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Bars Excited to be Back on the Field

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Having waited a full year to put a helmet back on, defensive end Brad Bars couldn't help running onto the field on March 17 for Penn State's first spring practice with great excitement.

Bars has been eligible to play in 50 games since he stepped on campus in the fall of 2010.  He redshirted during his freshman campaign.  That coupled with leg and Achilles injuries have forced the Nashville, Tenn., native to miss 28 games during the past four seasons.

The senior ruptured his Achilles during a routine workout during summer conditioning prior to last season.  After a long road to recovery in the training room and countless hours of rehab, Bars is back on the field and ready to play a role on the Nittany Lion defensive line in 2014.

"I believe if I can stay healthy that I don't think there's anything I can't accomplish this season," Bars said.  "If I stay healthy I can do some pretty great things."

The Achilles injury rehab is ongoing, but Bars has been a full participant in non-contact drills this spring.  His fellow defensive teammates are fired up about his return to the field.

"It's great to have him back out there. He's really an intense guy," senior linebacker Mike Hull said. "Always goes 100 miles an hour. He's really smart and he helps a lot of the younger guys and even the older guys. He does a really good job of on-field coaching and telling guys what they need to work on. It's definitely an asset to have him back out there."

Always enthusiastic and upbeat, Bars faced the Achilles injury with a tremendous attitude.  Knowing he was going to be a spectator throughout the fall didn't deter Bars from helping the team in any manner possible.

"Last year was probably the hardest thing I've ever been through," Bars said. "Once I got hurt I looked at the big picture and said what can I do to help? I made a decision I had to contribute and help this team, right when I got injured, and I knew that if I stayed involved, there wouldn't be a transition coming back," Bars said.

The senior defensive end is poised to play an instrumental role on a talented Nittany Lion defensive line, which features a host of returnees with playing experience. Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson all bring significant game experience to the field in 2014.

While the countdown clock for the UCF game in Dublin, Ireland, is at 148 days, Bars is thrilled to have the opportunity to make an impact.

"My teammates believe in me and they've seen what I can do in practices," Bars said.  "I have expectations of a veteran. My goals are to keep working and to keep progressing with my rehab."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Women's Gymnastics Keys to NCAA Regionals

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By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - During each week this past November, the Penn State women's gymnastics coaches, Jeff and Rachelle Thompson, gave the team a letter. With this letter, the team would pick a motivating word that began with that letter. Then, during each week this season, the word they chose in November would resurface as, "The Word of The Week." 

This week, the team has two words leading up to the NCAA Regional Championships this weekend - 'Wow' and 'Inspire'.

"If we do well and finish first or second, then, 'Wow. We made it to Nationals.' But we're going to have to have inspired performances in order to do that," Jeff Thompson said.

Senior Kassidy Stauder said that these two words are important because she wants to go to Regionals and "wow" everyone and make it to Nationals. If the team places first or second this weekend, they will advance to the NCAA National Championships for the first time as a team since 2009.

"We need to go in there and inspire one another and also inspire the upcoming teams to make a new tradition of making it to Nationals every year," Stauder said.

The team decided to combine the two words of the week to make an acronym. They took the first letter in 'wow' and the first two letters in 'inspire' to create 'WIN' - What's Important Now.

"This means just focusing on staying in moment. And what's important to us is hitting our routines and doing our best to progress on to the next meet," senior Lindsay Musgrove said.

Some of the gymnasts competing in NCAA Regionals found their "keys" to being successful in the meet this weekend:

Kassidy Stauder: Confidence

"Go in there with confidence and having fun. Remember that our best is good enough and do what we do everyday."

Sidney Sanabria-Robles: Compete as if it were warm ups

"Stay calm and do everything as if it was warm up. In warm up, I'm not thinking about anything, and it actually turns out really good. Just stay relax and think 'warm up'."

Randi Lau: Focus

"We have to focus on the details and sticking our landings, because we are a Top 12 team and we're really capable of making it to Nationals. We just have to stay focused and finish really [well] on floor."

Krystal Welsh: Having fun

"Just have fun and do exactly what we do in practice."

Coach Jeff Thompson: Hitting routines

"The most important thing for everyone is to hit routines. If everyone hits, then it's going to come down to stuck landings."

Lindsay Musgrove:  Compete freely

"We've put in all of the preparation up until now, so we don't need to stress or worry. I think just have fun and compete freely and just let ourselves do our gymnastics because we all know how to great routines.  We hit them in the gym everyday."

In the NCAA Regional Championships this weekend, No. 15 Penn State will take on No. 1 Florida, No. 12 Oregon State, No. 23 New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Maryland. Penn State is the No. 3 seed.

Catch the Nittany Lions at home in Rec Hall for the last time this season on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Lions See Offensive Success under Hammond's Leadership

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
As the season continues for the men's volleyball team, its level of production and how the offense works together on the court has developed and strengthened over the past three months.

Of the different positions on the court, the setter is designated to control and run the offense. This person is in charge of making the decisions of which hitter will receive the ball. For the Nittany Lions, this player is Taylor Hammond.

"I run the offense and make sure everyone's on the same page," Hammond said. "I make decisions on where I want the ball to go. It's just what I've always done and it's a part of my position. I enjoy doing this and I like having the ball in my hands."

Coming off of strong matches against George Mason and Princeton, the team has come together to make the offense efficient and more effective. The coaching staff has noticed development in both their offensive game and Hammond's performance on the court.

"The passers are handling themselves really well. Taylor is making very sound decisions. He's always been somebody that wants to understand why he does something or why we ask him to do something. Now, he is really understanding that this is his job. His job is not to keep everyone happy - it's to get the ball to the floor as quickly as possible," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Although Hammond is only a redshirt sophomore, he is really starting to fully understand his job as a setter.

"As a setter, you need to make those decisions and say right now with who they have blocking, where they are defensively, and how the hitters are hitting - what is my best opportunity to get the ball to the floor quick? He's really starting to grasp that right now. Like most young setters it takes a while. It's not something you can just walk in and do," Pavlik said.

In order to make the offensive game successful, the coaches help guide Hammond. They study the blockers on the other side of the net to predict where the ball will go.

"You'll see Jay (Hosack) come up and he'll talk to me about what their blockers are trying to do. They'll scheme against me and they'll try to send some towards Aaron (Russell) so we'll go the opposite way and we'll go towards Nick (Goodell) or they'll try to send someone towards Nick and we'll try to go the opposite way. It's really just a cat and mouse game. It's like a game of chess between me and the blockers," Hammond said.

Although the setter controls the offense and makes game-changing decisions, it takes all of the players on the court to make the offense successful.

"Anytime it's the offensive ball - it's not just one position," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "The offense is predicated first and foremost on our first contact and with our ball control. The level that our ball control has been at the past couple of weeks enables Taylor to have an easier job and have all four or five options available to him just about every time."

In order for Hammond to be able to set up the ball properly, it's up to the passers to put the ball where they are supposed to making Hammond's job easier.

"If our passers can put the ball where they are supposed to - it makes Taylor's job a lot easier when he doesn't have to run for it. Connor (Curry's) job is to control the servicing patterns and where he needs them to be all with the idea of making sure our offense starts where we want them to start - right in the middle of the net about two and a half feet off of the net," Pavlik said.

As a whole team, the passers have been working with Hammond to get the ball where it needs to be during each play. In their last few matches, the offense has come together to put up some of the best offensive numbers the team has seen up until this point.

"Our execution is really high right now," Hammond said. "This past weekend is an attribution to what we've been working on right now. We've had trouble in the big matches executing. We've made mistakes where the wheels kind of fall off, but against Princeton and George Mason - that was really an attribute to what we've been working on and just staying steady." 

Nittany Lions take Swimming and Diving Program to New Heights

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
Wrapping up their first season under head coach Tim Murphy, the Nittany Lions continued to build off of the success the team saw at Big Tens as they headed into the 2014 NCAA Championships.

The seven men who competed brought back a 17th-place finish and scored 63 total points. This marked the first time in over a decade that the Nittany Lions posted this many points and finished this high in the rankings against the toughest competition in the nation.

Coming off of a strong Big Ten showing, the men had three weeks to get back to work and prepare for the highly competitive meet.

"It was kind of hard resting for Big Tens and then making a three week transition where we went up in yardage and tried to come back down," Shane Ryan said. "We just wanted to be at our best and better than we were at Big Tens. We always want to swim faster and break more records. Overall we did an amazing job as a team - just imagine what we could do if we had a full team there."

The squad's mentality going into the weekend was to relax and have fun with what could be considered one of their biggest meets of their career.

"Going into NCAA's we just wanted to have fun and see what we could do," Ryan said. "There's more pressure on Big Tens rather than NCAAs, even though there should be more pressure on NCAAs. There's more of a team atmosphere at Big Tens because there are more people from our team there. We went there and tried to swim our hearts out."

This meet marked the last time four seniors would ever be able to compete as a Nittany Lion. James Wilson, John Hauser, Seth Wensel, and Shane Austin all exhibited strong leadership skills throughout the season and contributed to reaching new goals for the team.

"They are all really good guys leaving that will be really hard to replace. With the transition of the new coaches, it was good to have them help ease the transition and help us handle the changes," Ryan said. "Swimming on a relay with all seniors was an awesome experience because they had fire. It was their last race and they didn't hold anything back."

Although this meet was the last opportunity for some of the swimmers to compete, it was the first opportunity for Ryan to represent Penn State at NCAAs. The sophomore competed to a second place finish in the 100 Backstroke and his time put him just 0.15 seconds away from a first place finish. He was also 0.71 seconds away from setting an American record.

"My mentality going into the night was if you have a lane you can win," Ryan said. "I just went out and swam to try and win and get the gold. I was happy with the time - I really wasn't expecting to go that fast. I thought the fastest time I could go was at Big Tens so I was happy about that."

Not only was Ryan pleased with the time and where he placed, he was also happy to be able to bring positive attention to the program.

"It's a great honor to be able to get Penn State up on the board, especially in the A final," Ryan said. "The last person who was in the A final was in 2008. I'm happy to be able to represent Penn State and get our name out there more. They know our program is up and coming and it will help with recruiting."

Anytime the swimmers and divers are able to take Penn State to new heights and set new records for the program, their performances benefit the future of the team.

"We were just thinking of the future," Ryan said. "We want people to see that we are getting better, that we are a really good program with a great coaching staff. We've always had good coaching, but this year we really stepped up our game and all of us are swimming well. We wanted to make a statement for Penn State and get our name up on the board. We wanted to get the announcer to say Penn State more often."

VIDEO: Spring Practice 10 Player Interviews

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just four practices and nine days remain until the Nittany Lions take the field inside Beaver Stadium for the Blue-White Game on April 12 (1:30 p.m. kick).

In a spring marked by progress on both sides of the ball under the direction of head coach James Franklin, the Nittany Lion players are excited about the opportunity to get in front of the fans for the first time in 2014.

"It's something to look forward to during spring practice," senior safety Adrian Amos said.  "We don't have games to look forward to, so the Blue-White game is a big weekend, and we're excited to be back in Beaver Stadium."

As the team continues to get more reps in the new schemes installed on both sides of the ball, the Lions are beginning to feel more and more comfort with each passing practice.

"We have made a lot of progress each and every day as we get more acclimated into the scheme," Amos said.  "We are getting a lot more comfortable with the defense and working with each other."

"Things are going really well," sophomore running back Akeel Lynch said.  "We are gelling together.  Offense takes some time.  The concepts are getting into our heads, and we are starting to move faster."

Penn State completed its 10th practice of the spring on Wednesday afternoon.  The Lions practiced outdoors for the first time on Monday.  A portion of Wednesday's practice was outdoors, as well.  Senior kicker Sam Ficken ended Wednesday's practice with a 55-yard field goal, keeping the Nittany Lions from running sprints.

"Ficken has been money all of camp," Lynch said.  "He's made a lot of improvement.  Anytime it has been double or nothing for running at the end of practice, we put it on Ficken's leg and he's been clutch every time."

The Nittany Lions will practice on Saturday before shifting into the final week of spring drills, which will feature three sessions before the Blue-White Game on April 12.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

First Inning Eruption Leads to Easy Win for Lions

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By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- After watching his team come from behind to win its past two games at home, Penn State baseball head coach Rob Cooper was waiting for the Nittany Lions to jump out to an early lead for once.

Taking on Youngstown State last night, the Nittany Lions more than answered their coach's wishes, erupting for seven runs off of five hits in the first inning on their way to a 15-2 victory over the Penguins.

In topping their previous season high of 10 runs, the Lions got 15 hits from nine different players, with six of them (James Coates, Greg Guers, Alex Malinsky, Aaron Novak, Taylor Skerpon, and Steve Synder) all recording two hits apiece.

"Our guys did a great job," head coach Rob Cooper said. "They really did some good things at the plate and jumped on them and took them out of the game really early. It was nice to be ahead going into the second inning."

With the bases loaded just three batters into the bottom of the first, Guers got the ball rolling by lacing a double to right field that brought home both Coates and Synder.

Guers, who finished the day 2-for-3 and drove in three runs vs. the Penguins to give him seven RBI in his last three games, said that he and his teammates were determined to get off to a hot start after receiving a challenge from Cooper before the game.

"Cooper told us before the game to get ahead of them early and we took that to heart and proved it out there," Guers said. "(Getting an early lead) felt good and it was really fun out there today."

Penn State wouldn't settle for just two runs however, as Taylor Skerpon followed up Guers' double with an RBI single of his own. The Blue and White would bat around and score four more runs as Youngstown State starter Anthony Konders managed just two outs before being relieved.

It wouldn't get any easier for the Penguins going forward, as the Nittany Lions answered a two-run fourth inning by the Penguins with back-to-back three run innings of their own in the fifth and sixth to give them a 14-2 lead.

"We came out saying that we wanted to get out on top and take them out of the game early," catcher Alex Malinsky said. "It was fun to see."

Taking their offensive performance to the next level was the performance of the Nittany Lions bench, as utility players Aaron Novak (2-for-2, 2 RBI) and Mike Wilcox (1-for-1) each got hits in addition to seven of the team's starters.

The number of contributors that came through is what stood out the most to Cooper about the win, far more than the number of runs that his team scored.

"This is a team and we preach all the time that we have 35 guys and we don't keep anybody that we don't think can help us win," Cooper said. "Seeing a guy like Aaron Novak come in and do well...I love that because it's a team effort and a team game."

The large cushion gave Cooper a chance to give five different pitchers the chance to pitch as starter Nick Hedge went three and one-thirds innings before being relieved by Ryan Harper and later Tim Dunn, Zach Ell, and Tim Scholly.

While the pitching staff certainly did their job, giving up just two unearned runs on five hits, Cooper was even more impressed by the performance of Malinsky, both at and behind the plate.

Getting the start on Tuesday over senior Alex Farkes, Malinsky went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBI in addition to handling five different pitchers.

"He's a real calming influence on our pitchers and he's really smart and gives our pitchers confidence," Cooper said. "He swung the bat well today and you can ask him to do just about anything and he will."

The win improves Penn State (13-13) to 7-0 at Medlar Field, their best start at home since 1980.

As they move back to their Big Ten schedule this weekend when they play a series against Purdue, the Lions will look to keep the offensive momentum that has seen them score 25 runs in their past two games combined going.

"As a team we've all been hitting really well," Guers said. "I think everyone is feeling really comfortable at the plate so going into Purdue this weekend it should be good to have that [confidence]."



VIDEO: Baseball vs. Youngstown State Postgame

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The Penn State baseball team claimed a 15-2 victory over Youngstown State on Tuesday evening inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. We caught up with head coach Rob Cooper and sophomore designated hitter Greg Guers to talk about the game, their impressive record at home and the upcoming trip to Purdue.



VIDEO: Postseason Press Conference - Players

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- With their season wrapping up after an exciting trip to the Big Ten Tournament in St. Paul, Minn. the Penn State men's hockey program met with the media to wrap up the 2013-14 season. We caught up with some players and asked them about the season and what their success can do heading into the offseason.



Lions Shake Off Early Deficits Against Northwestern

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By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- As the Penn State baseball team wrapped up a road trip to California two weeks ago, head coach Rob Cooper noticed something concerning about his team.

It wasn't just that they went 2-6 in an eight game stretch against Saint Mary's, Fresno State, and Santa Clara, but the fact that they fell behind in the first or second inning of each loss without being able to fight their way back.

Opening up Big Ten play with a weekend series against Northwestern, the Nittany Lions found themselves in a similar situation in back-to-back games, falling behind 2-0 in the first on Friday, and 3-0 in the opening frame on Saturday.

Both times however, Penn State kept its composure, rallying back each day to take the series with two straight wins by scores of 7-3 and 10-6, respectively.

"Earlier in the year, that might have been it for our guys," Cooper said. "After the first inning, I felt like our mindset was right and (we knew) there was a lot of game left and we were going to just play. I don't think we do that a couple weeks ago and that shows you the kind of growth and the choices they've made."

Not only did the weekend get Cooper's Big Ten coaching career off on the right foot, it also reaffirmed that the players have been buying into the principles that their new coach preaches, namely that being a good offensive team is more important than being a good hitting team.

While the Blue and White registered nine hits in each game, they produced runs by not by bashing the ball all over he park, but with timeliness and patience, drawing 19 walks in the two games combined and forcing Wildcat pitchers Brandon Magallones (Friday) and Matt Portland (Saturday) to each top 100 pitches.

"Only Zach Ell had multiple hits (on Saturday) but we scored 10 runs," Cooper said. "Early in the season we were trying to do too much and we were chasing pitches but today we had a lot of two-strike at-bats that our guys battled back in to walks or productive at bats."

Leading the charge for Penn State was the three-four combination of J.J. White and Greg Guers, who drove in two runs apiece both nights.

They also came through in big moments, opening up the fourth inning on Friday with a pair of hits with the Lions down, 2-0, and then scoring to even the game at 2-2. Later in the sixth, the duo came up with consecutive RBI to cap a four-run inning that turned a 3-3 tie into a 7-3 lead.

"We're just trying to do our job," White said. "The guys in front of us have been doing a good job getting on base and whether it's a sac fly or a hit we're trying to find runs anyway we can."

For the Nittany Lions to pull off both comebacks, they needed their pitching staff to prevent Northwestern from expanding their leads, and on both days, that required big performances in long relief from the Penn State bullpen.

Six days after a masterful relief performance against Bucknell in which he struck out the final seven batters of the game, Ian Parvin relieved T.J. Jann in the fifth inning on Friday and picked up right where he left off. Though he only recorded one strikeout this time around, the right-hander gave up just two hits over four and one-thirds scoreless innings to get the win.

"My off-speed stuff wasn't working very well so I basically just pitched off my fastball and let the guys behind me make plays," Parvin said. "These are the days when you really have to dig deep and find something inside you."

The next day it was Dakota Forsyth's turn to get the Blue and White out of a jam, as the freshman came in for Greg Welsh in the third inning with men on first and second and one out, with Penn State clinging to a 5-4 lead.

Making just the sixth appearance of his college career, Forsyth retired two straight batters before going an additional five innings, giving up two runs on four hits in the process. The offense took care of the rest, matching their season high of 10 runs in the victory.

"Going in coach Cooper just told me to throw strikes," Forsyth said. "I wasn't really expecting to go five innings but when your pitch count is low you can go a little longer."

Now 6-0 at home and having won their last three series, the pieces appear to be coming together for Cooper and his crew. With the Big Ten season now in full swing, the Nittany Lions (12-13) will continue to focus on each day moving forward.

"It's fun to play at home but I'm just glad we're playing well," Cooper said. "When you win at home it helps you moving forward but we need to prove we can win on the road now."



Relief Pitching Strong in Sweep of Northwestern

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Relief pitchers perhaps play the most unexpected role in baseball. One poor batter could lead to an equally poor inning and a short-lived outing. One strong batter could lead to a strong inning followed by another and another and another.

The latter scenario is what took place for Penn State relief pitchers senior Ian Parvin and freshman Dakota Forsyth during Friday and Saturday's two game sweep of Northwestern to open Big Ten play. Neither pitcher had an incredibly strong outing by their coach's or their own standards, but they got the job done to secure both Nittany Lion wins.

Parvin went four and two-thirds scoreless innings, surrendering just two hits and striking out to hold Northwestern at bay after three runs in the first four innings. Forsyth followed suit the next morning tossing five and two-thirds innings, giving up four hits and two earned runs.

"It was awesome," Cooper said of Forsyth's performance. "It was like what he did against Bucknell. He was lights out. He didn't pitch very well today command wise, but he competed. When he needed to he said 'alright here you go hit it.' That's big. It was a great effort and we needed it."

Parvin did almost the exact same thing one night prior. Relieved the starter in a time of need and got outs regardless of the way it happened. Having that as a cemented luxury with a young team going through a learning process is a big advantage for Cooper and he knows it.

"If you have those two guys and they are pitching the way they have been and your starter can give you five innings and you bring those guys in for an inning or two and then have Jack Anderson who you can extend [for more than one inning], it makes games really short for your pitchers."

Neither pitcher will blow opposing batters away and they didn't this weekend combining for just two strikeouts in their ten and one-thirds innings pitched. That's not what they are effective though.

Both Parvin and Forsyth understand that they're not going to overwhelm many of their opponents, but if placement is accurate and the right pitches are thrown at the right time, the ball, hit or not, has the chance to be recorded as an out, which is all they want.

"I didn't have your slider today and my changeup wasn't very effective, so I just went straight fastballs," Forsyth said. "When you put it on the corners more times than not the batters are going to get themselves out."

Cooper said the same thing about Parvin. His velocity wasn't anything above average, but, even on a day where his location wasn't superb, he wasn't afraid to attack the Northwestern hitters and trust his teammates to get outs and that's more important than anything else in his pitching arsenal.       

"Here's a guy that maybe sits at 87 miles an hour, which is not a negative thing, but he just competes so hard," Cooper said. "I'm not afraid to bring him in whenever if we need him to stop a rally or keep us in there and give us a chance. As long has he keeps going like this then we're going to do use him in that role."

Throwing Forsyth and Parvin into the mix out of the bullpen with Jack Anderson, who has been a reliable closing presence and then some, the Penn State pen is one of the more confident areas for the Nittany Lions.

In the two games against Northwestern the three Penn State relief pitchers threw eleven and one-thirds innings allowing just two earned runs and six hits.

The even crazier stat, they only had three combined strikeouts. Cooper has said it all year though, it doesn't matter how they get the job done, as long as they produce good results. Friday and Saturday, the Penn State bullpen did just that.