, Penn State has opened the season against Old Dominion but 2014 brings new additions to the schedule. Maryland, Quinnipiac, Drexel and Lock Haven are new to the schedule this year. Maryland is not only a new addition to Penn State's schedule, but a new addition to the Big Ten Conference.

"I think it makes it more challenging, but at the same time it's a welcomed addition to the conference," coach Morett-Curtiss said of the schedule additions. "You look at some of the conferences, where the ACC, they have a lot of strong teams. So, a win or a loss against them really only helps strengthen your schedule. That's what I think is going to be positive for us."


Much like any sport, the longer a team plays together, the more familiar they become with one another. Familiarity doesn't even begin to describe the 2014 roster. With two Big Ten Championships and three NCAA Tournaments between them, this senior class is prepared for a challenging schedule.

Seniors Jenna Chrismer, Laura Gebhart, and Taylor Herold have been major contributors to the Penn State offense since the trio first came to Penn State. Katie Breneman and Katie Andrews have been a constant force in the backfield, as they started in all 19 contests last season. Fifth-year senior Kylie Licata will be returning to the cage, also starting every game last season.

Casey Haegele, Amanda Dinunzio and Natalie Buttinger also return to the Nittany Lion roster, all of whom saw action in 13 games last season.


The forward line is one of the strongest dynamics that the Nittany Lions will field this season. Chrismer, Gebhart and Herold have been major assets to the forward line since their freshman seasons. The trio combined for 21 goals, 20 assists and 145 shots on goal last season, ranking them as the top contributors of last year's squad.

Licata, who was the Nittany Lions only goalie last season, will return to the field with her 0.683% save percentage intact.

Aside from the seniors experience in conference play, Gebhart recently returned from playing on the U.S. National Team this summer.

"It was a huge learning experience," Gebhart said in Monday's press conference. "It's really great that I can come back to Char (coach Morett-Curtiss) and we can talk about things that I learned, how we can implement them at Penn State and how we can pick up our level and just really take the whole program to the next level."

This leadership and experience will help mold the incoming freshman class, as this group of seniors will be leaving behind big shoes to fill.

"I'm always excited to get the fall season started," coach Morett-Curtiss said. "We were really fortunate this year that we were able to schedule two scrimmages. As a coach, you're always trying to find the perfect fit. We have a lot of talented players, but we need to make sure that we're getting them in the right positions."

The Nittany Lions open their regular-season this Friday against Old Dominion at 5 p.m. and Virginia on Sunday at 12 p.m..






Day Two Coverage of the Nittany Lions in Ireland

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10255504.jpegDay I Coverage in Ireland | Photo Gallery

DUBLIN, Ireland. - 
With the season-opener looming on Saturday inside Croke Park (8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2), it was business as usual for the Nittany Lions on Thursday in their game preparations in Ireland.

The team held its normal team and position meetings in the morning before traveling to University College of Dublin (UCD) for practice. 
The Lions finished a busy Thursday in Ireland with a team meal at the Guinness Storehouse high above the Dublin skyline.

Head coach James Franklin was pleased with the team's focus level at practice on Thursday, and he said that he feels like the team is ready for the opener against UCF.

"We got really good work done. We basically repeated yesterday's practice, but went full speed," Franklin said. "Mother Nature cooperated. The weather is beautiful. We got a lot of really good work done...I think the guys have had a really good experience. The hotel has been unbelievable. The GAA has been unbelievable. And we are excited to get out there and play."

The team will hold its normal walkthrough on Friday at UCD before meetings and a team meal on Friday evening. Franklin said he feels good about where the team is heading into the final day of prep for Saturday's game.

"I think every day that it gets closer there is more anticipation," Franklin said. "There is no doubt about that. But I'm not a guy that gets excited until the morning of the game. Usually, I sleep very well the night before the game. I wake up that morning and kind of get those butterflies. In the locker room, I get the butterflies. And things like that. But before that, there are things like today that we have to get cleaned up that are on our mind. Until all of those things are done, that's where my focus is."

James Franklin Practice Update - Thursday

Following the practice session on Thursday, the Nittany Lions received an interactive informational session on Gaelic football and hurling, two games that are a fixture in Ireland. The Lions split into groups for hands-on instruction for both sports before professionals put on an exhibition of the two sports. Cormac o'Donnoha, Director of Experience Gaelic Games, led the instruction at UCD. Take a look.


The day concluded with a terrific factory tour and meal at the Guinness Storehouse in downtown Dublin. The team visited several levels of the factory before congregating on the fifth floor of the building for a buffet dinner. The building where the Storehouse is located was built in 1902 as a fermentation plant for the St. James's Gate Brewery. It was the first multi-story steel-framed structure to be built in Ireland.


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer 


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-. After consecutive years of winning the Big Ten regular season title despite being ranked fifth in the conference to start the season, the Nittany Lions find themselves in a similar situation this season. They open their 2014 schedule ranked fourth behind Maryland, Michigan State and Michigan. The Penn State men's soccer team is used to being looked at as the underdog

At this point, preseason rankings don't affect head coach Bob Warming and crew at all. Taking other teams by surprise has become second nature to them.

"It's nice going in there with a chip on your shoulder for sure," senior forward Mikey Minutillo said. "We'll prove all these guys wrong again." 

Make no mistake, the Nittany Lions have the bar set just as high. A year after going 13-6-2 and making it to the Sweet 16, the Blue and White are looking to advance even further with a lineup that is young yet very experienced.

While they have just four seniors on the roster, the Nittany Lion return seven last year's starters, as well as Minutillo, who sat out 2013, and major contributors in senior defender Eli Dennis and sophomore forward Mark Wadid.

Last year, Penn State relied heavily on a group of freshmen that included midfielder Mason Klerks, forward Connor Maloney and Wadid. With those players now a year more seasoned, the Lions will look to them even more.

"Those freshmen having the year that they did was huge for them in their development, but also for us going forward," senior captain and midfielder Owen Griffith said. "We know that those guys are going to come back and hopefully have just as good of a year if not better because they've had one more year of development with this program."

As for the seniors, it is Minutillo's return to the lineup that has Warming particularly excited. The San Jose, Calif. native started 11 games in 2012 and was cited by his coach as one of the team's standout stars this preseason.

A year after it took the Nittany Lions 11 games to score multiple goals in one game, Minutillo's return to the front line promises to make the Nittany Lions offense more potent.

Warming is also counting on the team's scoring being boosted by the continued developments of Maloney and Wadid. Maloney finished last season tied for first on the team in points with 11, while Wadid finished third on the team in goals with three.

"We didn't have any forwards [last year]," Warming said. "We've got a forward now [in Minutillo] and Connor Maloney is developing into a great forward...we've got Mark Wadid and he's going to be a goal-scoring machine when he's in there.

"We're so excited to have Mikey back with us. He's scoring goals, he looks terrific...he adds a different dimension to our team and we're excited about that."

Then of course, there's Andrew Wolverton. The reigning Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year is returning from offseason shoulder surgery but is ahead of schedule and ready to begin his fourth year as the Nittany Lions anchor between the pipes.

The most decorated player on the team, Wolverton needs six shutouts to pass Greg Kinney as the Nittany Lions all-time leader in that category after breaking the team's single-season record with eight last season.

Wolverton's teammates know how lucky they are to have the 6-foot-6 goalie on their team. Last year, Wolverton posted a 0.81 goals-against average to go along with an astounding 76 saves on 94 shots. By comparison, last year's first team All-American selection Andre Blake of Connecticut made 39 saves on 56 shots.

"He's hands down the best goalie in the nation," Minutillo said. "He's not going to let much in and that's always good as a forward to know you just need to score one and he's going to keep the rest out of the net."

The Lions know repeating as conference champions and going further in the NCAA tournament isn't going to be easy.

With last year's NCAA runner-up Maryland now in the Big Ten, the Penn State will certainly have its share of challenges. The Nittany Lions play the Terpins for the first time on October 12.

If the past two years are any indication, bigger challenges will bring forth more good results for the Blue and White.

"It's really going to raise the level of the Big Ten," Griffith said of having Maryland in the conference. "It makes it that much more difficult for us to defend our title but it's makes it that much of a challenge for us that we want to three-peat."

2014 Football Opponent Previews - UCF

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9362541.jpegUCF, Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland, 8:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Knights, led by George O'Leary, open their 2014 campaign looking to repeat as American Athletic Conference champions.  UCF finished last year with a 12-1 record, including 8-0 in the AAC.  They were selected for their first BCS bowl in program history, defeating Baylor 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.  O'Leary enters his 11th year as UCF's head coach with a 72-56 career record and was named AAC Coach of the Year in 2013.

The Knights return six starters from an offense that averaged 30.4 points and 441.5 yards per game last year.  UCF must replace three All-AAC offensive linemen and their backfield. 

UCF will have a new quarterback in 2014 after Blake Bortles entered the NFL Draft and was selected third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Knights will start redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo, native of Tarpon Springs, Fla. DiNovo got the nod over Justin Holman and Boise State transfer Nick Patti.

The Knights will also have a new running back after Storm Johnson also entered the draft.  Six-foot-one, 225-pound sophomore William Stanback will take over the main role after gaining 443 yards and six touchdowns on 105 carries (4.2 yards per carry).  The Doak Walker Award candidate also caught 15 passes for 186 yards and a score. 

A talented receiver group will lead the offense with three of their top four wideouts back from 2013.  Each receiver brings a good combination of size and speed that will be a challenge for a Penn State secondary that is one of the most experienced units on the defense. 

Senior Rannell Hall led the team with 886 yards on 57 catches, while adding five touchdowns.  The 6-foot-1 Hall will also contribute on kick returns after he averaged nearly 24 yards per return in 2013.

Joining Hall are junior Breshad Perriman and redshirt senior J.J. Worton.  The 6-foot-3 Perriman averaged almost 21 yards per catch last year, totaling 811 yards and four touchdowns on 39 catches. Worton, 6-foot-2, gained 721 yards and seven scores on 47 receptions. Worton will also contribute on punt returns.  Tight end Justin Tukes caught 13 passes for 116 yards and a score last year.

The offensive line will include three new starters after All-AAC linemen Chris Martin, Jordan McCray and Justin McCray all graduated.  Tackle Torrian Wilson returns and was named a preseason First Team All-AAC player by Phil Steele. 

UCF returns nine starters from a defense that ranked among the nation's top 20 in scoring defense in 2013, allowing just 21.3 points per game.  They also had a strong run defense, giving up 122.5 yards per game.

The Knight defensive line is led by two redshirt juniors, tackle Demetris Anderson and end Thomas Niles.  Anderson recorded 24 tackles, including seven for loss and a sack in 2013, while Niles compiled 30 tackles, with eight for loss and four sacks. 

Bednarik Award candidate Terrance Plummer leads the linebacking corps.  Plummer led the knights with 110 tackles, 62 solo, and 8.5 for loss. He added 2.5 sacks and two interceptions as well as two forced fumbles.

The secondary returns all four starters, including two Jim Thorpe Award candidates.  Redshirt senior safety Clayton Geathers recorded 100 tackles, 64 solo, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups last year.  He is joined by redshirt sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn, who picked off two passes and broke up 15.  Safety Brandon Alexander and cornerback Jordan Ozerities also return.  Alexander picked off three passes in 2013, while Ozerities picked off one.

UCF is also strong in the kicking game. Kicker Shawn Moffitt, a Lou Groza Award candidate, connected on 21-of-23 attempts, with a long of 50 yards.  Ray Guy Award candidate Caleb Houston averaged 42.2 yards per punt.

Penn State is 2-1 all-time against the Golden Knights and will look to bounce back from last year's 34-31 setback at Beaver Stadium.

What George O'Leary is saying about Penn State:
"Christian (Hackenberg) was really an exceptional player for a freshman. The Big Ten certainly thought so. I would expect that if he keeps improving like he did as a freshman, each game he got better and understood more about the defense, he will be a quarterback that you hear a lot about in college football."

"I think (Austin Johnson) is a really good tackle. Their two ends are back; we played against them last year. In my opinion, the bulk of their defense is the Mike linebacker, (Mike) Hull.  He's a very good player. They've always had good linebackers there. They always have good players."

"Penn State is a school with a rich football tradition for a long, long time. That hasn't disappeared and they have a lot of good players that can win games for them."

Contributions on all of the 2014 Opponent Previews provided by Student Writer Paul Marboe.

Defending Champions Are Back with Young Roster

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10253095.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Having won five of the last seven NCAA titles, expectations are always high for the Penn State women's volleyball team. Despite losing a host of production from last year's squad, the squad expected to be among the nation's elite.

The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions graduated six seniors last season, including blocking powerhouse Katie Slay to back row weapon Deja McClendon.  Head coach Russ Rose will turn to a roster blending eight new faces with veterans as the Lions look ahead to the start of 2014.

"You enjoy great players when they're here and you hope the players that come after them respect the tradition and work hard to make those same sacrifices and contributions," Rose said.

After being on a team with players like McClendon, Slay and Ariel Scott for many years, it may be hard for some players to get used to so many new faces. Defensive specialist Dominique Gonzalez, who, as a senior, will be a team leader this year, said she enjoys having the new faces in the gym because they are excited to be there and are working hard to get better.

Junior outside hitter Megan Courtney will also be taking on more of a leadership role this year. One of her jobs will be to instill what needs to get done in the younger players.  Being an older player also means that she will become a go-to hitter. Courtney says that even though she is a veteran, she will still need to perform well because the novice players this year are "studs."

"If I play well, everyone else will be play well and that's what I can do to make the team better," Courtney said.

Just two years ago, Courtney was entering her freshman season, so she knows what the newcomers are going through right now. As a freshman, Courtney played in 36 matches and said that sometimes her head would get clustered during the match. She understands that this may happen to the freshmen this year, but it's her job as an older player to make sure they maintain a positive mindset.

"They're freshman, they make mistakes, we all make mistakes, so it's a matter how we come off of those mistakes and learn from them. To just prepare for the next point and not dwell on the past," Courtney said. "We all make mistakes so it's a matter of how we turn those mistakes into good points."

Outside hitters Alli Frantti and Simone Lee are two freshmen that Rose said played well this preseason, but there is competition going on between all of the new players.

"There's battles going on at all the positions, but a lot of it is impacted by who is cleared for practice that day," Rose said. "All of the net players have showed some talent and potential. I saw it in most of them when I recruited them."

Rose said the speed of the game is going to be the biggest transition for the younger players. And what bigger change of speed than going from high school and club volleyball to the Big Ten Conference. Rose said the much of the success of the team will be based on how the coaching staff and older players prepare the younger players to compete in the Big Ten environment, both at home and away.

"I know how good the conference is and the quality of the players and coaches. [I know] how tough the venues are. The older players who have been in the conference for two and three years, they have a much better handle on it than the young people," Rose said.

Gonzalez shared a similar outlook on the Big Ten and knows that the team must practice hard this season.

"We know conference is tough. Every match we have to be prepared for. No ones going to be an easy game or giveaway games and were trying to instill that in the other players," Gonzalez said. "You start off the season completely new, we won it last year but that means nothing this year. We are going to work to be successful again but we know that's going to be a lot of work."

This weekend, the Nittany Lions will kick off their season with three home matches. On Friday, they will face TCU at 7:30 p.m. Last season, the Horned Frogs were 16-15.  

On Saturday, Penn State will play Iona and William & Mary in a doubleheader at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively. Iona went 16-14 in the 2013 season and William & Mary was 11-21.

Senior middle hitter Nia Grant is ready for the weekend, but knows there is always room for improvement.

"You always want to get better, so I'm going to still use this week to get ready for the games and continue to get better as the season progresses," Grant said.

Rose said earlier this week that Grant is one of only three players (Micha Hancock, Grant and Courtney) who will definitely be on this weekend's starting lineup. The rest of the starting lineup has been impacted by injury and inconsistency, so the time is now for the freshmen to step up.

"We might start up to three freshmen. It's hard to start [the expected starters] when they're not cleared to play right now," Rose said. "So we'll play this weekend, and then we'll play the next weekend and we'll play hopefully the next 17 weekends."

Winning the 2013 National Championship means that all eyes will be on Penn State this season. And the Nittany Lions know the road in 2014 won't be easy.

"I think everyone on the team, coaching staff, players all agree with me when I say that its an expectation to go back to the final four, but we all know that it's not just given to us because we won last year," Courtney said. "It's what we do in the gym that's going to do the talking."

Nittany Lions Complete Busy First Day in Ireland

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Photo Gallery - Ireland Day One

DUBLIN, Ireland - It was a whirlwind 24-hour period for the Nittany Lions as they journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean in preparation for Saturday's season-opener against UCF (8:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2) in Ireland.

Penn State's journey to Dublin began on Tuesday night, and the team did not see its hotel until dinnertime on Wednesday. followed the Nittany Lions every step of the way. Take a look at a busy day of travel with the team.

8:13 p.m. ET (Tuesday Night) - Buses Depart State College
The first wave of staff buses pulled out of the Bryce Jordan Center parking lot just before 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday evening to begin the first leg of the travel to Europe. The players and coaches followed the staff buses with a 9 p.m. departure from the Lasch Football Complex after Tuesday afternoon's practice.

irelandblog_1.jpg10 p.m. ET (Tuesday Night) - Arrival at Harrisburg
The first set of buses arrived at the main terminal of the Harrisburg International Airport at 10 p.m. Each member of the more than 300 in the travel party visited the United desk inside the terminal for passport verification and the reception of a printed boarding pass.

irelandblog_2.jpg 12:01 a.m. ET (Tuesday Night) - Flight Departs the USA
Just after midnight, the United Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet backed away from Gate B6 in Harrisburg. The jet had spent the day traveling from Tokyo to Chicago and then to Harrisburg before transporting the Nittany Lions to Ireland. The jet itself was a tremendous aircraft featuring two levels, 180-degree seats in three of its cabins and a total of 370 passenger seats in 60 rows.

irelandblog_3.jpgirelandblog_4.jpg11:09 a.m. IST (Wednesday) - Touch Down In Dublin
The charter flight touched down at Dublin Airport just after 11:09 a.m. IST. From there, the party deplaned and collected luggage before working through customs and boarding a total of eight tour buses. Head coach James Franklin took a few minutes to meet the media before the squad left the airport to talk about the team's overnight travel.


12:15 p.m. IST - 3 p.m. IST - Travel Party Visits Croke Park
With the eight tour buses and luggage packed, the group traveled to Croke Park Stadium for a welcome reception and buffet lunch. Following lunch, the group dispersed for a tour of the facility. The players had the opportunity to see the Dublin skyline from the roof of Croke Park, walk on the pitch and visit the locker rooms.    

irelandblog_7.jpgirelandblog_8.jpgirelandblog_10.jpgirelandblog_9.jpg4:30 p.m. IST - Practice at University College Dublin
After the visit to Croke Park Stadium, the team travel party drove approximately 30 minutes to the Penn State practice site for the week at University College Dublin. The Lions conducted a normal "Thursday" practice session, according to Coach Franklin.

irelandblog_11.jpgirelandblog_12.jpg6:20 p.m. IST - Media Interviews After Practice
At the conclusion of Wednesday's practice session, Franklin and a host of players visited with 28 members of the media who attended the last portion of practice. More than 20 of the 28 media members in attendance traveled from Pennsylvania to cover the Nittany Lions during their trip to Dublin.

7:15 p.m. IST - Hotel Check In and Dinner
The busy first day across the pond ended at the Powerscourt Hotel when the Nittany Lions held a team meal and checked into their home during the trip.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: UCF Week Player Q&As - Mike Hull & C.J. Olaniyan

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with seniors Mike Hull and C.J. Olaniyan at Beaver Stadium prior to the team's departure to Ireland on Tuesday.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony