By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Two of the best guards in the country on one team make for one interesting, unpredictable Big Ten matchup. With a 20-plus points per game average between them, the Lady Lions knew they needed to work hard to contain the scoring power of Ohio State's Ameryst Alston and Kelsey Mitchell.
"I think they're two of the best guards in our conference," head coach Coquese Washington said. "Kelsey's [Mitchell] leading the nation in scoring and Amersyt [Alston] is third in our conference in scoring so they're very talented. Any time you have five people in double figures you probably have a chance to win the game. Those other players, they do a great job of playing off of [Ameryst] Alston and [Kelsey] Mitchell. Mitchell is really good at creating for herself and creating for her teammates so she's a tough cover."
The Lady Lions were the first to put points on the board, but trailed by six heading into the half, with the Buckeyes up 36-30. The pace of the game picked in the second half. The Lady Lions battled, but the Buckeyes pulled away late for an 88-70 victory.
Several Lions contributed to the team's offensive outing, including Sierra Moore and Candice Agee. Moore, who has been solid for the Lady Lions from both inside the paint and the three-point line, put up 18 points, tallying her 19th double-digit scoring outing this season.
"Sierra definitely showed a lot of fight," Washington said. "Sometimes you look up at the score board and it can be tough emotionally to play through when you're down. I thought Sierra [Moore], Tori [Waldner], Candice [Agee], and Keke [Sevillian] just kept fighting and we were able to cut the lead back to nine points, but it was a little too much. I think those three turnovers to start the half gave them a cushion that they were able to play with for the rest of the game. I did think our kids kept fighting and that was certainly led by Sierra's effort."
Agee was the most impactful against the Buckeyes, delivering both offensively and defensively in the pursuit. She not only put up 15 points, but grabbed 10 rebounds, too. But Agee was equally as effective defense, blocking two for the Lady Lions, marking her 13th-straight game with at least one swat. All season, various coaches have referenced Agee's size, and how they have to coach to her height. In the matchup against the Buckeyes, Agee was paired with another player who is relatively close in height.
"Sometimes it can be easier for tall [post players] to play against other tall [post players] than it is to play against smaller players," Washington said. I thought Candice [Agee] was aggressive and looking for her shot tonight. I thought she was working hard to get touches and Tori [Walder], in particular, did a good job of getting her touches. [Candice] did a good job getting to the free throw line tonight and converting. Getting a double-double against [Lisa] Blair and [Alexa] Hart, and they're sandwiching her and being physical, trying not to let her get position, is good. I thought she did a good job trying to have a presence in the middle and be a force."
The Lady Lions welcome the Wisconsin Badgers to the Jordan Center on Sunday for the ninth-annual Pink Zone game. This game, which honors breast cancer survivors and draws awareness to the disease that claims thousands each year, will also be the last regular season game. The Lady Lions begin Big Ten Tournament play March 4.
"As the head coach for this program, we talk about each season being its own experience," Washington said. "You have to take that experience for what it is. So coming into this season, we knew it was going to be a transition year and we knew that there was going to be a lot of growth and a lot of learning. That's what we've focused on from day one, but that's who we are as a program. Even when we're playing very well and winning championships, we focused on growing and getting better and learning lessons that will help us play our best basketball at the end of the season; whatever that looks like."
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By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - It's championship time for the Nittany Lions and the Penn State track and field team is headed to Geneva, Ohio to take on their conference rivals for the 2015 Big Ten Indoor Championships.
This week GoPSUsports.com caught up with a few student-athletes to find out their favorite moments from last year's championship meet.
By Mike Esse, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State Lady Lions (6-21, 3-13) have just two home games left before the Big Ten tournament next week in Hoffman Estates, Ill. First up, a surging Ohio State (19-9, 11-5) team Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Buckeyes have won eight of their last 10 contests and features two of the conference's most lethal scorers.
Freshman Kelsey Mitchell and junior Ameryst Alston lead the way for the Buckeyes averaging 24.6 and 20.4 points per game respectively.
"They usually play with four guards on the floor and those four guards are usually pretty explosive," head coach Coquese Washington said. "It starts with Kelsey Mitchell. I don't think you can stop her but trying to slow her down is definitely something you have to be mindful of when you play Ohio State."
Penn State and Ohio State met on Jan. 18 in Columbus where the Buckeyes sealed a late lead to get the victory at home 69-60. Ohio State's Mitchell and Alston had 21 and 18 in that game, shooting 14-for-35 from the field.
Lady Lion assistant coach Itoro Coleman said she thought Penn State did a good job of forcing Ohio State into taking tough contested shots in that contest.
"We did a good job at their place at really make them shoot contested shots," Coleman said. "(Mitchell and Alston) lead their team in attempts so they are going to get a lot of shots up, we just want to make sure they are contested."
Coleman attributed the late lost to Penn State's inability to secure offensive rebounds in the final four minutes. In the second time around though, the Lady Lions do have confidence after taking Ohio State down to the wire on the road.
"We definitely have confidence," Coleman said. "They're going to put up a lot of shots, its big we make sure we limit their second chance opportunities and get a lot of points out of our transition."
Penn State will have the benefit of having a home crowd Thursday against Ohio State at 7 p.m. and Sunday against Wisconsin at 2 p.m. Even on their home floor, though, it's still one game at a time for the Lady Lions.
"We love playing at the BJC, our fans are great," Coleman said. "We always approach it one game at a time. Right now our concentration is on Ohio State and finishing here at the BJC strong."
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Earlier this season, a lack of defensive scoring was a bit of a concern, but the Penn State men's hockey team remained confident in its blueliners. They continued to contribute in other ways, day in and day out. The scoring would come.
Now, the team's defensemen have recorded at least a point in 11 of the last 12 games. This Nittany Lion defense is clicking.
"I think it comes with confidence," said junior Luke Juha. "The forwards are doing a great job of passing to us when we're open, and we're trying to play a forward game. We're trying to move it to the forwards and make good passes for them to do their thing. We love shooting the puck as a team, and I think we've just been doing a better job of getting pucks through and making good decisions in the O-zone."
Juha leads defensemen on the team in points with 14 this season. He scored two goals, the most recent of which was the game winner against Minnesota on Saturday, and has 12 assists.
The junior is not afraid to join the offensive rush. In fact, doing just that is a big part of his game.
"I used to be a forward, and I transitioned to defense when I was a little older," Juha said. "I think it's important to get some offense and stay in the game offensively as a defenseman because you just play a more aggressive game, and I think as a whole, you play a better game."
Juha is not the only blueliner helping on the offensive side of the game. Erik Autio has nine points this season, and Connor Varley and Nate Jensen both have seven.
Varley is also plus-11, which is the best plus/minus rating among the team's defensemen. It's also one of the best on the team. His efforts this season have been another reason for this successful defense.
"Just doing things hard, making a lot harder play, I think that's something I talked about with the coaches after last season where my plus/minus wasn't very good," said Varley. "So, I think just focusing on that and moving the pucks quick and making strong, hard, smart plays has been key."
In addition to joining the rush, another factor contributing to the defense's success is the D-pairings. At this point in the season, the majority of these parings are set and stable.
The players know their partners, know their tendencies and know what to expect.
"It helps with being familiar, and it's good to have some chemistry with whoever you're playing with," said Varley. "In my case, I've been playing with Nate [Jensen] for the last couple months here, and it's been going really well. We both like to skate, move the puck and play in their end as much as possible."
This weekend, the Nittany Lions defense looks to continue its dominant play against Ohio State. The Buckeyes (9-17-2, 4-10-0 B1G) have speed, which is an aspect Penn State (16-10-4, 8-5-1 B1G) is prepared for.
With such few games remaining, this matchup is very important. The Lions know what is at stake.
"We have to be aware," said Varley. "They have some pretty fast forwards, so keep our feet moving, but other than that just make hard plays, play strong and try and generate some offense when we get the chance."
Playing on the road has not been overly successful for the Lions, who are 4-5-0 away from Pegula Ice Arena. Nevertheless, the team is ready to focus on playing its game, playing Penn State hockey.
"I think we just have to be ready to play a hard game for 60 minutes," said Juha. "I think every team lacks that sometimes, and I think we've struggled a little bit more with that on the road. Being focused from the drop of the puck to the second period because we've had weak second periods this year. I'm not really sure why, but we just have to be focused and ready to go every shift."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's lacrosse team adopted a new teammate last fall, Gavin Royer, age 5. The pairing came together as a result of the Nittany Lions' and the Royers' participation in the Friends of Jaclyn Program.
Gavin Royer was diagnosed with a brain tumor just 10 days after his fifth birthday last March. Since then, Gavin's and his family were adopted by the Penn State men's lacrosse team through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a program that pairs both collegiate and high school sports teams with families of children battling pediatric cancer.
Not only did the men's lacrosse team adopt Gavin, but also the women's lacrosse team adopted Gavin's two sisters, Alaina and Victoria. The pairings have provided support for the Royer family throughout the past months of Gavin's treatment. Head coach Jeff Tambroni explained that the Royers have provided priceless comfort and support to his players.
"For us, it's more about just kind of that contact in perspective with like 'this is what he's going through, [Gavin] needs a support group, let's make sure we provide that for him' and vice versa," said Tambroni. "Their family provides a wonderful support group respective to our guys."
The men's team went all in when meeting Gavin and the Royers for the first time in December. Gavin was given his own locker in the team's locker room, as well as his own equipment including sticks and jerseys. Gavin proudly wears his Penn State lacrosse attire whenever he gets the chance. He displayed his Penn State pride at both men's lacrosse preseason scrimmages, as well as their home opener, a victory against Vermont.
"First and foremost we're locker buddies," said senior captain Kyle Zittel. "His locker is right next to mine. But just welcoming him in, I guess I took on responsibility because I felt the first connection with Gavin when he first came in and was excited and I got to interact with him from the get-go."
The Royer family, hailing from Morrisdale, Pennsylvania, has made it a goal to be in attendance for all the home men's lacrosse games. The family gets to hang out on the team's side of the field, watching the game with the same view as the players. Being at the games further connects the Royers to the young men that have become family to them.
Gavin and his family are fully involved in gameday rituals, from pregame fist bumps with the players, to the post game team handshakes. Senior captain Kyle Zittel has been one of the more involved players with the program and became instantly attached to the team's newest member.
"Everybody feels a connection with Gavin," said Zittel. "So when we run on the field and your mind is at the game you see Gavin and it's just in the back of your head that he's there and a fist bump is all it takes for us to connect with him initially and you feel it. It's not something I can describe in words because a fist bump doesn't look like much but when you're running by him you just feel it inside in your heart."
The connection with the team doesn't stop there. The Royers hang out at the postgame tailgates, mixing amongst the players, coaches, and families alike.
"He's always sitting on the stairs with his family, and as we go through and get food and interact with our teammates and family and other guys' families on the team, he's there as well," said Zittel. "He's another family member of ours."
This weekend's game against Penn will be slightly different for the Royer family. Penn State men's lacrosse plans to honor Gavin and his family during halftime, in recognition for their continued support and involvement with the team.
While Penn State men's lacrosse is a vital support system for the Royer family, the team believes Gavin and his family have impacted them in an equally important way. Gavin's fighting spirit has brought a new wave of motivation for the Nittany Lions to succeed, not only for themselves, but also for their extended family on the sidelines.
"We say this to our guys, it's a game," said Tambroni. "We get wrapped up in it because it's a profession and it's a way of life, but at the end of the day you look around and look at someone like Gavin who's constantly smiling with all that he has going on in his life and it really forces you to step back from everything that you're doing and stop complaining about the little things and realize that a lot more people out there, including Gavin, have it much more challenging. For that I think he has done a lot more for us than we've done for him."
The Nittany Lions take on Penn this Saturday in Holuba Hall at noon.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Heading into the 2015 season, Penn State head baseball coach Rob Cooper knew it was going to be a process for his young team to develop into a contending club.
Now six games in, the Nittany Lions have yet to get into the win column. Still, that doesn't mean they haven't been making progress, especially offensively.
So far, Penn State is third in the Big Ten in batting with a .260 avg. and has five players with double-digit at-bats hitting better than .300. While he is pleased with the performance of his hitters, Cooper knows there is room for improvement.
"Our offense has done a good job but we can improve," Cooper said. "We can have more consistent at-bats. You're playing a team like Texas A&M, you've got to find a way to win against those guys offensively. But I've been happy with some of our at-bats so far."
With six returning position players that started at least 30 games last season, Penn State has benefited from the experience of their hitters. Leading the charge has been a pair of sophomores in shortstop Jim Haley and outfielder/designated hitter Nick Riotto, two players that Cooper believes made big strides in the offseason.
Haley, a starter for the second straight season, is leading the Lions in hits (eights) and RBIs (seven), to go along with a .320 avg. Riotto, who started just 15 games and hit .164 as a freshman, has been in the lineup every day so far and is hitting .304.
The Lions have also gotten strong games from junior outfielder Greg Guers (.273 AVG, .429 OBP) and junior infielder Tyler Kendall (.400 AVG, .438 OBP). With a pitching staff that has already gotten multiple starts from two freshmen, Cooper is glad the offense has been carrying its weight.
"Are we farther ahead offensively than we are pitching, sure," Cooper said. "One thing you have to look at, we threw four true freshman this weekend. They're learning on the fly. Then you look at us on offense, [James] Coates has played a lot for us in his career, [Ryan] Richter, Guers, J.J. [White], [Taylor] Skerpon. These guys have experience. I expect them to be a little bit farther ahead because they know the speed of the game. We've just got to keep moving forward."
Two players who have really made an impact, however, are ones that weren't mainstays in Penn State's lineup last season, third baseman Christian Helsel and outfielder Aaron Novak.
Although Novak isn't new to the Penn State program, he is in the middle of arguably the hottest stretch of his career. Having registered 12 at-bats in five games this season, the senior is hitting a ridiculous .583, the second highest average in the Big Ten among qualifying hitters.
A career .241 hitter entering 2015, Novak says he hasn't changed his swing much, but that he was motivated during the offseason to make a big impact in his final year after starting just 13 games as a junior.
"I think I'm just trying to be aggressive up there, I'm not trying to take too many pitches," Novak said. "I think I can help the team out so I definitely want to be the starter. It was only [five games] and I did well. I'm looking to play more and make more of a case to be an everyday starter."
Helsel, on the other hand, is the new guy in Penn State's lineup, having sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi. In his first six games with the Lions, the third baseman is hitting .300 and has two multi-hit games.
Apart from his production, the Altoona native has injected plenty of energy into the Lions' lineup with his determination and positive attitude. After missing last season, Helsel came into 2015 stoked to represent Penn State.
"He played a year of Division I baseball and he bleeds blue and white," Cooper said. "This is where he wanted to be. He's really driven and he a good player and has experience, it doesn't surprise me that he's doing that. More importantly, he's playing good defense for us."
"I'm seeing the ball well and my swing feels good I just need to do a little more to help us win," Helsel added. "I grew up 40 minutes down the road so I grew up loving Penn State. There was a little pressure but we've got a great group of guys here so they take a lot of pressure off the individual."
Although their hitting has been strong, the Lions are still just six games into a long season. With another test on Friday against North Carolina State. Penn State will look to continue its process of improvement, while hopefully getting into the win column.
"I'd like to improve and win at the same time, that'd be the best thing," Cooper said. "I hate losing and our guys hate losing. We can't fall victim to short term satisfaction. We've got to make sure we're building this thing right."
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After a week of rest, a majority of the Nittany Lions are ecstatic to compete again, but for five seniors, they don't want the season to end this Friday evening as they take on the Iowa Hawkeyes on their annual Senior Night.
Take a look at the outstanding careers as a Penn State gymnast for five seniors.
"It's the last time I get to suit up in the Blue and White, but it will be exciting to have my family there and have a bunch of recognition," said Hernandez.
During his freshman year, Hernandez displayed that he would be an important aspect to the team. He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice during the season, was named First Team All-Big Ten and qualified for the NCAA Championships.
In his sophomore year, Hernandez made history after he broke Penn State's pommel horse record by securing a score of 15.750 at the Navy Open. His accolades continued in his junior year, but his favorite memory in his Penn State career has nothing to do with his achievements.
"My favorite competition was the Big Ten [Championships] last year in Nebraska," said Hernandez. "The team did well, but it was so much fun competing with the guys and I'm just hoping that the rest of our competitions are like that."
Rec Hall is home to men's gymnastics and is known for being one of the most captivating sports venue in the nation. Hernandez couldn't agree more with the latter.
"I just love the atmosphere of Rec Hall," said Hernandez. "You travel everywhere and Rec Hall is always my favorite place."
At the age of three, Sanabria's father decided to have him participate in gymnastics because he was an extremely hyper kid. Eighteen years later and Sanabria has continued to practice the sport.
During recruiting, even being from Puerto Rico, Sanabria didn't need to think twice about attending Penn State.
"We've had a couple of teammates come here before me and it's a great university and they have a great gymnastics program and just seemed right to go here," said Sanabria.
Being so far from home can be tough, but with a tight-knit group, finding a new home isn't hard.
"[I'm going to miss] my teammates and being around everyone," said Sanabria. "They're all great people and they all love the sport and they want to compete."
With such a close bond with his teammates, his favorite memory is a similar one to his teammate, Hernandez.
"[My favorite memory] was the Big Ten [Championship] in Nebraska," said Sanabria. "It was the best competition I had ever been to. It was fun and there was just a great atmosphere there."
Though Sanabria loved the Championships last year, he's eager for the meet this Friday.
"I feel pretty good about it," said Sanabria. "I'm actually pretty excited about it, last home meet, even though I don't want to leave Rec Hall. It's a great place."
Felleman started his collegiate career by competing in seven of the team's nine meets and would always surpass his career-best score as the season continued. He competed in all of the team's meets and at the NCAA Championships his sophomore year where he finished fourth overall on high bar with a score of 14.850.
During his junior year, he led the Blue and White on high bar and eventually represented Penn State on the high bar at the Big Ten Championship team finals where he finished sixth.
The Big Ten Championships last year were a favorite memory for some of his fellow teammates, but for Felleman, anytime on high bar is a good memory.
"Every time I went up on high bar [was my favorite moment]," said Felleman. "I was usually either anchor or somewhat of a lift up for the team, so those moments when I was last on high bar, the team relied on me. Those were some really big moments that I won't forget."
He hopes to make more memories and be the best he can be this Friday.
"I'm very excited. My body is feeling probably the best its felt all season," said Felleman. "I can't wait. There's a lot of nervous energy because it's my last real home meet besides Big Ten, so I'm sure there's going to be emotions on the floor...I'm hoping to go out there and hit all five events the best that I can."
Rodríguez was part of the Puerto Rican National Team Gymnasium club team before he came to Penn State and has continued to compete internationally for Puerto Rico. Those 1,600 miles may be hard at times, but he has a strong support system.
"[I'm going to miss] the team and how everyone just gets along," said Rodríguez. "For someone like me, coming from Puerto Rico, to get along and meet new people, it's pretty much getting a new family."
Even with a unique and memorable career, Rodríguez favorite meet is a commonality between the seniors.
"[My favorite memory was] last year's Big Ten Championships," said Rodríguez. "It was one of the funnest meets I had ever lived through and everyone pretty much hit their set and the energy was so high."
Though Rodríguez is injured and unable to compete this Friday, he is satisfied with his time at Penn State.
"It's the end of an era," said Rodríguez. "It's the end of my four years as a college athlete and student. It's just something that makes me proud."
Duverglas started gymnastics when he was three years old because his parents wanted him to be safe when they noticed how hyper he was and how he would always love to jump off of things. Seeing gymnastics at the summer Olympics was another factor to the start of his career.
Duverglas has accomplished a lot in his collegiate career, but his favorite memory was last year in the meet against the Illini.
"I won the Gene Wettstone Award last year and it was my first time winning and it was a good feeling," said Duverglas.
The "Gene Wettstone Award" is granted to the most extraordinary gymnast after each double dual meet.
With that being such a good memory, Duverglas doesn't want his career at Penn State to end.
[I feel] bittersweet," said Duverglas. "Being in Rec Hall is always fun, always a great time, but thinking about it as the last time I'll be competing there before Big Ten's is somewhat sad because it's going to bring back a lot of memories.'
As Duverglas finishes his time at Penn State, he hopes the underclassmen understands the chance being given to them.
"Take advantage of every opportunity you have," said Duverglas. "Opportunities come and go, but the ones you take advantage of, the ones that you're going to grow the most from, so being able to come to Penn State and be on the gymnastics team, and experience all those things, was really an opportunity that I've never really thought about before, before being approached by coach Jepson."
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After earning its highest tournament placement in program history, fourth-seeded Penn State is prepared to face off in the first round of this year's CHA conference tournament against fifth-seeded Lindenwood.
The best-of-three series will be held at Pegula Ice Arena this upcoming weekend (Feb. 27 - March 1) with Friday's game starting at 7 p.m. and Saturday's at 2 p.m. If necessary, a win-or-go-home third game will be played at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
"Tournament time is exciting," said head coach Josh Brandwene. "You work hard all year. It's a great time of year. We're looking forward to Friday evening."
The Lindenwood Lady Lions are no strangers to the Nittany Lions. In fact, in four games played between the teams this season, each team has won two games apiece.
Back on Nov. 21-22, the Nittany Lions first skated against Lindenwood at Pegula Ice Arena. The Blue and White won the first game, 3-0, on Friday night, but subsequently dropped the second game as part of a Saturday matinee, 2-1.
Celine Whitlinger's shutout on Friday, Laura Bowman's goal and assist, Shannon Yoxheimer's two goals, and Caitlin Reilly's two apples highlighted the weekend split.
The two teams would not meet again until Feb. 6-7, when the Nittany Lions traveled to Wentzville, Mo. to take on the Lady Lions. A similar result would ensue as Penn State won on Friday, 3-2, but fell to Lindenwood on Saturday, 4-2.
Bowman's three goals and assist as well as Amy Petersen's trio of assists highlighted the Blue and White's road efforts against Lindenwood.
"This is a group that is resilient, battle tested, and just chomping at the bit to get at it this weekend, and there is nothing better than that," said Brandwene.
The players to watch for Lindenwood are senior forward Jordyn Constance, who is tied for fourth in the CHA in scoring with ten goals and ten assists, and junior forward Shara Jasper, who has six goals and 12 apples this season. Junior goalie Nicole Hensley has posted an eye-opening .923 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average.
"Our job is to focus on us, our game plan, and our job is to go out and execute our game plan, and the results will take care of themselves," said Brandwene.
Penn State will rely heavily on junior goaltender Celine Whitlinger, who leads the CHA with a .937 save percentage and two shutouts.
Leading the Blue and White in CHA play are Laura Bowman (11 goals, ten assists), Amy Petersen (four goals, ten assists), Shannon Yoxheimer (six goals, five assists), and freshman Caitlin Reilly (five goals, five assists).
Defensively, look for Jordin Pardoski, Bella Sutton, Kelly Seward, and Remi Martin to make immediate on-ice impacts.
"One shift at a time," said Brandwene. "One practice at a time. One period at a time. That's the mindset we're in. We want to get off to a great start, and it's about preparation during the week at practice, it's about energy on Friday, and a great opportunity to play at home."
The winner of the CHA tournament will earn an automatic bid to compete in the NCAA tournament, a feat that Brandwene says speaks volumes to the strength of the CHA conference.
"I think it says a lot about the league, and I think that we're excited to get after it on Friday and looking forward to playing at home," said Brandwene.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - February 18 marked the sixth-month anniversary of the day Penn State Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour began her journey in Happy Valley.
GoPSUsports.com recently spent some time with Barbour to talk about a wide range of topics in a two-part video interview series. In part two, Barbour talks about the women's volleyball team capturing a national title on December, Penn State Football's 2014 campaign, the busy month of March ahead and more. Take a look.
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