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VIDEO: Spring Practice Preview with James Franklin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday with the first of 15 spring practices. Leading up to the start spring drills, talked with head coach James Franklin to preview what is ahead between now and the Blue-White Game presented by AAA on April 18 (4 p.m.).

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Gardiner Scores Lions' Lone Goal in B1G Tournament Loss

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer
DETROIT, Mich. - As the horn signifying the end of the game sounded, the Penn State men's hockey team found itself in an undesirable position. After putting up a valiant effort, the fourth-seeded Nittany Lions were defeated by fifth-seeded Ohio State, 3-1, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

In what seemed to be the snap of a finger, the team's season suddenly ended. Nevertheless, this squad has much to be proud of after what was accomplished during the season. The Lions exceeded expectations and put together a historic season filled with wins over every conference opponent, a season sweep and even national rankings.

Although the sting of the loss to the Buckeyes (14-18-3, 8-11-1 B1G) may take some time to heal, Penn State (18-15-4, 10-9-1 B1G) clearly gave its heart and soul this season. No one can ask for anything more than that.   

"It's been an honor to play for Penn State and build a foundation here," said an emotional Max Gardiner. "Something I'm going to miss, for sure, but the program's in great hands from the coaching staff down. There are some great leaders going into next year in that locker room. There are a lot of good things to look forward to for the program."

The senior forward scored Penn State's only goal in the quarterfinal appearance during the second. He fired off a shot that went in over the right shoulder of the Buckeye goalie. It bounced in and out of the net so quickly that there was some initial confusion before the goal horn echoed through Joe Louis Arena.

At the time, the tally cut the Buckeye's lead in half, bringing the score to 2-1. However, a breakaway goal with exactly one minute remaining in the period helped Ohio State regain a two-goal lead.

The Nittany Lions were unable to recover.

"Actually, Tommy Olczyk made a real nice play there," Gardiner said of his goal. "He picked off a pass and made a nice pass to me. And Zach [Saar] kind of drew the "D" over, drove hard doing that, and kind of gave me an opening to let one go. Luckily enough it went in."

Penn State was held to only 32 shots in the game, a total less than its 39.4 shots per game season average. Much of the lack of offense can be attributed to the multiple team injuries, as Taylor Holstrom and a few other Lions skated through pain to make one final appearance in Blue and White.

During the game, the team battled injuries to its defensemen as well. Senior Nate Jensen left the game for a few minutes after being kneed but came back to play out the remainder of his final game as a Nittany Lion. Sophomore Mike Williamson, however, left the game with an injury. He did not return.

"We have a pretty significant part of our offense that was really struggling to play, a couple of our players, and I don't think we had the speed that we normally have to jump on pucks and try to get second and third chances," head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "I think they did a really good job of keeping us away from second and third chances. Credit their "D". It's a total team effort by them, but they did a very good job at that. We weren't able to really generate much."

A first-round tournament elimination is not the way any team wants to finish out its season. Nevertheless, the Nittany Lions have a bright future ahead of them.

This is not an end. It's only the beginning for this young program.

"It's going to continue to rise, I believe," Gardiner said. "Like I said, it's in great hands, great leadership. They're going to continue to build it next year and for many years to come. I think there's going to be a lot of success in Penn State hockey."

"I think we have to look back at the season as a whole," added Gadowsky. "I think we made a lot of great strides in a lot of areas of the program. Like I said, I think the whole team, especially the seniors, should be very proud of that."

2015 NCAA Championships Session II Roundup

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Session I Roundup - Video & Feature

ST. LOUIS - Had it not been for two narrow sudden victory setbacks on Thursday evening, the Nittany Lions would have been perfect on day one of the NCAA Wrestling Championships inside Scottrade Center.

The four-time defending national champions tallied a stellar 12-2 mark on the first day of competition, including a 5-2 record during the second round of the championship draw. Jimmy Gulibon (133), Matt Brown (174), Matt McCutcheon (184), Morgan McIntosh (197) and Jimmy Lawson (285) will represent Penn State in the national quarterfinals on Friday morning after winning twice on Thursday.

Additionally, Jordan Conaway (125) and Zack Beitz (149) will wrestle in the second round of the consolation bracket on Friday. All seven Nittany Lion wrestlers have contributed to Penn State's 18.5 points following the first day in St. Louis.

Thanks to another 2.0 bonus points on Thursday evening (6.5 for the day), the Nittany Lions will head into Friday in a  tie for third in the team race. Penn State and Oklahoma State each have 18.5 points after two sessions. Ohio State is first with 23 points.

Session II Team Standings (Main Draw/Consolation)
1. Ohio State - 23.0 (5 Main Draw/3 Consolation)
Iowa - 21.0 (5 Main Draw/3 Consolation)
Oklahoma State - 19.5 (5 Main Draw/3 Consolation)
4. Penn State - 18.5 (5 Main Draw/2 Consolation)
5. Missouri - 18.0 (3 Main Draw/6 Consolation)
Nebraska - 18.0 (3 Main Draw/6 Consolation)

10909562.jpegThe story of day one in St. Louis can be told at 184 pounds for the Nittany Lions. McCutcheon, a redshirt freshman, making his first appearance at the national tournament looked like anything but a rookie on Thursday. After scoring a dominant technical fall victory in round one, McCutcheon used a takedown in the first sudden victory period to dispatch No. 3-seeded Blake Stauffer from Arizona State by a count of 3-1.

"I was just wrestling my match, pulling the guy around and getting to my leg attacks," McCutcheon said. "I knew I needed to finish better. I was in on him two times, and I knew I needed to finish better and get into the quarters."

McCutcheon will wrestle in the quarterfinals against Ohio State's Kenny Courts on Friday morning.

"It's been exciting, but I need to put this one in the past and get ready for the next one," McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon's teammates are feeding off of the freshman's gritty attitude. Brown and McIntosh had big grins on their faces when they embraced McCutcheon after the victory. McIntosh marched into the quarterfinals with a 14-5 major decision against Nebraska's Aaron Studebaker, but after his bout he took a moment to reflect on the job McCutcheon has done.

"Bonus points are always important, and you always have to work hard to get them," McIntosh said. "I was pumped up to go out there and wrestle after Matt (McCutcheon) got his big win. It was awesome to see him out there."

Brown outscored his opponents by a count of 22-6 on Thursday. In the evening session, the Nittany Lion senior jumped out to a 5-0 lead against Lehigh's Santiago Martinez. And thanks to nearly three minutes of riding time, Brown notched a workmanlike 10-2 major. Knowing it is his last opportunity to wrestle at the national tournament, Brown is having fun in St. Louis.

"He seems pretty loose," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "He is wrestling calm, and he has been ready to go. I think that is important for him. It's important to go out there and score points. The matches are going to get bigger, and the guy who wants to go out there and score points is the one who is going to win."

In addition to Brown, McCutcheon and McIntosh, Gulibon and Lawson round out Penn State's quarterfinalists. Gulibon rallied from 4-3 down to score an 8-4 decision thanks to a late four-point move against Utah Valley's Jade Rauser. Lawson used two third-period takedowns to top Minnesota's Michael Kroells by a score of 5-2.

"(Lawson's) moving well, and I think this is the best we have seen him look," Sanderson said. "He's got a big match tomorrow against the returning national champion."

Session three begins at 11 a.m. ET on ESPNU and The tournament quarterfinals will be up first before two rounds of consolation action.

Breaking Down the Nittany Lions

125: #11 Jordan Conaway (24-7) - 1-1 - Consolation Second Round
Up Next: Consolation Second Round vs. Scott Parker (Lehigh)

133: #7 Jimmy Gulibon (24-7) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinal Round vs. No. 2 Bradley Taylor (Wisconsin)

149: #12 Zack Beitz (19-10) - 1-1 - Consolation Second Round
Up Next: Consolation Second Round vs. No. 6 Alex Pantaleo (Michigan)

174: #2 Matt Brown (26-3) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinal Round vs. No. 7 Zach Epperly (Virginia Tech)

184: #14 Matt McCutcheon (26-12) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinal Round vs. Kenny Courts (Ohio State)

197: #2 Morgan McIntosh (27-2) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals
Up Next: Quarterfinal Round vs. No. 10 Connor Hartmann (Duke)

285: #8 Jimmy Lawson (17-3) - 2-0 - Tournament Quarterfinals

Up Next: Quarterfinal Round vs. No. 1 Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State)

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

All in the Family: Penn State Lacrosse

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10871648.jpegBy Maria Canales, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State men's lacrosse, the Blue and White has been a part of many players' lives long before they put on the jersey. Players Matt Florence and Hunter Pearl, whose fathers played lacrosse for Penn State, keep the family tradition alive and well in Happy Valley.

From 1989 to 1992 J.J. Pearl protected the net for the Nittany Lions, playing goalkeeper and dominating his time between the pipes. He ranks fifth all-time in saves for Penn State. His son Hunter is a freshman, following a familiar path of goaltending for the Nittany Lions.

"For me, Penn State was born inside of me," said Hunter Pearl.  "We were always fans since I was really young and my dad definitely had a big influence. He was really helpful in deciding where to go to school, he wasn't necessarily biased towards here but this is really the only place I wanted to go."

Redshirt sophomore Matt Florence, after transferring from the University of Virginia, put on the blue and white for Penn State just like his father, Tom. Tom Florence was a goaltender for the Nittany Lions from 1981 to 1985. Although he plays a different position from his father, Matt Florence, a midfielder, gives credit to his lineage for helping to make the transfer process a simple one.

"Once I decided to transfer my dad had somewhat of an impact, just that looking at the school and knowing kind of background about Penn State and what it meant to him," said Florence. "When I came here and visited I saw all those things that he had really loved about the school stood true and definitely was a place I felt comfortable in."

The family ties run deep for Penn State men's lacrosse. Not only are there second-generation Penn State lacrosse players on the team, but several team members also have other connections to the University.  More than a handful of the Nittany Lions have had grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings attend Penn State.

"I think it's very special, it's really unique and it kind of adds to the family atmosphere that everyone tries to instill here," said Pearl.

Head coach Jeff Tambroni knows when recruiting, family ties do have an impact, and the idea of having players with family ties to Penn State makes the passion burn that much brighter.

"I always think it helps, having a Penn State lineage," said Tambroni. "I think most of these kids grow up with it in their blood, so to speak. And when it comes to lacrosse just thinking as a parent myself, you look back and think about what it would be like to have your kids play at the same university and walk on that same field. That would be a really special occurrence."

All Nittany Lions make an impact on the field, and it's not just lineage that makes Penn State such a special place. The impact the alumni have and the respect they have for the program is unparalleled. Past alumni come back to watch regular season games, and even more participate in the team's annual Alumni Weekend every fall semester.

"It definitely ties into the family aspect when those alumni come back," said Florence. "You definitely have a special connection with them and you really bond with them over being Penn Staters and taking pride in that blue and white."

This weekend the men's lacrosse family takes on No. 6 Denver.

"[Denver has] a really talented offense, they bring a lot to the table," said Florence. "For us it's really going to come down to how much do we want it and how much are we going to show that heart out on the field. If we can bring it and be absolutely relentless out there then we have a good shot at winning."

The team is up for the challenge playing Denver offers, as a win against such a highly ranked team would bring validation to all the hard work the team has been putting in. For all members of the team, not just those with Penn State heritage, this game will provide yet another chance to take the field with the pride of the Lions.    

Penn State will take on Denver at the neutral site of Hofstra this Saturday at 2:30 pm. 

By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After two months on the road, the Penn State softball team returned to Happy Valley to host the University of Pittsburgh on Wednesday notching a 3-1 victory.

Despite the cold, Beard Field was buzzing with excitement for opening day and the team came out determined to play its best for the home crowd.

"Between the weather conditions, first time playing at home, and facing Pitt which is an in-state rival, there were a lot of emotions in this game," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "I think there was great softball on both ends and I'm proud of the team for pulling out with the win."

The Lions were able to take the toughness they created on the road back to Happy Valley for Wednesday's home opener to show off all the hard work the team has encountered since the start of the season.

"It was great being able to play here after being on the road for a long stretch," said coach Lehotak. "We're starting a new philosophy this year were we set expectations of not losing at home anymore."

One player that specifically showed her toughness was outfielder Macy Jones. She was able to lead the charge by dominating the game both at bat and in left field.

With a slow start to the game, Jones battled at the plate and hit a home run to the center field to provide Penn State two RBIs at the bottom of the third.

"I was really excited to play at home for the first time all season and whenever we're home, we want to put on a good show," said Macy Jones. "Sometimes I get too excited and lose focus but tonight I was able to really relax which allowed me to concentrate on my game more."

Jones also made five outs in the outfield which kept Pitt off the scoreboard multiple times throughout the game.

"It was funny because Macy had a really tough day at practice when dealing with fly balls and for her to come out strong tonight shows a lot about how hard she's willing to work," said coach Lehotak.

Alongside Jones, Marlaina
Laubach pitched all seven innings for the blue and white. Laubach is a sophomore from Northampton, PA and ended the game strong with six strikeouts at the mound and zero errors.

Similar to Jones, Laubach was motivated for the first home game of the season.

"I think there is a notable difference when playing home," said Laubach. "It's so nice being able to say we're home and be able to play in front of all our families and friends," said Laubach. "This being the home opener we really wanted to showcase what we've been working on while on the road."

Rallying from the victory over Pittsburgh, the Nittany Lions will stay focused as they continue on with the season. Next up, the Lions will enter the Big Ten season, hosting Northwestern in a three-game series over the weekend.

"Tonight's win set the bar for us and with Northwestern being a such a good team I think that will motivate us even more to perform our best over the weekend," said Jones.

2015 NCAA Championships Session I Roundup

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ST. LOUIS - The four-time defending national champion Nittany Lion wrestling team notched a perfect first session at the 2015 NCAA Championships inside the Scottrade Center on Thursday.

Bonus points were the theme of Penn State's superb start to the national tournament. The Lions went 7-0 in first-round action, including four wins featuring bonus points (three major decisions and one technical fall). Jordan Conaway (125), Jimmy Gulibon (133), Zack Beitz (149), Matt Brown (174), Matt McCutcheon (184), Morgan McIntosh (197) and Jimmy Lawson (285) all punched their tickets into the second round of the bracket during the initial matches of the tournament.

Gulibon (11-3), Beitz (10-1) and Brown (12-4) each scored wins by virtue of major decision, while McCutcheon (20-5 at 7:00) turned in a dominant technical fall victory in his first ever match at the NCAA Championships.

Thanks to the unblemished record and 4.5 bonus points, the Nittany Lions will head into Thursday's evening session in second spot with 11.5 tallies. Ohio State is first with 13.5 points. Penn State is one of four teams with seven wrestlers still alive in the main draw (Ohio State, Missouri and Oklahoma State).

Session I Team Standings (Main Draw/Consolation)
1. Ohio State - 13.5 (7 Main Draw/3 Consolation)
2. Penn State - 11.5 (7 Main Draw/0 Consolation)
3. Cornell - 11.0 (6 Main Draw/3 Consolation)
4. Missouri - 11.0 (7 Main Draw/3 Consolation)

It was an impressive session for a pair of Nittany Lions who had never wrestled in the NCAA Championships prior to Thursday. Beitz and McCutcheon looked comfortable every second they were on the mat during their first bouts at the national tournament.

"It was awesome," Beitz said. "I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to go out there and wrestle at nationals for Penn State."

Beitz took a 2-0 lead after one against Shawn Greevy (Chattanooga), but he was dominant in the second. The Mifflintown native scored a reversal to open the frame before three near-fall points handed the sophomore a 7-0 lead. He never looked back from there on his way to a 10-1 major.

"The one thing Coach Cael always says is keep going, going and going," Beitz said. "That's what I want to keep trying to do, keep scoring points. And then ride them tough and wear them out."

On the heels of a stout weekend at the Big Ten Championships, McCutcheon got stronger as his match at 184 pounds against Nick Fiegener (Cal Poly). A pair of back points late in the opening frame set the score at 7-3 when the first drew to a close. The Nittany Lion redshirt freshman added two takedowns in the second, including one right at the buzzer. McCutcheon marched to a seven-point third period and notched a 20-5 technical fall.

"It feels good to get the first match out of the way," McCutcheon said. "I'm ready to go. The coaches have me peaking at the right time, and I've just got to keep it going."

With seven wrestlers in the lineup, the Nittany Lions knew how critical extra points would be at the national tournament this year. Thus far, Penn State wrestled with tremendous confidence, and it turned into four wins with extra tallies. The Lions scored at least 10 points in five of the seven victories.

"Bonus points are huge here, and that is what is going through your mind when you are out there," Beitz said. We just go out there with the mindset to score, and then keep scoring."

The undefeated session sets up a host of critical second round matches on Thursday night.

"Our team realizes we are in this," McCutcheon said. "A lot of people are counting us out. Our team has the mindset that we are here to win, so we are going to go out there and score as many points as possible."

Session two begins at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU and One round of consolation action will take place before the Nittany Lions take the mat in the second round. Jordan Conaway will be up first at 125 pounds.

Breaking Down the Nittany Lions

125: #11 Jordan Conaway (24-6) - 1-0 - Tournament Second Round
Up Next: Second Round vs. No. 6 Thomas Gilman (Iowa)

133: #7 Jimmy Gulibon (23-7) - 1-0 - Tournament Second Round
Up Next: Second Round vs. Jade Rauser (Utah Valley)

149: #12 Zack Beitz (19-9) - 1-0 - Tournament Second Round
Up Next: Second Round vs. No. 5 Chris Villalonga (Cornell)

174: #2 Matt Brown (25-3) - 1-0 - Tournament Second Round
Up Next: Second Round vs. No. 15 Santiago Martinez (Lehigh)

184: #14 Matt McCutcheon (25-12) - 1-0 - Tournament Second Round
Up Next: Second Round vs. No. 3 Blake Stauffer (Arizona State)

197: #2 Morgan McIntosh (26-2) - 1-0 - Tournament Second Round
Up Next: Second Round vs. No. 15 Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska)

285: #8 Jimmy Lawson (16-3) - 1-0 - Tournament Second Round

Up Next: Second Round vs. No. 9 Michael Kroells (Minnesota)

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Men's Hockey B1G Tournament Blog - Penn State vs. Ohio State

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DETROIT, Mich. - Welcome to's live coverage of Penn State men's hockey. Today, the Nittany Lions will face Ohio State in the first round of this year's Big Ten Tournament. The game is set to begin at 4:30 p.m.

Live Blog Men's Hockey B1G Tournament Blog - Penn State vs. Ohio State

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- In his Penn State career, Geoff Boylston has always had a knack for seizing the opportunites that come to him.

Last year, the junior pitcher didn't get a chance to start until the 31st game of the season and responded by giving up just two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in a victory over West Virginia. This season, he received just one start in the team's first 15 games, yet gave an even stronger outing (6 innings, two earned runs, seven strikeouts) against South Carolina on March 10.

Handed the ball again during the Nittany Lions home opener against Canisius on Wednesday, Boylston made a strong case to start getting it more frequently. The senior tossed six innings, gave up just one run and struck out a career-high eight batters as Penn State cruised to an 11-1 win. 

"I was just going right at guys," Boylston said. "I wasn't messing around, wasn't feeling for anything, just going at them from the first pitch and the next thing I knew, I was in the six inning. When you attack guys and get ahead, life's a little bit easier."

Similar to his start against West Virginia last year, Boylston had his only struggles of the day early on. After striking out his first two batters to start the game, the lefthander gave up back-to-back doubles that led to an early 1-0 deficit for the Nittany Lions.

It may have only been two batters, but the Nittany Lion hurler was admittedly not pleased with himself. Feeling as though he was too careful with a curveball on the second double to Jesse Puscheck, Boylston vowed to start attacking hitters moving forward. 

"I was livid," Boylston said. "Because I hung a breaking ball, I had two strikes on him. When you have a guy on the ropes, to let him square it up like that, it drives me nuts. I just figured I'm going to out there, and if I get a breaking ball called again, I'm going to go right at him with it, and I'm not going to dump it over, I'm going to throw the daylights out of it."

Returning to the mound to start the second, Boylston did just that, quickly retiring the side with a groundout and two strikeouts against Tyler Smith and Nick Capitano. From that point on, the West Chester, Pennsylvania native gave up just three more hits and no runs as the Nittany Lions turned the game into a rout.

Asked what was working for him, the fifth year pitcher said he just kept things simple. Once he realized that his curveball wasn't breaking for him, he decided to stick to his fastball. 

While fastballs may seem easier to hit, the key for Boylston was putting them exactly where he wanted to. A perfect example was the end of the fifth inning, when he chucked a ball on the outside corner that Golden Griffins leadoff man Jake Lumley helplessly flailed at, giving the pitcher his seventh strikeout on the evening.

"I really didn't think I had my best stuff," Boylston said. "My breaking ball was terrible. I was just able to locate my fastball. I think the best pitch in baseball is a located fastball. When you do that consistently, you're going to be successful." 

As impressive as the strikeouts were, even more important was the control Boylston exhibited. On a night in which he threw 98 pitches, the senior didn't walk a single batter. 

That aspect of the performance was what head coach Rob Cooper was most pleased by. While he'd always known that Boylston possessed plenty of talent, the coach and his staff had stressed control to the hurler in the past.

"He's always had that ability, the biggest thing for him is getting ahead and not walking guys," Cooper said. "Today, and his last outing against South Carolina was the exact same way. I'm just proud of him, he's attacking, he's not second-guessing himself. He's worked really hard physically, but more importantly, he's worked really hard mentally to just trust it and go out and pitch." 

Having now seen him strikeout 15 batters, give up just three earned runs and throw 12 innings over his two starts this season, Cooper said he plans to give Boylston the ball a lot more in the future. The Nittany Lions have an exceptionally young pitching staff, and they can certainly benefit from Boylston's experience and savvy.

"I don't know how you can keep him on the bench when he's giving you quality starts like that," Cooper said. "He's earned the right to continue to get the ball." 

NCAA Championship Preview: Seven Lions Looking to Make Their Mark

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10903699.jpegVIDEO: NCAA Championships Preview Interviews

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Cael Sanderson can't help but be a believer.

The head coach of the Penn State wrestling team knows his team is in much different position heading into the 2015 NCAA Championships than its been in the past few seasons. After a fifth place finish in the Big Ten Tournament, the four-time defending champion Nittany Lions will be heading into the biggest weekend of the year not as the favorite, but as one of the underdogs.

And that's perfectly fine for Sanderson and his squad. While expectations may not be the same for the Nittany Lions across the country, the Nittany Lions desire to win has not been diminished in the slightest.

"I don't think my perspective has necessarily changed," Sanderson said. "It's just a matter of getting the kids to believe. I can see us winning, it's just a matter of doing it, and not getting frustrated when things are not going our way because you've got to make things go your way.

"I'm optimistic. I believe in the guys that we have going that they can get the job done. Would it be a small miracle? Maybe, but I do believe in miracles."

Having qualified seven out of 10 wrestlers for the tournament, the Lions will certainly have plenty of work to do when the tournament kicks off on Thursday in St. Louis. Still, with all seven wrestlers seeded in the top 16, Penn State will definitely have the chance to make some noise.

At the very least, each of Penn State's wrestlers will have a fighting chance to reach the top-eight and earn All-American status. That being said, the Nittany Lions do take pride in the team score and will take the mat looking to rack up bonus point to make up for their lack of competitors.

"I'm excited. I don't want to talk big but I think our guys have a chance to score a lot of points," Sanderson said. "Is it going to be easy no, but can they do it, yeah."

It certainly won't be easy, but then again, the Lions aren't looking for anything to be handed to them. With the tournament kicking off in two days, here's a look at every Penn State qualifier.

125 Pounds: Junior Jordan Conaway (23-6, 11th Seed, Third at B1G Tournament)
Two years ago, Jordan Conaway made a splash in his first NCAA Championships appearance, coming up one win shy of becoming an All-American at 133 pounds.

Now competing at 125 after missing out on a starting spot last year, the Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, native is determined to take that next step. Having claimed third place in a brutally tough field at the Big Ten Tournament, Conaway seems to be peaking at the right time.

"I'm just focused on this year, I've been to this tournament before so I'm looking to do better obviously," Conaway said. "We've wrestled our best as this tournament the past few years, I don't see why this would be any different, and the same for me."

Sanderson has touted the redshirt junior as someone he is expecting to breakout over the weekend. With a 10-6 record this year against the NCAA field (including two wins and a medical forfeit in the B1G Tournament) Conaway has proven he can beat top opponents.

It's something that he'll have to prove early on as well. If the 125-pounder gets past the first round, he'll likely get a second round match against Iowa's Thomas Gilman, a grappler he's lost to by one point twice this season.

Conway, who admitted he hasn't looked at the bracket, isn't shying away from another rematch. One of the grittiest guys on the team, he knows he has to beat the best to be the best.

"I honestly don't look at the bracket, I just go out and wrestle," Conaway said. "We've had some close matches and I just have to keep battling and this will be the time to win it."

133: Sophomore Jimmy Gulibon (22-7, Seventh Seed, Sixth at B1G Tournament)
Perhaps no Penn State wrestler has improved more dramatically from last season to this season than Jimmy Gulibon.

A year after the highly touted recruit finished an up-and-down freshman year by going 1-2 in his first NCAA Tournament appearance, the 133-pounder has looked like a legit contender for much of this season, finishing the dual meet season schedule with a 13-2 record. 

While he finished sixth at the conference tournament despite winning his first two meets, Gulibon is still 12-7 this year against the 133-field and 9-6 against ranked opponents. He enters the tournament with an excellent chance to claim his first All-American nod.

One potential match to look forward to is Gulibon's second round bout, which will be against Lehigh's Mason Beckman if both wrestlers advance. In the two team's season opening match, Gulibon beat Beckman, who was ranked second at the time, 8-3.

"I can't be complacent and stay back and try to hold a lead. I have to keep wrestling," Gulibon said. "I was a little upset with my performance last year. This year, I'd like to get out there and keep attacking."

149: Sophomore Zack Beitz (18-9,12th Seed, Fifth at B1G Tournament)
One of two Nittany Lions making their NCAA Tournament debuts this weekend, Beitz may be the least heralded wrestler Penn State is sending. That being said, the redshirt sophomore is another guy that appears to be hitting his stride the last month.

A scrapper that has always had a knack for giving top opponents all they can handle, Beitz has recently shown the ability to finish off ranked guys. An impressive pin over fourth ranked Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State as well as a fifth place finish at the conference tournament has raised his profile.

Now, the Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, native is looking to show he belongs at the national level. While he originally saw time in Penn State's lineup last year as an injury replacement for Andrew Alton, Beitz has proved he can be a starter, and an impressive performance this weekend would enhance his reputation even more.

To do it, the 12th-seeded Beitz will have to make sure he doesn't look his past his first round opponent, Shawn Greevy of Chattanooga. A win there could set up a matchup with Cornell's Chris Villalonga, the fifth seed and one of the top contenders in the weight class.

"Being at the national tournament is something you train for and look forward to all year long," Beitz said. "This is why we wrestle. This is the tournament that means so much to all of us. The biggest thing is to go out there with great focus and know what your goals are."

174: Senior Matt Brown (24-3, Second Seed, Second at B1G Tournament)
It's hard to imagine any competitor being more determined than Matt Brown is right now.

The Penn State captain has accomplished nearly everything a wrestler can in his four-year career. He's got over 100 career victories, won an individual conference title, been to the national finals and claimed All-American honors twice.

All that remains now is that elusive national championship. Brown enters his final NCAA Championships as the No. 2 seed at his weight, yet he knows a trip to the finals won't come easy.

As usual, the 174-bracket is brutally tough, with nobody in the top nine having lost more than six times this season. Having finished fifth last year after coming up just one win short of a title in 2013, Brown knows better than anyone that the field is wide open.

"It's another competitive bracket, I think they'll be a lot of good matchups,' Brown said. "I think I'm just going into this weekend knowing the NCAA tournament is a lot of fun. I know it's exciting but it's nothing that I should be intimidated of or afraid of."

Brown begins the weekend with a 10-3 season record against tournament qualifiers, with two of those loses coming against the top seed, undefeated Robert Kokesh of Nebraska.

Having lost to him in the finals of the Big Ten tournament, Brown would love a third shot at the Cornhusker. At the same time, he has a long road to get there and the Nittany Lion All-American wants to savor every moment on the mat he has left.

"I think I'll reflect when it's over, knowing my days in a Penn State singlet are numbered," Brown said. "I'm excited though, it's fun. It's what we train for. It's not what I want to do for the rest of my life, but it's what I want to do now."

184: Freshman Matt McCutcheon (23-12, 14th Seed, Fourth at B1G Tournament)
Penn State's lone freshmen qualifier, Matt McCutcheon is hoping the momentum he picked up at the Big Ten Championships carries over into this weekend.

While he went just 7-8 during the dual meet season, the redshirt freshman really began to flash his potential in the conference tournament, going 3-1 with his last two victories coming against top-15 opponents, including a 9-1 major of Nebraska's T.J. Dudley in the fourth place bout.

As impressive as McCutcheon's performance there was, now is when the challenge really begins. Not unlike many of his teammates, the 184-pounder has a tough second round opponent, with Arizona State's third seeded Blake Stauffer (31-1) most likely waiting for him if he can get past his first match.

Still, McCutcheon has the confidence of Sanderson, who believes his first-year wrestler has the confidence and skill to perform on the sport's grandest stage.

"I thought the best he's looked was at the Big Ten [Championships]," Sanderson said. "His best shots, his strongest finishes, more than anything just the best look he's had in his eye. I think he's going to wrestle with some fire."

197 Pounds: Junior Morgan McIntosh (26-2, Second Seed, First at B1G Tournament)

In college wrestling, it's generally thought that if you can win in the Big Ten, you can probably win against anyone. If so, Morgan McIntosh could very well be in line to claim his first individual national title this weekend.

A year after he earned his first All-American nod, McIntosh entered the current season with huge expectations and plenty of responsibility on his shoulders. Having just blazed his way to his first conference title, the junior is clearly living up to his reputation as Penn State's next leader and star.

Currently riding an 11-match winning streak that includes victories over five top-10 opponents, McIntosh has never looked better than he has since the start of the new year. Nonetheless, he has refused to get complacent.

As one of the team's captains, McIntosh knows he needs to not only win, but also get bonus points if Penn State is going to make any noise in the team race. Even after winning the Big Ten, he still hasn't been satisfied with his performance.

"It's not like a huge giant breakthrough for me, I've always known that I'm capable of [winning the conference tournament]," McIntosh said. "It was nice to get there and win that, but there's other things to worry about. There's always opportunites to score more and other things I could of done but I can still work on it."

While a lot can certainly happen in the tournament and nothing is set in stone, a trip to the finals for McIntosh could likely mean a matchup with top-ranked J'Den Cox of Missouri, last year's 197-pound national champion and a guy who hasn't lost all season.

When the two wrestlers faced off at the Southern Scuffle at the beginning of January, Cox won a low-scoring 2-1 match. Though he knows he can compete with the Tiger wrestler, McIntosh is more focused on winning each of his bouts by a large margin to bolster the team score than he is on preparing himself for a rematch.

"When you think about the team and all the guys around you, you do wrestle harder," McIntosh said. "I definitely feel like that. I don't want to win just for me. I want to win for the team. I've got great guys around me, they've all been working hard and I just want to go out there and score points."

285: Senior Jimmy Lawson (15-3, Eighth Seed, Sixth at B1G Tournament)
By now, facing adversity is as common to Jimmy Lawson as putting on a singlet or trying to score a takedown.

Since transferring to Penn State in 2013, the Toms River, New Jersey, native has had so many setbacks it's been hard to keep track.

First, there was the personally disappointing 1-2 showing at his first NCAA Tournament. Then came the devastating knee injury that ended his 2014 season, followed by various ailments this year that prevented him from sustaining momentum. That's not to mention his three-year battle with Jon Gingrich for the starting heavyweight spot, something that would have been too much pressure for many to handle.

None of that matters anymore. With his final college tournament days away, Lawson is finally the Lions undisputed guy at 285 and has one more chance to become an All-American.

"I embraced the competition," Lawson said. "Jon's one of the best heavyweights in the nation and when you practice against someone like that you get better. I think coming to Penn State was the best opportunity to get better fast. It forced me to work harder every day. I've been more aggressive this year and I feel confident I can win a national title."

While Lawson is on the other side of the bracket than the two wrestlers who beat him this year, Iowa's Bobby Telford and Michigan's Adam Coon, he still will have plenty of difficult opponents to face. If Lawson wins his first two matches, he could easily face No. 1 Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State with a birth in the semifinals on the line.

But that's all way ahead in the future and out of his control. For a guy who's gone through so much, Lawson is looking at this weekend as a chance to simply have some fun.

"You don't really feel pressure at this stage of the game," Lawson said. "If don't wrestle confident you're going to fail because everyone's going 100 percent. I'm not really feeling pressure I'm just excited. It's a great opportunity. I haven't been here in two years so I'm excited."

Nittany Lions Ready to Race at NCAA Championships

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9423877 (1).jpegBy Meghan Miceli, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Eleven members of women's swimming and diving team arrived in North Carolina and are ready to race in the NCAA championship meet. Penn State will face its toughest competition yet, racing against Division I teams from across the nation.

"Last year we swam really well at this meet and placed 18th," explained senior Carolyn Fittin. "This year, the goal is to score more points and have our relays make it back to finals."

The NCAA Championships are the most selective meet in collegiate swimming, with strict qualification requirements. In order to garner an automatic invite, a swimmer must achieve an "A" standard time in an event. That swimmer is also eligible to compete in bonus events, but they must have a "B" standard time for their selected races.

In each event, there are anywhere from 35-40 swimmers invited. Once the number of swimmers with "A" times are established, those with "B" qualifying times are invited based on their position in national rankings. Additionally, relays are another opportunity to receive an invitation. Swimmers do not have to qualify individually for the meet in order to compete on a relay team, which have their own "A" and "B" standards.

For the Nittany Lions, seven out of the 11 swimmers competing qualified for events individually. In the senior class, Megan Siverling qualified in the 500 and 1650 freestyle events, while Fittin was invited in the 50 freestyle. Both Siverling and Fittin have competed at NCAAs in past seasons. For the junior Nittany Lions, Ally Ackman qualified in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle, Melissa Rodriguez in the 200 breaststroke, and Katie Rowe in the 200 butterfly. Ackman, Rodriguez and Rowe were also members of the 2014 NCAA Team for Penn State. The youngest class competing this week is the sophomore group, led by Katelyn Sowinski who qualified in the 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly, and Casey Francis who will swim the 200 butterfly. Sowinski also competed at NCAAs last season.

Penn State will also participate in the 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle and 800 freestyle relays, as well as the 200 and 400 medley relays.

"We did not swim as well as we were hoping at Big Tens," Fittin said. "But we still have 11 girls who qualified for this meet and we know we can end the season on a high note."

The Nittany Lions placed seventh in the Big Ten, dropping from their third place finish in 2014.

"We knew we had to bounce back and be ready to race this week. We spent spring break training and preparing- I think that's going to show," Fittin explained. "The turn around time between NCAA's and Big Tens is quick, but we feel ready."

While NCAAs marks the end of the season for Penn State, it also marks the end of four long swimming careers. The entire senior class qualified for NCAAs and will represent the blue and white one last time. This week marks the senior class of Carolyn Fittin, Caitlyn Karr, Katelyn Miller and Megan Siverling will represent Penn State together at the NCAA championships.

"As a class, we want to go in and have fun with it," said Karr. "We want to enjoy every last moment together."

Competition begins on Thursday at 11 a.m. in Greensboro, North Carolina.