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Guers, White Form Reliable Three-Four Punch

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By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Most successful teams in baseball have a lethal three-four punch in the middle of their lineup. One that blasts homeruns and sprays doubles across the field. Since day one at Penn State, first year head coach Rob Cooper has stressed he doesn't want exactly that, just a few guys that can get simple and timely hits. It's safe to say midway through the season, Penn State has that.

Designated hitter Greg Guers and first basemen JJ White have become that very reliable and consistent three-four duo in the Nittany Lion lineup. They enter this weekend's three game series at Ohio State hitting a combined 17-for-54 with 12 RBI since March 28. In those seven games, Penn State is 6-1 and off to a 4-1 start in Big Ten play.

During that stretch, they have posted just one three-hit game and neither player has hit a homerun. It's been singles up the middle or knocks into the gaps scoring the table setters - James Coates and Steve Snyder. It's just simple and easy.

"We're just trying to do what's best for the team so if we need a single that's all we are trying to do," White said. "We're just trying to get a base hit, but whatever happens, happens and getting base hits in clutch times is awesome as long as we get the win."

On the year, Guers sits at a .261 batting average with 18 RBI and White has a .246 average with 19 RBI. As Cooper puts averages aside, the RBI are key with the two Nittany Lion hitters and have mainly come in clutch situations.

Just as White said, Guers believes they have had success because of the simplicity of Cooper's offense.

"It's awesome because you don't feel like you have to do too much," he said. "A routine single up the middle or one that finds the hole gets the job done. You don't have to hit the ball off the wall or out of the park."

They have been pretty consistent over the past two weeks. There have been five multi-hit games between the two and Guers says it's because they both know they have each other's back.

"If he's having a good game then I pick him up and drive him in. If one of us is having a bad game we work off each other and pick each other up," Guers said. "Coates and Snyder have done a good job getting on base so it's been giving us great opportunities to be successful in those spots."

There's a little more to this connection, though. Guers and White are roommates. They see each other every day at the field and at home and joke that their constant interaction is why they have had such success this season.

That also may be a common theme for this Penn State team. Over the past year, they have become so tight knit because there has been no pressure for one individual to succeed more than another.

"We live right next to each other on the same floor so it's a great connection," Guers said of him and White. "Our whole team is close so if anyone is having a bad game someone is there to pick them up. It's just good chemistry that JJ and I have going on right now so it's fun."

It's been fun all year for this Penn State team, not only because of the wins, but because of the brand of baseball they are playing. Guers and White were all smiles when describing their simple approach at the plate and the dividends it has paid thus far because they know if it continues, the wins will keep coming.

"It's awesome," White said. "Wherever coach needs me to do, I'll do. I just want to do my job. It's pretty cool being in the middle of the lineup with Guers behind me and having Snyder with the year he's having and then Coates.

"Something really special is happening here and it's really cool."

The Nittany Lions will take their 16-14 record and 4-1 Big Ten mark to Columbus this weekend, with a three-game series with the Buckeyes (19-14, 2-7) starting on Friday at 6:35 p.m.

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

2014 Blue-White Gameday Preview

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Blue-White Gameday Central
| Blue-White Parking Map | Print Parking Pass
New RV Traffic Pattern | Beaver Stadium Bag Policy

2014 Blue-White Game Rosters
 
| Spring Football Coverage - Video, Features & More


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lion football squad will wrap up spring drills on Saturday afternoon at the annual Blue-White Game presented by AAA inside Beaver Stadium, marking the culmination of a productive spring practice season.

9913023.jpegThe game will kick at 1:30 p.m. with television coverage from BTN airing at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Radio coverage with Steve Jones, Jack Ham and Loren Crispell (sideline) will air on the Penn State Sports Network and GoPSUsports.com.

Gameday admission and parking are free. 
The overnight RV parking lot (Lots 19-20) will open Friday at 8 a.m. and close Saturday at 4 a.m. The cost is $60 for the weekend (cash only). The overnight RV lot is the only Intercollegiate Athletics' football parking lot that will charge a fee this weekend.

The Nittany Lions made good progress on both sides of the ball and on special teams during spring drills.  Saturday's game marks the final opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate the team before start of training camp in August.

"Spring has gone well.  Obviously, being new here, it has been a great opportunity to be here and lay our foundation on offense, defense and special teams, more from a concept standpoint and a mentality standpoint of how to practice and how we do things," Franklin said.  "It has been unbelievably valuable so that now the guys can go into the offseason and watch film and study so that we can come in have the most competitive camp that we've had here in a long time to get ready for our opener against Central Florida (Aug. 30/Croke Park Classic/Dublin, Ireland)."


The Nittany Lion players are not taking Saturday's game lightly, and they are eager to compete against one another in front of the Nittany Lion faithful.

"There is a big emphasis for us on the game," linebacker Mike Hull said.  "The coaches are going to evaluate it as the third major scrimmage of the spring.  They want us to perform and play at a really high level.  We view it as another chance to go out and play football, and we will try to make the most of the opportunity."

"It's another great opportunity for us to get better," defensive end C.J. Olaniyan said.  "And it's even better when we get to do it in front of the greatest fans."

Take a look through some Blue-White things to watch as the Nittany Lions wrap up spring practice for 2014.

Autograph Session Returns
The popular player autograph session returns for the 2014 Blue-White Game.  Parking lots will open at 8:00 a.m. and the team will arrive at the south tunnel at approximately 10:10 a.m. Gates A & B will open for fans at 10:30 a.m. for the autograph session, which runs from 10:45-11:30 a.m. Gates C & F will open at 12:00 p.m.

 

The players will be permitted to sign one item per person to give as many fans as possible an opportunity to meet the squad. A team poster will be available at the stadium gates, while supplies last, for the players to sign during the autograph session and for other fans attending the game. There will also be a blank page for autographs in the Blue-White Game program that will be sold outside and inside Beaver Stadium before the game. The players will not be available for photographs prior to the game.

Fans will also be permitted to bring one regulation size football, or smaller, into the stadium on Saturday.

Game Format
The Blue-White Game will feature regular scoring.  The squad has been split into a Blue team and White team.  The offensive line and specialists will wear gray jerseys.  Additionally, the coaching staff has been split into two groups.  The Blue team will be on one sideline, and the White team will be on the opposite sideline.  The game will have four quarters, each 15 minutes in length.  The first quarter will have normal game timing.  Quarters two, three and four will feature a running clock.  There will be a 15-minute halftime intermission.  On special teams, kickoffs, punts, field goal attempts and point after touchdowns will take place without contact.  Following kickoffs, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line.  On punts, the offensive drive will commence where the punt is fielded.

Blue-White Game Rosters
Take a look through the breakdown of the roster for Saturday's game.  Note that the coaching staff has been split into two groups.

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Special Uplifting Athletes Jerseys

The Nittany Lions will wear special one-game only jerseys at Saturday's Blue-White Game.  The blue, white and gray practice jerseys will feature an Uplifting Athletes patch on them.  Following the game, 20 of the game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off with proceeds benefitting the Kidney Cancer Association.  The 2014 Uplifting Athletes Lift For Life will take place during the weekend of July 11-13.  Last year, the fundraising efforts from the Uplifting Athletes group raised a record $140,000 for the Kidney Cancer Association.  During the 11 years of the Penn State Lift For Life, members of the Nittany Lion football team have raised in excess of $825,000 for the Kidney Cancer Association, including a record totals above $100,000 in each of the past three years.

Bid on the Blue-White game-worn jerseys here:

2014 Blue-White Uplifting Athletes Game-Worn Jersey Auction

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

Lions 'Dead Set' On Finishing Season Strong After 3OT Loss

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By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- With a 4-6 overall record and just three games left to play, the Penn State men's lacrosse team is focused on finishing the 2014 campaign with a winning record.

"In these last few games, it is important for us to be flexible but still very confident," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "Our goals may need to change a bit."

The Nittany Lions entered this season with high hopes and aspirations of earning a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth. However, without the chance to compete in the CAA Tournament and secure an automatic bid--there wasn't much room for regular season losses.

Last weekend, the Blue and White were outmatched in a triple overtime thriller to Drexel. Despite dropping four of its last five, this resilient group is determined to send the seniors off valiantly while building for the future.

"We are dead set on finishing this season on a high note," Tambroni said.

Finishing on a high note can be defined a number of ways by this coaching staff. Winning out, seeing more production from a number of players and witnessing growth from the talented freshman class are all examples of goals for finishing strong.

"You have to believe in what you are doing but also understand that you may have to make some adjustments under these circumstances," the fourth-year coach said. "First and foremost we have to believe in ourselves as coaches and players."

Regardless of any adjustments made in these last few weeks, the coaches were adamant about one thing - continuing to play 'the Penn State way'.

"Our standards have to stay the same," Tambroni said. "The standard of this program, the standard of our work ethic and the standard of the expectations of each and every day will stay the same."

Penn State's remaining slate consists of all CAA matchups. A final road test at Towson this Saturday will be followed by two home battles against Delaware and Hofstra. Opening faceoff against the Tigers is slated for 7 p.m.

Seniors Austin Kaut and Tyler Travis were joined by freshman Mike Sutton in giving their thoughts and interpretations on finishing the season strong.

Curry Leads Defense Through the Libero Position

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By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
As the players run out on the court and take their positions, they are all wearing matching uniforms with the exception of one player. For the Nittany Lions it's Connor Curry - the libero.

Coming all the way from Long Beach, Calif., Curry is the player in charge of leading the defense and controlling the back row. His position is unlike any other on the court and the rules alone set him apart from his teammates.

"They can't play the whole game. They are a permanent substitute," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "They can't hit a ball - they can't take a swing at a ball that is higher than the height of the net. They can't serve in the men's game and if they are in front of the three-meter line, they can't use their hands to set the ball - they can only use their forearms. There are a lot of things they have to think about - it's different than any position out there."

Since the libero is responsible for being the first contact when receiving the ball, it is Curry's responsibility to be able to run and get to the ball no matter where it is. Athleticism becomes a major factor in the performance of the libero.

"The more athletic your libero, the greater range they have," Pavlik said. "Typically, when you talk about athletic ability people take into account speed and jumping ability, but one of the things that people miss is hand-eye-coordination. The great athletes have great hand-eye-coordination and can use either hand equally well."

Since Curry has played sports as far back as he can remember, he has had more time to develop this level of athleticism and coordination.

"I played tennis when I was five and was really competitive with that until I was 12-13 years old and then I got into volleyball after that. Playing sports most of my life has really helped me understand and develop my hand-eye- coordination," Curry said.

From his first day as a Nittany Lion to where he is now as he finishes up his redshirt junior year, his ability to use both hands has helped him on the court.

"Because he is a right-handed player, his left hand didn't control the ball very well his freshman year, but over the last three to four years you can see him working on being able to control the ball on either side of his body. He plays a lot during the summer and I think there is where he really gave himself the opportunity to excel by playing so much and seeing the ball hit so many different ways and so many different angles," Pavlik said.

In addition to athleticism and strong hand-eye-coordination, another strength of Curry's is his passing. He is able to control the ball and put setter Taylor Hammond in a good position to run the offense.

"His passing and his first contact ball control is pretty good, but his passing has been very, very steady for us this year," Pavlik said. "Anytime you can put the ball exactly where you want it to go and run your offense from wherever you want to start it, you have every option available to you."

Passing the ball well and making sure he can get it to Hammond is something Curry practices each and every opportunity he gets.

"It's a skill that I'm always working on day in and day out. It's just tough because the curve for improvement is very gradual at this point. There are baby steps that I take everyday, but I'm pretty happy with where I am with that and how far I've come," Curry said.

Watching the libero and the setter interact during a match shows a specific relationship between the two positions. They both have to be at their best in order for the offense and defense to run smoothly.

"The setter and libero relationship is one where you can have a very good setter and a poor libero or the libero isn't as good or you can have a great libero and a poor setter and you're going to have some wasted opportunities. Taylor and Connor feed off of each other really well. When Connor is doing his job really well, it makes Taylor's job look really easy. Like they say in baseball, that's being strong up the middle. With a strong libero and strong setter, we have the strength so the first and second contacts are as controlled as we can possibly make them," Pavlik said.

Although there could be added pressures with the libero position, Curry only sees it as a position where the player has to be efficient at specific skills.

"The position of libero is really specific as to what you need to be good at," Curry said. "As an outside hitter you can make a bad pass, but you can still get a good set and make a good kill off of it whereas if a libero makes a bad pass - you just have to keep going and hope for a better one next time. You really just dig balls and pass balls and control the server and receive so it's really specialized in what I need to be good at but it's a fun position to be in."

Doherty, Nittany Lions Ready to Make a Push

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By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSIT PARK, Pa. - As the lacrosse season begins to draw to a close, the practice intensity picks up, the games become more crucial, and the competition gets stronger and stronger.


With a talented, tough team, the Nittany Lions and head coach Missy Doherty are ready to make a push and get back into the NCAA Tournament after losing in the quarterfinals last season.

The long journey to postseason action continues this weekend when the team travels to Columbus, Ohio, for an ALC showdown with Ohio State.

Penn State is fresh off a 13-8 victory over Cornell, and with an opportunity to get to nine wins on the season this weekend, Doherty and her team understand how well they have to practice and how well they have to play against the Buckeyes.

"I think we have to be ready to take care of the ball and play smart," Doherty said before Thursday's practice. "They have a lot of really good weapons on attack, so collectively, defensively, we need to be ready to stop all their threats. That's the challenge of playing them. It's not just one or two scorers."

The matchup with the Buckeyes should be a good test for the Nittany Lions. Their last three matchups have been decided by three goals or less, including a double-overtime win coming in Doherty's first year as head coach.

The fast pace intensity that she has instilled in her players will be crucial as they take the field Sunday. The Buckeyes are a patient team, so the Nittany Lions will be looking to force the issue and control the tempo of the game.

"Ohio State is a big game," Doherty said after the Cornell victory. "They've done really well this season and it's always kind of a grudge match there and we're just ready to come out, fight, and try to bring our best game."

The Buckeyes are a strong team, according to Doherty, and are another step in the process to get her team ready for to take on the challenges that lie ahead. The offense is going to be looking to get going early, and take advantage of the depth of talent they have.

"We're using all of our scorers and we are hard to stop, that's why it's always such a good game," Doherty said. "I think all their losses have been by one or two goals, and they beat Northwestern by one. So they are playing really good teams, really close and we have to be ready for that."

Through 13 games this season, the team has had a lot of high moments, like winning five games in a row and beating teams like Cornell, Vanderbilt and Loyola. But moments like that aren't enough for this group of players and their head coach. They want more.

The Nittany Lions currently have an 8-5 record overall, 2-2 in conference play, and Doherty knows her team needs to take the next step and move forward. She sees the desire and the effort from the girls in blue and white, and she knows they are just a few plays away from having a better record, and from separating themselves from the other teams in the ALC. As the push for the NCAA tournament begins, the Nittany Lions seem ready to go.

"NCAAs are right around the corner and if we're not going to win these games," Doherty said, "that's going to be a hard thing for us to get into. Each game is really important and bringing our best out is important, especially in crunch time."

Game time is set for 1 p.m.

Knief Focuses on Team Performance and Future

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kniwf)9912956.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Although being recognized as the Big Ten Player of the Week is a tremendous achievement, it's not the main focus of sophomore Lexi Knief, who is more concerned with her team and the future of Penn State softball.

"It's really humbling to be recognized by the Big Ten Conference, but I think the most important thing this week was winning the games and getting our groove back," Knief said.

The sophomore is coming off a spectacular week in which she went 10-for-18 at the plate in five games, registering three extra-base hits.  Additionally, Knief leads the Nittany Lions this season in a number of statistical categories including batting average, runs, hits, triples, and on-base percentage.

While her award, which is the first Big Ten Player of the Week recognition of her career, is an incredible accomplishment, Knief was quick to credit her teammates, as was her coach, Amanda Lehotak.

"I'm just happy for her and the team," Lehotak said.  "I always tell them that no one gets recognized without everybody.  I think it's a great representation of the program and where we're going as a program.  I'm happy for Lexi because her work ethic from day one has been exactly what we demand and what we expect.  It's always fun when your kids get that honor and to see the smile on their faces."

"I loved her response," added Lehotak.  "I called her and congratulated her, and her response was, 'Yeah, but we've got to sweep Indiana.'"

This week is not the first time the Nittany Lions have seen impressive contributions from Knief.  She has been a driving-force for the team all season long and has even been dubbed the team's "biggest competitor" by her coach.

This competitive nature has been driven into the centerfielder since the start of her playing career.  Beginning with her Red Sox T-ball team, which was coached by her mom, Knief has been proving her dedicated to the sport for years.

When it came time to play collegiately, it took only one visit for Knief to decide her future.

"Penn State is only four hours from my house, and Coach Petrini and Coach McIntyre were recruiting me," said the sophomore.  "They were like, 'Just come out for a visit.'  I came out, and once I stepped foot on the campus, I knew I wanted to come here."

This season, Knief has truly demonstrated that she is never willing to give up.  Even when dropping down in the count, the centerfielder shows the opposition's defense that she is and will always be a tough out.

"I'm just really calm at the plate," Knief said.  "I go in with the mentality that I'm better than the pitcher, and I just stay in sequence."

The sophomore's spectacular performances throughout the past five games have also been a key piece to the Lions' four-game winning streak.  These wins have enabled a new, far more confident team to emerge.

While Lehotak is quick to admit these wins were not all pretty, it is safe to say Penn State is headed in a positive direction.  With the pressure to win its first Big Ten games evaporated, the team can now focus on growth and improvement.

"I definitely think confidence will help," said Lehotak.  "Now the monkey is off their back.  I kept telling them, 'The strongest part of your schedule is over with.  You know, they're beating everybody.'  Now, that fighter mentality is starting to come out in them, and I think they see that they can do it.  They know that they can do it.  I expect them to just keep building."

As far as improvements are concerned, Lehotak still feels the team can make adjustments in the area of pitching.  Nevertheless, she also recognizes the progress that has been made since the beginning of the season.

"They're making strides, and they're learning," said Lehotak of the team's pitching staff.  "Even though I've been picking on them in some statistical categories, they are getting better.  This team is just a bunch of fighters.  They're not quitters, and they want it."

Headed to Indiana this weekend, the team, including Knief, is looking to continue its success.  The Hoosiers have posted an 11-27-1 overall record so far this season, going 3-8 in the Big Ten conference.  With the Lions' 3-6 conference record, competition is sure to be high.

"We have to just continuing putting pressure on their defense, and our pitching staff did a great job last weekend," Knief said.  "If they can go out and do the same thing in Indiana, we'll be golden."

Lewis Looking to Build on Strong End to 2013

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Developing a strong rapport between receivers and their quarterback is essential for a successful passing game.

For sophomore Geno Lewis, he started the chemistry building process on the field with Christian Hackenberg last August, but the duo came on strong during the latter weeks of the 2013 season.

With increased playing time, Lewis gained confidence and played his best football in the season finale at Wisconsin.  The Wilkes-Barre native connected with Hackenberg three times for 91 yards, including 59-yard touchdown reception and a 1-yard score, in the 31-24 win over the Badgers.

Since that day, Lewis has not looked back and is ready to play a big role on the offense in 2014.

"This spring has gone really well for me," Lewis said.  "Christian and I are really seeing eye to eye now.  I definitely worked on a lot of things that I needed to work on, but I am really excited for the season."

Albeit just a redshirt sophomore, Lewis is the top returnee on the receiving corps.  Playing in all 12 games last season with four starts, Lewis made 18 receptions for 234 yards and had three touchdowns.  Sophomore Richy Anderson, who had 13 catches for 111 yards and junior Matt Zanellato, who made four receptions for 53 yards, are the only other two receivers on the roster with career receptions.

With youth throughout the receiving corps, Lewis knew that he needed to step up during the offseason to become a go-to target for Hackenberg.

"My main thing (during the winter) was route running," Lewis said.  "With Coach Gattis coming in and teaching us some new things, it really helped me a lot transitioning out of my routes (with more speed).  I think that is going to be a big change for me this year in my routes."

Two-time Big Ten Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson and graduated senior Brandon Felder are gone from the roster, and Lewis views 2014 as a great opportunity.

"I'm happy to be in this position, a higher spot than last year," Lewis said.  "I'm confident in going out there to make more plays to help the team win."

A gifted athlete with good speed and great jumping ability, Lewis's athleticism has impressed head coach James Franklin during spring practice.

"I've been very pleased with him. He's a big bodied kid with great ball skills, tremendous leaping ability, been very impressed with him in red zone and long ball situations," Franklin said. He's a great kid, working hard, him and hack are starting to build a rapport and that's got to continue to grow. Between now and start of summer camp, he has to take that next step."

With 13 spring practices down, the Nittany Lions will hold a session on Friday before the culmination of spring drills during Saturday's Blue-White Game in Beaver Stadium.

"I'm really excited for the game, I know that my teammates are," Lewis said.



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

Preview: NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships

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By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's gymnastics team made its way to the NCAA Gymnastics Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Tuesday morning. The No. 6 Nittany Lions will compete in the second session of the NCAA qualifying round Thursday at 7 p.m. and the team championship rounds Friday and Saturday.

Head coach Randy Jepson and his team are looking to capture the program's 13th national title, something he says they have been "working toward since the end of last season."

"This tournament is three days long," Jepson said. "Anything can happen."

The 2013-'14 Season
Since the December 12 Blue-White Showcase, the men's gymnastics team has only lost one scheduled meet and has placed in the top three of every tournament they have competed in.

With stellar performances from seniors Adrian Evans, Wasef Burbar, Preston Gall, and Ingvar Jochumsson, juniors Tristan Duverglas. Matt Felleman and Craig Hernandez, and sophomores Alexis Torres and Trevor Howard, the team has been able to overcome minor setbacks. The Nittany Lions have remained steadfast despite pre-season injuries, making changes to the starting roster along the way.  

"It is very rewarding to see the guys do such a great job," Jepson said. "Our seniors have done a great job of teaching the younger guys and showing them what Penn State gymnastics is all about."

NCAA Forecast
The Nittany Lions placed third at the Big Ten Championships, trailing behind Ohio State and Michigan. The team placed in the top five in all events. Duverglas led the team in scoring, tying for first on vault. Howard led the team's individual performance with a first place finish on rings, the first Penn State gymnast to win the title since 2012.

Hernandez closed out the team's individual competition with a runner-up finish on pommel horse, an event he has dominated all season. His performance on pommel horse earned him second team All-Big Ten honors.

"I am looking forward to competing in pommel horse the most at NCAAs," Hernandez said. "We have a lot of potential at this tournament as a team."

Championship Hopefuls
With this championship competition, the men's gymnastics team is in pursuit of their 13th NCAA Championship. If successful, this will be the fourth NCAA Championship under coach Jepson.

Among the anticipated performances of the Nittany Lions' seniors, the power lies within the junior and sophomore classes, a promising component of seasons yet to come. Juniors Duverglas and Hernandez are vying for their first NCAA titles. The duo is ranked in the top five in two events. Hernandez is ranked third on pommel horse and Duverglas is ranked second on vault.

Sophomores Torres and Howard have competed consistently throughout the season, earning Torres a top 20 ranking.


"If we can hit 100 percent of our routines we can do a lot of damage," Jepson said. "The guys have to trust in this training and preparation. We have to focus on the first day, it is all about the first day." 

Zettel Eager to Make Plays at Interior Spot on D-Line

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When the 2013 season ended, junior Anthony Zettel had in his mind that he was ready to move back into the position that he played in 2012.

Zettel provided a big spark for the Nittany Lion defense on numerous occasions in 2013 with speed and quickness off the edge at defensive end.  He made 16 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and had 4.0 sacks last season.

But the West Branch, Mich., native knew that he could play an even bigger role at defensive tackle if given the opportunity to do so.  Zettel played in the interior of the defensive line during his redshirt freshman season in 2012, but weighing only 253 pounds, he moved to end prior to 2013.

Zettel finished last season at roughly 260 pounds.  Now, just a bit more than four months later, Zettel weighs nearly 280 pounds after making significant muscle growth in the weight room under the direction of Dwight Galt.

The weight game coincides with a move back to defensive tackle this spring, something Zettel is fired up about.

"You bring a lot of the same techniques to tackle," Zettel said.  "Personally, I feel like things are going really well.  I love playing inside.  It's a lot more about reading things quicker and reacting with a lot less thinking.  Basically, you bring the same techniques, but you need to stay lower and use more leverage because you are going against double teams."

Zettel has been superb for the defensive line during spring practice.  With great speed and quickness, he is a very difficult matchup for an interior offensive lineman.  Zettel has been tough to block for anyone lining up across from him.

"His first step at the line of scrimmage is one of the best I've ever seen," defensive end C.J. Olaniyan said.  "He's going to help us a lot this season, and he is going to make a lot of plays for us."

His move to defensive tackle required great commitment in the weight room and with his diet.  Zettel is eating five or six meals a day in order to keep his metabolism at peak performance.  The increased diet of roughly 2,000 calories per day has helped expedite the process of reaching a targeted playing weight of 285 pounds when the season begins in the fall.

"I have been a lot more consistent in my meals and trying to eat a lot more frequently throughout the day," Zettel said.

Zettel is thrilled with progress he has made, and the increased weight gain has helped him play more physical in the trenches.

"It's helped a lot.  Fighting off blocks, I feel a lot strong.  It wasn't just weight that I put on, it was a lot of muscle, too," said Zettel.  "My speed actually improved this spring.  Everything has been beneficial from the weight."

Despite the weight gain, Zettel got a step quicker during physical testing at the end of winter conditioning, which will pay huge dividends to competing in the interior of the line.

"Especially having a good group of defensive ends like we do, I think I will see a lot of one-on-ones, and I will be able to use my speed even more.  That's where the quickness really helps," Zettel said.

Zettel and the Nittany Lion defense will get to showcase the progress that they have made during the offseason on Saturday at the Blue-White Game (1:30 p.m.).  Confidence is high for the Michigan native, and he is looking forward to the opportunity on Saturday.

"We are all going out there compete against each other," Zettel said.  "We are going to compete like we have been doing in practice, but now the fans can watch us.  I'm excited for it."




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Nittany Lions Expect Big Things at NCAA Championships

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By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When seven seniors on the Penn State men's gymnastics team graduated in 2013, the rest of the country didn't have very high expectations for the Nittany Lions for the upcoming season. But head coach Randy Jepson saw the potential and knew the team could make it to the NCAA Championships.

Having lost seven seniors last year, the team is rather inexperienced in terms of competing in NCAA Championship events. But after a strong showing at the Big Ten Championships, Jepson expects the team to perform well this weekend.

Jepson's expectation for the NCAA Championships this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich., is for the team to go into the meet and hit as many routines as they can. At the Big Ten Championships, the Nittany Lions hit 90 percent of their routines.

"We're trying to build on the momentum from Big Tens. Anything can happen. We just need to put pressure on people. We want to do the best job we can and be as consistent as we can," Jepson said.

Craig Hernandez, an NCAA Championships veteran, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last weekend for his performance on the pommel horse this season. This season he has worked hard to improve all of his skills.

"Last season I didn't do as well as I could have. This season I have been building up and trying to meet my own expectations and the team's expectations," Hernandez said.

He has high expectations for both the team and himself for the competition this weekend.

"My expectations for the team are to go out there and hit all the routines the best we can. And to make team finals and have a good showering for Penn State," Hernandez said. "My expectation for myself is to make event finals on pommel horse."

Hernandez and many of the other veteran gymnasts have guided the freshmen through this season. Now, for NCAA Regionals, they have given the younger players some insight on what to expect this weekend.

"They all say it's one of the most exciting events they have ever been to. [They told us] that the team needs to do what we have practiced and it could be the greatest experience of our lives," freshman Dominic DiFulvio said. "And I'm going to try to make it that."

DiFulvio, who has competed six times this season, says he's excited to cheer on his teammates as they compete. Having never been to an NCAA Championship event, DiFulvio's expectations differ from Hernandez.

Gymnasts who have competed in the NCAA Championships before have expectations for their own routines and also have expectations for the team. As a freshman, DiFulvio's expectations are more team oriented.

"We've done a lot to prepare for this competition. I expect the team to put together our routines, make it to the second day and then see how we do in the finals," DiFulvio said.

"I'm most excited about the atmosphere this weekend. It's really competitive but it should be a lot of fun. If we continue building on what we did at Big Tens, it should be even more fun," Hernandez said.