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Gebhart Fired Up for 2014 and U.S. National Competition

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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the midst of spring conditioning, the Penn State field hockey team is focused on the competition ahead and they are motivated by the desire to out work the competitors in the fall.

The Nittany Lions have incredible leaders on their roster this upcoming season like junior captain Laura Gebhart, who has been busy as of late.

The Nittany Lion midfielder earned her first international cap in the U.S. National Team's competition against the Canadian National Team on March 10. Team USA went undefeated against the Canadian National Team during the four-day series.

This past summer, U.S. head coach Craig Parnham named Gebhart to one of 30 positions on the 2013-'14 U.S. National Field Hockey Team roster, a feat that many student-athletes strive for their entire careers. Since then, Gebhart's student-athlete life has been a balancing act.

"It's been awesome and manageable, but it's been a bit of a struggle to find a balance with U.S. field hockey and the commitments and goals for that along with Penn State and our program and my academics," she said. "Sometimes having to return to why I'm here and why I'm doing it... I love field hockey. I get frustrated and it's overwhelming but [I remind myself] these are my goals."

However, Gebhart has an evident passion for life and all things field hockey that shines through and speaks for itself.

"Honestly, if it wasn't my passion, I wouldn't be able to do this because it is a huge time commitment but to be able to be on the field and play is awesome," Gebhart said. "I get so much enjoyment out of it."

Her coaches and teammates have been an incredible support system and she comes from a long history of athleticism in her family. Gebhart's mother and sister played at American University and Lock Haven University, respectively. During her impressive career in field hockey, Gebhart's mother had the opportunity to meet some important figures in the sport like Penn State's head coach Charlene Morett, who works everyday with Gebhart to improve her game not only for Penn State but also for competition all over the country. The Gebhart family ties to the sport have been a crucial part of her experience.

"[U.S. head coach] Craig Parnham and [Penn State head coach Charlene Morett] have been phenomenal. They've been working with me to try and find a plan and my teammates have been so supportive," said Gebhart.

Even though she spends only four of seven days at The Spooky Nook (the Nook) in Lancaster, the official training ground for U.S. Field Hockey, she says training has been exceptional and her support system is already growing deeper.

"I'm still getting to know [the girls] better but I have been fortunate to have play almost with all of them at some point before this. I know the girls and now it's just getting to know how to play with them," she said. "[But] training has been phenomenal. This is an awesome, awesome opportunity."

She admits that going into these endeavors has taken her on an unexpected journey. She's grown incredibly as a person and an athlete and she hopes that her teammates are able to rely on her in all aspects of their game. She's confident that her training at the Nook will help her lead the Lions to success.

As for what the future holds for Gebhart? The connection between her and her Penn State teammates and Coach Morett is as strong as it has ever been and she looks forward to spring tournaments.

This summer, she will train full-time with the national team and she will try-out for the World Cup team. Following those efforts, Gebhart will go to the Women's National Championship where she will pursue a position on the 2014-'15 U.S. National Team roster.

She will also continue her career with the Penn State in late summer when the Nittany Lions begin their preseason training.

"The [ultimate] plan, or the goal, is to play with the U.S. [team] full-time out of college," Gebhart said.

Nittany Lions Take Positives from Michigan Series

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By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Stepping up to the plate Saturday afternoon, sophomore Karlie Habitz had one thing on her mind.  Down 12-0 in the bottom of the fifth, the catcher knew she needed to help her team produce offensively, and for the second day in a row, Habitz successfully broke up a Michigan no-hitter.

With Habitz's late hit, the Lions' first run of the weekend was recorded, sparking a small rally.  Both Alyssa Sovereign and Shelby Miller connected with pitches following Habitz's success, driving in three additional runs.  Despite their best efforts, the Lions ultimately dropped the third and final game of the series, falling by a final score of 12-4.

"I just feel that should have happened a lot earlier," said Habitz of the team's rally.  "Our team has potential.  We can do it.  We just need to believe we can do it, and I feel like it just was time for someone to actually step up and show them that we can."

Habitz is now batting .351 on the season, acting as an offensive leader for her team.  Although the sophomore ended no-hitters both days of the series, she was quick to shift all focus back to her team, expressing the importance of stepping up when in tough, difficult hitting situations.

"She kept jamming us," said Habitz of Wolverine pitcher Haylie Wagner.  "That's her pitch.  Her go to is the curve on righties and screw away for the lefties.  We were expecting to see her most this weekend, so we practiced that all weekend, but she's good."

With the four-run final inning on Saturday came noticeable improvement from both games of Friday's double-header, where the Lions were held scoreless.  Head coach Amanda Lehotak gave much of this credit to Michigan's team, which she feels is under ranked and deserving of a spot in the top three.

Regardless of the skill of the Wolverines, Lehotak believes her team could have done a better job of executing routine plays.  Pressure situations and youth have played major roles this season, but the team's potential and resiliency is apparent.

 "I told the team yesterday, if you lose 22-0 or 1-0, you still lost," said Lehotak.  "It doesn't really matter.  Life punches you in the face, and it's about how you're going to deal with adversity.  To me it's a life lesson.  You can crawl in a hole and die and be embarrassed, or you can come back and crawl and fight and respect the game and respect Penn State."

Moving forward, the Nittany Lions will focus on the maturation of their younger student-athletes.  Lehotak fully believes a number of the team's struggles can be attributed to its overall inexperience.  For instance, both Penn State's second baseman and third baseman are freshman, which highlights the unseasoned nature of the team.

"I really think today honestly was youth," said Lehotak.  "You've got a shortstop who's never played shortstop before.  You have a freshman third baseman who's never seen balls hit like that before.  I think they got mental, and I think they got a little shell shocked to be honest."

The Nittany Lions will shake off this past weekend, focusing and preparing for their next games against Saint Francis (Pa.) on Wednesday night at Beard Field.  The first of two games in the double-header will begin at 5 p.m. and the second game is set to begin at 7 p.m.


Offensive Chances Stifled in Rainy Setback to Villanova

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By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The typically high-powered offense of the Penn State men's lacrosse team was subdued on Saturday in a 9-7 loss to the visiting Villanova Wildcats.


"We just didn't seem to have enough opportunities offensively to get it going," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "For whatever reason I just thought we played a little bit timid."

The offense was held to its second-lowest goal total of the season as the visitors stifled their late comeback effort in the fourth quarter. In each of the Nittany Lions' five losses, the team is winless when they are down or tied at halftime.

"In the second half we were trying to fight uphill and I'm not sure we are built to be that kind of a team to fight uphill and to come from behind," Tambroni said. "We are going to have to find a way to do that because it seems like we are there in a lot of these games."

Where was the offense that has put up double-digit scores in six of nine games on Saturday?

It was simply shut down by the Wildcats' control of possession and halted by turnovers.

"Between our shooting and our decision making offensively, I thought we gave the ball away far too many times in the first half to provide any rhythm," Tambroni said. "That ultimately became our Achilles' heel."

The weather certainly wasn't ideal for a game in late March, as the chilly temperatures and misting rain persisted throughout the contest. Penn State's 21 turnovers could have been a result of the miserable weather, but coaches and student-athletes didn't want to use that as an excuse.

"It seemed like it (the weather) affected us more in the first half more so with our overall stick work," Tambroni said. "I'd say more credit to the Villanova shooters and credit to their defense than the impact of the rain."

Despite the offensive miscues and the result, the team displayed several impressive aspects of its game. Faceoff man Drake Kreinz proved that his talents in the X could keep the team in a game regardless of a deficit while the defense played admirably against a formidable offensive attack.

The defense displayed its ability to adjust mid-game after they turned a lackluster first half into a more promising second half.

"At halftime we talked and just said that we needed to calm down and play the way we are capable of," said senior goalie Austin Kaut, who tallied a season-high of 13 saves.

Halftime adjustments held the Wildcats to three goals in the second half compared to six in the first half. Kaut registered eight saves in the second half alone and the defense was nearly perfect in it's clears.

"Our defense played really well," Tambroni said. "I thought mixing some man and some zone put us in a position to keep them off guard and keep them on their heels."

"But we just didn't get it done," Kaut said.

This setback drops the Blue and White's record to 4-5. Without the ability to compete in the CAA tournament, the team doesn't control it's own destiny to be called on Selection Sunday.

"At this point we are looking to do a little of everything to give ourselves a chance to break out of where we are right now," Tambroni said. "It seems like we are in a little bit of a slide, or a lot a bit of a slide."

With four regular season games remaining--two of which will be at home--the coaching staff is looking for ways to end the season on a high note.

"I don't think it is one person that is going to make the difference," the fourth-year coach said. "It's more of the collective mentality of our team."

The Nittany Lions will be on the road the next two weekends with trips to Drexel and Towson before returning home to round out the season. Next Saturday's faceoff with the Dragons is slated for 2 p.m. in Philadelphia.

"We just need to play with more confidence and composure these next games," senior Shane Sturgis said.

Nittany Lions Finish Home Matches with Senior Night

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By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
After seven matches on the road, the Nittany Lions returned to Rec Hall over the weekend, adding two more victories over Princeton (3-0) and George Mason (3-0) to their record of 17-6.

Having the opportunity to play two matches at home before heading on the road again for five more matches gave the players one last chance to play in front of a blue and white crowd and to feed off of their energy.

"We were just ready to be back at home," Nick Goodell said. "Traveling this whole time, playing in front of your home fans is like nothing else. We go to these other schools with big crowds and we have to play against them, but nothing's like being in the gym and playing in front of your home fans. It's nice coming back here and having more energy."

Traveling on the road since Feb. 28 can be taxing and a long process getting to the different venues. For the players, not being able to close out the matches over the past five weeks made it even longer.

"It got long because we were playing in games where we were so close and we were almost there a couple of times. When you do that a few times and come up short, it makes it feel a little bit longer. Last weekend against Loyola and Lewis, we were right in both of those games and were able to finish those matches. We know that we can do it now so coming home, we knew it was going to be a tough match so putting it all together was the objective," Matt Seifert said.

Using that momentum, Penn State played two tough matches all the way through closing out the matches well. Earlier this season, the Nittany Lions fell to Princeton 3-2 when they were on the road. The players and coaching staff were determined not to let that happen again as they swept the Tigers winning three straight sets 25-19, 25-13, and 25-20. Penn State saw a completely different match this time around against the same opponent.

"I think it can be said from both benches that that wasn't the team we saw a month ago," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "On our side of the net, our ball control was tons better. We kept their block off balance and more importantly, their defense off balance. We played with a relentless attitude and we weren't watching the scoreboard. We played to see how long we could string good to great play together and it paid off for us."

The serving game for the Nittany Lions clicked giving them an advantage over Princeton. Penn State put up seven aces with only nine errors and held the Tigers to two aces and 12 errors.

"I thought our serving put them in trouble," Pavlik said. "Aaron (Russell) had three aces and his first two serves were misses. I thought we were patient and Nick served extremely well. We caused them problems and we did a really good job with it."

After coming out strong against Princeton, the Nittany Lions continued building momentum as they defeated George Mason in three-straight sets 25-18, 25-17, 25-18.  With two strong EIVA opponents, adding this victory was a good way to wrap up the weekend before they head on the road.

"We were telling the guys all this week that this weekend was probably the biggest EIVA regular season weekend that we've hosted this year," Pavlik said. "They really pushed through and showed a real good effort. Now we look at the challenge going to Boston and playing Sacred Heart and Harvard."

Not only was it a huge weekend in terms of the EIVA opponents, it was also a chance for the program to honor their only senior Peter Russell.

"I could tell that they wanted to send me off with a win every time we went into a huddle. Everyone would say 'It's Pete's senior night - let's send him off with a win.' We never let off the gas, we were very poised and played really well for most of the 25 points of each match," Peter said.

Walking on the court with Peter were members of his family along with his teammate and younger brother Aaron. This match marked the last time the two brothers would play a regular season match together in Rec Hall.

"I think there's definitely a lot of emotion. There's a lot for me because Peter's my brother and the only senior we have. Peter's been able to lead us well and help us continue to work hard and push us. We wanted to send him off with an honor. That match was a reflection of our work recently," Aaron said.

The Russell family walked out with Peter as he was honored and he received the traditional senior blanket. Knowing his family could come to his last regular season match in Rec Hall made the night even more emotional.

"I knew they wouldn't miss that for the world. It's weird if they're not here at a match. They've made it to every home match this season and I knew they would be here to support me. That was probably the most people that have walked out a senior since I've been here. It's great to have the support - not just with my family but also with all of the fans too," Peter said. 

VIDEO: NCAA Regional Semifinal Postgame at Stanford

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PALO ALTO, Calif. - Head into the locker room following Penn State's setback to Stanford in the NCAA Regional Semifinals on Sunday afternoon.  The Lady Lions finish the 2013-'14 season with a 24-8 mark. Watch postgame remarks from seniors Talia East and Maggie Lucas.


LIVE BLOG: Lady Lions at Stanford - NCAA Sweet 16

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live in-game coverage on GoPSUsports.com for the No. 14/15 Penn State women's basketball NCAA Sweet 16 contest at No. 6/5 Stanford on Sunday, March 30 inside Maples Pavilion.

BLOG: What to Watch  | BLOG: Confidence at a High for Lady Lions Freshmen | BLOG: Tournament Headquarters

Be sure to interact with today's blog coverage with questions or comments at the bottom of our widget. Post your photos to Instagram or Twitter and use #PennState or #LadyLions and your photos may be chosen for use on our in-game coverage.


 

What To Watch: Penn State at Stanford - Sweet 16

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's basketball team will make their 13th appearance in the Sweet 16 today against No. 2 seed Stanford inside Maples Pavilion. The Lady Lions are 4-8 all-time in Regional Semifinals and are making their first appearance in the round of 16 since 2012.

BLOG: Confidence at a High for Lady Lions Freshmen

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Pregame Reading
What To Watch - Penn State

Leading at the Line: Penn State enters today's contest shooting 77.5 percent from the free throw stripe this season. That shooting clip is just off the school record pace of 78.2 percent set by the 2003-04 squad. The Lady Lions have made 581 of 750 free throws and seven players are shooting better than .730 on the season. Lucas is hitting 94.9 percent (185-of-195) from the charity stripe and Ariel Edwards is connecting on 81.6 percent (111-of-136) on the year.

Not So Sweet 16: Penn State has played in 12 previous Sweet 16 games and own a 4-8 mark in those games. The last time Penn State advanced to the sweetest of games, they fell to No. 1 seed UConn, 77-59, in Kingston, R.I. during the 2012 NCAA Tournament. This will mark the Lady Lions second trip to the Sweet 16 under Coquese Washington. Penn State last won in the Regional Semifinal round in 2004, defeating Notre Dame, 55-49.

Yelling Timber: Penn State will look to defeat Stanford in the NCAA Tournament for the second time this academic year. The Lady Lions will look to duplicate the effort of the women's volleyball team. The Cardinal and Lady Lions have met twice before, with both teams claiming a win. Stanford won the last meeting between the two schools in 2001 (90-68), while Penn State won the initial meeting in 1984 (73-63). Both previous meetings came on neutral floors.

What To Watch - Stanford

Redemption In Nashville: Stanford has advanced to the Final Four five straight times entering last season, but were unable to make it six in a row as they fell to No. 4 seed Georgia in the Spokane Regional Semifinals. The loss in the Sweet 16 was their earliest exit since the 2006-07 season when they bowed out in the second round. They are making their 21st appearance in the Sweet 16 and own a record of 16-4 in their previous 20 appearances.

Topping the Charts: Chiney Ogwumike has posted 24 double-doubles this season and been the leading scorer for the Cardinal 32 times. She currently owns the Stanford single season scoring record with 902 points this season and is the career scoring (2,673) and rebounding (1,532) leader for the Cardinal. The senior is also the only player in Stanford history to average a double-double for her career, pulling down 10.8 rebounds and scoring 18.8 points per game in her career.

Texas Two Step: Stanford's three leading scorers this season all hail from the state of Texas. Ogwumike (26.6 ppg) is from Cypress, junior Amber Orrange (9.8 ppg) prepped in Houston and Lili Thompson (8.1 ppg) is a native of Mansfield. Overall, the Cardinal has four players on their roster that hail from the Lone Star State, which is bested only by their six players from California. Four of their five starters are from outside the borders of The Golden State, with the trio of Texans and Ohio native Mikaela Ruef joining Sara James (El Dorado Hills, Calif.) in the starting five.

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

Confidence at a High for Lady Lions Freshmen

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Mitchell-Kaliyah (2).jpeg UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When you arrive on a college campus as a freshman there are a lot of things that you have to adjust to: new classes, being on your own for the first time, and interacting with a new, diverse group of people. There's a learning curve and it was no different for the Penn State women's basketball freshman class.

The group of six rookies arrived on campus in late August and began preparing for college life and college basketball. They've come a long way since that day and will suit up for a Sweet 16 matchup today in Palo Alto, Calif. against the No. 2-seeded Stanford Cardinal.

Even though the senior class accounts for a large chunk of the scoring and rebounding numbers, this group has made an impact in 2013-14. That impact has grown as the season's progressed and head coach Coquese Washington has noticed.

"Our freshmen have certainly improved over the course of the season," said Washington. "They're learning what their roles are and learning how to perform those roles night in and night out. Certainly, I think Peyton Whitted and Kaliyah Mitchell have really embraced being impact players off the bench."

Coming out of high school, all of them were ranked among the top prospects in the country and were the top players on their high school teams, which helped Penn State bring in the No. 6 recruiting class in the country.

Making the transition from the high school standout to the college game is tough enough, but cracking the starting five in a program that was led by a core group of seniors makes it a little tougher.

"Transitioning from high school to college was difficult," said Whitted. "The competition is better and the game is faster. In college, you have to take in a lot more information and learn a new system, but I feel like now we have all made a complete transition and we are starting to really fill our roles and know what we need to do."

Those roles Whitted alluded to have really taken shape over the last 19 games.

Mitchell and Whitted have both been key contributors off the bench for the Lady Lions, appearing in 31 and 30 games, respectively, and their growing confidence has led to more minutes for the duo.

Since Big Ten play started, Mitchell and Whitted have seen an increase in court time and that has helped alleviate some of the minutes that those four seniors had logged earlier in the season.

Mitchell played 16.9 minutes per game in the non-conference schedule and is averaging 17.3 since Big Ten play started, including 21.7 minutes a game in the postseason. For Whitted, it was 9.8 minutes in the non-conference and that grew to 11.6 minutes during the Big Ten slate and 12.3 minutes in the postseason.

"I think getting our confidence level up has been huge," said Mitchell. "As the games have passed, we continue to see that we can [contribute] in a lot of ways. We [the freshmen] have improved on our communication and that has helped us contribute more. Every game we get more comfortable with the game plan and understand what we have to do to help this team win."

Mitchell was big for the Nittany Lions in their second round win over Florida. She logged a season-high 25 minutes and contributed eight points, seven rebounds, two assists and four steals.

It was Whitted that stood out in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament vs. Wichita State. She played 22 minutes - her second highest total of the season - and scored four points on two-of-three shooting and grabbed five rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.

The freshmen are now more assertive and consistent with their game and that has helped them weave into the fabric of a veteran team.

"I think their confidence and aggressiveness have grown tremendously," said assistant coach Fred Chmiel. "They've done a good job of learning the system and they are starting to get more comfortable with what is happening on the court.

"They've also done a great job of learning to play with their teammates. Those four seniors have played together for a long time and now you throw a big group of freshen into mix and it takes time for them to build chemistry, but they've grown into a good cohesive unit now."

With more confidence comes more playing time and that leads to a better understanding of how one another will react on the court. Now this team of experience and youth will take to the court and look to advance to the Elite 8 with a win over the Cardinal.

However it ends up today in Maples Pavilion, this group of freshmen can only benefit from this appearance in the Sweet 16 and it can only help them as they move forward in their careers.

--LADY LIONS--

PHOTO BLOG - Lady Lions Sweet 16 Trip to Stanford

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PALO ALTO, Calif. - Check out some of the sights during Penn State's trip to California for the Sweet 16. The Lady Lions take on Stanford Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Saturday, March 29

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Friday, March 28

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VIDEO: NCAA Tournament Scouting Report - Stanford

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PALO ALTO, Calif. - GoPSUsports.com caught up with assistant coach Fred Chmiel following Saturday's practice at Stanford for a scouting report on the second-seeded Cardinal.  The Lady Lions meet Stanford on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2) in Maples Pavilion.