By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As a collegiate athlete, when you commit to a school, you are committing to the coach and program, too. For senior Krystal Welsh, her commitment to Penn State wasn't something that was going to change with a shift in coaching leadership; she was meant to be a Nittany Lion.
"We are so happy she stuck with us from the beginning," women's gymnastics head coach Jeff Thompson said. "She committed to the previous coaching staff and she could have left if she wanted to. But, she stayed and we are, have been so grateful for that."
Four years ago, the then freshman began her collegiate gymnastics career as an all-around competitor. The Maryland native and Junior Olympic Nationals competitor was excited to continue competing close to home so her family would be able to watch her preform regularly.
"As soon as I stepped on this campus I knew it was for me," Welsh said. "I absolutely loved it, everything about this place felt like home. Looking back, we were such babies when we were freshman; I know I have grown so much as a person since then."
Being an all-around competitor is no easy feat and even harder for a rookie. Welsh's confidence in her craft and ability to perform in every event has helped guide a rather successful career for the Nittany Lion.
As a freshman, she competed in every meet for the Nittany Lions, including the NCAA Regional Championships. She claimed her spot in the starting rotation from the get-go, a spot she has owned for four years.
"Every year of competing in college has helped me learn how to step up," Welsh said. "I have learned so much about myself and have learned how hard I can push myself."
If Welsh's career at Penn State could be summed up in one word it would be consistency, a word Coach Thompson has used to describe her on more than one occasion. She has been present in the rotation for every meet, except on two occasions, in her entire career. It wasn't until her senior year where she missed a stick on vault for the first time.
"She has been an all around competitor from the start," Thompson said. "She is just a joy to watch. She is incredibly consistent, which gives her confidence. Confidence is contagious. She has such a positive attitude and that is contagious, too. Krystal [Welsh] just gives off this 'I know I am going to rock this routine' vibe and it rubs off on the whole team. That is something I am going to miss about her."
The senior has taken on a 'big sister' role on the team, not just because of her success in the gym, but for her innate leadership skills. Her leadership doesn't go unnoticed, as she is a member of the Athletic Director's Leadership Institute at Penn State and was a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Honoree this year.
"She leads quietly," Thompson said. "She leads by example. Krystal could be having a bad day, but you would never know it. She never brings a negative attitude into the gym because she knows that people look up to her. When one of the younger girls is having a bad day, she is the first to take them aside and talk it out with them."
Welsh's innate big sister qualities have not only made her a great role model, but have influenced her desire to pursue a career in a field where she can help people.
"I want to be an Occupational Therapist," Welsh said. "I have had to come back from injury, I know how hard it is physically and mentally. I want to be able to relate to people in that sense and use my experience to help someone else."
Much like Welsh, gymnastics is a unique sport. Where most collegiate sports opportunities can lead to professional opportunities, gymnastics works in the opposite direction. Typically, gymnasts will work towards the Olympic team before coming to college. Looking back on the past four years, Welsh has no regrets on the path that she chose.
"I am happy with what I have done," Welsh said. "Sure, we set goals each week and at the start of the season, but I have accomplished all that I have wanted to do in this sport. This sport has taught me so much, lessons I know I will take with me after I graduate. I am going to miss it."
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By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the indoor season in the books, Penn State track and field has revved up new energy and is ready to begin the 2015 outdoor campaign.
Contrary to most people's opinion, the outdoor and indoor seasons are two different animals and each one requires a renewed sense of motivation, training, and skill.
The outdoor season lasts longer and introduces new events both on the field and on the track such as the javelin throw, hammer throw, and discus.
It also comes along with a new set of challenges such as the weather, in-meet ambiance, and traveling.
The new season, which lasts from mid-March to mid-June, will take the team to the warm and sunny outdoors of Florida, Louisiana, California, and Georgia, to name a few.
"Indoor is sort of a meets to an end. Without the indoor season we would just be training for months without any meets and that would be draining," said assistant coach Randy Bungard. "We train mostly to do well outdoor. Indoor is important to us but we train to peak and run our fastest outdoor."
The sprints and middle-distance runners see the most difference in the transition from inside to outside with addition of 4x100-meter relay, 10,000-meter run, 400-meter hurdle race, and the 3,000-meter steeplechase events.
"The 4x100 [relay], everybody loves that event. It's so fun," said Bungard. "Sprint medleys, the Penn Relays...those are fun. That's where you bring in the team aspect of it. Penn Relays is one of our favorite meets of the year. There's a lot more variety outdoor with relays, traveling. It's just better."
Outdoors also brings a much bigger track, usually double in size, 200 meters to 400 meters in circumference. It doesn't bank outdoors as it does indoor and it has longer straight edges with fewer turns, which sometimes works to the advantage of the athlete.
"The big difference is that if we're going to run a 200 [meter race] outside, you just have one huge turn and a straight away. Turns slow you down a little bit. [Indoor] if you're going to run a 200 you have to run with two slow curves. Naturally, by the facility, times will be faster outdoor," said Bungard.
Staying stable and motivated can be difficult for student-athletes since the there is such a seamless transition between seasons that doesn't allow for much rest.
"They way I keep the kids from burning out is to keep some tempo in their work outs. From the beginning of the season to the end in June or July, there are days that we will [train at] 75% tempo. That is how you keep them from burning out. It holds off the peaking. And a big thing is having a couple rest days in there. [It's] is important," said Bungard.
With proper training, student-athletes trust that they will remain in tip-top shape, which gives more room to simply enjoy what they do.
"[The athletes] get more excited and motivated. They get to travel and to warm weather places," said Bungard. "You have the weather and sometimes some tail wind...you have to deal with the elements outdoor which you don't [indoors]. The kids and coaches just like outdoor better. You're in the sun. You're outside. It's just a better atmosphere."
The indoor season brings a more intense environment with the enclosed facility and small space for fans, student-athletes, and coaches to be closer amongst each other.
However, the opposite can also be the beauty of the outdoor season - the independence of the student-athletes allows them to be focused and unstoppable.
"I like the indoor meets because the track is right here and the [fans] are right here... it's like a three ring circus. During outdoor, javelin is here and the discus is over there... the track is huge you don't have that intensity. But on the flip side I like that about outdoors. We train to be independent," said Bungard.The team is set to begin its outdoor season on Friday, April 3rd when they travel to Gainesville, Florida and Palo Alto, California for the Florida Relays and Stanfo
During the next two weeks, we will take you inside practice with sights and sounds from spring ball. Today, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan gives the fans a taste of a day working with the Nittany Lion tight ends..
Penn State will practice in full pads on Wednesday afternoon and again on Saturday morning.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Rob Cooper knows his team's season won't be defined by one game, one series or one week. But, he also knows that his team's season can be moved in the right direction after one game, one series or one week.
Penn State had a weekend just like that as they swept Central Connecticut State, marking the program's first home series sweep since May of 2012 against Illinois.
"I'm just really proud of our guys this weekend," Cooper said. "It was something we challenged them with was that since I've been here we haven't had a true sweep. Our guys really wanted to go and get that and we did a heck of a job."
The Nittany Lions outscored the Blue Devils 22-6 on the weekend and received three promising starts from starting pitchers Nick Hedge, Taylor Lehman and Nick Distasio. Two of those players, Lehman and Distasio are a part of a cluster of freshman that have contributed all season, including in big ways this weekend.
Lehman gave up one hit in seven innings in game one of the Sunday double header striking out eight and walking just two. Biasi came in relief for the final two innings allowing just one hit and striking out three. Distasio followed their performance allowing four hits in six innings while striking out five. Both starters received their first career wins, as well.
"One thing that's been cool, whether it's been both of those guys or Nick Graham, Marko Boricich or Sal Biasi, you have some true freshman that are making an impact and doing some neat things," Cooper said. "Mixing them in with the veterans is a neat deal."
Penn State's veterans certainly matched the performance of its younger players over the weekend, especially offensively. Seniors Ryky Smith and Aaron Novak combined for 14 hits and seven RBI on the weekend leading Penn State's offensive attack, much to the liking of their starting pitchers.
"It was a great feeling having these guys behind me getting a lot of runs on the board because it's a lot easier to pitch when you are up that big," Distasio said.
Novak, now hitting .390 on the season with four doubles, three home runs and 18 RBI, is perhaps a microcosm of this Nittany Lion team. He's a player that saw regular playing time in his first two seasons at Penn State, then was mainly a defensive replacement his junior season and wasn't a starter to begin his senior season. But, those roadblocks didn't stop him from beginning 2015 with a monster campaign.
"It's awesome," Cooper said of Novak's hitting. "That's self-made because at the beginning of the year he wasn't in the starting lineup and we told him what we needed to do to get in there.
A guy can make one of two choices and say 'this is coach's fault that I'm not playing' or he can say 'this is what I need to do to get in the lineup every day' and he did. His approaches and his swings and the way he's slowing the game down offensively is pretty fun to watch."
Novak currently is top-five in the Big Ten in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage through 22 games.
Just like Novak, Penn State as a whole has recently taken a rather undesirable start to the season and begun to turn it back in the right direction. Now winners of seven of their last eight, wins are coming more consistently, but Cooper stressed that they still have a lot of work to do.
"There are so many things that we need to clean up still," he said. "We're not perfect, we've just been winning some games."
With that said though, Cooper won't deny that there has been a difference in the way his team has been playing over the past few weeks.
"It's been making that choice to play hard and compete every day," Cooper said. "I want to stress how hard we are playing and our competitive spirit. Our play has been something really fun to be around."
Penn State will be back at Meldar Field at Lubrano Park for two home games this week against Binghamton and Kent State with both games set for a 6:30 first pitch on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When the Penn State women's lacrosse team traveled to Rutgers this weekend, it did so for a historic matchup. The Nittany Lions played in their first-ever Big Ten game, downing the Scarlet Knights, 15-8.
The Nittany Lions dominated in a number of categories, including the draw. In the first half alone, Penn State (8-3, 1-0 B1G) controlled 12, allowing Rutgers (1-10, 0-1 B1G) only three possessions. That trend continued throughout the game, as the Blue and White won the draw 19 times of the 25 attempts.
"The draw is huge," said senior midfielder Tatum Coffey. "If you look at statistics, draw controls will be very similar in relation to the score. So, the draw is always big. It's kind of like an unspoken thing that if you get the draw, you win the game. We did a great job against Rutgers at that."
Coffey, who hails from New Jersey, had a game-high five points with three goals and two assists. Playing in her home state on Saturday allowed her family and friends to attend the game.
With added support for not only herself but also the entire Penn State team, the Nittany Lions' excitement grew. The Blue and White were fired up and ready to play. They knew coming out with a victory was the only option. Penn State would win this historic Big Ten matchup.
"At halftime, I hear my best friend yelling Tatum," Coffey said. "I recognized her voice, and I looked up and saw her with my whole family, my cousins, my mom, my dad and my Nona, who can barely make it to games. So, I saw everyone, and it made me so happy. I don't think them being there gives me an edge. It's more that it puts me in an even better mood than I was already. The fact that they can all stop what they're doing and come support me is the best feeling ever."
In addition to Coffey's three tallies, Maggie McCormick and Katie O'Donnell also secured hat tricks for the Blue and White. Steph Lazo added two goals of her own, while Madison Cyr, Kelly Lechner, Maggie Gallagher and Kristin Brent all scored one a piece.
The team took 33 overall shots to Rutgers' 23 and were six-for-seven from the free position. As usual, this dominant offense did its best to make every shot count.
Nevertheless, more important than a productive offense, the Nittany Lions came in with confidence, which was a defining factor of the game.
"We were just all on the same page, starting off on the same note, on a good note," said Coffey. "We want to show who we are and prove who we are in the Big Ten conference. I think we all have that mindset that we want to prove that we are a top team and that we can succeed in the Big Ten."
With such a high competition level in the conference, beginning this stretch with a win is exactly what Penn State needed. The team knows it can compete with the best, and it is ready to see what teams like Maryland, Northwestern and Ohio State have to bring.
"I think it was extremely important for us to start off right because you just want to go out strong and end strong," the senior said. "We knew we had confidence coming into that first conference game. So, I think that's what is great about us in our conference. We have a lot of confidence this year, and we're ready to bring it home."
The remainder of the season will not be easy for Penn State by any means, but it will be competitive, entertaining lacrosse. This is Big Ten.
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a 2013-14 campaign that resulted in just four wins, it was hard to gauge what was in store for the 2014-15 Nittany Lions. However, after notching a program-best 17 wins this season, Penn State already has its eyes set on next year.
"I'm so proud of the 2014-15 team for their hard work, their dedication and everything that they accomplished this season," head coach Josh Brandwene said. "So many big wins. So many great moments for this program. 10-5-4 in games decided by a goal or less says everything about this group in terms of what they've become. They're winners, and that is just something that we are going to build on going forward."
For the first time as a Division-I program, the Nittany Lions finished with a winning record and third place finish, its highest CHA conference regular season finish ever. Four times as many wins as last season, Penn State was the most improved NCAA team. Furthermore, the Blue and White earned its highest CHA Tournament seed at No. 4 and scored its most power play goals in a season with 23 and shorthanded goals with three.
Such success banked on playing in a family-like atmosphere day-in and day-out.
"Well I think one of the biggest things at the beginning was creating a new culture and new environment," forward Shannon Yoxheimer said. "We really achieved that and instilled that into everyone's minds. Everyone really, really enjoyed being in the environment that was created. It was very genuine and a very close-knit environment. That's one of the biggest accomplishments outside of our actual hockey performance that we had as a team."
When looking back on the historic season it is difficult to choose one game or play that was the most memorable. According to Yoxheimer, the home sweep against then No. 6 Mercyhust is hard to top, andfor Brandwene, there are so many exciting performances to reflect upon.
"I think you can look back at the season and really reflect on a number of those incremental big stepping stone moments," Brandwene said. "One goal win against St. Cloud in our first weekend as a young team was big. Coming back to beat RIT in overtime in their building was big as an incremental moment. And certainly you can look at the sweep of then No. 6 Mercyhurst here at Pegula as a big moment for this team. Then there is the playoff series. To win a 1-0 game for our first playoff victory says so much about their poise, and their patience, and their willingness to stick to the game plan. And then to close out the series in another close, hard fought game was another big moment for this program."
One of the most important and dynamic aspects of this past season's squad was the quick emergence of the freshmen. Forward Caitlin Reilly closed the season with six goals and ten assists, while Bella Sutton tallied seven scores and eight assists on defense. Sutton stood out so much on the blue line that she was named to the CHA All-Rookie Team.
"I'm so proud of the entire freshman class," Brandwene said. "We asked so much of them this season, and they are just such a hard working group. We asked so much of [Bella Sutton] this year, and for her to perform to the level that she consistently did all year long, such a well-deserved honor to be on the CHA All-Rookie Team."
Upcoming senior playmaker Yoxheimer echoed the words of her head coach.
"I was definitely really impressed [with the freshmen] because it's a really hard transition coming into college hockey," Yoxheimer said. "It's a lot different. There's more systems, more things to get down, and all of us were already very familiar with those, so I was really impressed that they were able to just come in right away. They were contributing. They had the systems down. I think we are all really proud of them, and it says a lot about who they are."
With eight freshman, four sophomores, 13 juniors, and zero seniors on the team this past season, the Nittany Lions are in a perfect position to standout next year.
"Perfect storm coming together for us next season with a tremendous junior class that will be seniors for us next year," Brandwene said. "An unbelievable senior class. Laura Bowman and her entire class will be juniors next year. It's so important to speak about their contributions. Laura making all-conference, Amy [Petersen] had a great season at both ends of the ice - on the power play, on the penalty kill - Kelly Seward great year at both ends of the ice - power play, penalty kill - and Sarah Nielsen, what a job she does in her role, as does her whole line. So you have that. You have our freshman class who will be sophomores next year, and a great recruiting class coming in. Perfect storm. Can't wait to get started."
Bowman, who was named to the All-CHA Second Team, led Penn State with a program-best 31 points (16 goals, 14 assists). She now holds the single season record for points, goals and shorthanded goals (two). Her line mate Amy Petersen netted 11 goals and accumulated 15 assists. Yoxheimer, who wore the "C" on her sweater, mustered 12 goals and eight assists.
One of the most integral parts of this team, however, was between the pipes. The Blue and White had one of the best one-two goalie punches in the country. Junior Celine Whitlinger finished with a 13-11-1 record, 2.17 GAA and a .933 save percentage, while freshman Hannah Ehresmann posted a 4-5-3 record to go along with a 2.35 GAA and a .927 save percentage. Ehresmann's play was so exceptional that she was selected to the CHA All-Rookie team along with Sutton.
"Tremendous seasons for both Celine Whitlinger and Hannah Ehresmann," Brandwene said. "Just fabulous jobs in net. And then the togetherness that all three of our goaltenders have. We refer to them as the sisterhood. That just speaks volumes about the atmosphere, and it says a lot about Celine as a leader that we have such togetherness with that group."
The Nittany Lions earned the CHA's Team Sportsmanship Award, handed out to the team that totals the fewest amount of penalty minutes during conference play. Penn State's disciplined play led to a conference-best 7.2 penalty minutes per contest.
Brandwene is right. With all the experience returning to the program, the Nittany Lions have a perfect storm brewing for next year.
"We're going to be a really, really tough group to play next year," Yoxheimer said. "Right now the goal is to get stronger, focus on competing every day during the offseason, but having in mind that first game of next year when we're training."
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion men's lacrosse team kicked off its Big Ten conference schedule by welcoming Ohio State to Happy Valley on Sunday. Despite a late rally, the Nittany Lions fell to the Buckeyes, 10-8.
Penn State got off to a quick start with senior Michael Richards scoring the first goal of the game, bringing the home crowd to its feet.
"Luckily [James] Burke passed me the ball and I just happened to be in the right place and luckily it went in," said Richards.
Although the Nittany Lions struck first, it was the Buckeyes who would return with five unanswered goals in the first half.
During the fourth quarter momentum shifted in favor of the Lions. Rallying from six gols down, sophomore Nick Aponte kick started a scoring spree for the Nittany Lions. Followed by goals from Brian Prestreau, Dan Craig and Matt Florence, the Lions came within two goals of tying the game.
"[The momentum] was nice, it's just we can't have that that late in the fourth quarter you have to have it earlier in the game," said Richards.
Richards also credited the change in momentum to several players that stood out in Sunday's game.
"I think that once we started winning faceoffs with Drake Kreinz, and James Burke played his heart out picking up ground balls, I think they did an insane job," said Richards. "I think those guys really made the difference coming out and then our offense did their job, when we actually gave them the ball, they did their job."
Penn State powered through its slow start and proved their skills and endurance can keep pace with the tough opponents they've faced.
"I think we realized that we can absolutely hang especially with all the close games we've had," said Richards. "We just have to realize that you need to put in a full 60 minutes, you can't just play in spurts. We know exactly what we can do and we have the power to do it we just have to put a game together."
Head coach Jeff Tambroni was satisfied with his teams overall performance against their long-time foe, but knows there is always room for improvement.
"Our kids came to win today and we were hoping not to play in the first Big Ten conference game here at Penn State, we were hoping to win," said Tambroni. "So I think that's going to probably put a cloud over, unfortunately, the kind of day that it maybe could have been at Penn State. But the other side of it is I thought our guys competed and I said that to them in the huddle, one thing I learned about them is that they gave an effort until the end."
With the first Big Ten game under their belts, the Nittany Lions look to learn and build off their experiences from Sunday's game. As soon as one game ends, the focus then turns to the team's next game; this week will be focused on Maryland. The team works one game at a time, a theme set early on in the season in attempts to focus all energy on one opponent.
"We have a short week of preparation against a really good Maryland team, so it's just going to be on us as a staff and as a team to get excited about a really good opportunity and opponent," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "You know to win a game like that could change a lot, so from this moment on we'll go into the locker room, we'll start talking about that."
The Nittany Lions will spend this week gaining momentum for their road trip to Maryland on Saturday.
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Less than 24-hours after Penn State claimed the Big Ten conference title in a hard-fought battle, the men's gymnastics team headed back to Rec Hall for the individual event finals on the final day of the Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships.
Seven gymnasts from Penn State competed in 10 routines Saturday evening. Take a look at the amazing accomplishments from the Nittany Lions.
Junior Trevor Howard competed in four individual event finals, the most of any Big Ten gymnast and earned a spot on the podium on three occasions.
He seized the lone individual title of the night for Penn State. With a score of 15.750, Howard defended his Big Ten still rings title from the year prior.
"It's an awesome feeling," said Howard. "Being home and winning it, you can't beat it. There are so many great competitors out there and seeing routines, stick after stick, it definitely put more pressure on me, but it was still fun to go out there and compete."
Howard tied two other gymnasts for third place on vault with a score of 15.100. He also recorded 14.675 on floor exercise for fifth place and placed eighth on parallel bars.
In addition to all of these accomplishments, Howard was named the Penn State Sportsmanship Award Honoree, an award given to student-athletes who has distinguished themselves through sportsmanship, noble citizenship and good academic standing. Furthermore, it was announced that Howard was selected for the first team All-Big Ten team.
"It's always an honor to make the team like that," said Howard. "Just being able to represent your school and knowing you're on the first team is a huge success."
With a score of 14.950, senior Matthew Felleman ended his Big Ten career with a second-place finish on high bar.
"It feels great because it's my senior year, my last chance to make a name for myself and for Penn State and to accomplish what we did today, it's an honor and I couldn't be happier."
After the championship, it was announced that Felleman would join his teammate Howard in being an honoree for the first team All-Big Ten team.
Felleman also earned the Big Ten all-around title Friday evening with a score of 87.200. It was the third Big Ten all-around title in Penn State history.
Freshman Thad Lawson was the only other Nittany Lion to compete in multiple events after qualifying for the floor exercise and vault event finals.
Even as a rookie, Lawson did a great job in both events. He placed fourth overall on floor exercise with a score of 15.000 and got ninth place on the vault after posting 14.775.
Senior Tristan Duverglas joined teammate Howard on the still rings' podium after recording 15.375 to claim fourth place.
"It's an incredible feeling [to be on the podium senior year]," said Duverglas. "This is something we've been chasing after for the past three seasons at Penn State and being able to do it my senior year and end it off with a great note, I really couldn't ask for anything more. It's an amazing feeling, especially being at home."
Leroy Clarke, Jr.
With a score of 14.450, redshirt-sophomore Leroy Clarke, Jr. tied with one other gymnast for fifth place in the high bar final and was able to join Felleman on the podium.
Craig Hernandez ended his senior career on the podium
Saturday evening as well by placing fifth on pommel horse (14.750).
After having to sub out Friday evening due to an injury, junior Alexis Torres returned to competition Saturday evening. He placed 10th at 14.425 on still rings.
"The weekend was just outstanding," said head coach Randy Jepson. "The guys just competed really, really well...Tonight, we can relax a little bit and the guys can unwind and rest in the fact that they're the Big Ten Champions this year, so that's exciting."
At the end of the championships, coach Jepson was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year for the third time in his career. He previously won the award in 2003 and 2008 after claiming the Big Ten title in both seasons.
"I've got a great staff and a great group of guys and it's a tribute to our organization," said coach Jepson. "We're a family. From the guys, all the way up to the top, and I mean to the very top of Penn State. It's beyond me and the staff."
In only 11 days, the men's gymnastics team will be competing in the NCAA Championships in Norman, Okla, with hopes of winning the team's first national championship title since 2007.
"We still have a lot to improve on," said Howard. "Getting our hit ratio up, our sticks, that's going to be a huge factor in the NCAA's...and just trying to pristine all that we do in every event. We know [Oklahoma] is a good team and we're looking to take them off their podium and their pedestal, so we're ready."
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 8 Penn State (12-9, 6-0 EIVA) defeated EIVA opponents Princeton (9-8, 5-2 EIVA) and NJIT (8-9, 1-6 EIVA) this past weekend in the South Gym at Rec Hall to not only extend its match winning streak to eight, but also increase its cushion atop the conference standings.
On Friday night, the Nittany Lions topped the Tigers in straight sets. However, late Saturday afternoon's match against the Highlanders required five sets to determine the outcome.
After losing its first six matches of the season, Penn State has learned how to win.
"A lot of our [positive] turn came in practice," outside hitter Aaron Russell said. "We just wanted to make a statement that we were going to work our butts off every single day in practice, and we've been having good practices. We just have a more competitive nature. We love playing right now, and we want to keep it rolling. We don't want to lose."
In Friday night's match, Penn State trailed in several statistical categories, but took advantage of Princeton's 28 service errors to win in straight sets (25-19, 25-21, 25-23). The Tigers had more kills than the Nittany Lions (40-32), a better hitting percentage (.427 vs. .356), and more assists (38-25), yet the Blue and White prevailed.
"This was a game with some very odd rhythm to it with the 28 missed serves," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I don't think we particularly blocked well. I don't think we played defense particularly well. I thought we served the heck out of the ball. I thought that even though we hit .356...this was a match where there wasn't a lot of rallies."
Senior Aaron Russell continued his torrid pace, swinging a team-high 12 kills on a .348 hitting percentage. Redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose, who has been terrific filling in for redshirt senior Nick Goodell, posted ten kills on a team-high .571 hitting percentage.
"I think the biggest thing with Jalen is just that he's proven to himself that he can play and play well," redshirt junior Matt Seifert said. "For [Penrose] being his first couple of starts I think that's really big just getting out there...He's doing a great job."
The story was written a little differently late Saturday afternoon, as the Nittany Lions needed five sets (27-29, 25-15, 23-25, 25-16, 15-13) to outlast conference foe NJIT.
"I thought tonight's match was a great show of resiliency," Pavlik said. "Coming off of a pretty emotional match and a pretty intense match last night with Princeton...and then to come here less than 24 hours after you play...from the latter part of game three on, I thought we played well."
In set one the Blue and White looked to have total control, but NJIT never gave up, winning the frame in extras, 27-29. Penrose accumulated eight of his total 21 kills on .700 hitting in the opening game.
"You have to be clean as a unit, making sure that we're making good first contacts to allow Taylor [Hammond] a good set to get...any of the guys the ball and just execute," Penrose said.
Penn State took no prisoners in set two, using timely kills from Matt Callaway, Chris Nugent, Penrose, and Russell, as well as four digs from Connor Curry to win, 25-15.
Jabarry Goodridge and TJ Jurko each tallied six kills to pace NJIT, as the Highlanders battled back to win, 23-25.
"They forced us to play a little bit more," Russell said. "They kept a lot more serves in.... They were scrappy, too. They forced us to play in long rallies."
With their backs against the wall, the Nittany Lions, thanks to six kills from Russell, took down the Highlanders in the fourth game, 25-16, to force a decisive fifth set.
Penn State turned to Russell yet again in the final set. Last week's EIVA Offensive Player of the Week tallied five kills in the last frame to will his team to victory. He finished with a match-high 26 kills on a .362 hitting mark. Setter Taylor Hammond added 59 assists to keep Penn State in system.
Up next for the streaking Nittany Lions is a road trip next Saturday against EIVA opponent George Mason.
"It's always difficult to play in [George Mason's] gym," Russell said. "They always play hard. They pack the place. They have a lot of energy and emotion. I personally like playing there because it's closer to home, and I get to see a lot of friends and family.... They're definitely looking forward to playing us, so we have to be prepared and ready."
Spring Football - Versatility, Depth Highlight Linebacker Corps
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's fifth of 15 spring practices on Saturday inside Holuba Hall. The Nittany Lions practiced in full pads on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday this week. Saturday's session included several periods of live scrimmaging. The team will return to the field on Monday to begin week two of spring ball. The Blue-White Game presented by AAA will kick at 4 p.m. on April 18.
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