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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After finishing off the regular season with two second-place finishes, there was doubt in how well the men's gymnastics team could perform in the postseason. The Nittany Lions used that uncertainty and their passion as motivation to finish off the 2014-15 season in a tremendous way.

Big Ten Championships

In front of 1,060 fans inside Rec Hall, the Penn State men's gymnastics team completed a perfect home record by capturing its third Big Ten title with a score of 436.700 after edging by Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska in a vigorous battle that came down to the final set.

Junior Trevor Howard ended the championship on floor exercise with a score of 15.100 to let Penn State secure the conference crown.

Howard, senior Matthew Felleman, freshman Thad Lawson, senior captain Tristian Duverglas, redshirt-sophomore Leroy Clare, Jr., senior Craig Hernandez and junior Alexis Torres all competed in the individual event finals.

Howard competed in four individual event finals, the most of any gymnast, and seized the lone individual title of the night for Penn State. He defended his Big Ten still rings title from the year prior.

After finishing the Big Ten Championships with a score of 87.200, Felleman earned the Big Ten all-around title. He also placed second on high bar and was named an honoree alongside Howard for the first team All-Big Ten team.

NCAA Championships

The men's gymnastics team built on its momentum from the Big Ten victory as they went to the NCAA Championships two weeks later. They finished the season with a third-place finish inside Lloyd Noble Center in Oklahoma.

"I was really pleased that they rose to the occasion," said head coach Randy Jepson. "There were some really dramatic moments, but it could have been a far different result than what it was and our guys really showed a lot of heart to finish through it, just shy of second, and I was really pleased with the team's performance overall and how the individuals did, as well."

In the qualifiers last Thursday, the Nittany Lions finished third with a score of 432.900, two-tenths higher than Minnesota, to advance to Friday's NCAA team finals.

The situation was similar to the Big Ten Championships where it came down to the final performance on floor exercise. Sophomore Christian McSwain, sophomore Dominic DiFulvio, freshmen Thad Lawson and Felleman had great performances to bring the team close to qualifying. Howard tied his career-best of 15.800 to help the team advance to the team finals.

"I was just focusing on the there-and-now, and not really in the past, but just getting through the set and making sure to do the best that I could," said Howard.

In the team finals, the Nittany Lions followed behind Oklahoma and Stanford to be the third best team in the country. It was Penn state's highest finish since they placed third in 2012.

"We had a lot to prove after the first day, having the mistakes, but overall, I think we made a strong statement in competition against the other big teams as well as the national team members," said Lawson. "I think we went out there and proved our worth."

Lawson captured the NCAA individual title on floor exercise in the individual finals.

"[Lawson] was great," said coach Jepson. "He was rough the first day, but fortunately, we qualified in and he got a second day and he was perfect, nearly flawless. It was probably the best routine of his life and that's the time to do it. I was really impressed that he was that focused and knew what he had to do and that he went out and did it."

Lawson tallied as the fourth national champion in floor exercise in Penn State history and is the second one in the past three years.

"It definitely is a sign to any other team and it proves our dominance on [floor exercise] as well as being the force to be reckoned with on that event and it definitely keeps me with high expectations looking into the future as well as people, recruits and people that come to this team and what we expect," said Lawson.

The last freshman to earn the NCAA floor exercise title was Howard in 2013. Due to injury, Howard was unable to compete in the individual finals, but he was ecstatic for his teammate's accomplishment.

"It's awesome," said Howard. "[Lawson] trained so hard and he's been having injuries with his back for years now since his previous injury, so him coming out and winning floor was definitely a huge motivational thing for him and I'm really happy for him...I was definitely really disappointed I couldn't compete, but the team needed me more than just individually, so being able to go out and help the team more than myself is always just an honor."

Even with Howard out of the finals, he was still able to provide advice for Lawson.

"I always tell [Lawson] to be calm, not worry about the scoreboard, just doing you will have the outcome that you want," said Howard. "I think he really took that to heart and it showed."

Though Lawson is a national champion, he still has plans to improve.

"I've proven myself this year on floor and I came out with a win, but definitely still have work to do," said Lawson. "We all do. For me, it's time to prove myself on the other events."

Duverglas, Clarke, Jr., Torres and Felleman also competed in the individual event finals. They each finished in the top-six for their events. All four of them and Lawson recorded All-America honors. Howard also tallied All-American with a fourth-place finish in the all-around.

What's next?

"[The team] is excited about what the future holds and we have a busy summer ahead of us with some training and competition and development, so that's kind of where we're headed and the guys are really upbeat and excited about where they can go and what they can do next year," said coach Jepson.

2015 Blue-White Gameday Preview

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blue-white-header-15.jpgBlue-White Gameday Central | Beaver Stadium Bag Policy | Parking Map | Print Parking Pass

Spring Practice Content Central | Blue Roster | White Roster


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions 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. The game will kick at 4 p.m. with live television coverage from BTN. Both parking and admission are free.

10976412.jpegPenn State made significant progress on both sides of the ball and on special teams during the allotted practice period for spring drills. Saturday's game marks the final opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate the team before the start of training camp in early August.

"We've had a great spring. The fact that we returned our entire staff was really valuable," head coach James Franklin said. "I think we are the only staff in the Big Ten that did that. I think that has been helpful in building on the foundation we laid last year."

In year two under Franklin and the coaching staff, the Nittany Lions have been productive every time they have stepped on the field since practice began on March 20. With increased knowledge of the schemes, practice routine and more depth, the Lions have been able to approach this spring differently than they did one year ago.

"It's night and day (between this year and last year)," said Franklin. "...We have more depth. We have more bodies. Just across the board, the players understand the expectation. I think we are in a situation now where we have everybody on the same page. It's not even close. Our practices have been able to be more a little bit more aggressive and a little bit more physical because of the depth that we have. Just across the board, from top to bottom, it's like watching a different team.

While Saturday's game will be a fun way for the team to put on a show for the fans, it's a chance for the players and staff to work through typical game-like conditions.

"I think it's a great opportunity for us to get out in front of a crowd," quarterback Christian Hackenberg said. "It's a great weekend for the fans because there is so much going on. It's a little bit of a show, but at the same time it's work. A lot of these guys have never really had reps in front of fans at this level. It's a great opportunity to go out, have fun and immerse yourself in what a gameday feel is."

The work to prepare for 2015 is just beginning for the Nittany Lions, but the spring period set the tone for the rest of the academic semester and summer conditioning program. Franklin is very optimistic about the direction the team is headed in, and he is looking forward to getting in front of the Beaver Stadium crowd.

"Spring has gone really well in all three phases," said Franklin. "We still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of progress that we are going to need to make between now and the start of the season against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. We are excited. We are excited about playing the spring game. We are hoping to have a good crowd. The weather is supposed to be great."

Take a look through some Blue-White items to watch as the Nittany Lions wrap up spring practice for 2015.

Autograph Session Returns
11004998.jpegThe popular pre-game autograph session returns for the second-straight year. Parking lots around Beaver Stadium will open at 8 a.m. The team will arrive at the South Tunnel at approximately 12:30 p.m. Gates A and B will open at 1 p.m. before the autograph session on the field from 1:15-2 p.m.

Fans are asked to enter the field through the South Tunnel. The offensive players will be signing on the West side of the field (please enter through gate B) and the defensive squad will be on the East side (please enter through gate A). Fans will go through the single-file line and get autographs from either the offense or defense before exiting the field through the North Tunnel. Those seeking additional autographs will need to return to the South Tunnel the re-enter the line.

The players will be permitted to sign one item per person to give as many fans as possible an opportunity to meet the squad. The players will not be available for photographs during the autograph session.


Game Format
The Blue-White Game will feature regular scoring. The squad has been split into a Blue team and a White team. Quarterbacks will wear the opposite jersey color of their team (Blue team QBs will wear White jerseys; White team QBs will wear Blue jerseys). 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 22-minute halftime intermission. Prior to the 4:06 p.m. kickoff, a placekicking competition will be held on the field. Prior to the start of the second half, a punting competition will be held on the field.

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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Uplifting Athletes Jerseys
For the second-straight year, the Nittany Lions will wear special one-game only jerseys at the Blue-White Game to help raise funds for Uplifting Athletes. The Blue and White jerseys will feature an Uplifting Athletes patch. Following the game, 20 of the game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off with the proceeds benefitting the Kidney Cancer Association. Last July, the 12th Annual Penn State Uplifting Athletes Lift For Life raised a record $140,000. Last year's fundraising efforts brought the cumulative total of funds raised to more than $1 million to benefit the Kidney Cancer Association. The 13th Annual Lift For Life is slated for July 11. Details on the game-word auction will be announced soon.

Also announced this week, AAA Southern Pennsylvania will donate to the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes for each photo posted from Saturday's Blue-White activities on Twitter using the hashtag #AAABlueWhite.

McGloin Back in Beaver Stadium
11005040.jpegThe last time Matt McGloin stepped into Beaver Stadium with a working role on a gameday, he helped lead Penn State to a thrilling 24-21 victory over Wisconsin on Senior Day in 2012. The West Scranton native and current Oakland Raider will be back on Saturday, serving as an analyst for the Big Ten Network during the live broadcast of the Blue-White Game.

McGloin broke nine school records and tied another during his stellar senior season, which culminated in winning the 2012 Burlsworth Trophy for the nation's outstanding college football player who began his career as a walk-on. McGloin still holds the Penn State record for: passing yards in a season (3,266; 2012), completions in a season (270; 2012), touchdowns in a season (24; 2012), career touchdowns (43) and completions in a game (35; vs. Northwestern, 2012).

The game is also airing on more than 30 Penn State Sports Network radio stations across the state and in metropolitan New York City, with Steve Jones and Jack Ham calling the action. ESPN Radio (1450 AM) and WBUS (93.7 FM) are the State College outlets. The game also is available on GoPSUsports.com.


Jeff Gordon Penn State Car on Display
It was announced this week that NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon will race a special Penn State themed No. 24 car during the June 7 Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway. A show car featuring the special paint scheme will be on display beginning Saturday morning along Curtin Road near the All-Sports Museum. The car will also make a brief appearance inside Beaver Stadium during halftime of the game.



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

Lions Look To Use Midweek Wins As Momentum For Weekend

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11004425.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Weekends never are a vacation for the Penn State baseball team.

That's because the Nittany Lions typically have a series against a Big Ten team from Friday to Sunday. This weekend will be no different, when the Lions hit the road to face Minnesota in a three-game test.

As important as those games are, that doesn't mean the Lions don't take the rest of their schedule seriously, something they proved this week by winning back-to-back contests against West Virginia (5-3) and Bucknell (11-2).

"These games are huge," head coach Rob Cooper said. "These games are just as important to us as the conference games, because at the end of the day, they all go towards our record. As we go forward, these games go towards whether you're good enough to play in a regional. They're important."

Though it would be easy for the Lions to get complacent against non-conference teams, they have a done a good job staying locked in no matter their opponent as of late. Since March 17, Penn State is 6-1 in midweek contests.

No only does every game affect the Lions record and keep them sharp for the weekends, they also give some of team's less heralded players the chance to prove themselves.

On Wednesday against Bucknell, it was a pair of sophomores in pitcher Tom Mullin and outfielder Nick Riotto that responded to those opportunites. Typically a reliever, Mullin gave up just one run in five innings in his first career start while Riotto went 1 for 2 with an RBI single and scored three runs in his 15th start of the season.

"A perfect example is Nick Riotto, who's had two really good games," said Cooper. "If we didn't look at these games as important than, well right now I'm really thinking that we probably need to have him in the lineup somehow Friday. But if we didn't look at these games the exact same way that wouldn't be a consideration.

"[Tonight] shows that Tom can do it. If someone gets hurt or down the road if we need someone to start he showed he can do it. I'm proud of him because it's part of the whole learning process."

In Minnesota, the Lions will face a team that is 13-19 and just one spot ahead of them in the conference standings. While Penn State's last two weekends brought tough challenges in Ohio State (24-9) and Michigan (21-16), the players aren't looking past the Gophers.


After all, the Lions know first hand how tightly contested games in the Big Ten can be, having beaten Michigan and Indiana once while losing to Ohio State by one twice. With the Gophers coming off a 13-5 win over North Dakota State on Tuesday, both teams will be riding some momentum into the series.

"These past two games are huge, especially going into this weekend," sophomore shortstop Jim Haley said. "We're not trying to put a Big Ten in front of it, I mean it's an important series for us, but we're just trying to carry that momentum over and at the minimum play 27 innings, just play our game."

With five Big Ten weekends left this season, the Lions aren't looking to waste games against anyone. As challenging as this season has been at times, the Lions feel good having won two straight and four of their last six.

"[Our morale] is definitely up right now," Mullin said. "After Michigan I would say it was tough, but yesterday it was up after that win (over West Virginia)."

"Our team morale is definitely up," Haley added. Maybe we didn't have the result we wanted against Michigan but day in and day out, from the lift to the practice, our morale is up, it has to be." 

Men's Lacrosse Senior Day Celebrates Nine

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11004247.jpegBy Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Before the final home game of the regular season, Penn State men's lacrosse will honor nine graduating seniors. Playing at home for a final time, seniors Kyle Baier, JP Burnside, Jack Donnelly, Brian Gerrato, Pat Manley, Ryan Mullen, Michael Richards, Taylor Stothoff, and Kyle Zittel look to win one last game in Happy Valley.

Tasked with leading their young team during their first season as members of the Big Ten lacrosse conference, the class of 2015 met many obstacles along the way. The leadership of the senior class will easily be one of their lasting legacies.

Head coach Jeff Tambroni is fond of this senior class because it was one of the first classes he recruited as Penn State. Tambroni has been able to see the young players he brought in four or five years ago transition and grow into better players but also respectable young men.

"I would measure the significance of this group in the quality of their character," said Tambroni. "I don't think statistically you can quantify what this group meant because some of these guys have just not played a lot of minutes for our program over the last four years, yet have still really contributed a great deal in the locker room, on campus, and within the community. In a limited amount of time some of them have done a wonderful job of contributing on the field."

Statistically, they may be overshadowed, but that doesn't mean the senior class has not made an impact. Falling in behind sole captain Kyle Zittel, the senior class quickly set the tone for what was expected from their younger teammates, whether it was their attitude in practices or their mentality on game days. 

"Looking at Kyle Zittel I think he is someone that is symbolic of the entire class," said Tambroni. "He has done really well in the classroom, he's super involved in the community, and has become a leader of our program because of the quality of his character and because of his integrity."

During its time at Penn State, the senior class has made many memories, both on and off the field. Some moments will forever stand out in the minds of the seniors.


"For me [my favorite memory] was our 4-2 double overtime win against Notre Dame our freshman year," said senior Jack Donnelly. "[It] was just an unbelievable game; a great experience. At that point we were pretty much nobodies so it was a real eye-opening experience for a lot of us. I think that really just sparked a passion for a lot of us."

Triumphs on the field will certainly be highlights for the senior class, but for others, the moments that happen behind the scenes will forever be their favorites.  

"I'll probably remember most of the stuff off the field, in the locker room, with teammates, during practice," said senior Taylor Stothoff.

Tambroni and the rest of the coaching staff have become very fond of their senior class. During a time of great transition, the seniors faced many challenges and led their team head-on into the fight. The class of 2015 paved the way for Penn State men's lacrosse for years to come and has set the foundation for Penn State's time as a member of Big Ten lacrosse.


"From what we have seen as a coaching staff, this class has meant a lot in the transition of this program from where we were and where we'd like to be," Tambroni said. "They'll be remembered by our coaching staff as a class that really did a lot to allow that bridge to happen."

As the class of 2015 looks ahead to their last few games as a Nittany Lions, the seniors want to end their reign in Happy Valley on a high note. For now, Sunday's game against Rutgers is just one more game for the departing 2015 class to leave their mark on.

Penn State hosts Rutgers on Sunday at 6 p.m. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.  

Student-Athletes Honored For Academic Prowess in 2013-14

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11003948.jpegBy Sean Donnelly, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
The Penn State tradition of being champions on the field, in the classroom and the community is well documented. This year was no different, as 292 student-athletes were honored for their achievements on and off the field.

Everybody was on-hand in President's Hall at the Penn Stater for the 28th Annual SAAB Academic Achievement Awards Banquet on Monday to celebrate. A total of 370 awards were handed out to student-athletes this year.

"This is a great celebration of what we're all about, which is an educational opportunity for over 800 student-athletes every year for Penn State." said Athletic Director Sandy Barbour. "Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics serves as a connection for the largest alumni group in the country."

After serving eight months as Athletic Director, Barbour could not be prouder of how well student-athletes represent their sport and institution.

"The expectations here are to compete for national championships and to compete in the athletic venue," said Barbour. "But it's much more than that. The awards tonight really speak to what Penn State is all about. It's not about numbers. It's about people, passion and purpose. I'll match our passion and expertise against anybody's across the country."

Lady Lion Tori Waldner served as 2014-15 Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) President. An Academic All-Big Ten selection, Waldner understands the importance and tradition of taking a Penn State education seriously.

"I think there's a precedent there that has been set," said Waldner. "The staff has made it a point to make sure we do well, and coaches hold us to a really high standard.

Student-athletes hold themselves accountable and to a higher standard when attending Penn State. They know how important an education is, and that a Penn State degree has value.

"When you come in, you know you have to do well," said Waldner. "I've learned from a lot of different people. Not just from my professors or coaches, but other leaders around me."

Penn State finished with 285 Academic All-Big Ten honorees, five of which had a 4.0 GPA for the 2013-14 academic year. The combined GPA of varsity men and women's sports was 3.08, with 19 teams earning a 3.0 GPA or higher.

Penn State competes fiercely with the rest of the country in all 31 sports, but the fiercest competition was for the Milton K. Morgan Jr. Highest Team GPA Award. In the end, men's golf and field hockey was victorious. Men's golf, which had seven Academic All-Big Ten selections, took home the Milton K. Morgan Jr. Highest Team GPA Award for all sports.

Since 1988, only four men's teams have taken home the coveted Highest Team GPA Award. This year was the third for men's golf.

The Nittany Lion Club "True Grit" Awards were the most powerful highlight of the night. Glen Burkhardt from men's track and field battled injuries throughout his collegiate career. His passion for his sport and dedication to his rehab has to led to him finally achieving his goal in wearing the Penn State uniform. Through it all, he was still able to set personal records.

The next recipient of the True Grit Award was Mallory Weber from women's soccer, who has shown a tremendous amount of courage and resilience in the face of serious adversity in her collegiate career. After helping lead her club to the Elite 8, Weber was named team captain for her senior year.

The biggest individual honor of the night came in the form of the Big Ten Medal of Honor. The highest distinction in student-athlete academics, only 28 student-athletes are given the award each year. Nia Grant from women's volleyball and Matt Brown from wrestling attained the greatest proficiency in athletic and scholastic work.

A leader on the court for the women's volleyball team, back-to-back national champion and two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree Nia Grant earned 2013-14 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Athlete honors. She is currently training for the World University Games representing her country in South Korea alongside fellow Nittany Lion, Micha Hancock.

A three-time All-American and national champion, Matt Brown's collegiate career outside of athletics is equally as impressive. Brown is a two-time first-team national All-Academic winner from the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Coming up this May, Brown will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and expects to specialize in military intelligence with the Pennsylvania National Guard. Brown will also continue training for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"It shows that they have the right priorities," said Brown referring to Penn State Athletic's emphasis on education. "The Morgan Center in particular focuses on the right things in helping us do our very best in the classroom. It's shown I can get a good education while competing in my sport and in my field. The professors are top notch. I love it here."

For Russell Mushinsky, Director of the Morgan Academic Support Center for Student Athletes, the accomplishments of those in attendance reaffirmed what Penn State culture is all about.

"It's all about the student-athlete experience," said Mushinsky. "Making sure they're getting a quality education, supported in the classroom, reaching academic and career goals, and reaching all types of accomplishments in their sports."

While capturing 16 Big Ten championships and five NCAA titles since September 2012, Penn State has continued to shatter academic records, including 241 Dean's List recipients for 2014 fall semester.

"That balance is something that has been evident as long as Penn State Athletics has been in place and that culture has always been here. This group tonight just continued that tradition. It's a group we're really proud of and is something that's really important to the people at Penn State."

By Gabrielle RichardsGoPSUsports Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. You get dressed, pack your bag, and make your way to a 7:00 a.m. training session. You're tired, you're sore and the regular season hasn't even begun yet. This is otherwise known as the off-season. 

The off-season is meant to test you, challenge you and make you question why you love the game. That way, when you take the field during the first game, you know your purpose and take pride in putting on the jersey. Penn State field hockey's head coach, Charlene Morett-Curtiss, believes the off-season is meant for much more than morning workouts and afternoon shooting practice: it is a time to give back.

Over the course of her storied career at Penn State, Morett-Curtiss has always made it a point to get her team involved. From Penn State sponsored charities, to the Special Olympics or volunteering their time with Youth Field Hockey, this team is always lending a hand and skills to the community.

"When we recruit kids to come to Penn State, we want them to have a well rounded experience," Morett-Curtiss said. "Being apart of this program and Penn State is so much more than just playing. You have to give back to the community and support them like they support you." 

Over the past few years, there hasn't been a THON where the field hockey team wasn't present, either on the dance floor, at athlete hour, or both. This year, senior Laura Gebhart and junior Beth Mink, danced the full 46 hours and played pick-up field hockey games with the kids.

"For me, the physical and mental challenge of standing for 46 hours was a small glimpse of the fatigue these families have to go through when dealing with pediatric cancer," Gebhart said. "I am forever grateful for the interactions I had and the stories I heard.  I have so much respect for those families, and I'm happy we can help in some small way."

 "This hits home even more because Renee Messina is our team athletic trainer and as many in the field hockey family know, her daughter, Isabella had cancer very young in life," Mink said. "Knowing the type of person Renee is, I felt in my heart that I wanted to do something meaningful for their family and I know Laura felt the same. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so blessed and thankful I had the opportunity to be apart of something so breathtaking. The memories from that weekend I will hold onto forever and I will never forget all the people who helped me along the way and gave me the chance to dance in THON."

Aside from THON, the team is very active with the Special Olympics and actively participate in the Paterno Family Run every year. Even Morett-Curtiss and her coaching staff participate in the run to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

"It is important to us to come together as a team, as a family and participate in great events like this," Morett-Curtiss said. 

This family is one that you have for life, as the Penn State field hockey alumni have a very active and influential presence with the team. The alumni will be back in town this weekend to play in the annual Blue White Alumni Game, on April 18 at 11:30 a.m.

 

 

Spring Football: Hackenberg, Offense Growing in Year Two

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11003004.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - You often learn the most about a competitor in the face of adversity.

When things are going well, it's easy to be a leader and set an example.

But when you never waver under fire, that's when an individual shows mettle and earns the utmost respect from his peers.

Regardless of the score, team record or how many times he gets knocked to the mat, the approach and undying will to win never changes for Penn State's signal-caller.

That's what makes him unique.

No one wants to win more than Christian Hackenberg. And no one believes the team can win every time it steps on the field more than Hackenberg. His competitiveness permeates through the locker room because of the way he works to be the best.

And he doesn't settle for anything less.

Rather than dwell on any shortcomings in 2014, Hackenberg viewed the winter and spring practice periods as opportunities to understand why things transpired the way they did and turn any negatives into positives and turn all of the positives into bigger positives.

"This spring has been a lot about focusing on us and what we need to do as an entire offensive unit, and I think we've done a great job with that," said Hackenberg. "It's gone really well for us, and I think we've gotten better every day."

Buoyed by a record-breaking performance in the Pinstripe Bowl, Hackenberg and the Penn State offense have taken the strong finish to 2014 and run with it. To a man, the game reps from 2014 have led to more comfort and more comfort has led to greater confidence. That starts with the man in the center of the huddle.

"For me, it's being as genuine as I can with everything and working as hard as I can," Hackenberg said. "I think that's the biggest asset of any good leader, it's earning the respect of everyone else with how you work. I feel a little more comfortable this year. And it's about showing people that you hold yourself to the same standard that you hold everyone else to."

A starter in his first 25 games on campus, Hackenberg has played superb football this spring, and his growth in the offensive system is apparent every time he steps on the field. The unit's collective growth is certainly a byproduct of this being year two in the scheme, but Pinstripe Bowl MVP is a big piece to that puzzle.

"I think this spring it has been my confidence in the entire scheme and getting the ball to guys and letting them go make plays instead of trying to go make the plays myself," said Hackenberg. "I think that's the biggest part about being a good quarterback, being able to distribute the ball, executing the offense, managing the game and making sure that we stay on track. Making that a focus has been big. I've really tried to understand when to make the smart play and when to make the spectacular play and when you need to do those things and when you don't."

At this time last year, he was the voice in the huddle and the man orchestrating the show on the field when things were new to everyone. And thus, Hackenberg had a big burden on his shoulders to make sure each individual unit within the offense understood how to execute. It was a steep learning curve for a true sophomore, and in a lot of ways, Hackenberg's team-first attitude of ensuring that the offensive units grew hindered some of the things he wanted to work on individually.

But this spring has taken on a much different tone. The offense's growth has aided Hackenberg in his growth, and it has been a win-win for the Virginia native and the offense as a whole.

"With everyone coming along so well this spring, it has given me the opportunity to focus on things in my game that need improvement. There are always things I need to work on," said Hackenberg. "I know these guys are going to hold me to a high standard because I'm doing the same for them. And that's something that has been awesome for me to do this spring."

His development as a player is evident watching the Virginia native take command of the offense and throw the ball, but it's the subtle differences in leadership that have elevated the rising junior to another level as a complete player.

It's a regular occurrence on the practice field that you see Hackenberg pulling a young player aside to teach an aspect of the offense or offer insight as to what he might be seeing.

"I just think the fact that everybody is on the same page allows Christian to be the type of leader that he wants to be and we know he can be," head coach James Franklin said. "Leadership is so important at the quarterback position, and I think the other thing that is really important as a leader is when the leader is reinforcing the overall message...And that fact that we are now all aligned, year two has allowed that to happen."

With one practice left before Saturday's Blue-White Game Presented by AAA (4 p.m. on BTN), consistency is the name of the game for Hackenberg and the offense. Sure Saturday is an opportunity for the team to showcase its progress since the bowl game, but Hackenberg wants to see the unit execute and use the game as springboard towards the summer workout period and the start of training camp.

"Last year, a lot of guys were forced to play for the first time," Hackenberg said. "That's tough, especially up front with the amount of focus teams are putting on defensive fronts and schemes up front. That was difficult last year because no one had seen a lot of that stuff until we were in a game. But they started to get it towards the end of the year, and this offseason they have done a great job getting in better physical shape and you can definitely see the difference in everybody this spring."

Always humble, Hackenberg sees a difference in the play in those around him. The same is true for the player wearing No. 14.



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Mullin Fulfills Goal in First Career Start

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By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  Before the start of his sophomore season, pitcher Tom Mullin set a goal for himself. The relief pitcher wanted to change his role on the team and earn at start in the Blue and White. Before Tuesday's game with West Virginia, Mullin finally received the news he was looking for: He was set to start Wednesday at home against Bucknell.

"He was pumped," head coach Rob Cooper said. "He was excited."

And, he was grateful for the chance to fulfill his goal.

"I was happy that Coach Cooper and the other coaches gave me the opportunity to do that and I just wanted to take advantage of it," Mullin said.

Took advantage of it, he did. Only 10 pitches were thrown to Bucknell's hitters in the first inning, one of which yielded a hit. After getting the first inning of his first career start out of the way, his teammates gave him some help.

Penn State came out firing in the first inning posting five runs on five hits, including a Tyler Kendall two RBI double with two outs.

After seeing 10 Penn State hitters bat in the first, Mullin came out for his second inning of work. Almost identical to the first, he only faced four hitters, allowing one hit. Through two innings, he had only faced eight Bucknell hitters and his team posted the same number of runs, getting three more in the second to race out to an 8-0 lead.

Mullin said the early lead allowed him to settle into a groove.

 "It's always nice to have the offense come in with eight runs in the first two innings and it calms your nerves and allows you to go on cruise control and work pitch-by-pitch," he said.

He then continued to plow through the Bison lineup, downing Bucknell hitters in order in the third. Then in the fourth is when Mullin got his first taste of adversity. He gave up a single, fielder's choice and a Bison reached via error to load the bases with one out.

After a Bison single to make the score 8-1, the sophomore righty settled back in and finished the job, getting out with just one run allowed.

"I just wanted to gather myself and make pitches," he said of the jam in the fourth.

In the dugout after the fourth, Cooper and pitching coach Brian Anderson deliberated whether or not to allow Mullin to continue for the fifth inning. After a quick chat with Mullin, they found their answer.

"We were at a pitch limit with him a little bit and we were getting close to it and Coach Anderson asked told him he was getting close and he said 'I want one more inning, I'll get three more outs for you' and he did," Cooper said.

Mullin retired Bucknell in order in the fifth to finish with a sparkling line of five innings pitched allowing just four hits and zero earned runs on 67 pitches.

Penn State's head coach wouldn't say if Mullin's start will lead to more in the near future, but it was a good sign that Mullin went out and proved he can be a starter.

"It shows that he can do it so if somebody gets hurt or down the road we need somebody to start, he showed he can do it," Cooper said. I'm proud of him because it's part of the whole learning process."

Penn State got the win 11-2 to improve to 12-20 on the season.

11002408.jpegBy Miranda Kulp, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State softball battled to earn both wins in Wednesday night's doubleheader against rival Ohio State. Although the team started behind in both games, the Blue and White stayed focus to come out on top.

"I think these games really allowed our kids to bounce back from Indiana and gave them some confidence back and that's huge right now," said head coach Amanda Lehotak.

Both Penn State and Ohio State battled but PSU proved how hungry it was for the wins.

"I'll take two ugly wins over a pretty loss any day," said Lehotak. Although it wasn't the best looking series I'm proud of the way the team fought back and got the wins.

Starting the first game off strong, the Blue and White jumped onto the scoreboard during the third inning where Penn State made a three-point trail into a tied ball game.

Kristina Brackpool's homer in the bottom of the sixth secured the victory for Penn State when she hit in two additional runs.

Moving on that momentum, the team held its' ground both at the plate and in the field to end the game in a 7-6 victory.

"We definitely were hungry for the win tonight," said Brackpool. "Ohio State is such a deep routed rivalry anytime we face each other it's going to be an intense game and I'm going to do anything I can to help my team win."

Starting the second game off slower than the first, the Nittany Lions trailed OSU 6-0 until the fifth inning.

The Lions stayed relaxed at the plate and started to get on base. A double by Lexi Knief brought in the first run for the team and would be the start of a game-changing inning for Penn State.

An added pinch-hit single by Shannon Good helped Penn State climb its way back from a 6-0 trail to 6-4 game.

With bases loaded and Brackpool up to bat, the sophomore hit a grand slam and gave her team its first lead of the game. Coming out of the inning, Penn State made sure to protect the lead with strong defense and great pitching by Jessica Cummings. She only allowed one hit over the final three innings of the game to help her team maintain the lead.

"Jess threw a really good game tonight and we always want to make sure we're playing our best defensive game to make it easier on our pitchers," said Kristina Brackpool.

The Lions kept the momentum going into the sixth inning, with Pond sending a two-run shot over the left field fence and Brackpool adding an RBI double to center.

Proving it's never too late in the game for a turnaround, the Nittany Lions defeated the Buckeyes 11-6 for a series sweep.

"We're at the point were every game is an important game in the season. This series prepared us big time for Maryland. Ohio State and Maryland are both good teams but they also show some similarity especially in pitching styles," said coach Lehotak.

Coming off a big win over the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions are excited to play new conference foe Maryland this weekend.

"I think if we perform like we did tonight and clean up some little things, we'll give Maryland a good fight," said coach Lehotak.

Penn State is 23-20 overall with a 6-8 record in Big Ten play.

Spring Football: Offensive Line Playing With Confidence

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions entered the 2014 spring practice period with just two players on the offensive line with starting experience.

And when senior Miles Dieffenbach suffered a knee injury during spring ball, the Lions were left with just one returning starter - Donovan Smith.

What a difference a year has made for the Penn State O-Line with senior center Angelo Mangiro headlining a group that now features a host of returning players with significant game and starting experience.

With experience comes confidence, and the Nittany Lions have taken a step forward in the trenches since the end of the 2014 season.

"We've done some really nice things this spring, and certainly we have some things to work on, but comparing this year to last year, it's really not close with how far we have come," said senior Angelo Mangiro. "We have more guys who are veterans now. They are more confident making their calls and doing the technical things we need to do."

You can't really put a value on what the game reps meant to the unit's collective growth. It was trial by fire with four of the five starters during the vast majority of last season seeing things for the first time during plays in games. Now, things have slowed down.

"One of the biggest things for offensive line play is getting those on-field reps," tackle Andrew Nelson said. "Getting on the field in games and playing in every rep was huge, not only for me, but a lot of guys. Those reps were huge to get a feel for the speed of the game, making calls, so that experience helped all of us grow tremendously."

No unit worked harder during the winter conditioning period than the offensive line. To a man, each player in the group made strides in strength, flexibility, speed and quickness. Coupling the physical growth with the game experience, Penn State's offense has executed at a higher level this spring because of the unit that makes up more than 45 percent of the entire offense.

"They just have to take kind of a lunch-pail mentality and come to work every single day and grind through it. But overall, I'm really pleased," said head coach James Franklin. "And I told them, they may not see it and even the individual coaches may not see it but I do. Looking at it from 50,000 feet and watching all the drills and all the competition, I'm just so impressed."

In all, six players return to the unit with starting experience, including Derek Dowrey (guard/center), Brian Gaia (guard/center), Wendy Laurent (center/guard), Brendan Mahon (guard/center), Mangiro (center/guard) and Nelson (tackle). Additionally, tackle Albert Hall saw action in 12 games last season, and the Nittany Lions add a host of redshirt freshman to the rotation and newcomers Paris Palmer and Sterling Jenkins.

The experience on the field and growth this spring has the group optimistic with the direction things are headed.

"When we are playing confident and doing the things we need to do, the offense moves," said Mangiro. "We understand that. We are willing to put that on our shoulders.

The offensive line's growth has not gone unnoticed by the players around the unit. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has taken note of the command the line is playing with when it approaches the line of scrimmage during pre-snap reads. Running back Akeel Lynch has also been a direct beneficiary of an improved group up front.

"I think with the offensive line, the big thing is communication," running back Akeel Lynch said. "They are more confident in what they are doing. When it comes to pass protection, they are communicating with me and I'm communicating with them. When you are playing for the first time and learning the offense, it's hard to pick things up as quickly. Obviously, with this being the second year, they are able to communicate a lot faster, which helps with the running game be more productive and helps with pass protection."

With the experience alone, the offensive line is not the same unit it was in 2014. After a slew of underclassmen players received invaluable game reps, and with only one senior (Mangiro) in the group, the Nittany Lions have a lot to build on and look forward to as the offensive line continues to evolve.


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