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Looking Ahead to NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament

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11478086.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On Monday, the Penn State women's soccer team (16-3-2) was named a No.1 seed in the 2015 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament.

This season marks the fourth time in program history that Penn State has earned a No. 1 seed. The seeding means Penn State would play at home on Jeffrey Field all the way up to the quarterfinals should it win each match. The semifinals and finals of the College Cup will be held in Cary, N.C.

The Nittany Lions will kick start their journey in the NCAA Tournament on Friday against Albany at 6:30 p.m.

Tournament Storylines


Inside Penn State's Quarter of the Bracket
The "University Park" region of the 64-team bracket presents a tough road for any No. 1 seed in the tournament. Eight of the region's 16 teams are represented in the top 40 of the RPI rankings, including four inside the top 18.

Big Ten Party
The Big Ten will send five teams to the 2015 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament. Four of those teams are featured in the "University Park" region of the draw: Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern. Rutgers, the remaining Big Ten tournament team, received a No. 2 seed in the Charlottesville Region.

Penn State could potentially meet Rutgers for the third time this season in the College Cup semifinals on Dec. 4, if both teams advance. The Nittany Lions could meet Ohio State in the third round and Minnesota or Northwestern in the quarterfinals. Penn State went 3-2 against the Big Ten tournament teams this season.

Familiar Foes
For the most part, the NCAA Tournament is focused on creating matchups against teams that didn't face each other during the year. As much as the bracket prevents this in the early rounds, it's impossible to totally avoid regular season rematches.

Penn State could meet some conversant rivals in later rounds, which could set up a few riveting rematches. Along with the three Big Ten teams accompanying Penn State in its region, the Nittany Lions could see quarterfinal contest against No. 2 West Virginia. Penn State dropped a hard-fought match against West Virginia earlier this season.

No. 2 Rutgers is a potential opponent for Penn State out of the Charlottesville region if the Lions and Scarlet Knights advance through the draw. The two teams split their two matches this season. Across the bracket, No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 Duke are two teams the Lions have already seen this season and are both in the Palo Alto region. Penn State defeated Stanford 1-0 and tied Duke 1-1 previously this year.

Round One: Scouting the Great Danes
The America East Champions enter the tournament riding a five-match winning streak. Most recently, the Great Danes upset conference rival Hartford by a tally of 2-1 in the America East title match to gain an automatic bid into the tournament.

Albany boasts three all-conference performers: Alexa Schneider, Vivian Vega, and Shelby Belak. Schneider and Vega head an offensive attack that led the America East in 2015 with 33 goals this season.

Friday's matchup will mark Albany's first ever NCAA tournament appearance. 2015 was a historical regular season for the Great Danes, as they won a program best 11 games.

Those 11 victories also came with eight loses. Albany's toughest test was against Dartmouth, which finished the season ranked 98th in RPI. The Great Danes didn't face any other team inside the top 100 in RPI.

Adversely, Penn State played five games against teams ranked inside the top 15 this year, including two against No. 4 Rutgers. The Blue and White won three of those five contests.

Teams to Look Out For
Keep a close eye on a number of teams in Penn State's quarter of the bracket.

St. John's (15-2-1):
The Red Storm enter the tournament as group to watch.

SJU went 7-1-1 in Big East play this season. The team is led by goal scoring machine Rachel Daly. Daly is third in the nation with 19 goals this season. Her 1.00 goals per game average ranks second in the country. She's accounted for 59 percent of her team's goals in 2015.

Daly is capable of going off at any point, and she has the firepower to single-handedly win games by herself. Penn State would potentially meet St. John's in a second round matchup if both teams win their opening games.

No. 4 Virginia Tech (14-3-2):
The Hokies are arguably the most talented 4-seed in the entire bracket. They finished the season with an RPI of 12, and notched impressive wins against No. 7 West Virginia and No. 13 Duke during the regular season. Virginia Tech also tied the No. 1 team in the country, Florida State, in its final regular season bout.

The Hokies were ranked as high as fifth in the country earlier in the season, and they have a very talented roster capable contending with anyone in the country.

Murielle Tieran leads the way for VT offensively. Despite missing two games this season, Tieran led the Hokies with 13 goals and 28 points. Virginia Tech has outscored its opponents this year 43-22.

Penn State could potentially meet Virginia Tech in the third round.

No. 2 West Virginia (16-2-1):
The Nittany Lions wouldn't face the Mountaineers until the quarterfinals, if all pans out, but WVU presents a big challenge to any team in the region.

West Virginia has an RPI of No. 7 and defeated Penn State on Sept. 4 by a score of 1-0. The Mountaineers lost to Texas Tech in the Big 12 semifinals, which marked their first loss since Aug. 23 when they fell to Virginia Tech.

Unlike most of the teams in the region, WVU's resounding strength is its defense. West Virginia has only allowed seven goals in 2015. Goalkeeper Hannah Steadman owns the second-best goals-against average in the country of .362 per game. The Mountaineers have outscored their opponents 48-7 and outshot them 467-107 on the year.

Nittany Lion Wrestlers Set for Season Opener

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11476355.jpegBy Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just two days away from the opening match of the season against Lock Haven, the No. 1-ranked Penn State wrestling team hosted its annual media day at Rec Hall on Wednesday.

"We are excited the season is starting," said head coach Cael Sanderson. "We've got an exciting team. We have some kids that are excited to get out there and compete."

The Nittany Lions enter the 2015-16 season with nine wrestlers ranked in their respective weight classes. Senior Morgan McIntosh leads the way as he is ranked No. 1 in the 197-pound weight class. Nico Megaludis (125 Pounds), Jimmy Gulibon (141 Pounds) and Zain Retherford (149 Pounds) all are ranked No. 2.  Jason Nolf (No. 6 at 157 Pounds), Jordan Conaway (No. 8 at 133 Pounds), Garett Hammond (No. 14 at 165 Pounds), Bo Nickal (No. 14 at 174 Pounds) and Matt McCutcheon (No. 14 at 184 Pounds) round out the ranked Nittany Lion wrestlers in the probably starting lineup. 

With the return of Retherford and Megaludis to the lineup, Sanderson made a few tweaks at the lighter weights classes to best serve the team. Megaludis returns from a redshirt season to his usual 125-weight class, bumping Conaway to the 133-division.  Gulibon jumped up to 141 and Retherford will wrestle at the 149-pound division.

For Retherford, the transition up a weight class will come with great confidence, as he is ready to start the season and accept the new challenges.

"I knew I was going 149 since the summer, so I kind of wrapped my mind around it for a while now, but I am excited about it," said Retherford. "The guys might be a little bigger and a little taller, but I'm excited."

For Conaway, he already has wrestled at the 133 division before and says how that experience has benefitted him when it came to making the switch to that weight class again this season.

"I definitely feel that I am stronger when compared to when I wrestled at 133 a couple of years ago," said Conaway. "I am just a little more mature for the weight class compared to a couple of years ago."

Sunday's match against No. 7 Virginia Tech poses a early season challenge for the Nittany Lions, but many of the wrestlers are looking forward to the experience as it prepares them for what's to come both in the regular and post season.

"Lock Haven is going to be a good test, but I'm excited to travel. First home match is going to be a lot of fun, but it's different to travel and wrestle after a Friday match and have to make weight again Sunday," said Retherford. "You get exposure to different things you are going to see later on in the season."

"That will be a real good test for us," said Megaludis. "I think their whole lineup is pretty stacked, so that will be a good test for all of our guys to go out there and fight."

The Nittany Lions open the season Friday with a match against Lock Haven at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall. Penn State then hits the road for a Sunday match against the seventh-ranked Hokies, which is slated for a 1 p.m. start. 

By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There's no place like home. However, for the Nittany Lions women's hockey team, home is a long way away. Starting this weekend, the Nittany Lions embark on a 12-game road swing that will take them from Robert Morris, to Syracuse to Ohio State and everywhere in between. The team will not take the ice at Pegula again until January 22, 2016.

Going on the road is something that every team has to do during the course of a season, but not many teams have to deal with the sustained length of a road trip that the Nittany Lions do right now.

If you ask any athlete, he or she will most likely tell you that they like playing at home better than on the road. It is easier, it is familiar and most importantly they get to play in front of the home crowd. However, going on the road can also be a great experience. It changes things up, can help with team bonding due to the amount of time the team spends together and the ability to win on the road is something that separates the good teams from the great. The Penn State women's team is no different; they enjoy the road trips, largely in part because it provides a change of scenery for the team.


"It's a nice change up," said Laura Bowman. "Our team likes to change things up; we don't like to do the same thing over and over again. We just had a home series so it's nice to get on the road now and we always have fun as a team on these kinds of trips."


As mentioned before, the team's road trip is a 12-game swing that doesn't bring the team home game until mid-January. Still, despite the length of the trip, the longevity doesn't bother the Lions.


"I think it would definitely be nice to have a few home games sprinkled in, but we have to go on the road at some point and we are always up for the challenge," said Bowman.


The good thing about many of these trips for the team is that they are all fairly close to home; the furthest the team has to travel is a Midwest swing to Ohio State. Other than that, all of the games will take place in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. This helps to cut down player fatigue, as does the travel schedule, which has the Nittany Lions arriving at each university a day in advance.


"We always show up a day ahead of time so we have a chance to get our feet back under us, because travel can make you a little groggy," said Amy Petersen. "We usually don't travel that far and if we do, we fly like we did to Lindenwood. It's kind of tolling, but we make it work and it's our job as a student-athlete."


Not only are road trips a chance for a team to showcase their ability to persevere in a tough environment, it brings the opportunity for team bonding. It is well documented that this Nittany Lion team is as cohesive a unit as there is out there and head coach Josh Brandwene has continuously said that they all get along like family.


"They love spending time together," said Brandwene. "So honestly, that makes all of our road trips very easy. The team has a collective great sense of humor and we love every aspect of these trips."


While players sometimes have unique routines before a game, the team's routine on the road generally stays the same. Coach Brandwene said they eat all meals together, have a pregame skate and prep for the game that day.


For a team that has many times been characterized as a family, Brandwene says that each road trip is a chance to become even closer as a unit.


"Having the opportunity to spend that time together as a family, in a different environment is always a great opportunity for us," said Brandwene.


The team will have plenty of time to spend together as the road trip kicks off this Friday against Robert Morris. The Colonials are currently 3-1 in conference play and should provide an early test for the Nittany Lions.  However, as it always is with the Brandwene coached team, the focus remains solely on what Penn State can control, themselves.


"Our focus is on us," said Brandwene. "We're focused on our game plan and doing what we need to do to improve and grow as a hockey team."


Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. on Friday, followed by a 3:05 p.m. start time the day after. 




Committed to the Process

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11474206.jpegBy Tony Mancuso
(Story Originally Appeared in Beaver Stadium Pictorial for Illinois Game)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Commitment.

It's a word used a lot in the realm of college athletics.

It's a word that has a different meaning to different people.

And it's one thing to say you are committed to something.

It's another thing to live by your word.

Christian Hackenberg's commitment didn't necessarily begin on Feb. 28, 2012, the day he elected to play for Penn State.

It began on the couch in the living room of the Hackenberg household in Palmyra, Va., Sitting there as a lanky high school kid who had just finished his freshman year, Hackenberg, along with his parents - Erick and Nicole - and eventual high school coach - Micky Sullivan - made a choice.

"As a freshman going into my sophomore year, my family and I were making a decision that would put me in the best position to be successful," Hackenberg said. "I didn't necessarily realize it then. I thought they were sending me over to a military school, but at the same time, I understood that from the big picture, it made sense."

Hackenberg enrolled at Fork Union Military School as a sophomore. He committed to the process, and he hasn't looked back since.

An Under Armour All-American, Hackenberg threw for more than 5,000 yards and 55 touchdowns during his three seasons at Fork Union. He led the Blue Devils to the state title game twice, including a championship in 2010. A five-star prospect by all of the major recruiting services, Hackenberg had his pick of resting places for his college career out of high school.

Leaning on his support system for advice, the insight Hackenberg received from Sullivan, a grandfather figure to the signal-caller, still resonates with him to this day.

"The ultimate factor in his advice to me was that if you get hurt on the first day of practice and can't play again, and are you going to be happy going to school there? That was the last question asked when we were talking about committing," said Hackenberg.

Then, why Penn State?

"I grew up in a blue collar, hard-working family," Hackenberg said. "My parents were always able to give my brothers and I everything we ever needed. We grew up in an awesome house. But competing, hard work, nose to the grindstone. All of those words kind of went in to what my family was when I grew up.

"That type of environment, the blue collar and do whatever it takes to get things done, when you step on campus here, that's what you feel. There are a lot of people on this campus who are that way. It's a great environment for someone like that. The resources are here. The ball is in your court to go out and work to accomplish what you want to do. I love that."

The scholastic standout officially signed a letter of intent to play for Penn State on Feb. 6, 2013, but things were far from smooth between the day he selected Penn State and the day he put ink on the paper to become a Nittany Lion.

While competing at the finals of the Elite 11 in Redondo Beach, Calif., in July of 2012, news began circulating that a major announcement pertaining to the Penn State football program was imminent. Hackenberg and his father landed in Richmond, Va., after the trip on the West Coast, ran to their car and listened to radio as the breaking news of unprecedented NCAA sanctions transpired.

In the days following the announcement on July 23, 2012, Hackenberg and fellow commits from the 2013 recruiting class had an important decision to make.

The families from that recruiting class, including Adam Breneman, Brendan Mahon, Andrew Nelson and Garrett Sickels, traveled to University Park just days after the announcement to meet with then head coach Bill O'Brien to find some answers to what might happen. Understandably, the families did not want their sons to commit and then have the entire team leave under the open transfer rule.

"Coach O'Brien sat there in the team room and handled the questions as good as he could," said Hackenberg. "I think he did an amazing job ensuring that the core group of guys understood his vision of what the team was, and then you let guys like Micheal Mauti and Michael Zordich take over. And they did. We are forever grateful for those guys because they still gave us a shot to come in here, compete and still be successful at a high level. That's something that often gets overlooked."

Simply put, Hackenberg could have chosen to play almost anywhere in the nation following the announcement of NCAA sanctions. And when he verbally committed to Penn State in February of 2012, he didn't sign up for scholarship limitations or a postseason ban.

But none of that mattered to a guy whose loyalty bleeds blue and white.

He wanted to be at Penn State.

Hackenberg arrived on the University Park campus in late June of 2013. Less than two months later, the 18-year-old became the second true freshman quarterback to start a season opener since 1910.

"This has been my goal ever since I was little, to be able to play major college football," Hackenberg said back in 2013 when Coach O'Brien made the decision mid-way through the pre-season.  "To be able to start my first ever college game is a huge attribute to the team around me and the coaching staff."

Hackenberg solidified his place in the starting lineup with a two-minute drill touchdown drive in Beaver Stadium during the team's first scrimmage of pre-season camp. Despite being just weeks removed from high school, the stage never looked too big for him.

"It was one of those things where I wanted it, but I wasn't quite sure what 'it' was," said Hackenberg. "I didn't know what to expect. And we didn't have any guys on the team at quarterback who knew what to expect. We kind of went in to the process blind as a unit."

Hackenberg threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 23-17 Penn State win over Syracuse in MetLife Stadium during his debut. He went on to set 10 school freshman game or season records in 2013.

"I think looking back, it was an awesome experience for me," Hackenberg said. "For me, it was kind of like, throw you into the fire a little bit and see how you react. As the game went on, we made some plays and it unfolded in our favor. That experience kind of set my mindset moving forward for the rest of my career, just to keep battling and moving forward and push through things. Looking back at it, it was tough, but it was a positive."

That fiber of pushing through adversity is what distinguishes Hackenberg. Playing quarterback at Penn State is far from easy. Expectations for the position are high, no matter what the situation might be. But No. 14 has done for three years what he knows how to do best - battle.

"Understanding that it's the reality of playing this position at any big school across the country. But being able to deal with some adversity and some things that may not have been expected when I first decided to come here, I think that goes back to the competitor inside me to just keep battling and find a way," said Hackenberg.

The circumstances have been far from normal for any Penn State player who has been on the roster during the past three seasons. There have been ups and downs along the way, but that's what Hackenberg takes pride in. As a leader, he has shouldered plenty, but the bond he has forged with the school and football program is powerful.

"When you hear things along the way that your career is going to fizzle because of the sanctions or you should have gone to Alabama, that stuff just angers me," said Hackenberg. "We all made a decision to come here, and we've been pretty successful under the circumstances and we've stayed relevant when people thought this program was going to die. To me, it's always been moving to the next thing and battle to maintain that level of standard so that this place can be a national championship contender in the future."

Though Hackenberg is a relatively laid back individual, he's a fiery competitor in every aspect of being a student-athlete. And he's a prideful man when it comes to his feelings for Penn State.

"I'm extremely proud of what we have been able to achieve collectively," said Hackenberg. "I'm proud of the guys I've played with every single year I've been here. Every single one of these guys are warriors in my book. I challenge any other program in the country to do what we did with the group of people that we had."

A story about the numbers Hackenberg has tallied or the school records he has set could fill a newspaper, and deservedly so. When his time is up in Happy Valley, the Virginia native will go down as one of the program's all-time greats.

Hackenberg's first three seasons have been marked by big plays, thrilling wins and the program's first bowl win after the sanctions were lifted - a moment Hackenberg calls his most satisfying to date.

But there is far more beneath the surface to what makes No. 14 special.

There is a reason why he has the ultimate respect of any player in the locker room. There is a reason why that no matter how many times he's been knocked down he always gets back up stronger.

"No ego is too big. No number means anything," Hackenberg said. "You have to go out and prove yourself each and every week and each and every day in practice. That's been my approach; prepare like a pro, practice like a pro and on Saturdays, just play hard."

Adversity does not outlast individuals with a mindset and work ethic like Christian Hackenberg.

And no one can ever question his commitment to the process in filling a position he loves at a place he truly cherishes.

"You just want to keep pushing and getting better," said Hackenberg. "You just want to keep trying to out-play the expectations. You want to keep trying to out-play the limitations that people put on us. That's what I live for. I want to keep out-dueling those expectations."

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Season Opener to Cap Off Big Week for Men's Hoops

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11475371.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion basketball team will open its 2015-16 with a great deal of momentum following a tremendous week for the future of the program.

After tireless efforts, head coach Patrick Chambers and the Nittany Lion staff inked the program's best recruiting class in its history on Wednesday with the announced signings of Nazeer Bostick, Tony Carr, Joe Hampton and Lamar Stevens. The 2015 signing class caps back-to-back recruiting classes that rank as the best two groups of incoming players in program history.

Enough cannot be said about the work Chambers and his staff put in to reach this point. The group has done a superb job laying the foundation of his vision for the program's future on and off the floor. Simply put, Chambers expects the Nittany Lions field a roster of high character student-athletes who play an entertaining brand of basketball with great effort and a positive attitude. And his vision is coming into focus as the Lions continue to build towards bright days ahead.

With a signing class that includes three of the top 10 players in Pennsylvania and ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation by major recruiting outlets, the Nittany Lions are assembling the pieces to supplement the foundation already in place for consistent success well into the future.

"It's a historical day for us," Chambers said. "We worked extremely hard to get to this point. It's been a long process, but we committed to the process. I'm so proud of our staff and how they stayed committed."

Hear more from Coach Chambers on an exciting signing day for Nittany Lion basketball following the team's reception inside the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday.

Season Opener Primer
While the news of the signing day is incredibly important for the program's future, attention now shifts towards the start of the 2015-16 season. The Nittany Lions welcome VMI to the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the season-opener. Led by former Nittany Lion great Dan Earl, VMI will be making its fourth trip to Happy Valley and first since a high-scoring contest in 2006. Penn State defeated the Keydets, 129-111, in the highest scoring game in BJC history.

The Lions made good progress during the pre-season, and Chambers is eager to see how the group performs when the lights come on. Penn State hosts DePaul on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the second non-conference game.

"We are competing at a high level right now," said Chambers. "We still have a long way to go. It's still a process. They have to embrace that process. And we have to just continue to get better every single day because you are playing with some seniors and some young guys. We've just got to get them meshed."

Saturday's game will be the first for Penn State under the new shot clock rules. The NCAA passed 25 new rules heading into the season, most of which centering on a reduction in physical play to enable more free movement. Additionally, the new rules include a 30-second shot clock.

GoPSUsports.com has you covered with pre-season coverage leading up to Saturday's season opener. Take a look through a host of video interviews to get primed for the 2015-16 season.

Coach Chambers Media Day Interview

Pre-Season Player Interviews:
Brandon Taylor
Donovon Jack
Jordan Dickerson
Shep Garner
Josh Reaves

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Bye Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin addressed the media following Wednesday's practice session at the Lasch Football Complex.

The Nittany Lions practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday of the bye week. The Lions return to action on Nov. 21 against Michigan. Take a look at an update from Coach Franklin on the team's week.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Freshman Features: Berger Looks to Continue Hot Streak

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11474096.jpegBy Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Tallying five goals and three assists in eight games, freshman forward Chase Berger has made an immediate impact in his first few weeks on the ice as a Nittany Lion.

Berger, who found success in the USHL with the Tri-City storm from 2012-15, has said the transition to college hockey has been smooth.

I think the biggest difference is just the strength of everyone," noted Berger. "I don't think its necessarily too much more physical but just the simple things, like getting the puck from down low, stuff like that, guys are a lot stronger on their sticks so it makes it tougher to kind of get to loose pucks and come out winning battles."

The St. Louis native, who will celebrate his 21st birthday on Saturday, was attracted to Penn State because of his familial connection to head coach Guy Gadowsky.

"My older brother Jack played for coach Gadowsky at Princeton and he was saddened when Gadowsky left, but I had heard great things about him," said Berger. "When I visited Princeton I was talking to some of the other guys who played for him for more years than my brother and they had nothing but great things to say about him."

When it came time to make a decision, Berger didn't hesitate.

"I decided [Gadowsky] was the kind of guy I wanted to play for," said Berger.

Already making a big impact on offense, Berger credited his older line mates for allowing him to be successful and to grow quickly with the team.

My line mates have been really good," said Berger of line mates Curtis Loik and Kenny Brooks, both seniors. "They've given me a lot of confidence to make plays."

The coaching staff has also given Berger many opportunities to prove himself early on this season, using Berger as a key member on both the power play and penalty kill.

I thank [the coaching staff] for giving me the challenges and I hope to keep being put into situations like that," said Berger.

More than a month deep in this season's campaign, Berger has settled in nicely with what is the identity of Penn State hockey. Berger's confidence has allowed him to remain calm in high-pressure situations on the ice and become one of the most consistent players in a Penn State sweater.

Although he has meshed well with his teammates, Berger still has more to learn from the veteran Nittany Lions. Berger spoke of what he's absorbed during his few months in Happy Valley.

Just how to work hard," said Berger. "At the same time it's a team atmosphere and it's not necessarily just about you. Everyone's different but when you come to the rink it's all about Penn State hockey and just being consistent."

As for his day-to-day routine, Berger knows it all starts with the basics in practice, from puck handling to always getting better on the ice.

Long-term, Berger stated that he doesn't look too far ahead, but rather focuses on the here and now of playing hockey at the collegiate level.

"I don't set too many long-term goals," said Berger. "I try to just take it day by day and be the best I can be every single day."

When prompted, Berger does however have a direction he would like to see the team head in.

"I think my short-term goal would be for the team to succeed, and if I can help that in any way," said Berger. "So I feel like if I'm pushing myself every single day that will help the team win."

Berger's dedication to the team's success will be put on display this weekend as he looks to continue his success in front of the opposing goalie's net and score more goals for the Nittany Lions. This will be the last time Penn State will play at home until Dec. 4.

Penn State hosts Sacred Heart on Friday at 7 p.m. and again Saturday at 4 p.m.

VIDEO: 2015-16 Wrestling Media Day Interviews

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VIDEO: Cael Sanderson Media Day Press Conference

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team welcomed the media to Rec Hall on Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of the 2015-16 season.

The Nittany Lions are slated to begin the dual match slate against Lock Haven on Friday at 7 p.m. inside Rec Hall. Head coach Cael Sanderson talked with the media for an open interview session with members of the team. Optimism is high for the Lions as they kick off a weekend that features a trip to No. 7 Virginia Tech on Sunday.

"We are excited the season is starting," said Sanderson. "We've had some good training. We've got an exciting team. We have some kids that are excited to get out there and compete. Our matches this weekend will give us a good idea where we are at, and then we will go from there."

GoPSUsports.com caught up with a host of wrestlers, including No. 8 Jordan Conaway (125 Pounds), No. 14 Matt McCutcheon (184 Pounds), No. 14 Bo Nickal (174 Pounds) and No. 6 Jason Nolf (157 Pounds) on media day. Take a look.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

A Journey Unlike Most Freshmen

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11473342.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Jelena Novakovic stepped on United States soil for the first time less than five months ago. The Belgrade, Serbia, native dropped life as she knew it to come to America to pursue her dream.

11473329.jpegHer dream was to come to the U.S. to get a quality education, while also playing volleyball. Penn State gave her the opportunity to do just that.

"I heard that players that come here have a chance to finish university and to play volleyball at a really high level," Novakovic said. "So that's the reason [I came]. I could have both education and volleyball here."

In Serbia, things are much different young athletes. They either choose volleyball or college; it is rare to do both simultaneously. Many volleyball players in Serbia go on to play professionally instead of attending college, but that wasn't the desired path for Novakovic.

She grew up in an athletic family, with a father who played professional handball and two brothers who played basketball and soccer. Novakovic tried tennis, swimming and ballet before she found her sport - volleyball.

She began playing volleyball at age 11. She played on club teams and the Serbia Junior National Team. When it was time to think about leaving Serbia to play volleyball in the United States, Novakovic sent her volleyball video to Penn State, among other schools, hoping she would get the opportunity to play in America.

"She was willing to take the jump and come to school in the United States to enhance both her volleyball and her academic future," head coach Russ Rose said.

Novakovic said she chose Penn State so she could play volleyball, study and be a part of the best volleyball program.

Before she knew it, it was time to leave home and start her journey in the United States. While it was a nerve-wracking experience for the freshman business major, Novakovic was eager to see what the States had to offer.

"I was excited because I didn't know what to expect. As soon as I got here, the first couple of days were strange, but after that I felt really good," Novakovic said. "I really fell in love with this place."

Going to college isn't easy for most freshmen, even those who live only a few hours away. Imagine being more than 4,500 miles from home. That's how far Novakovic is from Belgrade. Leaving her family and hometown behind was a challenge for her, but she said the more time she spends here, the easier it gets.

"It's like I chose to have a new life, a different life with a lot of opportunities," Novakovic said. "And I feel really good now.

Novakovic said her teammates also help make the transition easier.

"All of my teammates are there for me. They know that my parents can't come very often to watch me or be here," Novakovic said. "My teammates and all of my coaches are really good at helping me with that. They understand that sometimes it's hard, but it's really worth it."

With the season in full swing and the semester more than halfway done, Novakovic is adjusting well to her new surroundings.

"She's bright, she's very mature and she has good time management. Even though English isn't her first language, she's handling the academic load well," Rose said. "She's made a great and smooth transition."

Novakovic's favorite thing about being a part of the Penn State women's volleyball program is playing in Rec Hall. Thousands of screaming fans is something she's not used to after playing in Serbia.

"I've never experienced so many people who come to support the volleyball team. It's just amazing. Everything. The band, the Wrecking Crew, the whole atmosphere," Novakovic said. "It's something special."

Novakovic and the first-ranked Nittany Lions will continue their series of road matches on Wednesday against Iowa at 8 p.m. and on Saturday against No. 4 Minnesota at 8 p.m.

VIDEO: Lady Lion Pre-Season - Jaylen Williams

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com talks about the 2015-'16 women's hoops season with freshman forward Jaylen Williams. The Lady Lions open the season on Friday at 6 p.m. against Holy Cross.

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