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Men's Hockey Blog - PSU vs. UConn (10/10)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to's live, interactive coverage of Penn State men's hockey. Today, the Nittany Lions open their season at home against UConn.

Live Blog Penn State Men's Hockey Blog - vs. UConn (10/10/14)

By Astrid Diaz, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Four coaches from four distinct parts of the world made their way to Happy Valley this week to work with the Penn State track and field coaching staff and student-athletes as part of the International Coaching Enrichment Certificate Program (ICECP).

ICECP, which begins at the University of Delaware and works through the Unites States Olympic Committee, is a five-week intensive coaches' education program that gives candidates from around the world an opportunity to attend lectures and presentations in the United States for the benefit of their education and career.

Head coach John Gondak and company hosted Letitia Vriesde (Suriname), Andris Eikens (Latvia), Faris Abdulla (Maldives), and Nigatli Worku (Ethiopia) for the entire week sharing with them the track and field facilities, workout routines, coaching strategies, and introducing them to Penn State student-athletes.

Unlike any of their past trainings, the coaches were able to do hands-on work, which they eagerly described as their favorite experience thus far.

 "What I see at Penn State I don't think I will be able to see ever again," said Abdulla, a kids' coordinator for an athletics association. "It is so complex and everything I see here is so wonderful and I hope one day that we will get to this level. Our experience here is different because we finally got hands on experience. This is more practical and technical."

At their future stops, the coaches will be attending lectures and presentations so they were opportunistic in their time here.

"Here we have shared with coaches their practical knowledge and that's very different from attending lectures and doing projects," said Worku, a track and field coach at the national and junior levels. "I have attended a lot of training courses and this is by far the best one."

In their respective home countries, all of the coaches explained the lack of organization between academics and athletics commending the way Penn State intertwines the two. They explained that the structured system the University implements is by far the best method to success they have seen.

"The first thing I noticed at Penn State is that they have a very good system for athletes," said Abdulla.  Their scholarships and the coaching system...they have a systematic way of developing athletes. It is so hard to convince people and parents [back home] that sport is a way of life."

The coaches are pleased to see that Penn State develops athletes to represent themselves and also, their respective schools making athletics and academics a source of pride, which is very different from their normality.

"You are not competing for your university and it's not part of a system," said Vriesde, a coach at the Atlantic Club of the Future. "You go to school and, then, if you like to run, you go and join a club."

They were also blown away by the facilities available to the program. It became apparent to them why the student-athletes are so ambitious and motivated.

"The facilities available for the athletes make me think that there is no reason not to make it to the world class [level]. It's very impressive because back home we basically don't have any facilities, said Vriesde. "We run on grass. It's good to see everything that is done for sport achievement."

"I'm very pleased to see how highly motivated all the athletes are to compete here," said Eikens, a decathlon coach for his country's national team. "There are very, very good facilities and options."

The Nittany Lions impressed them and even though they say it will be decades before they see any change in their countries, they hope to one day work with athletes, parents, and schools as one to shed light on the importance of unity between academics and athletics.

The coaches have three more weeks left in the program and will travel to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado upon their departure from State College.


2014 Gameday Preview - Nittany Lions Travel to Michigan

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GAME BLOG: Michigan

Game Notes | Gameday Central | Michigan Scouting Report | Coach Franklin Wednesday

Press Conference Roundup | Coach Hand Q&A | Player Q&A Video

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a bye week, Penn State (4-1, 1-1) returns to action under the lights against Michigan (2-4, 0-2) on Saturday. Kick is slated for 7 p.m. with television coverage on ESPN2.

10418083.jpegThe Lions have posted four-straight on-field victories against the Wolverines, including a thrilling 43-40 four overtime win last season in Happy Valley. Michigan holds a 10-7 edge in the all-time series between the two schools, which both rank in the top 12 of all-time winning percentage in NCAA history.

Through five games, the Penn State defense has been tremendous. The Nittany Lions rank among the top-25 nationally in six defensive categories, including the top 10 in rushing, scoring and total defense. Additionally, Penn State is leading the Big Ten in scoring defense at 14.6 points per game. The unit has allowed 300 yards of total offense in just one game this season.

Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg continues to rank among the top signal callers in the Big Ten. He is ranked second in the conference with 295.4 passing yards, 22.6 completions and 302.2 yards of total offense per game. The wide receiver duo of DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lews is only the only set of teammates to rank among the top-25 nationally in receiving yards per game at 100.4 and 99.0, respectively.

Michigan enters Saturday's game looking to snap a three-game losing streak. The Wolverines suffered a narrow 26-24 setback to Rutgers last week. The Wolverines average 354.0 yards per game and remain the Big Ten's only offensive unit to convert all 15 of its red zone chances into points (12 TDs and 3 FGs). Michigan leads the Big Ten and is second nationally in fewest penalties per game at 3.33.

Saturday's game will feature two of the nation's premier college football programs. In addition to ranking among the top 12 in winning percentage, Penn State and Michigan are two of the winningest programs in NCAA history. The two teams are also among the most ranked programs in AP poll history, with the duo combining for 1,378 weeks in the national rankings.

Get primed for the 18th meeting between the Nittany Lions and Wolverines. Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week six matchup against Michigan.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
10418072.jpeg1. Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, the Nittany Lions are 15-11 in games contested after a bye week. The Lions took full advantage of maximizing last week's practice days. In addition resting the bodies of the primary contributors, head coach James Franklin and the coaching staff stressed film review and corrections as a mode of self-scouting the Nittany Lions as the season nears the mid-way point. Penn State lifted weights and practiced three times before taking a few days off at the latter stages of the week. The Lions returned to practice on Sunday refreshed and focused on the practice week at hand.

2. A big point of emphasis for the Nittany Lions leading up to the sixth game on the schedule is consistency. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg talked to the media earlier this week about the importance of each player on both sides of the ball doing his job on each play. From the pre-snap reads to the play itself, the Nittany Lions are seeking more consistency from each member of the depth chart. With consistency across the starting lineup comes a higher level of execution, which is what the Lions are focused on this week at Michigan.

3. Senior linebacker Mike Hull has been among the most productive defensive players in the Big Ten thus far in 2014. Leading the conference in tackling at 10.6 hits per game, Hull has been a disciplined and effective player throughout Penn State's first five games. The Pittsburgh native has a nose for the football and is a fundamentally sound player when it comes to tackling and putting himself in the proper position to make tackles. The quarterback of the defense, Hull has made 53 tackles in 2014, including 32 solo hits.

What to Watch For - Michigan
10418131.jpeg1. Without the services of starting running back Derrick Green (collarbone), quarterback Devin Gardner and sophomore running back De'Veon Smith become the focal points of the Michigan running game. Gardner is a dynamic player with good size (6-4, 216) and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. Gardner has completed 63 percent of his passes in 2014, to go along with 131 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

2. The Michigan defense has been stout during the first six games of 2014. The Wolverines are ranked 19th in the nation in total defense, allowing 315.5 yards per game. That figure includes 100.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 12th in the nation. Michigan has allowed just three rushing touchdowns this season and is holding its opponents to 2.93 yards per rush. Linebackers Joe Bolden and Jake Ryan lead the Wolverine defense with 48 and 46 tackles, respectively.

3. Junior Dennis Norfleet is ranked second in Michigan history in kickoff return yards at 1,977. He is one of just three players in Michigan history with more than 2,000 total return yards. Norfleet is averaging 23.6 yards per return on kickoffs this season. Norfleet also handles the punt return duties for Michigan.

The Final Word:
The Nittany Lions will play their second of three primetime games on Saturday in Michigan. Following the game, Penn State will have played in two road night games for the first time since 2008 (Wisconsin and Ohio State). The 2014 season marks the seventh time since 2000 that the Lions will play multiple night games in the season. It is the 15th-straight season that Penn State has played in at least one night game. Penn State owns a 40-26 on-field record in night games. That includes a 20-10 mark in road games under the lights. This week is just the third night game in Michigan Stadium history, but the first Big Ten night game. This game marks the fourth night game between Penn State and Michigan since 2000. Kick is slated for 7:02 p.m. on ESPN2.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Practice Update with Coach Brandwene

By Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "I think I strapped my skates on when I was three," said freshman defenseman Bella Sutton.

The versatile Nittany Lion newcomer who hails from Shoreview, Minn., was introduced to hockey at an extremely young age. However, in Minnesota terms, three years old is ordinary. In that state, hockey is not just a game. It's a lifestyle.

"Coming from Minnesota, it's not that you're expected to play hockey, but it's definitely a huge part," said Sutton. "There is a lot of pride that goes into hockey from Minnesota. So growing up in that area definitely translated to my love of the game."

Sutton arrives at Penn State as one of eight freshmen to join the progressive women's hockey program. Including herself into the mix, half of the newcomers are from Minnesota. To make Happy Valley even more welcoming for Sutton, five other teammates are native of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

"We definitely take a lot of flack being the Minnesota clan on the team," said Sutton. "But, it's nice to have those girls here just because they know home. It makes being here a lot easier." 

The five-foot-six defenseman, who previously played varsity hockey at Mounds View High School, chose the Blue and White for the same reasons many other student-athletes do. Sutton was attracted to the unique balance placed on academics and athletics. 

Sutton is studying biology with the hope of attending medical school after graduation. 

Medicine is something that has always interested me," said Sutton. "I always say I don't want to end up in a cubicle. I want to be doing something and learning something all the time in different situations; learning about myself and other people. I'm not sure what exactly I want to do with medicine, but I know I want to help people."

So far classes have gone well for Sutton, but she says that her Minnesota accent has provided a form of entertainment for her classmates. 

"Usually, the unique thing I say in class is that I am from Minnesota," said Sutton. "So, they know right off the bat that is where my accent is coming from. I definitely get made fun of for saying bag and bagel and what not."

Although a defenseman, Sutton has no problem joining the offensive rush. In her first game as a Nittany Lion, Sutton netted two unassisted goals and an assist the 5-2 win over Western in an exhibition contest two weeks ago. 

From a young age, I always wanted to be a part of offense," said Sutton. "They tried me at forward a couple times. I like defense way better, but I definitely like the scoring aspect of hockey. I love joining the rush."

Offensive defensemen are a rare breed, but when asked if she likes to compare her game to Pittsburgh Penguin defenseman, Kris Letang, she agreed. However, she feels her game mirrors other NHL players, too.

"Brent Burns who played on the Wild for a little bit," said Sutton. "He's playing [for the San Jose Sharks], but he's definitely a hometown guy that I look up to, and [Ryan] Suter as well now that he's come to Minnesota. I'm a hometown girl, so I love watching the Wild while focusing on my play and idolizing them."

The offensive-minded defenseman comes to Penn State with quite a resume. She participated in the USA Hockey U16 and U18 National Developmental Camps, earning spots on the All-Star team. Such experiences have helped ease the transition from high school to collegiate play.

"Definitely going to the camps widened my experiences by seeing other girls from all over, and not just playing with the Minnesota girls definitely helped my transition," said Sutton. "You learn about different teams out there and how they play. It made me appreciate Minnesota that much more for having the opportunity to play for my high school. But, playing with great athletes in the summer really helped me."

Minus a couple of food cravings that she cannot get at Penn State, the move from Shoreview to University Park as been smooth sailing thus far. 

"I really miss my mom's cooking," said Sutton.

Food cravings aside, expect to hear the name Bella Sutton in the next four years.

By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- From the Pac 12 and the ACC to the American League and the Big Ten, the Buttinger family has made the roster on 4 District I teams. Natalie Buttinger, one of seven siblings, is heading into her final stretch in her senior season with the Penn State field hockey team.

"We are all over, doing what we love," Buttinger said. "It's always great to call my sister at Duke and ask her how her field hockey team is. We talk game strategy all the time."

Buttinger, a native of Ontario, Canada, didn't pick up a field hockey stick until her freshman year of high school. An avid runner and ice hockey player, Buttinger never thought she could use her speed to her advantage in another sport. However, her older sister, who plays for the Candian National Women's Indoor Field Hockey Team, told her to try-out for the field hockey team.

After securing a spot on the varsity team, Buttinger's speed set her apart from others. Her varsity coach convinced her to try out for Team Ontario, a club team based out of Canada.

"I made Team Ontario simply out of luck," Buttinger said. "I had no skill, but I had my speed. I worked really hard with my coaches to built a skill set that matched my speed."

Hard Work Pays Off

Buttinger was a member of multiple championship field hockey programs including her four-time district championship high school team. She was named to the All-Star team all four years.

In her senior year alone, the captain netted 53 points (includes assists/goals). Buttinger's senior team was the first in school history to take home the Central Western Ontario Secondary School Association Championship, after posting a 17-2 record including 16 shutouts.

"We are a big ice hockey and running family so getting into field hockey was all luck," Buttinger said.

Coming to the States...and the Big Ten

"In Ontario, we don't play on astro turf," Buttinger said. "We play on more of a grass surface. "The hardest transition for me from playing in Canada to playing in America was how fast the game is."

Buttinger started her Penn State career in 2010, but due to a knee injury, she was forced to redshirt the following season.

"It was hard from playing non stop to not being able to pick up a stick," Buttinger said. "One of my proudest was coming back from that injury."

Since returning, Buttinger's play has only gotten better. After appearing in a combined 20 games in her sophomore and junior seasons, she has solidified her spot on the Nittany Lion roster. While her name is often attached to assists or goals, Buttinger is a huge contributor on both offense and defense. She is always around the ball, setting up scoring drives and serving as an option for the defensive pass.

"I think my biggest contribution or my purpose on the team is passing," Buttinger said. "I never measure a game based off my goals or assists, its all about the wins and losses for me."

Looking ahead...

The Nittany Lions head to College Park, Md. Friday to take on Big Ten newcomer Maryland.

"It's going to be a great game," Buttinger said. "We are ready to welcome Maryland to the Big Ten."

Fans can watch Buttinger and her fellow Nittany Lions on the Big Ten Network at 3:30 p.m. this Friday. 

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Owen Griffith can't recall the first time he attended a Penn State sporting event.

It's not because he has a bad memory. He was just a little too young to remember.

"Oh gosh, probably before I was a year old I was up at something," Griffith said. "My mom and dad were always bringing me up to football games, soccer games, women's basketball, you name it."

Griffith, a senior midfielder on the Penn State men's soccer team, has been a Nittany Lions fan since birth. His parents, Sam and Amy, are both graduates and raised their son to bleed blue and white.

Today, Griffith is the captain of the No. 3 ranked team in the nation. While that may sound like a pretty sweet situation for any college soccer player, it means a bit more to him.

Growing up 45 minutes outside of State College in Lewisburg, Pa., Griffith only had one major aspiration growing up and only one school where he wanted to pursue it.

"My teachers would laugh when I was little because I would say I wanted to be a pro soccer player, and they would laugh and say, 'that's way out of reach,'" Griffith said. "But I've playing since I was little and I'm just following my dream.

"Playing at Penn State is an absolute honor and I'm thankful everyday to realize my dream. When I finally committed here, my mom was so happy because it's just a tradition for my family."

As a junior at Lewisburg Area High School, Griffith knew he wanted to play for Penn State but didn't feel like the interest would ever be mutual. That all changed the next year when Bob Warming was hired as head coach of the Nittany Lions.

During a senior season in which he was named first team All-State, Griffith began to be recruited by Warming. Although he was also drawing interest from a number of Big Ten schools, the lifelong Nittany Lions fan made his intentions clear to the coach.

"As soon as I started talking to him, I told him, 'coach, if you'll have me there's not another choice in my mind,'" Griffith said. "Sometimes that's a risky thing to tell college coaches in the recruiting process because it could maybe give them the upper hand. With coach Warming, he's such a trustworthy guy that he just had my best interest in mind."

Even if Warming didn't have a spot on the roster for him, Griffith says he still might have picked Penn State anyway.

"I was definitely thinking about [coming to Penn State just as a student]," Griffith said. "When I was in the recruiting process I had a couple of other schools in mind. But Penn State was always in the back of my head like, 'even if I don't play soccer in college...there's still Penn State and I would love to go there.'"

Luckily for both parties, things worked out and Griffith has been a mainstay for the Nittany Lions ever since.

Although he entered 2014 with two All-Big Ten second team appearances already on his resume, the senior has in many ways saved his best performance for his last season.

As the team's defensive center midfielder, Griffith doesn't get on the stat sheet much with just one goal and one assist in Penn State's first 11 games. He has however, been the leader of a defense that posted nine shutouts and allowed just three goals in that same time frame.

While Griffith has been invaluable to a Penn State squad that is 10-0-1 a year after reaching the Sweet 16, he rarely talks about himself. Instead, he credits his development as a player to his coach.

"[Coach Warming] is the most knowledgeable soccer coach and he's taught me so many things," Griffith said. "I've always been an athletic and fit guy but there were a lot of aspects of my game I could improve and he's just made me a better soccer player."

Despite the midfielder's talent on the field, the first that comes to mind when you ask his coaches about him is his leadership. And for good reason.

Two years ago, Warming approached Griffith with a proposition. He wanted the 19-year old sophomore to be one of the team's captains, a role he has held ever since.

"He's a culture changer," Warming says. "He is one of those guys that has improved every aspect of his game. He's been a great citizen off the field, he's been great in the classroom, he's been a real teammate. For me, if there's a reason why were doing so well it's because of him and the seniors."

What exactly makes Griffith such a terrific leader? According to his teammates, it's the way he leads by example.

This Wednesday, Griffith and a number of other seniors were given the day off. Instead of relaxing, the third-year captain had a better idea.

"We went for a 10-mile hike yesterday, just on a whim," senior defender Eli Dennis said. "He's really active and always go-go-go. He's game to do whatever you want to do."

Though his time as a Nittany Lion will soon be coming to an end, Griffith has no plans to walk away from soccer entirely.

A kinesiology major, Griffith hopes to join the coaching ranks after he decides to hang up his cleats, though he doesn't know when that will be.

"I'd like to play after school, and depending on how long that lasts I'd like to go to grad school for exercise science," Griffith said. "I think that would make me a marketable soccer coach. A former soccer player with a masters level knowledge of how the body works in terms of the game I think would make me a very marketable coach."

Until that day, Griffith will keep living out the dream of a kid who went from sitting in the Jeffrey Field bleachers to starring on the field.

"To be part of the sports community at Penn State that people are so fired up about," Griffith said. "It's amazing." 

Nittany Lions Set to Open 2014-'15 Season

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's hockey team is set to open its season at 7 p.m. Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena against the University of Connecticut. The Huskies currently hold a 2-0 series advantage over the Lions, which is a statistic Penn State hopes to even up with this weekend's home series.

Limited Practice Time

The Lions had their first official practice of the season Saturday morning, allowing very little time to prepare for the Oct. 10 season opener. Regardless, the team worked hard during both this first week with the coaches, as well as during captain's practices over the course of the past month.

Prior to the start of official practice, the Penn State coaching staff was limited to just eight hours a week on the ice with the team, meaning much of the practice planning landed on the shoulders of captains Patrick Koudys, Nate Jensen and David Glen.

"We had 30 minutes four times a week, so the captains were responsible," explained head coach Guy Gadowsky. "They'd warm up the team, and I don't know what they did. That was up to them. We'd come on and run what we went over the meeting before. Then we'd get off the ice, and it was up to them again."

Despite the time restraints, Gadowsky made the most of the time he had with his team, touching on all aspects of the game as quickly as possible. This approach has changed now that timing is no longer an issue.

This week, Gadowsky chose to focus on parts of the game the team has struggled with in the past. Addressing those specific issues will help the Lions become a better, harder team to play against.

While the team may not feel as prepared as they would like for this opening series, one thing is certain. Penn State is much further ahead than they were October of last year.

"I think part of that is just that there's a lot less newness to what we're doing," Gadowsky said. "We've been in the building. We didn't have to move in the building. There's not a lot of fanfare in terms of this is the first ever game in Pegula, so I think our focus is a lot more in the present, which is a good thing.

"Last year, was tremendously fun. We're very grateful to go through that experience, but I think it's probably easier to stay in the present this year. That's one factor. The other factor is we have a lot of returning players that are already familiar with what we do, so we're trying to get the three new guys acclimated, but as a whole, we're in a much better place."

The number of returning student-athletes is something Jensen also believes will greatly benefit the Lions. The team chemistry is already present, and everyone is ready to pick up where they left off.

"It feels like the end of last year," the defenseman said. "We have pretty much the whole team back. We have a couple new guys that are just getting used to the system. They're stepping in right away, but it pretty much feels like we're coming in from last year."

Taking on UConn

The Lions and the Huskies met for the first time during the 2012-'13 season, Penn State's first as a Division I hockey program. Although the Lions were swept during the series, it is clear that they are now a much more mature, experienced team.

Nevertheless, Gadowsky still believes the major focus needs to be on his team, as opposed to scouting the Huskies, in order to properly prepare.

"We still have so much of us that we're not going to waste any time," explained the head coach. "We were even asked if we want tape. We do not. We are focusing on us solely."

Even with the main focus on Penn State, Gadowsky knows this UConn team will be much different than the one he and the Lions faced merely two years ago.

The Huskies are set to begin their second season under head coach Mike Cavanaugh and their first season in Hockey East.

"I think he'll do a tremendous job there in his second year," Gadowsky said of Cavanaugh. "You're going to start to maybe see a little more of his personal identity. By only graduating four and bringing in nine, it sort of looks like to me that they're probably moving in a new direction."

Loik, Glen, Brooks

Preparing for Friday, the Penn State coaching staff has decided lines for the 7 p.m. puck drop; however, only one of these lines is completely set in stone.

Forwards Curtis Loik, Glen and Kenny Brooks have played on a line many times before, and Gadowsky is confident they will be successful again this season.

"That line sort of automatically seemed to have synergy from day one," explained Gadowsky. "We always toy with moving them apart and getting other things going, but they somehow seem to gravitate together."

Gadowsky expects this line in particular to be "incredibly difficult to play against" and is ready to see what they can do against the Huskies this weekend.

Return to Pegula

With the season's start comes taking the ice at Pegula Ice Arena once again and competing in front of the student section, which the team and coaches cannot wait to do again.

"This is the best rink in college hockey," said Jensen. "These guys are just awesome and so loud and just so energetic. I can't wait to step on the ice."

Student season tickets sold out within just minutes this year, meaning the students are ready to pack into the Roar Zone, to cheer loudly for their team, but most importantly, to watch Penn State hockey again.

"Every time the game ends, it's so much fun with the student section that we just can't wait to play again," said Gadowsky. "It's finally here."

Whitney Fuels Lions to Sweep Past No. 24 Northwestern

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10417629.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney went into this week's practice knowing that she needed to improve on blocking and transition balls. Whitney displayed that she achieved what she had strived for by leading Penn State's offense with 12 kills on .500 hitting as well as a match-high of seven blocks in Wednesday's sweep (25-20, 25-17, 25-17) against No. 24 Northwestern.

The Nittany Lions have now won their last 23 consecutive matchups against the Wildcats, which gives Penn State a 47-8 lead in the series.

"She was the leading scorer in the match and I appreciate her effort tonight," said head coach Russ Rose. "I thought she played well and it's nice when somebody gets a chance to get recognized."

Aiyana was particularly dominant in the third set, which provided Penn State with the momentum that it needed to finish off the match. She recorded three points for the Nittany Lions by making three kills in a row after the Wildcats received senior Micha Hancock's serves. Hancock tallied 30 assists, seven digs, three blocks, and a match-high of four aces.

Junior Megan Courtney also logged double-digit kills with 10 kills on .400 hitting. She also had eight digs and two blocks. Senior Nia Grant followed close behind with seven kills and senior Dominique Gonzalez held the team together with 10 digs.

Though Penn State came out with a win, Whitney believes that there is still much more to improve on.

"[Our energy coming out of the gate] wasn't our best, that's for sure. I think all-around it kind of lacked emotion and that's a huge part of the game," said Whitney. "I mean, energy-wise, if we don't pick that up, then the game could easily go the other way. Personally, my blocking was what I really wanted to focus on and I think it's something that I've been struggling with in the middle position. It's new to me and it's something I've been trying to work on."

Coach Rose also recognized that the team has a lot to work on before Saturday's match against No. 15 Illinois.

"I think our blocking is an area that needs to be better and just court awareness. There were some plays out there that players had no idea what was going on. Just because you win, doesn't mean you know what's going on," said Rose. "I didn't think anybody came ready to play. Practice has been like that for a few days. You watched our match last week on TV, that's what it looked like, so just no emotion, no real leadership out there - it was pretty disappointing. It would be fine if it was a recreational team and we were deciding where we were going to go afterwards for a snack, but that's not how I look at the last five decades that I've been coaching at Penn State."

Penn State will be welcoming No. 15 Illinois to Rec Hall at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Fighting Illini forced a fifth set at Ohio State Wednesday evening after falling into a 2-1 deficit, but fell short to the Buckeyes to drop to 11-5 in the season and 3-2 in the Big Ten.

"We saw Illinois at the beginning of the year and since then, they've played much better, so I mean, Illinois is strong in all positions," said coach Rose. "They've got veteran players at the pins and they're going to be pretty fired up after losing a five-game match [last] night at Ohio State. You know, life on the road in the Big Ten is very, very tough and we need to make it tougher than it was today. The girls need to work a lot harder. We'll go hard [today] at practice. I want to find out who wants to play."

Coach Rose wants to see the team continue to grow.

"The expectations are high here. The players who are recruited, the expectations are high and that's the way it should be," said Rose. "So if you look at results, I don't think that's the best way to look at things. I think performance makes the difference."

Whitney hopes to build on the success for this weekend's match.

"We got to be ready to play," said Whitney.

Michigan Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Herb Hand

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10417665.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State running game coordinator and offensive line coach Herb Hand spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions travel to Michigan on Saturday Take a look at a Q&A with Hand during the bye week.

Q: What do you think the bye week did for the offensive line and how much progress have you seen from the group since the start of camp?
"When you watch guys on a daily basis, sometimes it is good to go back and turn on the film from the first day of practice and see the progress the guys have made, not only individually, but collectively. Even going back to the beginning of the season. What we were able to do during the bye week as coaches was a lot of self-scout. We took time to get into what we were able to accomplish during the first five games. And then look at what we needed to get better at...We were able to do that during the bye week. And then go back in from a practice standpoint and really hone in on, again, those fundamentals and techniques that each guy has to execute for us to be successful collectively as a unit, which is obviously going to help us an offense and help us be the best team we can. During that open, those opportunities for self scout were very valuable for us."

Q: How would you assess the play and development of the offensive line?
"We're not there yet, obviously. We've gotten a lot better. Sometimes it's hard to see, but we have gotten better. We don't temper our expectations and our standards. We have a standard that we want to play at as a unit because we know the standards that are here at Penn State. We are working hard to achieve those. We are being very demanding to the guys to be attention to detail players. Is there a process that goes along with it? Yes. At this point in the season, there are no more rookies. Guys have played in games. There are no more rookies. No one cares about that stuff, to be honest with you. I've told the guys from the get go that nobody cares we had to replace four guys. Nobody cares that we have inexperience or some of the guys were playing defense (last year). No one cares if you are banged up or bruised up. What they want to see is results. That's what we are striving for and that's what we are working hard for. I can tell you this that the work ethic of this group is tremendous. But hard work doesn't guarantee you success. There are a lot of other factors that go into it. But without hard work, you have no shot. These guys work. When is that going to come to fruition for us? Hopefully sooner rather than later, but it is a process and the guys are working extremely hard to paly up to standards they have set for themselves."

Q: What have you seen from the communication across the group?
"We always talk in terms of wanting our guys to play with one set of eyes. When you think about it, from tackle to tackle, you have five guys in there. Statistically, that is almost half of the offense from a numbers standpoint. We want all five of those guys to play with one set of eyes and what we call one heartbeat, as well, so that we are all on the same page. We have got to be able to talk across the board, echo calls, make sure everybody is on the same page. Even if we are wrong, if we are all wrong together, we have a chance to be right. But if the right side and the left side are not working in coordination together, we have no shot. It starts with our center. Angelo (Mangiro) has done a great job with identifying fronts and the communication progression on every single play...There is a process that goes along with communication (across the line). And each week that has improved. We hope that we will continue to improve that as we go through the season. And we hope that it will be a big part of the improvement that people see on Saturday."

Q: How have some of the younger guys behind your starters progressed as the season has gone on?
"Those guys are doing good. We have several freshmen who are in our two deep and travel squad. James (Franklin) has kind of talked to you guys about green lighting, yellow lighting and red lighting younger guys. We have a few freshmen who are yellow lighted guys right now that are taking reps in practice and developing. They are getting closer to being guys that we could use if we needed to. We don't necessarily want to use those guys unless we have to. The other guys, we basically have about eight guys who have taken the majority of the reps for us. Wendy Laurent, Derek Dowrey and Albert Hall are kind of our three main backup players. They have to be able to play multiple positions, which they do. Dowrey has repped at both guard positions. Wendy has repped at all three inside positions. Albret has repped at basically every position but center. When you are preparing for a game, you are getting eight guys ready. Those guys have to be multiple. And those guys are developing nicely. We'll see how that works out for us this weekend if we need to work some of those guys in. They are certainly ready, repping and preparing like the starters."

Q: You are cooking for the group next week. Are you looking forward to that and what do you have planned for the meal?
"We are either going to do it on Monday or Wednesday, probably leaning more towards Wednesday. I'm going to fire up my smoker and throw down some pork shoulders and brisket. We are going to do a nice little barbecue deal with some fixin's - coleslaw, baked beans, corn on the cob - kind of a meat and potatoes type of meal. Nothing real fancy, but it's going to be made with a lot of love and it is going to be delicious. I'm looking forward to cooking for these guys."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Michigan Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin provided an update to the media following Wednesday's practice session at the Lasch Football Complex. The Nittany Lions return to action at Michigan on Saturday (7 p.m. on ESPN2) following a bye week.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony