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NCAA Match Blog - Penn State vs. Stanford

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VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Scouting Report with Salima Rockwell

OKLAHOMA CITY - Welcome to live coverage from Penn State women's volleyball's NCAA semifinal bout against No. 1 Stanford inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Stay tuned throughout the match for interactive coverage from courtside.

Live Blog NCAA Volleyball Semifinals - Penn State vs. Stanford

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Pinstripe Bowl Preview - Akeel Lynch

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Pinstripe Bowl Preview Interviews - James Franklin | Miles Dieffenbach | Mike Hull

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - continues its series of interviews leading up to Penn State's trip to New York for the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN). Today, we talk with junior running back Akeel Lynch.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Preview with Associate Head Coach Salima Rockwell

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MATCH BLOG - Penn State vs. Stanford

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team is set to collide with No. 1 Stanford on Thursday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena at 9:30 p.m. ET (TV - ESPN2) in the NCAA semifinals.

The Nittany Lions practiced on Thursday morning in preparation for the match against the Cardinal. previewed the match with associate head coach Salima Rockwell.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

NCAA National Semifinals Preview: Stage Set in Oklahoma City

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10630963.jpegOKLAHOMA CITY - Making its seventh NCAA semifinal appearance in the past eight seasons, the fifth-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (34-3) is primed for a matchup against No. 1 Stanford (33-1) on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2).

10630966.jpegPenn State practiced in Oklahoma City on Tuesday evening and again on Wednesday in preparation for the showdown against the Cardinal. The Nittany Lions marched past UCLA and Stanford in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament to punch a ticket to the national semifinals.

The Nittany Lions and Cardinal battled to a five-set match on Sept. 5, with Stanford notching a 3-2 victory. Both teams have improved since the early-season meeting, and head coach Russ Rose is looking forward to the matchup.

"It's great to still be playing," Rose said. "Our roster is a little different than the roster we had on the floor when we played them last. Certainly, they are much improved from the video I just saw (of recent matches)...They are setting really quick right now to the pins. And it's a veteran team."

In a matchup pitting two of the sport's best, Penn State and Stanford are the only two programs that have appeared in the NCAA Tournament during each of its 34 years in existence.

"This is Stanford and Penn State," Rose said. "They have been champions six times, and they haven't been to the final four in six years. This program is ready to get back where they have been before. They had the No. 1 recruiting class a few years ago, and these girls are juniors right now. They are hungry and very good."

The winner of the Penn State-Stanford match will move on to the national championship match against either BYU or Texas on Saturday in Oklahoma City.

"It's going to boil down to the teams that play the best; it's not always the best players," said Rose. "I think if we play our best, we have a chance. If we don't play our best, we got hot at the right time last year and had a veteran team."

Wednesday was open practice day for all four teams remaining on the draw. Penn State practiced for 90 minutes on Wednesday afternoon following a preview press conference. Take a look through Wednesday coverage from Oklahoma City as the Lion prep for their 12th NCAA semifinal appearance.

VIDEO: Wednesday Practice & Press Conference Highlights
Take a look through some video highlights of Wednesday's practice and pre-NCAA semifinal press conference with head coach Russ Rose, Micha Hancock and Nia Grant.

Stat Breakdown:

NCAA Tournament_Semifinals_Stanford.jpg

Photo Galleries:
Travel Day | NCAA Semifinals Practice Day

Feature Story Corner:

Ending a Career Where It Started
By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An emotional, motivated Micha Hancock sat at the podium on Monday afternoon inside the Rec Hall Media Room reflecting on a stellar career wearing Penn State Blue and White.

The senior setter, competing in her final collegiate matches this week, took a deep breath, as she thought about the kind of legacy she would leave behind at Penn State.

10630989.jpegHancock's accolades include AVCA First Team All-America honors, All-Big Ten honors, the 2013 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, 2013 Big Ten Setter of the Year, an ESPY nomination and much more.

But what does it all mean to her?

"It's crazy for me. I never dreamt of being at a program like this," Hancock said. "I had no idea what Penn State was about. It hasn't really hit me. I'm still saying goodbye to things here. You spend four years with most of the same girls, they're family. It's emotional for sure. I feel like a girl that had great teammates, worked hard and accomplished some cool things. I feel really blessed."

There are many 'lasts' approaching for Hancock. This weekend will be her last time traveling with the team, her last time in the national semifinals and her last time suiting up in the Blue and White. And what better place to experience these final moments as a Penn State women's volleyball player than in Oklahoma City, 14 miles from where she grew up.

The Edmond, Oklahoma, native is looking forward to ending her collegiate career at home, but said she isn't letting that get in the way of the task at hand.

"I definitely am excited. I don't really know how it feels and I'm not going to know how it feels until I step foot on Oklahoma soil again," Hancock said. "For me, the most important thing is trying to win one game at a time. It's awesome that I'm at home, but it also kind of creates a distraction. And I'm not willing for that to be a distraction for me."

She plans to keep her emotions at bay by relaxing, staying focused and taking it one day and one practice at a time. Although the stakes are higher, her mental preparation for this match does not differ from any other match.

"I am going to focus on the same routine I've been doing all season. Talking to the freshmen, talking to my team, [telling them] how important practice is, how important [the start of the game is]. Keep it normal," Hancock said.

Hancock's preparation will continue until Thursday evening, when the Nittany Lions take on Stanford in the NCAA semifinals. These two programs, rich with tradition, are familiar foes this season. Earlier in the year, the No. 1 seeded Cardinal defeated Penn State in five sets. But both teams have gained experience and Stanford will be seeing a different lineup from Penn State with the addition of Haleigh Washington in Penn State's starting lineup.  

As a senior leader, Hancock will help Washington and the other freshmen prepare for this match. She stressed the importance of letting the freshmen play their game. She plans to lead them one point at a time, by encouraging them to get excited, play with emotion and above all else, have fun.

"The final four is mostly about fun. You're there for a reason, so if you have fun, it's definitely going to help you out," Hancock said.

While many seniors' goals this week are to pass their finals and graduate this weekend, Hancock's week will be different.

"[My goal is] to win. That's basically all," Hancock said. "[My goal is] to play some good volleyball against Stanford, hopefully get the W and see what comes about whoever we play."

Hancock is scheduled to graduate this Saturday, but will be unable to attend the commencement ceremony in Happy Valley. She said considering what's ahead this week, she is not disappointed about missing her college graduation.

A fierce competitor since the day she stepped on campus, Hancock's legacy speaks for itself as she closes in on the final days of her Penn State career.

Match Day
With the Wednesday festivities over, it is now time to focus on match day in Oklahoma City. The Nittany Lions will practice mid-day on Thursday before the 9:30 p.m. (ET) first serve against No. 1 Stanford. Stay tuned for much more coverage from the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship, including live blog coverage from Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Pinstripe Bowl Preview - Mike Hull

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Pinstripe Bowl Preview Interviews - James Franklin | Miles Dieffenbach

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - continues its series of interviews leading up to Penn State's trip to New York for the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN). Today, we talk with senior captain and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year Mike Hull.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Lawson Determined to Contribute After Returning From Injury

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By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It may have been the most frustrating time of his collegiate career, yet Penn State heavyweight Jimmy Lawson couldn't help but take the glass half-full approach.

After a strong 16-4 start to his junior campaign in 2013-'14, the Tom River, New Jersey, native saw his hopes to become an All-American vanish when he sustained a season-ending left knee injury on Jan.19 against Northwestern's Mike McMullan.

Instead of helping the Nittany Lions win a national championship in March, Lawson watched from the sidelines as his teammates won their fourth consecutive title. Still, he never allowed himself to hang his head.

"The positive thing that I could think about was the fact that it wasn't my senior year," Lawson said. "The main thing was being grateful. You get an injury like that and it derails your season and your aspirations for that season but at the same time, I was grateful that I had another opportunity."

That opportunity finally came on Dec. 11 during the Nittany Lions' fourth dual meet of the season against Maryland. In his season debut, Lawson looked as strong as ever, racking up nine takedowns in a 20-8 major decision win over the Terapins' Ryan Kail.

As good as it felt for Lawson to score such a dominant victory, the highlight of the wrestler's night was simply getting back on to the mat in a dual meet after sitting out for so long.

"I've been wrestling in open tournaments but that was definitely a different experience," Lawson said. "I've been out a long time so it was definitely a good experience to get out there and wrestle."

Lawson's journey back to the mat wasn't an easy one. The heavyweight had never undergone any type of surgery before, and the months that followed contained hours of rehab.

In order to get his knee back into wrestling shape, Lawson spent the summer in the gym, working on the strength in his legs and increasing his cardio.

"Definitely squatting and all that stuff, there's a whole bunch of different knee exercises," Lawson said. Conditioning was big. Couldn't really wrestle on the mat or put pressure on it too treadmill and all that stuff. Basically just focusing on improving [the left] knee individually to catch it up with the right knee."

As difficult as the process was at times, the fifth-year wrestler believes he has become a better competitor because of the adversity that he was forced to overcome.

"The knee injury set me back, but at the same time, I was training my body and training my mind to be able to deal with things like that," Lawson said. "I think it definitely made me a better wrestler and a better person. I know I can handle more now."

Now that he's back on the mat, Lawson finds himself in the same position he's been in the past three seasons - battling for the starting spot with fellow redshirt senior Jon Gingrich.

Gingrich, who competed in the NCAA Championships for Penn State last year, has been extremely impressive in his own right this season, getting off to a 3-0 start that has led to a No. 8 national ranking.

Head coach Cael Sanderson has made his feelings on the competition between the two very clear. He believes both have the potential to be an All-American and that it's just a matter of who steps up.

"Lawson's got great potential," Sanderson said. "He's an unbelievable athlete with strength and he's got great speed. If he lets it go like [against Maryland] he can do some big things and he'll be real tough to beat."

The last time Lawson competed on the national stage was his sophomore year, when he went 1-2 in his first NCAA Championships appearance.

Now, the heavyweight has his sights set on bigger goals as the Nittany Lions look to once again defend their crown.

Although the departures of national champions and Penn State legends Ed Ruth and David Taylor has opened up a void in both leadership and production for the Nittany Lions, Lawson said he doesn't feel there is any extra pressure due to anyone's graduation.

According to the senior, becoming a leader is something that every veteran should strive to do, regardless of who his teammates are. As his final season continues, Lawson is focused on creating a legacy of his own.

"Regardless of if you have Ed or Dave on the team you should always assume a leadership role," Lawson said. "That's why coach [Sanderson] gathered these great kids on this great team, to build leaders. No one wants to be a follower. You don't want to be saying, 'I'm the next Dave Taylor or Ed Ruth,' you want to be able to say, '[I'm] the next Jimmy Lawson.' We're trying to build our own legacies." 

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Travel Day to Oklahoma City

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The fifth-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team traveled to Oklahoma City on Tuesday in preparation for Thursday's NCAA semifinal match against No. 1 Stanford.

Penn State departed the University Park Airport just after 1 p.m.  The Nittany Lions arrived in Oklahoma shortly after 2 p.m. CT before getting set for practice. But prior to the team's evening practice at the University of Central Oklahoma on Tuesday night, the Lions stopped at the home of senior Micha Hancock in Edmond.  Take a behind the scenes look at the travel day to the NCAA semifinals, including scenes from the team's visit to Hancock's home.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Preview - One-on-One with Micha Hancock

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with senior setter Micha Hancock leading up to Penn State's trip the NCAA semifinals. An Oklahoma native, Hancock is headed home to compete in a Penn State uniform for the final time.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Pinstripe Bowl Preview - Miles Dieffenbach

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - continues its series of interviews leading up to Penn State's trip to New York for the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN). Today, we talk with senior captain Miles Dieffenbach.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Agee Powers Lady Lions to Victory

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10626694.jpegBy Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Lady Lions looked like a team on a mission in Sunday's victory against Rider. They opened the floodgates early, putting two on the board just 15 seconds after the tip. With only one game separating them from their conference schedule, the Lady Lions are starting to find a rhythm and develop court chemistry.

The 85-51 triumph against Rider was a true team effort with a handful of Lady Lions posting double-digit games. Freshman Lindsey Spann posted her second 20-point game of her career and Kaliyah Mitchell secured her first double-double. But for anyone watching Sunday's matchup against Rider, junior Candice Agee was a force to be reckoned with offensively and defensively.

"I think that she [Agee] is one of the players that has really grown," head coach Coquese Washington said. "Over the course these non-conference games you've seen some inconsistency with her. She plays a good half here and a good half there, but the last two or three games, we're starting to see a little more consistency from her."

Agee was on fire, tallying 19 points en route to her third double-digit scoring game of the season. While she was a major contributor on offense, Agee controlled the post last night, checking out of the game with five blocks.

"You're starting to see her confidence grow and her understanding of how she fits and how she can be an impact player for us on both ends," coach Washington said. "You're starting to see her figure that out. Whenever you can have a dominant post-player everything else can flow around that."

Standing at 6-foot-6, the California native is the tallest center coach Washington has had on her roster. Agee is impactful inside the paint; her size, confidence and patience are proving to be an unavoidable obstacle for opposing teams.

"I think it was very important for us to come out firing in the first half rather than trying to pick up [our offense] in the second half," Agee said. "This game compared to last; I made a point to become [the aggressive] player in the first half. It was very important for me to come out and dominate the paint early to open [shots] up for my teammates."

All season long, Coach Washington has been saying that as soon as her team gains some confidence that everything else will fall into place. Agee's confidence is forcing teams outside, making them take shots they aren't comfortable with. With Agee's help, the Lady Lions were able to hold Rider's leading scorer, Robin Perkins, to just six points in Sunday's contest. Perkins came into the game averaging 12.4 points per game.

"We went to the basket in the first half and really didn't get anything out of it because of her presence," coach Milligan said. "She does a great job of clogging the lane and she obviously is long and definitely altered our shots today, there's no doubt about that. That's something for them moving forward is going to be very helpful."

This season, Agee has posted at least on block in all but one game. Her efforts against Rider pushed Agee past the 50-career blocks milestone with 54 all-time and 20 this season. Agee was pretty vocal in last night's game, a necessary component to the on-court chemistry we are seeing develop with these young Lady Lions.

"We wanted to be disciplined in our rotations and make sure we were talking," Agee said. I think we all focused and made an effort to get our rotations right and that helped me get some nice blocks. We are going to keep getting better and working at it."