By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At the end of each season, collegiate programs graduate seniors and look for recruits to fill open spots on the roster. It is almost second nature for coaches and teammates to have to adjust to new faces, techniques and strengths as a new season rolls around. Sometimes, these adjustments are not only made with new teammates, but with coaches as well.
At the start of the 2014-'15 season, two new faces, techniques and strengths found their way to Happy Valley, where they would contribute to Penn State's women's gymnastics program. Kera Molinaro and Jeff Richards have begun their Penn State careers this season, bringing experience, charisma and unique approaches to the team.
"They have been great additions to our program already," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "Every day they surprise me and I am thankful to be able to work with them."
The Richards File
There isn't a division that Jeff Richards hasn't coached in. Over the past 25 years, Richards has been either an assistant or head coach at every level of collegiate gymnastics. From Iowa to George Washington and now Penn State, Richards brings unrivaled experience to the Nittany Lion program.
"It has been a really smooth transition," coach Jeff Thompson said. "Jeff [Richards] is a really likeable guy. It is nice because we have developed this kind of 'partner coaching' style, which is really helpful because we have such a small group this year."
Richards began his coaching portfolio at Utah State as a student-assistant from 1988-'90. While assisting the Aggies, Richards helped the program to the NCAA Regionals, along with an NCAA Championship all-around competitor. From Utah State, he made his way to University of Wisconsin-Stout and Winona University, where he served as head coach of the programs, respectively. Richards' transition to Big Ten gymnastics came in 2005 when he began his tenure as assistant coach at Iowa. While he was only apart of the Hawkeyes' program from 2005-'08, the impact he made was enough to earn him the 2008 North Central Region Assistant Co-Coach of the Year title.
"When you are coaching floor routines, it helps to have a coach spotting you who you feel comfortable with," Jeff Thompson said. "Jeff [Richards]'s build, as crazy as that sounds, allows for the girls to be more comfortable doing the extra turn or committing to a rotation. He has a lot of experience and is a big, strong guy, so he can step right in. They know that he is going to catch them. There is a trust level there that you can see already."
When Richards' tenure came to an end at Iowa, he made his way back to his stomping grounds at Utah State, where he coached until 2013. In his time at the helm of the Aggies' program, he sent five qualifiers to the NCAA Regionals and nine of his pupils earned All-Western Athletics Conference honors on 13 occasions. He has mastered the art of developing well-rounded student athletes, as 22 of his team members earned Academic All-WAC.
Richards' contributions to the team can be seen already, as last weekend's floor performance proves. In the match against Nebraska, the Nittany Lions had five floor routines open with an "E" level tumbling pass, compared to the Cornhuskers' one. Because the team has developed a comfort level with him, coupled with their already great relationship with head coach Jeff Thompson, they are able to maneuver through these hard routines early.
"I think that is something that will pay dividends for us later," Jeff Thompson said.
The Molinaro File
If you are wondering why the name Molinaro sounds familiar, it is because that name is familiar to the Penn State community. Frank Molinaro, Kera's husband, was a four-time All-American wrestler and National Champion (2012) for the Nittany Lions during the 2007-'12 seasons. When Frank decided to come back to his Happy Valley roots and help coach his alma mater, it was only fitting for Kera to tag along.
"Back in October I said to myself, 'Wow, I am so glad she is apart of our program,'" coach Rachelle Thompson said. "She is a volunteer assistant coach, which says a lot about her as a person. She does this because she loves it; you can see it. When you look at coaching as not a 'job' but a passion, you really see the impact you can have as a mentor by helping these young women improve day in and day out. I have already seen the impact she has made on this team."
Prior to making the move to Penn State as a volunteer assistant coach, Molinaro was an assistant women's gymnastics coach at Rutgers, where she helped the program secure its first NCAA Tournament birth since 2007. Kera's strength is taking floor routines to the next level, as she did for Rutgers during the 2013 and 2014 seasons when the Knights set school records.
"She really made an impact there," Rachelle Thompson said. "Kera has a great little spirit about her. Our coaching techniques compliment each other really well. She has a very laid back, yet aggressive coaching style that the girls really seem to be responding to."
Before assisting at Rutgers, Molinaro volunteered at her alma mater, Oregon State. Molinaro took over the Beaver's strength and conditioning program and helped shape their beam routines. During her time on the coaching staff, Oregon State finished eighth in 2010 and 2011, the program's first top-ten finish in 13 years.
Gymnastics is in her blood, as Molinaro began her collegiate gymnastics career as a walk-on for the Beavers; it only took her a year to earn scholarship standing. She not only made touches in every event, but she was a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection and earned NACGC Scholastic All-American honors.
"Being able to have someone who is qualified to be a full-time, Division I coach, volunteer their time with you has been an amazing experience," Jeff Thompson said.
The Nittany Lions welcome the Maryland Terrapins to Rec Hall this weekend in the first and only double dual of the 2014-'15 season. Penn State's men's gymnastics team will host Michigan. The double dual is Saturday at 4 p.m.
Recently in All-Sports Blog Category
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
By Meghan Miceli, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This weekend's swimming and diving matchup against the United States Naval Academy is more than just the final dual meet of the 2014-'15 season-- it is the last time 14 Nittany Lions will compete in McCoy Natatorium.
This is the second group to graduate under head coach Tim Murphy after he took over as head coach in 2013.
"This group has a willingness and desire and with how much they have invested in this team for them to continue to do it is just a good mark of their character, their discipline, and overall their affection for what they're doing," Murphy explained. "Also where they're doing it and most of all, whom they're doing it with, that's what stands out."
Senior Day is historically the most emotional meet. Each senior passes through a tunnel of created by their teammates where they meet the coaching staff at the end. Next, they are then handed a letterman's blanket and flowers and are recognized for their dedication and hard work invested throughout their collegiate career.
For senior Katelyn Miller, her four years as a member of the team have flown by.
"It's crazy. As a freshman, I remember looking at the seniors and wondering if I was going to make it that far," Miller said with a laugh. "It's surreal that it's finally here. Walking down the pool deck with the whole team on either side of me is when I think it's going to hit me."
Miller is one of the five women graduating from the team, and one of the four seniors who competed and scored at the 2014 NCAA Championships for the Nittany Lions.
Another senior member and scorer from the 2014 NCAA team is Megan Siverling. When asked about what she would miss most about competing for the Nittany Lions, Siverling had a great answer.
"I'm going to miss the fact that something that seems to trivial, like athletic performance, represents something so much bigger than ourselves," Silverling said. "Going a certain time isn't personal, I'm representing Penn State and it makes you better. We're representing such an awesome institution that so many people love and follow so passionately. "
On the men's team, the Nittany Lions will lose nine, including captain Larry Virgillio.
"If you would have told me four and a half years ago if I would even think that I would be swimming for Penn State, I would have called you crazy," Virgilio laughed. "To be a captain at the end of four years, along with Nate (Savoy), it means more than words can describe."
But not all members of the 2015 class have spent the past four years as a Nittany Lion. Ryan MaGee spent his freshman year at Maryland before transferring to Penn State.
"Coming to Penn State has been awesome. Being here has taught me the importance of working as one machine not just an individual," MaGee explained. "We really are a second family. There's such a sense of unity here at Penn State, I'm definitely going to miss it."
Team unity is a key value among the men's and women's teams; it is something that has made the group stronger and contributed to their success.
"They each are making or have made are making a contribution to not only themselves but the program," Murphy said. "It's easy to stop doing this because this requires a lot of time, it's a long season but they've kept with it. That in it of itself I admire and respect."
A win this weekend would put the women at 11-1 on the season, and the men at 6-3. But Coach Murphy is not worried about Senior Day affecting the Nittany Lion's performance in the pool.
"When they look up an see their parents, their family, their friends realizing that, this is the last time they're going to be swimming in a dual meet, in this pool - it'll hit them," Murphy said. "But we know what we have to do."
Saturday's meet begins at 11 a.m. with Senior Day beginning around 10:40 a.m. in McCoy Natatorium.
By Sean Donnelly,
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Expectations are high for Penn State head coach Jeff Zinn and his men's tennis squad this year following a 2014 campaign where the Nittany Lions reached the second round of their sixth-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. They will begin the season ranked 26th, which is the highest preseason ranking in program history. Coach Zinn, now in his third season at Penn State, is aiming to improve on last season's success.
The Nittany Lions will begin the ITA Kick-Off Weekend on the road against No. 12 Kentucky (Friday at 1 p.m.). The winner will face No. 20 Vanderbilt or No. 23 South Florida.
"We haven't been invited for a number of years, so it's a nice honor to be invited to play in this tournament," said coach Zinn. "The other three teams we could potentially play against are all Top 25 teams. We are right in that mix. It's going to be a nice start to the season."
The Nittany Lions finished their record-setting 2014 season at No. 24 in the country, with an impressive 22-6 overall record, and finishing 8-3 in Big Ten play. They finished the last seven weeks comfortably inside the Top 25. They eventually fell to No. 4 Virginia, who reached the NCAA Semifinals.
Zinn expects the entire team to improve on marks from last year, and back up the high ranking the group has been given this season. Michael Reilly and Tomas Hanzlik, the only two returning seniors, look to provide leadership to a team that features five talented sophomores.
Leo Stakhovsky and Matt Barry, both of whom are juniors, are looking to improve on their stellar seasons.
"Stakhovsky had a fantastic year as a sophomore," Zinn said. "He's got to come back this year and back that up. You got to come back as good or better. That's what we want. The target's on his back because he did so well last year. Everyone is going to be gunning for him."
Barry who posted winning records in singles and doubles play, was very reliable last season when in crucial situations.
"We have Matt Barry who's our Mr. Clutch. He pulls a lot of matches out for us. We have some players that we expect big things from this year," said Zinn.
Sophomore Nika Dolidze and Tomas Hanzlik, who both had six wins each in singles this fall, head into the season ranked 59th in the ITA Doubles Poll. The pair's best win this this fall came against Clemson's 60th ranked Alejandro Augusto and Hunter Harrington.
Aws Laaribi, a sophomore who transferred from Wake Forrest, picked up five wins this fall, including three at the William & Mary Invitational. This fall was his first game action with Penn State. He described his decision to transfer to Penn State as an easy one.
"When I was looking at schools, Penn State was one of my top choices," said Laaribi. "When I saw them doing really well last season, I thought that it may be the best school for me."
Laaribi feels good about the team's chances in starting off the season well at the ITA Kick-Off Weekend and regular season play. He went on to credit the conditioning and fitness that Coach Zinn and his staff, which they hope pays off this season.
"I feel good about the team. We've been working on our fitness a lot, and we feel good going up against Kentucky. He's had a great preseason practice" said Coach Zinn. "He's going to be a great addition to our team in both doubles and singles."
After the ITA Kick-Off Weekend in Kentucky, seven of Penn State's next nine matches will be played at home. One of those home games will be against No. 5 Ohio State. Penn State is looking to capitalize on its success at home, posting a 15-0 record last season in Happy Valley.
"We do well at home. We have good crowds, and a great atmosphere at the indoor and outdoor tennis center," Zinn said. "Hopefully that non-conference portion of our schedule will help us going into and competing against Ohio State."
This year is looking to be another stout year for the conference, as two Big Ten teams are ranked inside the top 25. Ohio State and Illinois are ranked No. 5 and No. 11, respectively, as both advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year.
"The Big Ten is really strong this year. Illinois is going to be a top 5 - 10 team with Ohio State. Minnesota's a very good and very dangerous team. I think we're up in there with all those teams. I think we're very dangerous. We're returning five or six players, so hopefully everyone has gotten a bit better. We've added two new players. Hopefully we can make teams not so confident coming in to play us."
The Nittany Lions will look to improve on last season's success with a healthy balance of experience and talent. You can catch their first home matches against Penn, James Madison and Temple on Sunday, Feb. 1. If last season's success is any indication, opponents will have to bring their 'A game' when traveling to Happy Valley.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Everyone has days that don't go according to plan. For Penn State men's basketball player Kevin Montminy, August 6, 2014 was one of those days.
The senior walk-on went to practice that afternoon expecting a normal workout session, yet ended up on the floor instead, his nose bleeding profusely after he broke it as he dove for a loose ball.
But that was just the beginning.
Before Montminy could be taken to the hospital, head coach Patrick Chambers gathered the team at midcourt to make an announcement. For his final season at Penn State, Montminy would receive a full scholarship.
"I was just going into it like any other practice or game with the same approach and ended up having to go to the hospital which is never fun, with blood coming out of my nose, and I was like 'oh jeez, this is not going to be a good day,'" Montminy said. "But then coach pulled everyone aside. It sort of blew me away, I wasn't expecting it at all."
Now in his fourth season, Montminy has played a combined 96 minutes and scored just 24 points during his career. So what about him made Chambers believe he deserved a scholarship?
While there are plenty of hardworking players on the Nittany Lions, Montminy is usually the first guy mentioned by coaches and teammates when attributes like effort and attitude are being discussed. He was an Academic All-Big Ten selection last year and was named a team captain prior to this season.
When asked about the Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, native, Chambers wasn't shy about his feelings.
"I'd let my daughter marry that kid," Chambers said. "He's a beast. Leadership, academically, just does the right things, community service, locker room, his effort in practice, he's vocal, our guys respect him. When he talks they listen. I mean, what a great human being to have a part of your program."
Now in the last season of his career, Montminy is starting to reflect on what the past four years have meant to him.
For a kid who grew up 20 minutes away from the Bryce Jordan Center however, Montminy's Penn State journey began long before he first suited up for the Nittany Lions.
Born to Bleed Blue and White
Long before he was a member of Penn State's basketball team, Montminy was already a member of Nittany Nation.
Living close to State College has its benefits, and being able to attend as many Penn State sporting events as possible was the biggest one for him.
"Ever since I was younger, I was coming into the BJC or Beaver stadium seeing games," Montminy said. "My parents had season tickets to football games, my dad would also get a ticket voucher pack for Penn State basketball. So yeah, I would go to multiple games, whether it was with my family or with my friends in high school. That really made it that much more special that now I'm on the court instead of watching."
Still, when it came time to pick a college, the choice wasn't easy for the promising student athlete. As someone who was the valedictorian of his class and a star wide receiver and shooting guard at Penns Valley High School, Montminy's options of schools certainly weren't limited.
At first, it seemed like football might win out. While the 6-foot-3 guard was originally recruited by mostly Division III schools for basketball, he received serious interest from a number of Ivy League football programs, including Pennsylvania and Princeton.
What seemed like a tough call became easier when then-Penn State head basketball coach Ed DeChellis reached out to him with an offer to walk-on. Right away, Montminy knew he wanted to be a Nittany Lion.
"I had a different options and I wasn't even sure what sport I wanted," Montminy said. "Whenever [Penn State] offered that chance, it was sort of, I can't really pass that up, because it was the academics, it was the ability to play in the Big Ten, have that opportunity that I just couldn't pass up."
The decision was met enthusiastically by Montminy's parents and three sisters, not to mention his friends, coaches and teachers at Penns Valley. Although he may not play every game for the Nittany Lions, he always has a cheering section.
"I'm not playing in every game or getting significant minutes but my family comes to every single game," Montminy said. "They're the best and I wouldn't trade them for anything."
Montminy has shown his alma mater plenty of appreciation as well. Even though he graduated from Penns Valley four years ago, makes sure to attend at least one Rams game a year.
"I was able to make it to the [Penns Valley] holiday tournament this year. Just going up and talking to people and hearing, 'hey we've been watching you and following your career,' means a lot to me."
The Penns Valley faithful will have a chance to reciprocate on Saturday, which is "Penns Valley Community Day" inside the Bryce Jordan Center (12 p.m. vs. Rutgers).
Putting the 'Student' in 'Student Athlete'
When you ask Montminy how much time he spends on schoolwork compared to basketball, you can already start to tell how diligent a student he is.
In about 10 seconds, the double business major has already calculated it in his head. Most weeks he spends about 28 hours (four a day) on basketball and an additional 14 (two a day) studying after practice. Not to mention that he is generally occupied with class and schoolwork from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm everyday (he usually gets to the BJC for practice at 2:30).
It may seem stressful, but it has certainly paid off for him. A member of both the Smeal College of Business and Schreyer's Honors College, Montminy has had six consecutive semesters with a 4.0 GPA.
"If I have a test [the hours studying] will definitely be more, I'll just go to the library straight after practice and go, not all night, but pretty late. And then wake up and do it again," Montminy said. "It's something I wouldn't pass up for anything. You can sleep when you're dead."
Although this is his last season with the basketball program, the guard will stay in school for a fifth year to earn his master's degree in accounting to go with two bachelor's degrees in accounting and finance.
Until then, Montminy is going to continue to enjoy what is left of his last season in blue and white. Over the past four years, he has learned to love his role as something of a player-coach for the Nittany Lions.
"Coach, at the very beginning said, 'I'm not going to promise you anything, so keep working and good things will come out of that,'" Montminy said. "He relies on me for things that aren't necessarily on the court during games. I know that I can bring someone aside and tell them, 'this is what you're doing.' I think understanding my role and understanding what's best for the team allows me to not worry about the selfish things like wanting to play more."
Having already secured an accounting internship with KPMG in Philadelphia this summer, Montminy is well on his way to starting his post-basketball career.
Both his teammates and coaches have no doubt that the former walk-on will be a success in life, just like they have no doubt that they will miss him.
"He's great in every aspect," junior forward Donovon Jack said. "He's a guy that's all in on Penn State basketball, whether he's cheering us on or pushing us. Just a great, overall leader."
"That kid is going to be a stud, whatever he chooses he's going to be a superstar," Chambers added. "I couldn't be more thankful about having him a part of my program in the beginning of my tenure here at Penn State."
By Mike Esse, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After playing five of its first seven Big Ten conference games on the road, the Penn State Lady Lions (3-15, 0-7) finally return home for two games this weekend starting with Indiana (12-5, 2-4) Thursday at 7 p.m.
"The schedule gods didn't shine on us in terms of how we started the season on the road," head coach Coquese Washington said. "Being able to come home for a couple games will be nice and being in front of our crowd which has been really good this year understanding that this is a transition year for us and they have still been really supportive and loud."
Penn State returns to the comfort of its own arena after a close road setback at Ohio State, 69-60, without leading scorer Lindsey Spann.
Without Spann available against the Buckeyes, Kaliyah Mitchell and her teammates continued to play hard on the court and not let the absence of Spann let them take any steps backwards. Three Lady Lions were in double figures on the afternoon with Sierra Moore notching 16 points, Mitchell tallying 14 and Candice Agee adding 11.
"I think it was us knowing that she's (Spann) not there, we wanted to show her that we can still play well even though she wasn't there," Mitchell said. "We wanted to show her that we still had her back even though she wasn't out there."
The team's performance against Ohio State has served as a way to prove to Mitchell and the rest of the team that they are capable of winning Big Ten games, no matter what the situation is. Plus, it will only help to have Spann back on the court.
"That really did build some confidence for us and with Lindsey coming back soon that shows us that we can really win now," Mitchell added. "That will help with these next few games and them being at home."
Indiana comes into the BJC Thursday night losing three of its last four, including a home loss to the aforementioned Buckeyes. Teri Moren is in her first year at the helm in Bloomington and Penn State had coach Coquese Washington has noticed a few changes, but not in who runs the show on the court for the Hoosiers.
"They're a little different, but it seems to be that she's allowing their personnel to do what they do. So, Larryn Brooks is still leading them in scoring and is their engine and the heart and soul of that team. She's still shooting the ball deep, creative and off the dribble."
Brooks averages 12.3 points and 4.2 assists per game so far in her sophomore campaign.
After Indiana, Penn State hosts Northwestern at the BJC on Sunday at 2 p.m.
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sitting in the stands at Pegula Ice Arena, fans watch as sophomore David Goodwin appears on the jumbotron. As his voice echoes through the stands, he introduces himself as the "other" guy that plays on a line with Casey Bailey and Taylor Holstrom, two current Hobey Baker nominees. While many chuckle at the forward's joke, his teammates and coaches know those words could not be farther from the truth.
Goodwin is much more than the "other" guy to this Penn State hockey team. He is a key component of the Lion's offense, a key component of the trio that is Bailey, Holstrom and Goodwin and a key component of his line's success this season.
In the past four games alone, the top line combined for 20 points. Of those points, eight belong to Goodwin, who scored four goals and notched four assists. With so much offense coming from the three, it's easy for the sophomore, Bailey and Holstrom to stir up some friendly competition with one another.
"It's kind of like an unsaid competition almost," said Goodwin. "When you're playing with other guys who like to score, we have a phrase. Iron sharpens iron. When you're playing with each other, you're making each other better, so obviously there's going to be some competition. You ask me, Holy or Bailey, we're all going to say the same thing that we don't really care who scores as long as our line is producing and not getting scored on."
Goodwin is currently third on the team in points, behind only Bailey and Holstrom. However, his 10 goals and 12 assists come with a plus-10 rating on the ice, which is best among the Nittany Lions. In fact, the sophomore has not been a minus player in a game since the team's Dec. 6 matchup in Wisconsin.
Last weekend specifically, the sophomore's play earned him recognition in the Big Ten. Goodwin was named the conference's second star of the week following the Michigan State series, but the forward was quick to call the award a line honor. He knows all too well the importance of thinking and playing with a team mentality.
"I wouldn't be able to do any of that if it wasn't for Casey or Taylor," said the sophomore of his success. "It's a good accolade, but the credit goes to my linemates. They're the reason I'm getting these easy goals, back door tap ins and assists. I'm honored that I received it, but at the end of the day it's about the three of us, not just myself."
While Goodwin may look at the recognition as a line award, head coach Guy Gadowsky is pleased to see the forward finally getting credit for his efforts. Sometimes overshadowed by his linemates, Goodwin's impressive on-ice vision can be overlooked by the causal fan. He's a playmaker, something Gadowsky knows fully.
"David Goodwin got the puck and Casey Bailey was in such an easy position," Gadowsky explained of a goal-scoring play during the Michigan State series. "I think everybody in the rink knew that was a simple pass, and he has such a good vision in his mind that he went all the way across crease to Taylor [Holstrom]. That's a really high-level, quick-thinking play. It was really great to see. Taylor ended up, I mean the goaltender made a great save, but it went to Bailey for a goal. But he does things like that that really make a huge difference. Sometimes he doesn't get enough credit, so it's nice to see."
No matter the team, the top line is confident it can still contribute. Goodwin, Bailey and Holstrom truly believe they can take on any defense and any forward line. They're working hard, playing an honest game and doing what they love, scoring goals.
Playing with linemates like Bailey and Holstrom has also provided Goodwin with numerous opportunities to learn and grow as a college hockey player. Together, the three are confident in their abilities, and the sophomore is using this experience to soak up as much as he can from his teammates.
"They've been very instrumental in my success I've had this year and my development," Goodwin said. "Just every day in practice getting the opportunity to skate next to them and learn from them, just kind of talk to them in between periods and pick their brains about some of their past experiences. They've both been playing college hockey a little bit longer than I have, so it's been great. I've been very fortunate to have linemates like them, and I'm very proud to be on their line."
While some may consider Goodwin to be the "other" guy on the top line, his play speaks for itself. He is doing and will continue to do big things for Penn State hockey.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. - Since his freshman season in 2012, senior captain and midfielder Kyle Zittel has evolved in many ways within the Penn State men's lacrosse program. He is the sole captain of a team expected to not only compete, but also thrive during the inaugural season of Big Ten lacrosse.
As a freshman, Zittel made seven appearances, recording one goal and two assists. Zittel channeled his limited playing time, using it as motivation to improve his playing skills. In the 2013 and 2014 campaigns, Zittel appeared in every game, setting personal records with 11 ground balls and four caused turnovers last season. His performance and work ethic both on and off the field made him a prime candidate for captain his senior season.
"We believe this is an extremely important position," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "This is ownership of your locker room. You either point your team in the right direction or in a direction that's not going to be conducive to success, however you define that."
The selection process of captain involves both coaches and players. Coach Tambroni explained that the coaches take into consideration the team's opinion of fellow players and look heavily to players who have displayed leadership skills during their time on the team. Notable key qualities of previous Penn State men's lacrosse captains have been outstanding work ethic, the ability to motivate teammates, having the respect of teammates, including taking charge and listening to others' ideas.
"The one thing about Kyle is it's not a matter of him having to change into a role," said Coach Tambroni. "He just needs to be himself and impose his will on this team because he understands what we need to be successful. He has proven that in his first three years, that's why he has had the blessing of his own teammates and the coaching staff to become a captain.
In 2014, the Nittany Lions had three captains - Gavin Ahern, Tom LaCrosse, and Tyler Travis. All three have graduated. In contrast, Zittel stands alone in charge of a team comprised of 36 young men all striving for success on and off the field in 2015. Encouraged by this title of authority, Zittel hopes to set a high bar for what is expected from the younger players.
"I try to lead by example," Zittel said. "I'm not the best player on our team and I don't score the most goals and I never not make mistakes, so there's things they can learn from me. Just as far as I carry myself into practice and out of practice afterwards and what I can do to set the way for how they should carry themselves as well."
Zittel had high praise for the previous captains and graduating seniors who helped set the tone and foundation for him during his time as a younger member of the team. Following in their footsteps, Zittel explained how previous captains have impacted the way he leads the team every day, both on the field and off.
"The previous captains, the way they carried themselves and came to practice with an upbeat energy, confidence and focus every single day was huge for me," Zittel said. "I tried to learn from that and carry myself in the same way,"
With the support of seven fellow seniors, Zittel will look to his experienced counterparts to assist in leading the Nittany Lions through their hardest schedule to date. Names such as JP Burnside and Jack Donnelley will help not only make an impact during games, but be constant role models off the field.
"Our coaching staff has flanked Kyle with two extremely capable leaders in the senior class in JP Burnside and Jack Donnelly, and their leadership certainly cannot be minimized," said Coach Tambroni. "Those two guys have been there for him since day one and will continue to be there."
With the start of the season just days away, Zittel is anticipating a competitive and challenging final season. Set to play five teams ranked in the top 20 of the USILA Preseason Poll, the Nittany Lions will face their fair share of challenges in 2015. Additionally, the first season of Big Ten play is something the captain is looking forward to.
"Seeing our football program and every other athletic program excel in the Big Ten and what it's about, it's great to finally be a apart of it for lacrosse. I think it's a huge stepping stone for our program and then also the Big Ten and the whole lacrosse community."
The Nittany Lions are set to host Army in an exhibition game Saturday in Holuba Hall at 12 p.m.
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNVIERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 4 Penn State men's gymnastics team is off to a prominent start this season as they have clutched two consecutive team titles as well as 11 individual titles in only two meets.
Despite having a young roster for this season due to the addition of six freshmen to the team, the upperclassmen's guidance is leading the team to success.
"The first weekend was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience, but I felt like just concentrating on the things that I do best, just staying confident, and I tried my best," said freshman Joshua Smith. "My team tried to support me the best way they could and after that, the results just came naturally."
The Nittany Lions started the season with a 426.700-403.000 win over Army nearly two weeks ago at Rec Hall. They won all six events that Sunday to earn the victory.
The team has continued to build on their momentum by capturing their 16th West Point Open team title with a score of 439.400 last Saturday. The Nittany Lions captured the seventh-best team score in school history with their performance.
Thirteen Nittany Lions recorded qualifying performances for the individual finals on Saturday night. Freshman Thad Lawson, senior Matthew Felleman, senior Craig Hernandez, junior Alexis Torres, and senior Tristan Duverglas all went home with an individual title.
Freshman Thad Lawson earned his first collegiate title by securing first place in the floor exercise event.
"[The meet] was fun," said Lawson. "I've never really been in that big of an exciting team environment. A lot of team support and it was really fun and exciting and a big adrenaline rush."
Lawson built on his accomplishment this week by receiving
the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award.
"It's really exciting," said Lawson. "It was pretty unexpected, you know, being my first competition. I've had some adversity with concussions and some minor injuries, but it was a really pleasant surprise."
Even with the success, Lawson couldn't have done it without his teammates.
"[The upperclassmen] have been really supportive," said Lawson. "Giving me some helpful hints with competing and dealing with the pressure, just staying calm, and focusing in on every small detail."
Teammate and fellow freshman Benjamin Cooperman echoes his teammate about the support from the juniors and seniors.
"All the upperclassmen really help me out," said Cooperman. "Any of the seniors and juniors are role-models and I definitely look up to them."
With such a young roster, the young athletes are bringing something new to the team.
"I think [the freshmen] bring depth to the table," said Cooperman. "We got a lot of really good upperclassmen who help out the team a lot, but I think we can really help them out by stepping up when they need rest and really just adding a lot of depth into the team, so we can go deeper into the season."
Though there has been much accomplished this season already, the team still hopes to improve.
"I think there are definitely some little areas that we need to improve in...Hitting as many routines as possible, keep cleaning up, tightness, just really cleaning up the little things, definitely focus on sticking out dismounts, just little things, but I think we're off to a great start," said Cooperman. "I'm really confident and excited to go forward with the team and see what we do. I think we have a really great shot at doing really well this year."
Penn State will meet Michigan at 4 p.m. this Saturday at Rec Hall.
"This weekend, I definitely want to beat Michigan and just want to show improvement from our last meet," said Cooperman.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At the beginning of the 2014-'15 season, Penn State wrestler Garett Hammond had quite the task on his hands.
As if stepping into a starting role for the four-time defending national champion Nittany Lions wasn't difficult enough, the redshirt freshman was also replacing four-time All-American and two-time individual national champion David Taylor in the lineup.
Now just past the halfway point in his first year as a starter, Hammond has responded to the challenge well. Though he is not undefeated as Taylor was during his first regular season, the 165-pounder is second on the team with 18 wins and is 6-3 in duals after winning twice this past weekend.
"I've had some great experiences so far," Hammond said. "I think I'm doing a lot better than I was at the beginning of the season. I can tell a big difference, I'm getting more comfortable out there and a lot of it is my mentality and my confidence in myself. Working with the coaches and working with other teammates to get better."
Hammond knows the comparisons to his predecessor are inevitable, but it's not something he's really focused on. After all, he was well aware of the situation he was entering when he enrolled at Penn State prior to last season.
Like every wrestler who joins head coach Cael Sanderson's program, Hammond was excited about the chance to compete at a school with sky-high expectations every year. With his weight having been in the 150s in high school, the former Chambersburg High star knew there was a strong possibility he would be the next 165-pound starter once Taylor graduated.
"With a team like this, you're going to have good guys at every single weight," Hammond said. "[Three-time national champion] Ed Ruth graduated last year, he's also very good. We won four national titles the past four seasons so there's obviously going to be a lot of good guys coming through the program."
Like most first-year starters, Hammond has had his fair share of learning to do now that he's facing Big Ten competition for the first time.
Although he dropped his first two duals in January against Indiana and Ohio State, he battled back with an impressive showing last weekend, majoring Nick Visicaro of Rutgers 13-4 and beating Pat Robinson of Purdue 16-11 in a match that turned the momentum for the Nittany Lions in a 26-9 win.
For Hammond, improving his confidence has been just as key as strengthening his technique. While he went 29-7 in open tournaments last year as a redshirt, he still had to adjust to being someone the team relied on in key situations.
"Last year, I just made a decision where I could make a slow adjustment," Hammond said. "I had a whole year to focus on wrestling open tournaments, I didn't have as much pressure on myself. Time is limited now, I don't give myself a year to get better, I focus on the next week and making sure I make the big improvements."
Luckily, the new starter has had plenty of experienced sparring partners to help him with his development. Among that group is Taylor, who still frequently trains in Rec Hall as a member of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, and Matt Brown, the team's senior captain and two-time All-American at the 174-pound weight.
"Yeah, it's a complete turnaround from last year," Brown said of Hammond. "He's was fresh, new coming out of high school. Now he's a competitive partner. We go probably once a week and I can see that growth in him."
Growing up just two hours away from State College, the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, native competed in tournaments at Penn State as a kid and always wanted to be a part of the school's wrestling tradition.
He knows that expectations of him will only grow from here, and he's perfectly fine with that. Although his career is just beginning, Hammond hopes to leave a legacy that the next Penn State 165-pounder will want to live up to.
"You just kind of realize, they're (Taylor and Ruth) just people too, just like everyone on the team," Hammond said. "I mean, you work hard and make that decision to win, and big part of it is mentality and confidence in yourself and it's starting to rub off a little bit."
Nittany Lions Gearing Up For Match Against Gophers
Since Cael Sanderson took over as head coach in 2009, the Nittany Lions have had their share of challenging matches on their way to four straight national titles.
This Sunday, they'll have perhaps their toughest test of the season, when No. 2 Minnesota comes to Rec Hall.
The Gophers, who are led by three-time national championship coach J Robinson, boast a lineup that features eight ranked wrestlers, not to mention three (133-pounder Chris Dardanes, 157-pounder Dylan Ness and 197-Pounder Scott Schiller) ranked first at their weight.
While the Nittany Lions haven't beaten the Gophers in a dual meet during Sanderson's tenure (going 0-3-1), they have gotten the best of them at both the conference and national tournaments the past four years. Still, Sanderson remains focused on the present task at hand.
"They've just been real strong," Sanderson said. "They're a good dual meet team, a lot of depth, solid, a tough group of kids, a tough staff, just tough people. We like our chances with any team, but again it comes down to, you've gotta choose to be tough, choose to score those points and keep wrestling and do all those things that bring success."
One match that will be especially intriguing is the 174-pound contest, where Penn State's Matt Brown (No. 4, two-time All-American) will take on Minnesota's Logan Storley (No.3, three-time All-American) for the eighth time in their respective careers.
The two faced off four times last season, with Brown winning at the Southern Scuffle and the Big Ten Championships and Storley taking the bouts at the dual meet and the NCAA Tournament. Overall, Brown is 4-3 against the Gopher grappler.
"Has it really been that many times?" Brown said with a smile. "I think we're pretty familiar with each other, but every time the whistle blows it's a new match. I'm gonna try to wrestle my match regardless of what he's trying to do."
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Pit bulls are often misunderstood. But, for junior forward Emily Laurenzi, that is not the case.
According to the American Kennel Club, there are more than 400 dog breeds worldwide. Based on a multitude of experiences, Laurenzi has decided to dedicate her life to protecting and rescuing the breed she is most zealous about, pit bulls.
"She just developed a real passion and affinity for [pit bulls], and it just spoke to her," said head coach Josh Brandwene. "Em has a heart of gold, and that's in everything that she does. The care and love she has for her teammates, and just the effort and commitment that she has put into the dog rescue does not surprise me in the least. It's who she is as a person."
Laurenzi's adoration for pit bulls began with Animal Planet's "Pit Bulls and Parolees" TV show. Episode after episode, her love for the breed grew exponentially. What the show did for Laurenzi was inspire her to want to rescue, as well.
The goal of the popular show is to raise awareness on a national level so that one day, caring people won't have to protect pit bulls.
So, on Pit Bull Awareness Day in 2013, Laurenzi met her match. She found the perfect pit bull to adopt.
She wanted to help this pit bull so badly that she even cried before a hockey game.
The Townsend, Del., native finally saved Gracie on November 3, which was about a week after the two first met.
"Gracie is good," said Laurenzi about her pit bull. "She's the nicest dog. Everybody on the team loves her. She comes to every game and wears a little Penn State jacket. She's like the mascot."
Following her first rescue, Laurenzi wanted to volunteer more, so she began to help out at the Delaware l Response-a-Bull Rescue, a place mostly for bully breeds.
Her care for pit bulls translates into a supportive teammate and friend. Being the warmhearted person that she is, her actions come as no surprise to those around her.
"[Laurenzi's pit bull work] has me speechless because it's so incredible," said teammate and roommate Jordin Pardoski. "Her passion for pit bulls...it's indescribable how much she cares about animals, especially that certain dog. She's always looking to help others out. She's one of the most selfless people I've ever met...and it shows on the ice."
Laurenzi's spare time
is spent at home volunteering at Response-a-Bull Rescue. She provides a voice
for a breed that so often receives a false impression.
"I would definitely call her a pit bull advocate," said Pardoski.
For right now, Laurenzi is focused on Nittany Lion hockey. However, following graduation she plans to start up her own shelter. Currently, she has a fund set up to save money to eventually start her own dog home.
"I want to have my own rescue one day," said Laurenzi. "I've already started a fund for myself. I don't have that much money in it, but every once in a while I put money in there. That's just a dream of mine to own my own one day."