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Freshman Features: Sturtz Makes Transition from CCHL to College

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By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Freshman forward Andrew Sturtz is poised to make an immediate impact during the Penn State men's hockey 2015-16 season. After two successful years with the Carleton Place Canadians of the CCHL, Sturtz is ready for the challenging but rewarding transition into college hockey.

Sturtz, known for his effectiveness in front of the net, tallied 72 points in 58 regular-season games during the Canadians' 2014-15 campaign. Head coach Guy Gadowsky emphasized that Sturtz has been a player that Penn State was highly motivated to recruit.

"He was on the radar for a long, long time," said Gadowsky. "He has been someone that we've been very excited about for a while."

There are many reasons for the program to be excited about such a coveted recruit. Sturtz was named CCHL MVP and CJHL Player of the Year in 2013-14 by leading the league in scoring (104 points). Sturtz has made a major impact in the CCHL and he hopes the success he has seen will transition well in to NCAA-caliber games.

"It's obviously a big jump from [CCHL] to college, speed and strength wise," said Sturtz. "But [my teammates] are helping me out a lot and I look forward to seeing what I can do at this level, whatever role that is."

Gadowsky hopes that Sturtz's established talent blends in quickly with returning players like Dylan Richard and David Glen. The 2014-15 Big Ten Coach of the Year had taken his time studying Sturtz and his development before giving him the nod to be a Nittany Lion.

During the 2013-14 season with the Canadians, Sturtz was a standout team member, but his stats leveled-out during the 2014-15 campaign. This didn't deter Gadowsky however, but instead reflected opportunity to develop the young player.

"If you talk to his coaches and people around their junior program they said that he was a much better all around player [in the 2014-15 season], so he's the guy for us," said Gadowsky. "We're absolutely looking for some of that offense because we know that he can do it at high levels."

For Sturtz, the transition into college life off the ice has been equally as challenging as on the ice.

"It was tough for me at first," said Sturtz. "I battled with trying to find places a lot and I kept getting lost."

Once he found his way around campus, navigating hockey practices and workouts was something veteran team members helped Sturtz with. Sturtz has quickly fallen in to pace with the Penn State hockey ways.

"Adjusting to the hockey part of being here has been great," said Sturtz.

Being one of eight freshmen on the team this year, Sturtz has been able to learn from and bond with both his rookie and veteran teammates alike. He explained that even on his first visit to Penn State before committing, the players made Happy Valley feel like home.

"A big thing for me was when I came to visit all the guys came up to introduce themselves to me," said Sturtz. "You don't get that a lot at other schools, which shows this team has good character. I liked what I saw right when I got here and I knew this is where I wanted to play hockey."

Veteran players made Sturtz feel welcome during his first visit to Penn State and now those players have become his teammates. Sturtz explained who on the team he has become close with and who has given him a few pointers about transitioning to college life.

"Since I got here, David Glen is a good guy I look up to," said Sturtz. "He's good on the ice and off the ice, he's a good role model. Also, David Goodwin and Luke Juha are good players but also good students and I look forward to taking after their lead as the years go on."

With the Nittany Lions set to open their season this weekend, all of Sturtz's training will be put to the test. His offensive prowess will be something coaches and fans will be looking toward to help the Nittany Lions this season. If his hard work training for the season pays off, Sturtz will be an impactful player during his first season with Penn State.

"He someone that we're looking for to putting the puck in the net but also helping us with our identity," said Gadowsky. "He's someone we're very, very excited about."

Cori Conley is Bright Spot in Tough Loss

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11357432.jpegBy Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Whenever Penn State was in trouble on an Ohio State attack, Cori Conley was there to keep things under control.

Conley was a major part of a dominant defensive effort by Penn State, despite heartbreaking the 2-1 defeat in the second overtime period to the Buckeyes. One thing head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss noticed was the strength of her defense, including Conley.

"The backs just did a good job, especially Cori," said Morett-Curtiss.

Conley seemed to serve as an excellent safety net on dangerous-looking attacks. She had many timely tackles, knocking balls loose and clearing the ball away from danger when the Buckeyes had possession in the attacking circle.

The defensive statistics were solid, as Ohio State's first penalty corner did not occur until overtime.

"It was good we only allowed six shots. We played really tough defense and we didn't even allow them a corner at all, except for overtime. We played really well defensively and were able to tackle outside the circle...I feel like we played a really good defensive game," said Conley.

Not one to talk about herself, Conley stressed the importance of freshman goalie Jenny Rizzo in helping send the game to overtime.

"We reacted well to the good shots. Jenny reacted well saving them, and our defense and breaking out we did a really good job with," said Conley.

The frustrating part for the Lions is they showed they are capable of going off on offense, as they scored six goals on Friday night against Michigan State. The offensive statistics from Sunday's game, though, will be something the team learns from.

The Lions had 21 shots on goal and 14 penalty corners against the Buckeyes.

Penn State did score a goal on a penalty stroke, as Brooke Birosik went top shelf and put it past Buckeye goalkeeper Liz Tamburro.

Conley explained the team's faith in Birosik's ability to knock in goals.

"She [coach Morett-Curtiss] has really good trust in Brooke with her shot," said Conley.

The defense sparkled Sunday, led by Conley, and that is something that can be built upon going into next weekend. 

Courtney Guides Penn State to Victory Over No. 21 Minnesota

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11357385.jpegBy Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Megan Courtney did every single thing that a captain is supposed to do during a match when the Nittany Lions faced off against Minnesota on Saturday.

In just the first set, Courtney ignited the team's confidence after she used her strong IQ to easily tap the ball over the net for a kill for the opening point.

Throughout the rest of the night, she continued to lead by example, sparking the team on offense and defense. Courtney also provided encouragement to her teammates during timeouts and in the game when Penn State was falling behind in the sets, while never losing focus on the final goal of winning.

Because of Courtney's leadership, the Nittany Lions were able to defeat No. 21 Minnesota in five sets (25-22, 25-16, 19-25, 20-25, 15-12) on Saturday evening in Rec Hall.

Courtney led the team with a season-best and match-high of 22 kills as well as 13 digs, which marked her fifth double-double of the season. This was her third career 20-plus kill match. Courtney also notched five total blocks for the night, including two solo stuffs.

"I thought it was well-played matched by the two seniors," said head coach Russ Rose. "I thought [Minnesota's] Santana and Megan were especially key for their teams with their confidence and their smart shots."

Alongside Courtney, three other Nittany Lions fueled Penn State's offense by recording double digits kills for the second consecutive match. Ali Frantti, Aiyana Whitney and Haleigh Washington all finished out the night with 13 kills each.

"It feels good to win," said junior Taylor Krause. "It's great to have good leadership on the court, like from [Courtney and Weiskircher.]"

Redshirt freshman Bryanna Weiskircher logged a career-high of 54 assists and 12 digs for her second double-double of the season. Weiskircher also led the team along with Washington with two aces.

"I thought Bryanna steadied out. I thought she was good early, got a little complacent in the middle games and provided good direction in the last game," said coach Rose.

It was a battle throughout the night between Penn State and Minnesota, but the Nittany Lions knew that there was going to be tough competition.

"I thought it was a great match," said coach Rose. "One that we had many times with other teams in the conference and we were fortunate to win it based on how we played in the middle of the third and fourth game...[Minnesota] beat tenth-ranked Ohio State a couple of nights ago. They're very strong and I would expect them to continue to do great things."

Penn State hopes to continue its winning streak as the women's volleyball team continues Big Ten conference matchups this weekend against Nebraska and Iowa, but Courtney realizes that there is still a long season ahead of them.

"The Big Ten is a great conference, and if you go undefeated in the Big Ten, that's an incredible accomplishment, but that doesn't mean much," said Courtney. "We lost two games in the Big Ten last year, and unfortunately, didn't win the conference, but we won the national championship, so my focus is winning in December rather than winning in September. It matters that we want to win at home, and we want to be able to win on the road, but a loss isn't going to make your season end, and we did a great job of that last year. Our goal is to win, but we learn from it, and we move forward."

Johnson Earns Deserving Touchdown at Crucial Time

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11355718.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Arguably, no player on the Penn State roster has been more consistently disruptive during the past three seasons than Austin Johnson.

And, arguably, no player has spent less time in the spotlight.

The junior defense tackle just quietly goes about his business each day at practice and plays his heart out on Saturdays. You don't hear his name called as often as he deserves because the impact he makes on defensive plays is often noticeable in the film room, but not on the stat sheet.

Johnson's role in Saturday's 37-21 win over San Diego State was different, though.

With the scoreboard reading 27-21 heading into the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions were in need of a spark. The Aztecs had held the Lions off the board in the third quarter while trimming the Penn State lead down to six on a 1-yard touchdown run.

San Diego State drove deep into Penn State territory during a drive that started in the latter stages of the third quarter and continued into the fourth. A 31-yard pass set up San Diego State with a first down at the Penn State 24. Two plays later, it was 3rd-and-11 at the 25.

Aztec quarterback Maxwell Smith dropped back to pass. The pocket collapsed almost immediately thanks to the push from the Penn State defensive line.

Defensive end Carl Nassib's push led to the senior hitting the right arm of Smith just before it came forward on a passing attempt. The ball squirted free and fell to the turf on the left side of the line.

Johnson snatched it almost immediately and took off.

After stepping away from a tackler, Johnson saw nothing but green grass in front of him along the west sideline.

"Run big bear, run. He had a little high step in there, too, didn't he," said center Angelo Mangiro.

"He was chugging down the sideline. I was like, don't get caught, don't get caught, don't get caught," wide receiver Saeed Blacknall said.

As Johnson crossed the 50, he had a convoy of Penn State blockers around him, and he knew that an opportunity to score was within his grasp.

"Halfway there, I'm thinking, 'Oh my goodness, I might score a touchdown,'" said Johnson. "I got blocks from everybody. They are the reason I scored."

Johnson never broke stride and trotted into the south end zone for the first time in his career, giving Penn State a 13-point lead at a critical time in the ballgame.

"I liked the little high step when he got away from the tackle there," said quarterback Christian Hackenberg. "That was awesome. It's always great to see big guys score like that."

"It was really cool to see AJ score his first career touchdown," said head coach James Franklin. "Nothing like seeing the big boy roll down the field."

The sideline erupted as the 323-pound defensive tackle took off down the field.

"It doesn't get any better than watching a 300-pounder run 71 yards for a touchdown," said safety Malik Golden.

For a guy his size, Johnson has always played with more athleticism and quickness than he gets credit for. His teammates were thrilled with the big play and could not have been happier because of the respect they have for Johnson's efforts each week.

"There is nobody more deserving," said linebacker Troy Reeder. "It's always fun to see a big guy run down the field. I'm glad he had a ways to go because it was awesome seeing him run into the student section."

As a unit, the defensive line was again dominant in Saturday's victory. The Nittany Lions lead the nation in sacks and third in tackles for loss. Nassib leads the country in sacks through four games. On Saturday, the Lions had five sacks and nine tackles for loss.

"We played really well. We were getting after the quarterback, getting after people in the backfield, so we definitely played like a family," Johnson said.

The Lions have tallied 18 sacks for a loss of 148 yards and on the season and 40 TFLs for a loss of 201 yards. The stats speak for themselves, and the defensive line's production has been a huge boost for the team.

"They are playing really well," Hackenberg said. "They are creating a lot of stuff for opposing quarterbacks to deal with. They are in their face constantly. In the run game, they are always in there. They are playing unbelievable. That goes to coaching. That goes to their work ethic as individuals and their studying."

Riding a three-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions close out the non-conference slate against Army West Point on Saturday. Look for No. 99 to again be at the center of Penn State's push on the D-Line.

"It was such a great feeling to score. We are having fun and playing like a family," Johnson said.

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

VIDEO: One-on-One Postgame with James Franklin - San Diego State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talks with GoPSUsports.com following Penn State's 37-21 victory over San Diego State.

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VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews - San Diego State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head into the winning locker room to hear from several Nittany Lions, including Saeed Blacknall, Kyle Carter, Malik Golden, Christian Hackenberg, Austin Johnson, Angelo Mangiro, Troy Reeder following the 37-21 victory over San Diego State.

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2015 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. San Diego State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live, interactive coverage of the 2015 Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions will meet San Diego State inside Beaver Stadium. Follow along for live updates from gameday.

Live Blog 2015 Gameday Live - Penn State vs. San Diego State

2015 Photo Blog - Penn State vs. San Diego State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live coverage of the 2015 Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions will meet San Diego State inside Beaver Stadium. Follow along for photos updates from gameday.


Two Freshmen Net First Career Goals in Win

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11351703.jpegBy Mike Gilbert, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Michigan State goalie Sierra Patton made a full-length dive to block a shot with just over 16 minutes remaining in the first half, but Mary Nell Smith was ready.

The freshman posted up on the left side of the goal and banged the ricochet into the bottom left of the net, giving her team a 1-0 lead. Penn State never looked back.

Smith was a key part of the victory, flying around the field and making key plays in a 6-1 triumph over the Spartans in the Big Ten home opener.

"She just had a spark that we saw last week in Michigan and she just loves to attack and she was right there to finish up," said a happy coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss after the game.

Smith couldn't have been happier to knock in the first goal of her career.

"I was so excited. At first I thought 'oh I should have got that rebound' but I looked down and the ball was right in front of me so I put it in," said Smith.

Smith reflected on her first goal and it took a minute for her to realize the significance of what she accomplished.

"Everybody started screaming and it didn't really hit me at first until Gini [Bramley] put her hands up and screamed and I was so excited."

Bramley also netted her first goal as a Nittany Lion with 20 seconds remaining in the game to put the icing on the cake for Penn State.

A tougher week of practice than usual led to the domination of Michigan State. Shay Cannon attributed a hard week of practice after the loss to Michigan for the stellar performance and her goal; a laser from just inside the circle that found the middle portion of the goal.

"We work hard and were very competitive and it showed tonight," said Cannon. "I've been practicing that shot and those are the shots I always try to get, but I couldn't have done it without the help of my teammates."

Smith also praised the week of practice the team had.

"We work hard at practice and it shows in the games. We're back. That's what we wanted."

Steph Hussey added a goal, with Aurelia Meijer and Brooke Birosek netting two more, showed that whether it be freshman or senior, any Lion on the field can get the job done.

"Our freshman stood out across all levels, sophomores did a great job, juniors did a really good job inside and controlling the midfield...Once Haley [Kerstetter] got in she started a spark but it was really good to see. The girls just did a great job," said assistant coach Stuart Smith.

"It's a Big Ten game, so I think after what we had with Michigan they weren't going to let the Spartans come in to Happy Valley and walk all over us," Smith said.

Morett-Curtiss was relieved to see such a dominant performance on the field.

"1-1 [in the Big Ten] feels a lot better," said Morett-Curtiss.

With two freshmen netting their first goals and an overall dominant performance, the Lions took a big step forward just in time for the meat of the Big Ten portion of their schedule. 

2015 Gameday - Lions Host San Diego State in Beaver Stadium

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Gameday Central | Game Notes | Game Blog | Press Conference Roundup | Lions in NFL

Coach Franklin Wednesday | Coach Huff Q&A | Looking Back: Northwestern 2005

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Riding a two-game winning streak, Penn State will continue its string of five consecutive home games on Saturday when the Lions face San Diego State.

11348212.jpegThe Nittany Lions (2-1, 1-0) and Aztecs (1-2, 0-0) will meet for the first time on the gridiron when the two squads line up for a 3:30 p.m. kick inside Beaver Stadium. The game will air live on BTN.

Penn State notched its second win in as many weeks with a dominant 28-3 triumph against Rutgers in the Big Ten opener. Offense, defense and special teams all played paramount roles in the conference-opening victory.

"I'm actually really pleased with how we're playing as a team right now," said head coach James Franklin. "I thought that game on Saturday was probably the most complete football game we've played since we've been here. I thought we played great team football at this point where we're at as a program."

A 330-yard rushing night highlighted Penn State's Big Ten opener. True freshman Saquon Barkley (195 yards) and junior Akeel Lynch (120 yards) combined for three touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights. Penn State enters this week having rushed for 200 or more yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 2009.

On defense, Penn State limited Rutgers to just 43 yards on the ground and held the Scarlet Knights out of the end zone. For the season, the Nittany Lions have allowed just seven points in the first half of games. The three points scored by Rutgers marked the lowest total by a Big Ten opponent since 2011.

Penn State's special teams play was also superb in the primetime tilt against Rutgers. The Lions forced the Knights into an averaging starting spot of their own 18-yard line. Punter Chris Gulla had five kicks downed inside the 20, and the Nittany Lions again dazzled in the return game with Nick Scott tallying a kickoff return of more than 30 yards for the second-straight week.

San Diego State (1-2) enters the week looking to snap a two-game skid following an overtime setback to South Alabama at home. The Aztecs opened the season with a 37-3 victory over San Diego before dropping a 35-7 decision at California. San Diego State has averaged 23.7 points per game during the first three weeks.

The Aztecs will become the 155th different opponent Penn State has played in its 129-year history on the gridiron. The Nittany Lions have played just four games against the current members of the Mountain West Conference. The most recent meeting against a Mountain West foe came in 1977 when the Lions played Utah State.

The Second Annual Unrivaled Band Jam will take place on Saturday. High school bands will participate in the pre-game performance with the Penn State Blue Band. More than 1,000 total band members are anticipated to perform. The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at noon, and the event begins at 1:15 p.m. inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

"The band does an awesome job for us in the stadium," Franklin said. "Tuesday nights they practice on our turf, and I love it. They're out there jamming on Tuesday nights in the stadium. What they do, obviously, the environment that they bring is really, really special. So we're indebted to the commitment that our band makes to our program and the University as a whole."

Welcome to the gameday preview for week four - Penn State vs. San Diego State.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
11348234.jpeg1. Thanks to physical play from the offensive line, the Nittany Lions are beginning to find an identity with a potent one-two punch of running backs in the backfield. Lynch and Barkley have combined for 555 yards and five touchdowns on the ground this season. The duo is averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Additionally, true freshman Brandon Polk and redshirt freshman DeAndre Thompkins bring a speed component to the ground attack and have tallied 102 yards and scored twice. Continued effectiveness on the ground will create more opportunities for Christian Hackenberg and the receiving corps down field as the season progresses. Hackenberg was not sacked during the past two games.

2. The play of the Nittany Lion defensive line speaks for itself. The unit has been nothing short of dominant up front, but don't overlook the play of Penn State's youthful linebacker corps. The linebacker group welcomed the return of Brandon Bell last week, who had nine stops in the victory. Sophomore Jason Cabinda has been stout in his first action at middle linebacker during the last two weeks, as well. Cabinda has made 19 tackles this season and broken up three passes. Redshirt freshman Troy Reeder played for the first time against Temple and started against Buffalo. He hasn't looked back since. Reeder made eight tackles last week and has 17 tackles on the season.

3. Coach Franklin called last week's game against Rutgers the best performance by the special teams unit since the staff arrived on campus. The Nittany Lions have made big gains on special teams during the first three weeks of the season. In addition to more consistency in the kicking game, the Lions have been excellent in coverage and explosive on returns.

"Special teams, I think we're playing really fast and confident on special teams right now," said Franklin. "If you had to say what unit has improved the most on our team, I'd say it's special teams. So that's through scheme, that's through commitment and effort, and that's through just more depth that we have."

What to Watch For - San Diego State
1. The Aztecs return eight starters from a 2014 defense that finished the season ranked No. 16 in the nation in total defense. San Diego State is one of just six teams nationally with two or more interception returns for touchdown during the first three weeks of 2015. Linebacker Calvin Munson has both pick-six plays on the season. Coach Franklin noted San Diego State's unique defensive scheme earlier in the week.

"If anybody's had a chance to watch San Diego State already, they play what I would call a chaos defense," said Franklin. "Anybody ever see those defenses where they don't even lineup, they just kind of walk around and do all those things. They blitz from every angle possible."

2. Junior running back Donnel Pumphrey posted his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season last week. A preseason watch list member for both the Maxwell and Doak Walker Awards, Pumphrey has 2,868 career rushing yards. He leads the team in both rushing (249 yards) and receptions heading into Saturday's game. An 1,800-yard rusher in 2014 as a sophomore, Pumphrey is averaging more than six yards per carry in his career.

3. The San Diego State special teams units are ranked among the nation's top tier in a number of statistical categories. The Aztecs are balanced across the board with the kickoff return unit ranked 11th (29.10 ypr), punt return group ranked 28th (15.29 ypr), ranked 31st in net punting (40.65 yds) and tied for the highest field goal percentage (83.3) in the nation (among schools with at least six attempts).

The Final Word:
Visiting teams from the West Coast have been few and far between inside Beaver Stadium in the past four decades. Saturday's game will mark only the fourth game between Penn State and a team in the Pacific Time Zone since the 1976 season. Since Beaver Stadium opened, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and USC are the only teams from the West Coast that have played inside Beaver Stadium, prior to San Diego State joining that list. The Aztecs will be 2,230 miles from home when they take the field on Saturday, which is the second longest distance any continental team will travel in Division I FBS this season.

Penn State will be seeking its first 3-0 start at home since the 2010 season. The Nittany Lions have allowed a total of seven points in the first half this season and are yet to yield a point in the first quarter of a game. Penn State has outscored its opponents 41-7 in the first half this season. Big Ten Network's live coverage of the Rutgers game begins at 3:30 p.m. with kickoff slated for 3:42 p.m. Kevin Kugler (Play-by-Play), Matt Millen (Analyst) and Lisa Byington (Sideline) will call the game.

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