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2014 Coaches Caravan Day IV - King of Prussia

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King of Prussia Photo Gallery | Coaches Caravan Registration


KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. - Leg two of the 2014 Coaches Caravan kicked off on Tuesday evening with a stop outside of Philadelphia.

The eighth stop of the 17-event caravan featured James Franklin, four-time defending NCAA national champion wrestling head coach Cael Sanderson, field hockey's Charlene Morett and women's soccer's Erica Walsh.  More than 700 Penn State enthusiasts greeted the coaches inside the event room at Valley Forge Casino Resort.  Take a look at some highlights from Tuesday's event.


Stop No. 8 - King of Prussia (Valley Forge Casino Resort)




More than 100,000 Penn State alums call the Philadelphia area home, and three of the four coaches on stage treated Tuesday night's Coaches Caravan event as a homecoming.  Hailing from Montgomery County, Walsh was just minutes where she grew up in Huntingdon Valley.

"I tried to get the whole caravan moved to the Phillies game (tonight)," Walsh joked.

Morett, who is on the Caravan for the Philly swing, is a proud product of Delaware County.  Like Walsh, she was thrilled to be in front of the home crowd on Tuesday night.

"I'm just a Philly girl coming back home," Morett said.

Morett spent a portion of her speech giving Walsh a hard time for not attending Penn State.  Walsh has spent the past two weeks on the Coaches Caravan delivering a superb visualization speech of the University Park campus.  Morett's response?

"After listening to your speech, how did you not go to Penn State?"

As a 27-year veteran as a head coach of the Nittany Lion field hockey program and Penn State alum, Morett is among the most passionate individuals you will find when it comes to her love for the University.  She genuinely appreciates the support fans and alums give to the school that means so much to her, and it's always evident when she speaks in front of a crowd.

The third Philly product in King of Prussia on Tuesday evening was the headliner of the event.  Franklin grew up in Langhorne, Pa., which is roughly 30 miles from the site of the stop.  As he has said from day one, Franklin is a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart.  He's thrilled to be the head coach of the Nittany Lions, and he could not have been happier to be close to home.

"It's unbelievable to be here tonight," Franklin said.  "...The sense of pride in Penn State is unbelievable."

kop_1.jpg Joining the trio of Philly natives this week on the Caravan is the leader of the nation's premier collegiate wrestling program.  Always entertaining, Sanderson has a knack for keeping the crowd light every time he speaks in front of a group.  He was clad in a "Dominate The State" T-shirt under his suit jacket to show his support of Coach Franklin.

Sanderson's introduction included a small snippet of his unmatched wrestling and coaching career.  After receiving a standing ovation following the introduction, Sanderson stepped to the microphone and noted that the intro had left off his fourth-grade all-star baseball achievement.  The room erupted in laughter.

Sanderson likes to have fun with the crowd, but when it comes to his appreciation for the position he holds, his feelings are clear.

"It's an awesome opportunity to be a part of Penn State, and it's because of you guys," Sanderson said.

The Coaches Caravan travels downtown Philadelphia for a lunch stop on Wednesday before moving north to Scranton for a dinner event.

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Miles Traveled:
Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles


Total - 857 miles

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

Nittany Lions' Growth Shows Promise for Future

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Habitz_10005307.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ending the season with a 6-2 loss against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament was not the ideal outcome for the Nittany Lions.  Nevertheless, despite this disappointment, the small successes that have accumulated throughout the year have had much more of an impact on the program and on its bright future.

As a first year head coach, Amanda Lehotak is proud of her team's efforts and growth this season.  The Blue and White finished with an overall record of 14-35, going 5-18 in the Big Ten.

"From the coaching aspect, we finished a spot higher than they did last year in the conference," Lehotak said.  "We had two less wins, but when you're best returning hitter is .253 from a year ago and you have three or four people hitting at .300 that have never done that before, have raised their batting average anywhere from 90 to 100 points in a season, you're moving in the right direction."

One of the biggest assets at the plate for the Lions this season was sophomore Karlie Habitz, whose impressive focus and determined also shined through in tournament play.  In last Thursday's game alone, the California native went 2-for-3, driving in one of the team's two runs.

Throughout her 48 appearances this season, Habitz batted .309 and recorded 42 hits.  Furthermore, the sophomore led the team in home runs (4) and RBI (35).

"Karlie did what she did all year," Lehotak said following the Ohio State loss.  "She just battled.  My favorite thing about Karlie Habitz at the plate is nothing really shakes her.  I feel like she keeps the same body language first at-bat, third at-bat.  She usually gets stronger as the game goes.  You always have a plan, and she stuck to her plan and was really successful."

While happy with her own performance, Habitz also recognizes the importance of this season for the team as a whole.  It was a season full of learning, testing, and building, which will dramatically help Penn State in the upcoming years.

"I thought we improved a lot on a lot of things," Habitz said.  "Hitters really started hitting the ball more, were more patient and had more quality at-bats, and our defense has really gotten a lot stronger this season.  We've taken some baby steps, some big steps, but overall, I think we should be better in the future."

Habitz was not the only sophomore to produce offensively this year, as Lexi Knief also had a standout season.  The centerfielder led the team with a .372 batting average and tied for sixth in the NCAA with triples after accumulating six in the 49 games she played.

"We went from the bottom offensively of all of the Big Ten to being middle of the pack," Lehotak said.    
"We have a couple kids that are top 10 in triples in the NCAA.  We did a lot of good things individually, so from a coaching standpoint, and the program and the future aspect, I'm very proud of the small successes that we had.  I know they did not equate to wins, but I think that happens.  As coaches, we have to continue to be better, figure out where we went wrong as a staff, and we will do that."

Next season, Penn State will return its top three hitters in Knief, Habitz, and Shelby Miller, meaning much of the team's offensive production will be carried over.  The three combined for a total of 62 RBI and accounted for 45 percent of the team's hits this spring, with a total of 137.

In addition, the Lions' top two pitchers, Marlaina Laubach and Macy Jones, will also return to the circle for Penn State this fall team.  With the conclusion of the 2014 season, Laubach and Jones earned ERAs of 3.64 and 5.35, respectively.

After playing hard for 49 games and leaving everything on the field, the Nittany Lions will begin to prepare for next season, hoping to come back stronger than ever before.  Penn State softball will continue to strive for success and to proudly represent their university.

"My kids," began Lehotak, "I appreciated how they played the game.  I thought they played the game with respect.  I thought they represented Penn State with pride and respect all year long.  We had so many improvements in so many areas.  I think the future looks good.  It's going to be a marathon.  It's not going to be a sprint to get the program where we want it and where we all want it to be at Penn State, but I am very proud.  Overall, we did a lot of good things, and I think my kids should walk out of here with their heads held high."

Freshman Haley Brings Energy to Veteran Lions

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By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As his freshman year comes to a close, Penn State shortstop Jim Haley thought about his first season of college baseball and admits that much of it has taken him by surprise.

For starters, he never thought the school he grew up rooting for would end up recruiting him, and he certainly never thought he'd become a starting college shortstop so quickly into his career either.

However, that's exactly how the year has played out for Haley, as the Upper Darby native has started 38 of the Nittany Lions 46 games, including each of the last 32.

"My friends in high school would always joke around about how cool it would be if Penn State recruited me and it was a shock to me when they did," Haley said. "I didn't expect to be starting. I wanted to come in and put the work in and it's paid off for me."

On a veteran heavy team, Haley has been one of three freshmen along with pitcher Dakota Forsyth and outfielder Nick Riotto to receive significant playing time and the only one to start consistently, not an easy feat considering he plays the most challenging position defensively on the field.

Despite his success, the transition from high school to Division I baseball has certainly had its share of adjustments for the shortstop, who went just 2-for-14 at the plate in his first four starts. He admitted that he quickly learned how much tougher pitching at the next level is.

"At the beginning of the year (adjusting) was a huge process," Haley said. "The pitching is really good in college because most guys can throw any pitch they want in any count, so that was a major adjustment."

It may not have been easy, but the freshman has steadily improved as a hitter as the year has gone along. Among players on the team with at least 100 at-bats, Haley ranks in the top five in batting average (.256), on-base percentage (.359), total bases (39), doubles (five), and runs scored (15). He also paces the team with eight hit-by-pitch.

He has also seen time at virtually every spot in the batting order, starting as the No. 9 hitter, spending time in the cleanup spot, and now currently anchoring the top of the order and hitting either second or third.

"Batting down in the order you get to see more fastballs so as I have moved up the lineup I had to adjust to seeing more breaking balls and I'm still working on that," Haley said. "I like hitting either second or third the most."

At the same time, how Haley hits is really the last thing on the mind of his teammates and head coach Rob Cooper, who look to him to be the team's defensive anchor out in the field.

After some early inconsistencies, Haley has come a long way defensively, thanks in part to the chemistry he has developed with second baseman Taylor Skerpon, which has helped the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in double plays (26) in conference play.  

Hailing from right outside of Philadelphia, Haley grew up idolizing the Philadelphia Phillies long-time double play duo of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and he likes to look at them as a model for himself and Skerpon.

"The main thing up the middle is chemistry and we mesh really well together," Haley said. "(Skerpon) is a guy that leads by example and playing with him is awesome."

Skerpon, who switched to second base after spending last season as the team's shortstop, has taken his freshman teammate under his wing, rooming with him on the road and not grumbling for a second about changing positions.

It didn't take long for the junior infielder to realize that the team had someone special on its hands in their freshman shortstop, and he knows that much of the team's future success relies on Haley's development.

"It's a lot of fun looking over and seeing him make diving play after diving play and giving me great feeds at second," Skerpon said. "I definitely made him earn that spot but it's working for us and he's definitely going to be a guy that you can build a program around."

Although Cooper said that the beginning of the season included plenty of growing pains for Haley, there was never a doubt in his mind that the freshman would end up as the team's starting shortstop.

If there is one thing that has impressed Cooper about the 19-year old, it has been the way he has embraced the pressure and competition that comes with competing in the Big Ten.

"Making the jump from high school to college is always an adjustment for [freshman] but he's not scared and he's not afraid to play the game," Cooper said. "He's starting to realize what a Division I shortstop has to do to be good and I don't think he's anywhere close to being the type of player he can be."

Haley knows he is just scratching the surface of his potential, and while this season hasn't gone exactly the way he or his teammates would have liked, he is still grateful for the opportunities he has gotten this year and all the guidance he has received from both the coaching staff and the Penn State veterans.

"I can't say I'm satisfied because I know I can push myself to do better and help the team in other ways," Haley said, "but coach Cooper has been great bringing in his process and it's been a fun time with this group."

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

Wrapping Up the 2014 NFL Draft

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three former Nittany Lions were selected in the 2014 NFL Draft over the weekend, marking the 40th time since 1970 that at least three Penn State student-athletes have been picked in a draft.

All-Big Ten standouts Allen Robinson, DaQuan Jones and John Urschel headlined Penn State's weekend during the NFL Draft in New York.  Robinson was the first Nittany Lion off the board when the Jacksonville Jaguars picked the Michigan native with the 61st overall pick in Friday's second round.  Jones was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the 112th overall pick (fourth round).  Urschel was picked by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round (175th overall selection).

With the three draftees in 2014, Penn State's all-time number of student-athletes selected in the draft is 335.  Robinson became the second player to be selected by the Jaguars, joining defensive back James Boyd, who went to the Jags in the third round of the 2001 draft.

Jones is the fourth Nittany Lion picked by the Tennessee Titans, joining defensive back Calvin Lowry (2006), cornerback Rich Gardner (2004) and tight end Sean McHugh (2004) on the all-time list.  Urschel is the third Penn State player selected by the Ravens.  He joins free safety Kim Herring (1997) and quarterback Wally Richardson (1997) as Penn State players picked by the Ravens.

Looking at each position, Robinson is the first Penn State receiver to be selected in the NFL Draft since Deon Butler and Derrick Williams were picked by the Lions in 2009.  Four Nittany Lion receivers have been picked in the draft since 2000 (Robinson, Butler, Williams and Bryant Johnson).  In total, 17 Penn State receivers have been selected in the NFL Draft.

Jones joined a long list of Penn State defensive linemen in the Nittany Lion draft history.  Since 2003, 11 defensive linemen have been drafted, including five in the first round.  In five of the past six years, a Nittany Lion defensive lineman has been drafted in the first four rounds.  With Urschel's selection, five Penn State offensive linemen have been selected since 2009. 

In addition to the three players drafted, the Seattle Seahawks announced the signing of Garry Gilliam to a free agent contract.  The Arizona Cardinals announced the signing of linebacker Glenn Carson, as well.

Congratulations to Robinson, Jones and Urschel.  The OTA offseason workouts begin at the end of May - Jaguars: May 27-29; Titans: May 27-29; Ravens: May 28-30; Seahawks: May 27-29.



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

Nittany Lions Learn Lessons from Indiana Series

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By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- All season long, win or lose, Penn State baseball head coach Rob Cooper has approached every day the same way: with a clean slate.

That is because no matter how well or poorly his team may be playing, there is always room for improvement and dwelling on what happened the day before won't get you anywhere.

Going up against one of the premiere programs in the country in Indiana, the Nittany Lions were unable to come away with a victory during the weekend series, falling by scores of 10-0, 8-1, and 9-2, yet they never put their heads down.

"When we were playing well we didn't get too far ahead of it and it's the same thing now," Cooper said. "Come tomorrow we're 0-0 and the energy in the dugout (this weekend) was up and our guys were in the game the whole time."

The Nittany Lions have faced a number of formidable opponents this season, but this Hoosiers squad was easily their toughest task. A College World Series participant in 2013, Indiana (35-12, 19-2 Big 10) boasts a lineup featuring six position players batting over .300 and threw three pitchers at the Nittany Lions - Joey DeNato, Christian Morris, and Brian Korte - with ERAs under 2.30.

Facing an uphill battle from the start, the Blue and White never backed down and gave Cooper reasons to believe that his players have bought into his process. After challenging his team defensively when they made four errors on Friday, the Nittany Lions responded with a perfect fielding day on Saturday, highlighted by third baseman Ryky Smith making a diving stop on a grounder in the ninth inning despite being down seven runs.

"We played the game clean (on Saturday) and did a great job picking the ball up," Cooper said. "If you're looking for tangible (progress), look at Ryky Smith. He hasn't played much lately and he made an effort play in the ninth on Friday night and that shows you they haven't quit."

Offensively, the Nittany Lions weekend was highlighted by first baseman J.J. White, who went 6-for-11 over the three game series, including a 3-for-4 performance on Friday.

It was a much needed breakthrough for the junior, who had gone just 2-for-8 in the team's previous series against Nebraska, as he raised his batting average from .247 to .267 in just three games.

"He's a guy that has struggled for the past few weeks so it was good to see him have some success," Cooper said. "I give him credit because the easy thing to do would be to just say 'things aren't going the way I hoped' but he's continuing to work and get better."

On Sunday, Cooper decided to give Nick Hedge, a sophomore who hadn't started since taking the mound at Ohio State on April 13, another shot on the mound.

Looking to redeem himself, Hedge held his own against the best team in the Big Ten, going five innings and allowing four earned runs while only walking one batter.

"Nick's big thing is having confidence in himself and I see a guy who's giving himself to the process instead of worrying about being perfect," Cooper said. "He pitched the way we know he can pitch today."

As frustrating as the season has been at times for Cooper as his team has struggled against their Big Ten opponents, this is not the first time he has been faced with a situation like this.

In his first season as the head coach of Wright State in 2005, Cooper's Raiders finished the season seven games under .500 before ripping off seven straight 30 win seasons.

What that experience taught Cooper is that winning truly is a process that takes time, and that good things come to those who stick by their values even when things get tough.

"Losing is not okay but having had that experience is reassuring to me that we need to stay with it and I can't say I would have said that 10 years ago," Cooper said. "This is part of it and you have to learn how to win and win consistently."

Still, the Nittany Lions don't want to have to wait until next year to be winners again and with four games remaining on their schedule, they don't have to.

With a trip to Villanova on Tuesday followed by a final conference series against Michigan State next weekend, the Lions can still end the 2014 season on a positive note.

"You can't hold on to the past because it's over," Cooper said. "We have a four game season and we're going to figure out a way to get better, strap it on against Villanova and go from there."

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

Baseball Shaves Heads to Help Battle Cancer

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State baseball team raised funds and shaved their heads to support THON and the Vs. Cancer Foundation on Sunday, May 11, 2014 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Here are some highlights from the postgame head shaving event with interviews with sophomore Tyler Kendall and head coach Rob Cooper.

To learn more about the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) visit Thon.org and to lean more about Vs. Cancer you can visit Vs-Cancer.org.

VIDEO: One-on-One with Bob Shoop & Terry Smith in Pittsburgh

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com talks with Pittsburgh area natives Bob Shoop and Terry Smith at the Coaches Caravan stop in Pittsburgh.




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VIDEO: One-on-One with Charles Huff on the Coaches Caravan

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com catches up with special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff during the 2014 Coaches Caravan stop in Washington, D.C.





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VIDEO: Men's Tennis NCAA Tournament Preview

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the first time since 2008, the Nittany Lion men's tennis team is set to compete in the NCAA Tournament.  No. 23 Penn State takes on UNC Wilmington in the first round on Saturday at 9 a.m. in Charlottesville, Virginia.  On the heels of a record-breaking regular season, watch a video preview heading into the tournament.


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2014 Coaches Caravan Day III - Uniontown and Pittsburgh

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Uniontown Photo Gallery | Pittsburgh Photo Gallery | Coaches Caravan Registration

VIDEO: Day I Recap - York & Hershey | VIDEO: Day II Recap - Baltimore & Washington, D.C.

PITTSBURGH - The 2014 Coaches Caravan capped off its first full week on the road with two stops in the western half of Pennsylvania.

Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus played host to the final lunch stop of the week.  From there, the modified bus rolled north to Station Square in Pittsburgh for an evening reception.  Take a look through highlights from the third day on the road for the 2014 Coaches Caravan.


Stop No. 6 - Uniontown (Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus)


 
The Coaches Caravan bus departed Washington, D.C., just before 7 a.m. on Thursday for a scenic trek through the Appalachian Mountains en route to Uniontown for the sixth stop on the 17-event tour during May.  Thursday's stop at the Penn State Fayette campus was the first for the Coaches Caravan in its three-year existence.  The scenic campus is situated in a place with superb views in every direction.

"This is my first trip here, and this place is absolutely beautiful," women's soccer head coach Erica Walsh said.

Walsh, along with men's soccer head coach Bob Warming and football coach James Franklin again headlined the final day of the first week.  Walsh captivated the audience with another rendition of her visualization story of taking a prospective student-athlete on a recruiting visit.

Coaches Walsh and Warming have spent portions of the bus rides from event to event educating him on college and professional soccer.  Warming used it as a lighthearted joke with Penn State Fayette crowd.

"It has been so great to be on the bus to educate Coach Franklin about the most popular sport in the world - soccer," Warming said.

caravan_uniontown_1.jpg Having now been on the road for three days on the Coaches Caravan, Coach Franklin has gotten an opportunity to meet fans and supporters from several areas in Pennsylvania and surrounding region.  Since the day he arrived in Happy Valley, the support has stood out to him.  He is passionate towards the fan base and wants to meet as many folks as possible.

"It's great to get out around the state and connect with as many people as possible," Franklin said.  "The support has been the most impressive thing for me.  We need your support."

With two more weeks ahead, Franklin is eager to meet as many fans as possible.  The tone of his message has been constant over the first week of the Caravan.  He's thrilled to be the head coach of Penn State, and he wants to make the fan base proud of the football program.


Stop No. 7 - Pittsburgh (Sheraton Station Square)



The Caravan's first week on the road wrapped up in front of 450 fans in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.  Home to 56,000 alums in the greater metro area, the Steel City is home to some of Penn State's most loyal supporters.  The room was filled with energy from the moment the doors opened prior to the reception at 6 p.m., and  all three head coaches received a warm reception during their speeches.

Additionally, Pittsburgh area natives and assistant coaches Bob Shoop and Terry Smith joined Franklin, Walsh and Warming for the evening event.  Shoop (Oakmont) and Smith (Aliquippa) recruited in the area during the day before shaking hands with countless Nittany Lion fans at the evening event.  Nittany Lion great and former NFL quarterback Chuck Fusina was among the Pittsburgh area lettermen inside the Sheraton Station Square saying hello to Coach Franklin, as well.

caravan_pittsburgh_1.jpg All six stops this week featured passionate Penn State fans.  The individuals sitting in the rooms listening to the coaches speak are among the undying supporters the University's athletic department has.  However, Pittsburgh's rich history as a sports town, especially when it comes to football, always makes it an exciting evening event on the Coaches Caravan.  Thursday's event was no exception.

The NIttany Lions will begin a four-game series with rival Pitt beginning in 2016 (Sept. 10) when the two teams meet at Heinz Field.  The Penn State fan base in Pittsburgh is fired up for the team's return to the city, and it was clear on Thursday how excited the group is for the new era of the football program under the direction of Coach Franklin.

"This is your football program, not mine," Franklin said.  "I am so proud to be your head coach."

Thursday was the final day for Coach Warming to be on the Caravan.  The leader of the men's soccer program was terrific all week long.  He was candid, lighthearted and passionate when it came to delivering a message to illustrate how much he loves Penn State and how much he enjoys the support of Nittany Nation.

The Coaches Caravan returns to the road on Tuesday for a stop in King of Prussia.  Week two also includes a lunch stop in Philadelphia, dinner in Scranton, lunch in Northern New Jersey and an evening in New York City.

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Miles Traveled:
Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles

Total - 682 miles

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