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By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's gymnastics team battled hard against Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio State to win the Big Ten Championship only two weeks ago. The Nittany Lions have been riding on that victory as they get ready for the NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships this weekend.

"I honestly feel like we're really prepared for this competition," said senior Tristian Duverglas. "We had two intrasquads last week on Thursday and Friday and I just feel like we're really prepared to do a good job. Compared to previous years, there were some people in some routines that we weren't necessarily 100 percent sure on, that were kind of shaky, and I don't feel that at all this year. I think everyone is easily prepared to go out and do some of the best routines that we've ever done."

The men's gymnastics team has been hard at work all season in preparation for the NCAA Championships. They've recorded five wins, two-second places finishes, one loss and a Big Ten title thus far, but they know that they can prove themselves to be this best team in the country this weekend.

"We're not really [looking to improve on anything]," said junior Alexis Torres. "We're pretty much joined together as a team. We know what we can do and we know what we're capable of, even though in some competitions, we didn't demonstrate it, but this semester has been really good for us and we showed that in the Big Tens and we'll see what happens at the NCAA Championships."

Though it's important to enter a meet with confidence, it's also imperative to not let the assurance affect performances and routines.

"I feel pretty confident [about this weekend] and I think the team feels pretty confident, too, but not in a way that is too overwhelming to ourselves," said Alexis Torres. "We know that we can do a good job, so we're pretty much prepared to do that and to do the things that we've been doing in the gym over the past week after Big Tens and this week, too. In this moment, it's just to go and have fun and do whatever we've been doing this whole semester and past semester."

With only two missed routines in the Big Ten Championships, the team knows the key to winning.

"We're just going to have to perform solidly," said head coach Jepson. "Stick landings. Not miss routines. It's 5-of-5 counts, so you can't have wholesale meltdowns from anybody where you're counting to 12 or something like that."

The NCAA Championships is a three-day competition. Penn State will open competition on Thursday in the NCAA Qualifier against No. 2 Stanford, No. 6 Minnesota, No. 7 California, No. 10 Air Force and No. 11 Nebraska, so it's vital to take each day one at a time.

"[The Big Ten win] gives the team confidence in knowing that they've faced some great teams and they've done really well against them, but it's a whole new day and anything can happened," said head coach Randy Jepson. "The most important thing is that we advance as the top-three teams on Thursday and we'll look at Friday, if we get there, but we got to get through Thursday first. That's the focus."

Even if Penn State does not win the National Championship title this weekend, there is no better school for a gymnast to attend.

"Just looking back, it's just been an amazing ride," said Duverglas. "My experience at Penn State has been a blessing and if this is my last NCAAs, then on that note, I have a group of guys behind me that are willing to fight for it just as much as I am. Going into the competition and knowing that, and knowing that, regardless of how we do, we competed with our hearts on the floor, it's really all I can ask for."

But for these Nittany Lions, doing gymnastics and doing it with passion is their every day job and they know what they're capable of doing

"We compete so much, like weekend by weekend, so we're prepared for it, so we don't have any pressure," said Torres. "It's just go there and do our job. We're [at practice] every day, so it's not really that different. It's just another place doing the same thing."

Spring Football: Hamilton, Receiving Corps Ready to Take Next Step

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10976389.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One year ago from today, DaeSean Hamilton had not made a single catch as a Penn State receiver during a practice or in a game.

After a wrist injury sidelined the Virginia native throughout 2013 and the first 12 spring practices of 2014, Hamilton did not participate in a practice until April 9. He practiced twice in a limited role before two quarters of action in the Blue-White Game on April 12.

But what a difference a year has made for the all-time leader in receptions for a Nittany Lion freshman.

On the heels of a rookie campaign where he hauled in a Big Ten-best 82 catches, Hamilton has reached for another gear during his first full spring on the field for the Nittany Lions.

"Having a season under your belt makes such a big difference," Hamilton said. "You're able to play a lot faster and understand the nature of the game a lot quicker with that experience. It makes a big difference. I feel a lot more comfortable."

Primed to be a central figure in a deeply talented pool of receivers, Hamilton is expecting big things from the Penn State offense in 2015.

"We are significantly more comfortable this year," Hamilton said. "We are going out there and reviewing things instead of learning them for the first time. You can tell a lot with guys knowing where they need to be on every play."

There is a natural progression from year one on the field to year two, and a big piece of the growth is the continued rapport with rising junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The duo has a season full of game and practice reps to build on, in addition to all of the work set forth during the offseason.

"It's big for us," Hamilton said. "We are a lot more comfortable with one another because we have played a lot. The expectations will be bigger for us (in the fall), but we're confident in what we are capable of doing."

"These guys have all worked extremely hard this spring, and you are seeing it on the field," Hackenberg said. "Guys know where to be and how to go out there and execute, and that is huge for the offense."

Within the 15 allotted spring practices, Hamilton said there are a number of things he is working on to refine his game following the stellar campaign in 2014.

"Without having spring ball last year, a big thing for me is just keeping my ball skills up, having a better catch radius to make better catches, being precise with my routes, being versatile by playing inside and outside," said Hamilton.

Hamilton will be just one piece of a receiving corps with great potential. Senior Geno Lewis returns as the team's second-leading receiver. Lewis made 55 receptions last season. Fellow senior Matt Zanellato and junior Gregg Garrity are also back, in addition to a pair of true sophomores poised for breakout campaigns.

Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall are two players who made big jumps in the weight room during the winter conditioning period, and that has translated into a very productive spring practice season for the talented tandem. As true freshmen, Godwin and Blacknall made 25 and 11 receptions, respectively, and combined for three touchdowns.

"We have high expectations (as a group) now after the performance we had against Boston College (in the Pinstripe Bowl)," Hamilton said. "Consistency is a big thing, but also taking our games to the next level. We want to be an elite group. We want to come back in the fall and springboard off of the way we finished last season. As long as we set the bar high and miss small, we are going to take a step forward next fall and even the rest of this spring."

Continuing with head coach James Franklin's theme of iron sharpening iron, the receiving corps is using the opportunity to practice against one of the top defensive units in the nation to its advantage. Each time the group steps on the field it learns something.

"Going out every day and working against one of the best defenses in the country last year helps everyone get better. When you practice against those guys, it helps all of us become better football players. And it's competitive," said Hamilton.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Nittany Lion Seniors Leave their Mark on the Lacrosse Program

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Thursday night, nine seniors on the Penn State women's lacrosse team will play in Happy Valley for the final time in the regular season. During their years as Nittany Lions, Haley Ford, Tatum Coffey, Kelly Lechner, Cat Layne, Jess Loizeaux, Maggie McCormick, Dani Lazo, Kristin Brent and Natalia Angelo all made an impact on this program.

These athletes will never be forgotten because of what they have done for the team. Their efforts will continue to help Penn State lacrosse grow and improve.

"The senior class has been great for four years," head coach Missy Doherty said. "This is the first class that we brought in here at Penn State, and I think they've done a great job in four years of continuing to improve the program and help us compete at a top level. Having different leaders every year emerge from that group has been great, and everybody in that group has contributed in so many different ways."

This season specifically, the senior class stepped up in an attempt to make its final year in Blue and White its best year. The nine have combined for 77 goals, 46 assists, 42 ground balls and 36 draw controls over the course of the 12 games. In total, they are responsible for 52 percent of the team's scoring.

McCormick and Coffey are the team's two leading scorers, while Lechner currently has the third most draw controls on the team with 24. This dominance is a direct reflection of the dedication the seniors have shown year in and year out. Doherty knows this class's work ethic is correlated with the team's success.

The seniors have accomplished great feats in all conferences they have been part of, the most recent of which is the Big Ten. They have excelled time and time again, proving no challenge is too difficult to overcome.

"In the past we won the ALC Championship, and we got rings for that," said Coffey. "We beat Florida with that, and Florida was ranked way ahead of us. So, games like that when you leave, you're never going to have a feeling like that again, I really hold on to."

While the seniors have worked hard each and every year, they have also made sure to have fun. Without enjoying their sport, they would have never experienced such triumphs.

All nine love lacrosse. They are passionate about the game, and that passion has helped defined their time in Happy Valley. It's something they certainly hope to leave behind.

"We came here to play lacrosse in college because it's fun and this is what we love to do," said Coffey. "Hopefully, we can leave that with the other classes that we do this because we love it. Still, we work hard, but we have to have fun too."

With such few games remaining the time has come to look beyond what theses nine seniors have accomplished during their time on the team.

They have set the standard for what it means to play on the Penn State women's lacrosse team. Their leadership and skill will not be easily replaced.

"I think it's just their consistency and effort and what that helped us lead to as a program," Doherty said. "In their four years, we've made the tournament every year and been consistently in the top ten and helped us to really realize that when you compete at a consistent level and work hard that we can achieve good things."

There is still time left in the season with at least five games remaining. These seniors aren't finished yet; they still have more they want to prove.

Graham Comes Up Clutch For Nittany Lions Against Bucknell

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10975201.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On a night in which offense was hard to come by, the Penn State baseball team got a boost from an unlikely source on Tuesday.

Taking on Bucknell on a cloudy evening at Medlar Field, the Nittany Lions managed just four hits against the Bison. The biggest one however, came courtesy of the team's youngest starter, catcher Nick Graham.

With Penn State having just tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Graham came to the plate with two outs and runners on the corners. Unfazed by the pressure, the freshman lined a 3-1 fastball into centerfield to produce the winning run in an eventual 4-2 win for the Lions.

"It feels really good, makes me feel good about myself to be helping the team," Graham said. "I'm young, my at-bats are limited so I'm trying to do as much as I can with those at-bats to show what I've got. I just let it happen and didn't try to do too much."

Graham, who made his 10th start of the season on Tuesday, finished the night 1-3 with a walk and tied his career high with two RBIs. He picked up his second RBI in the bottom of the eighth, scoring James Coates on a groundout that gave the Lions an insurance run.

Still, offense was only part of the story for the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, native on Tuesday. He was also stellar behind the plate, making a nice catch on a popup behind the plate in the second and gunning Greg Wasikowski out on a steal attempt in the bottom of the sixth.

"He's come a long way," starting pitcher Jordan Donmoyer said. "I just feel like he's a regular catcher back there, I don't even notice he's a freshman. He feels a lot more comfortable back there too, that makes it great for games, helping pitchers out."

Overall, it was a clutch night for a player that's been thrust into an important role in his first season of college ball. While sophomore Alex Malinsky is the starter behind the plate, Graham has given the Nittany Lions a solid platoon at a position where a strong backup is a requirement.

It hasn't been a completely easy transition for the freshman, who entered Tuesday hitting just .161 on the season. At the same time, a catcher's No. 1 responsibility is defense, and Graham showed against Bucknell that he's making strides in all aspects of his game.

"Nick Graham just put a real nice, easy swing on that ball," head coach Rob Cooper said. "It's big when you have a guy hitting down in the order that is a tough out.

"I told him in front of the guys, it's fun watching him develop. It's hard enough to be a freshman. But it's harder to be a freshman catcher. A guy's trying to learn how to catch pitches, call a game, trying to learn different arms, then he's trying to learn how to become a better hitter and it's a lot and he's doing a heck of a job."

For his part, Graham admitted that making the transition from high school baseball to college and immediately getting playing time hasn't been easy. He credited Cooper for helping him adjust by throwing him right into the fire.

"Early on it was kind of stressful," Graham said. "I've talked to coaches a lot and they've had my back and just let me go out and play. I've played a lot of baseball growing up so just going out and playing is the best thing I can do. It allows me to be confident out there."

Donmoyer Gives Bounce Back Effort
While Tuesday was a standout night for Graham, it was also a chance for his starting pitcher to redeem himself.

Last Wednesday against Kent State, redshirt junior Jordan Donmoyer struggled in the third start of his career, giving up four runs in just 1 2/3 innings as the Lions fell 9-7.

Handed the ball again, Donmoyer was much stronger this time around, giving up just two hits and one run in four innings to kick-start an excellent performance from the Penn State pitching staff.

"Coached talked to me before and he just said, 'go attack hitters,'" Donmoyer said. "I basically made a point to just go after them and just let my defense do the work behind me, instead of just going it alone."

While Donmoyer only struck out one batter, he also only gave just up a single walk and let his defense make plays behind him. Though he was taken out after four innings, the 6-foot-4 hurler put his team in a position to win on a day in which the Lions didn't have their strongest offensive performance.

"I thought he competed, because he wasn't very good today but he made up for it with his body language and competing," Cooper said. "And he did. I told him in there, he grinded his way into helping us win that game. That was good."

It's been a year of adjustment for the fourth-year pitcher, who missed nearly all of his first three seasons with injuries but has been in the mix for a rotation spot so far in 2015.

Despite having to shake off some rust after last appearing for the Lions in two games in 2013, Donmoyer said he's been anxious to contribute, and is excited to finally have the chance to do so.

"I was hurt so I've always been preparing along the way through my rehab," Donmoyer said. "It's just been me translating to the games from doing bullpens and stuff." 

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Safeties

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The safety corps received a boost before spring practice commenced when it was announced that veteran defensive back Jordan Lucas would join the group.

Thanks to depth at corner, Lucas will boost the depth at the safety position alongside rising sophomore Marcus Allen, junior Malik Golden and a host of young players.

Continuing the sights and sounds series, spend some time with defensive coordinator and safeties coach Bob Shoop during spring practice.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football: Williams Primed to Lead in Secondary

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Williams_blog.jpgSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sometimes the best leaders are the ones who quietly go about their business on the football field, but do it with a consistent workmanlike approach to set an example for those around them.

It wasn't too long ago Trevor Williams was catching 10 passes for the Nittany Lion offense during the 2012 season. Shifting from receiver to corner during the spring of 2013, the rising senior is now the elder statesman of talented group of cornerbacks on the Penn State defense.

Williams faced his share of adversity during the switch to the defensive backfield, even battling to regain a starting spot after the 2013 season. But that's ancient history now, and the Baltimore product is looking to build on the most consistent season of his career, one in which he started 12 games for Penn State's Top 10 defense in 2014.

If spring practice is an indicator, Williams is a prime candidate to take his game to the next level in the fall.

"There has definitely been a lot of progress," Williams said. "Our chemistry is a lot stronger. Coach Smith has done a great job helping us out in the cornerback room. And Coach Shoop puts us in positions to be successful. I just think the 2015 year will be a strong year for us."

Shoop repeatedly said last fall that when you watched Williams on film during practice or in a game, he was as consistent as anyone on the roster.

"I've really tried to focus on the small details, and I really think that has helped me be consistent," Williams said. "The mindset is to make more plays for the defense because big plays on defense helps the offense."

The step Williams has taken on the field this spring began in the weight room during the winter. The former Calvert Hall standout added 10 pounds of muscle, increasing his speed, quickness and strength. It hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"Trevor has gotten a lot better," wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. "Going against Trevor and Grant (Haley), you can tell this is becoming a solid defensive back corps at the corner position."

Williams returns as Penn State's most experienced player at corner after Jordan Lucas moved to safety. The senior is ready to lead a group with no shortage of young talent.

"You don't make that move unless you feel good about the young corners," head coach James Franklin said. "So having a Christian Campbell, having a Grant Haley (is important). Trevor's playing at a really high level."

Like the entire Nittany Lion defense, Williams and the young corners want to prove that the 2015 secondary can compete at what Coach Shoop calls championship level. That starts with setting the tone during spring practice.

"It's a lot of energy. It's a lot of intensity," Williams said. "Every day, we challenge one another to get better. We want to fly around, make plays and get turnovers."

The Nittany Lions will practice for the 10th time this spring on Wednesday.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Offense Stays Hot Against Ohio State Despite Setbacks

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10973371.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio. - Even during a tough stretch, the Penn State baseball team refuses to go down quietly.

Taking on Ohio State in the third game of a three-game series Monday, the Nittany Lions found themselves down 5-1 in the second inning. Having already dropped the first two contests 7-1 and 7-6, it would have been easy for the Blue and White to just accept it wasn't their series.

But that's not the makeup of head coach Rob Cooper's baseball team. For the second straight game, the Lions' offense brought them back, scoring six runs in a four-inning span that put them ahead 7-6 going into the ninth.

It would not be enough, as a walk-off double from Ohio State's Troy Kuhn gave the Lions a heartbreaking 8-7 loss. Despite the disappointing results of the weekend, the Lions continued to swing the bats well, scoring 13 runs and registering 24 hits combined in the last two games.

"I'm proud of them for fighting back and still competing when they had to play four games this week," Cooper said. "We battled our way back but it's too much to put yourself in that position like that."

Although the Lions still have plenty to work on, it appears they have their own version of the bash brothers in outfielders junior Greg Guers and senior Aaron Novak. Dating back to last Wednesday's game against Kent State, the pair has combined for four home runs and 11 RBIs.

Much of that production has come from Guers, who has been tearing the cover off the ball lately. Following his two-homer, five RBI performance against Kent State, the 6-foot-3 slugger hit .385 with five RBIs against the Buckeyes, including a three-run blast on Monday that cut the Buckeyes lead from 5-1 to 5-4.

Then there's Novak, who was moved from the three-hole into the leadoff spot Sunday and responded by ripping his fourth home run of the season. Hitting a remarkable .376, Novak has combined with Guers and cleanup hitter Jim Haley to give the Lions a formidable top half of the order.

"It's good when those guys are locked in like they are," Cooper said. "Guers has taken the approach to stay engaged and it's showing out there. It's not just one or a few guys, we're trying to have an offense that's strong throughout."

Senior Ryky Smith is helping make that a reality. On Monday, Penn State's third baseman and No. 8-hitter went 4-5 with two RBIs, driving in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning with a double off the left field wall.

The career day continued what has been a standout season for a senior. While he was a utility player the past two seasons, Smith is hitting .328 in 2015 and is fourth on the team with 15 RBIs.

"He's been huge but the big thing with Ryky has been the mental approach," Cooper said. "He's just going out and playing baseball with confidence and not worrying about anything. It's awesome to have a guy at the end of the lineup that can produce like that."

While going down to the wire against a 21-7 Ohio State club is commendable, the Nittany Lions remain determined to win. Moving forward, Cooper said Penn State's goal is to jump on teams from the start instead of always rallying from behind.

As tough as losing walk-offs is, the Lions have no time to remain discouraged. They return home Tuesday night against Bucknell and will look to get back to the formula that has helped them go 6-2 at Medlar Field so far.

"I told them, 'starting games like that is difference between going 3-1 and 0-4,'" Cooper said. "You've got to bring the mindset that we're going to win and want to get that losing taste out of your mouth. If that's not motivation enough then that's a problem." 

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Running Backs

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The stable of running backs will feature a blend of youth and experience for the Nittany Lions in 2015.

Key offensive returnee Akeel Lynch is primed to be the workhorse for a unit that is not short on versatility. Behind Lynch is a host young, talented players eager to take the next step in the fall to become impact players for the Nittany Lion offense.

Spend some time with running backs coach Charles Huff inside a spring practice.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Jordan Student-Athlete Writer

With winter coming to an end with a touch of spring weather in State College, everyone has been looking forward to thawing out under the warm weather in Florida. The mood around the team was positive building up to the Florida Relays and everyone including myself was rallying at the opportunity to compete. The feeling of running in short sleeves and shorts under the warmth of the sun was really refreshing for our pre-meet shake out. 

At the Florida Relays, there were several competitive marks thrown down by the men and women of the Nittany Lions. It was great to see a few personal records such as Rachel Fatherly in the shot put (53-2.75), Hannah Mulhern in the pole vault (12-7.5), Glen Burkhardt in his mile split in the DMR, and Robby Creese showed some toe in the 800m running a more than respectable 1:48.54. Robert Rhodes made a statement in his heat running a 1:49.04 season opener to hopefully lock in a spot for regionals. 

Almost everyone had an opportunity to wear the Blue and White in his or her competitive events this weekend. Looking back, it was a great travel experience to throw down some qualifiers and gear up for the bigger championships like Penn Relays, the Big Ten Championship, and the NCAA Championships. 

By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Back on the road, the Penn State softball team traveled to Wisconsin for a three-game weekend series. The Nittany Lions continued their hot streak by ending the series, 2-1.

On Friday night, Penn State split a doubleheader with Wisconsin but scored a combined 24 runs and had 26 hits. The team ended the first game with a 11-8 victory then fell in a heartbreaker that resulted in a 14-13 loss.

After the loss, the Blue and White came back hungry on Saturday and made sure to bring its batting game.

The third and final game of the series ended in Penn State defeating Wisconsin 15-5.

"It was a crazy series for sure, after Friday night's lost our players came out strong Saturday and adjusted the way we wanted them to," head coach Amanda Lehotak said.

The team was trailing 5-4 in the fourth inning when Shelby Miller started the spark of the Lions' bats. Determined for the runs, Miller drilled a pitch over the right center field and jumped the scoreboard giving Penn State an 8-5 lead.

Following Miller's power hit, Reina Furuya gave the team a second grand slam for the game. She blasted the ball over center field with bases loaded making the score 13-5.

"I'm so proud of these kids, it's great we're seeing grand slams but what that shows me is the girls are staying more relaxed and confident at the plate which is key to good offensive softball," coach Lehotak said.

Currently with a 21-17 overall record and a 4-5 standing in the Big Ten, the Lions will host rivals Ohio State in a double header Wednesday night. Coming off of a powerful weekend, the Lions will be looking to keep the ball rolling as they prepare for the Buckeyes.