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2014 Gameday Preview - Lions Travel to Bloomington

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Game Blog - Penn State at Indiana

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

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

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the second consecutive season, Penn State (4-4, 1-4) will travel to Bloomington for a matchup against Indiana (3-5, 0-4) inside Memorial Stadium. Kick is slated for noon on Saturday with television coverage on BTN.

10505448.jpegThe Nittany Lions and Hoosiers have met 17 times since Penn State first began Big Ten play in 1993, with the Lions taking 16 of the 17 on-field contests. The two teams have met in each season since 2007, with Indiana scoring its first victory in the series last year.

Penn State returns to action following a narrow 20-19 setback to Maryland last week. Senior kicker Sam Ficken nailed all four of his field goal attempts against the Terrapins, including three kicks from 45 or more yards. Ficken is the only Penn State player to make three field goals from at 45 or more yards since at least 1982. He is ranked 10th in the nation in accuracy (85.9 percent), having connected on 17 of his 19 attempts in 2014. That mark includes going 5-for-5 in the fourth quarter this season.

Penn State's defense again turned in a stellar performance against Maryland last week. The Lions are ranked No. 1 in the nation against the run (77.1 ypg).  Additionally, the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 3 in the nation in total defense (273.4 ypg). Penn State is No. 9 in scoring defense at 17.8 points per game. Senior linebacker Mike Hull is ranked seventh in the nation with 11.5 tackles per game.

Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg continues to rank among the top signal callers in the Big Ten. He is leading the conference in passing with 254.8 passing yards per game. Hackenberg is leading the Big Ten in completions per game at 22.88. He is just seven yards shy of becoming the eighth Penn State quarterback with 5,000 career passing yards.

Indiana dropped to 3-5 overall last week with a 34-10 setback at Michigan. The Hoosiers are led by one of the nation's most dynamic rushers in junior Tevin Coleman. Coleman is leading the nation in rushing yards per game at 162.5 yards per contest. Indiana is averaging 274.5 rushing yards per game.

Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week nine matchup against Indiana.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
10505410.jpeg1. Junior defensive end Deion Barnes is putting together a superb season for the Nittany Lion defense in 2014. The Philadelphia native is third on the team in tackles with 34 stops. Barnes is leading the squad in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (6.0). Above all, it is Barnes' work ethic that is separating him from most guys in the conference. Head coach James Franklin used clips of Barnes' relentless pursuit during a team meeting this week to illustrate the way he wants to see each player on the team compete. His numbers speak for themselves, but Barnes has been a tremendously disruptive player on a unit that is ranked No. 3 in the nation in total defense.

2. With the season-ending injury to Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch has embraced the opportunity to work alongside senior Bill Belton. Lynch has prepared for an increased role since he arrived on campus. Looking to become a complete back, Lynch has said that he is continuously working on all facets of his game. He carried the ball a career-high 21 times last week during his first career start against Maryland. With each passing week, keep an eye on Lynch as he continues to get more confident in an increased role on the Penn State offense.

3. Thanks to a red-hot start to the 2014 season, senior placekicker Sam Ficken is joining elite company in the Penn State record book. Ficken is third in the nation in field goals made per game at 2.13 per contest. With 17 made kicks (17-for-19) this season, Ficken now has 47 career makes. He is third on the all-time field goals made list, with Craig Fayak sitting second at 50 made kicks. On the scoring chart, Ficken has accounted for 239 points, which is sixth on the all-time Penn State list. Ficken has made nine-straight kicks in 2014.

What to Watch For - Indiana
10505381.jpeg1. Tevin Coleman's list of accolades in 2014 is impressive. In addition to leading the nation in rushing yards per game (162.5), Coleman is first nationally in yards per carry (8.02) and first in yards from scrimmage per game (180.0). The junior has reached 100 yards in 10-straight games, the longest streak in the nation. A semifinalist for the Maxwell Award, Coleman has game-changing speed with the ball in his hands. He has accounted for 15 plays of 20 or more yards, including six touchdowns. An explosive player, Coleman leads the nation in career touchdown runs of 30 yards or more (6) and 40 yards or more (5).

2. The trio of sophomore safety Antonio Allen, sophomore linebacker T.J. Simmons and senior cornerback Tim Bennett top the Indiana defense in tackles. Allen has made 46 stops from the free safety position. Simmons has 45 hits and 2.5 TFL from the middle linebacker position. Bennett has made 44 tackles, and he also ranks fourth in the Big Ten with nine pass breakups. The Hoosier defense has allowed 446.0 yards per game in 2014.

3. Senior wide receiver Shane Wynn is the lone Hoosier in school history and one of only eight active players with receiving, rushing, punt return and kick return touchdowns in his career. Wynn is leading Indiana with 29 receptions for 436 yards and two touchdowns this season. The speedy senior is the team's top return threat. He is averaging 22.2 yards per touch on kick returns this season.

The Final Word:
The Nittany Lions are set to play Indiana for the 18th time on Saturday afternoon. The Penn State-Indiana series is one that dates back to the first year the Nittany Lions were members of the Big Ten in 1993. Since 1993, the Lions have played Ohio State in every season. Outside of the Buckeyes, Indiana will tie Michigan State as the next opponent on the list that Penn State has played the most during its time in the conference.  Saturday' will mark Penn State's seventh trip to Memorial Stadium. The Nittany Lions also collided in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis in 2000 and FedEx Field in 2010. Penn State has hosted Indiana eight times. Now members of the Big Ten East Division, the two schools will play annually. Kickoff is slated for 12:01 on Saturday with Eric Collins, Chuck Long and Lisa Byington on the BTN broadcast.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Astrid Diaz, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In week three of Penn State track and field preseason and the third chapter of season previews, caught up with head coach John Gondak and the mid-distance and distance student-athletes on their preparations and goals for the upcoming year.

The Nittany Lions return three student-athletes, junior Za'Von Watkins, junior Brannon Kidder, and senior Robby Creese, as part of their distance medley relay group, which is the three-time defending champion at the Big Ten Championships. Last year's time of 9:26.59 broke Penn State's record and was just over a half of a second shy of the world record.

"The [distance medley relay] is a lot of fun and it combines the true aspect of middle distance," said Gondak. "The fun thing [about this year] is that we have three of [the] four legs coming back."

All-American student-athletes Watkins and Kidder are looking forward to the competition this year noting their team chemistry, depth, and experience.

"[The distance medley relay] is obviously one of our go-to [events]. We're really strong at that event and we have three of the same guys coming back," said Watkins. "We're looking forward to getting a record this time but as long as we run fast I'm happy with that, too."

Junior Tori Gerlach enters the 2015 season as the defending 3,000-meter run Big Ten Champion with her lifetime-best, 9:10.76. Gerlach is also a tough competitor in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a personal record time of 10:03:55. Both rank second in the all-time Penn State record books.

"It was really exciting last year because I wasn't expecting to win [the 3,000-meter run] so it was awesome and being just short of the school record is awesome so that's definitely something I'm aiming towards this year," said Gerlach.

This year's freshman class is ready to cause uproar. 

After being named the 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Elizabeth Chikotas joins the distance team after a phenomenal cross country season. Freshman Joey Logue recorded 13 state medals and two All-American titles during his high school career.

The student-athletes have been diligently training all preseason in the Ashenfelter III Indoor Facility, which features a six-lane, 65-foot-radius hydraulically banked Mondo track, one of five in the country.

The team is set to kick-off their season on Saturday, December 13th when they host a Blue vs. White Intrasquad meet.

For more information on Penn State track and field visit and follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC.

By Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Left winger Amy Petersen may don the number nine on the back of her Blue and White jersey, but it's the number eight that stands out through ten games played this season.

The sophomore from Minnetonka, Minn., has already netted eight goals (three power play goals) on the year to lead Penn State's offensive attack. 

"Our team as a whole puts a lot of work in the weight room and work really hard on conditioning and getting stronger," said Petersen. "A lot of that has helped me score more goals."

Prior to Penn State

Prior to Penn State, at Minnetonka High School, Petersen accumulated 70 goals and 118 assists over the course of four years playing on a team that earned four straight Lake Conference titles and won three straight Minnesota High School AA championships.

Despite scoring all of those goals in high school, Petersen says that she has never really been considered a goal scorer.

I actually haven't really [been known as a goal scorer]," said Petersen. "A lot of high school and even freshman year I was more of a playmaker, getting more assists and trying to set up my teammates."

Development of Goal-Scoring Mentality

As a freshman last year, Petersen assisted on ten Nittany Lion goals, but scored just five of her own.

The five-foot-four forward has already surpassed her freshman goal total by three. She's not quite sure what has changed over the past year, noting that some luck has certainly been involved, but that the coaching staff has helped immensely.

Well, I wasn't scoring at the end of last season, so I was talking with the coaches and telling them that I wanted to stop in front of the net more because a lot of the times I'd just fly by and swing to the corner," said Petersen. "By stopping in front, there are a lot of rebounds and garbage goal opportunities."

When you watch Petersen orchestrate offensive chances on the ice, it is sometimes hard to believe that she is only a sophomore. Her vision, speed and performance make her appear as an upperclassman.

"She's got a tremendous number of reps under her belt," said head coach Josh Brandwene. "She does a great job for us both with the puck and without it. She does great work on the power play and penalty kill. I'm really pleased with the effort that she puts in." 

Sixth Sense

Line mate familiarity has certainly catapulted Petersen to the top of the scoring sheet. Sophomore center Laura Bowman has played alongside Petersen since the two were little and right winger Hannah Hoenshell has meshed comfortably on the top line alongside the two Minnetonkans.

"Hannah and Laura have made a lot of great passes to me and given me chances to score," said Petersen. "The three of us have worked well together the last two years. We have a lot of chemistry between each other, and so we know where each other is going to be, which helps a ton."

Bowman has tallied two goals and seven assists, while Hoenshelll has added two more assists to round out Penn State's number one line.

According to Brandwene, his top line possesses an additional form of communication that makes them so difficult to stop.

"They have a sixth sense, silent communication piece that makes them incredibly effective," said Brandwene.

Looking Ahead

With eight goals and three assists already, Petersen doesn't expect to slow down and neither does her head coach.

"She's a great competitor," said Brandwene. "She's a great teammate. She loves this school. She loves this program. She's a great student as well and that's a fabulous thing."

However, only one thing is on Petersen's mind as she and her teammates look forward to a two-game road series against Colgate this upcoming weekend.

"We're trying to get goals for our team," said Petersen. "If the pucks in the back of the net we are all happy."

New Staff Helping Fencers Train

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By Jennifer Hudson, Student Athlete Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Two new staff members have joined the Penn State fencing team this season to help the program move forward in its quest for another national championship. Alexei Sintchinov and Heather Nelson are eager to help lead the team as assistant and volunteer coaches, respectively, beginning this season.

Sintchinov joins the Nittany Lions as an assistant coach after being a coach at Ohio State for the past three years.

He has been a professional coach since 1976 and is a Master of Sport in Fencing. Sintchinov started his coaching career internationally and was the head coach of the Belarus, Egypt and Tunisia national teams. He was named Honored Coach of Belarus in 1991 and head coach of the 2000 Egypt Olympic Team.

He is excited to continue his coaching career with such a decorated program here at Penn State and to help the team compete for championships.

"I would like to help the team make a good result at the NCAA championship," said Sintchinov. " I want to improve all students in epee and everyone on the team. I am happy to help anyone who wants to learn. My heart is open to all weapons."

With the past 40 years overseeing different fencers, the newest Nittany Lion knows how to fix problems and improve athletes to their best ability.

He was even a part of the coaching staff who helped guide the Buckeyes to the 2012 NCAA Championship title.

"All fencers have a strong part and weak part," said Sintchinov, "I will help shrink the weaknesses and increase the strengths. Everyone has a different problem that they need to work with. It is very important to work on strengths and weaknesses."

One thing Coach Alexei has added to the championship teams work out is a stepladder to improve their footwork. He believes in fast and strong legs for every great fencer needs.

Team members who have been working with Sintchinov in lessons are excited to have him and love what he is bringing to the program.

"He is a strong addition to our family," said Jessica O'Neill Lyublinsky, a junior epee fencer. "He really puts his heart into his work and I can already see he really wants to repeat our NCAA title as much as we do, if not more."

Nelson, a former fencer who is a grad student at Penn State, comes back to the team as a volunteer assistant coach for the semester. She is helping improve everyone's strength with many conditioning drills she learned from the Air Force Academy.

Nelson, a Second Lieutenant, attended the USAF for her undergraduate work,, majoring in aerospace engineering. She was on the fencing team at the Academy for three years allowing her to fence her last year of eligibility with the Nittany Lions when she came for graduate school last fall.

"Heather's work outs are challenging," said Brianne Cavaliere, a junior saber fencer. "They force you to not only push yourself, but your teammates so we can be the best we can."

Nelson helps the team's workouts, which consist of many strength and conditioning skills that are challenging for the Nittany Lions. The drills are done in organized lines as if you were in the military. The team does reps of different strength exercises while counting out loud as one team. Everyone must stay in time or the team will start over.

"Military style training is working as a team," said Nelson. "If one can't compete the repetition, the team starts over."

Nelson helps the team do different strength stations in groups with time limits pushing each fencer to do multiple strength activities as fast as they can in groups. If a group fails to complete a station, the team will do a great deal of push ups to make up the difference.

"The drills as a team is the same as fencing as a team," said Nelson. "You send 12 to NCAAs who are your best fencers but if one falls, it can lose you the championship. The exercises show that the team is only as strong as the weakest person you send."

From all the drills, Nelson hopes to help the team gain more endurance to help them get through the long tiring days at regionals and NCAAs to bring home another championship.

Doing her workouts twice a week, the team is very happy with how their strength and conditioning is improving this year.

"I love it here at Penn State," said Nelson. "I'm glad I'm back but I wish I could stay the whole season."

Nelson unfortunately is only here for one semester because she is graduating in December. She is off to Colorado Springs to work in an Air Force satellite lab after graduation. The Nittany Lions will be sad to see her go, but her assistance with conditioning will hopefully contribute to another successful season. 

Indiana Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Josh Gattis

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10504945.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State offensive recruiting coordinator, assistant special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach Josh Gattis spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions travel to Indiana on Saturday at noon (BTN). Take a look at a Q&A with Gattis.

Q: You started the season with a really young group of receivers. Can you talk about how they have developed this season?
"I think they have done a really good job kind of developing themselves and understanding how we want them to play. They have stepped up and made some critical plays at times, but I think as the games continue to grow on, I think we will continue to grow. I don't think we are quite where we need to be. We are heading in the right direction. I'm really proud of the guys developing their confidence and stepping up and making plays. We are a very, very young group. I'm really excited about the future and the direction we are headed in to. I really feel like we are going to get better as opportunities continue to present themselves."

Q: What's the mindset of the group through eight games this season and how the unit is progressing?
"I don't think there is any frustration. I think the kids are developing the right way. If you start off hot (like we did), people are going to try and gameplan against you and show different things to keep the plays in front of them. I think we still have one of the best passing offenses in the Big Ten. We've got DaeSean Hamilton who is in the top three in the Big Ten in receiving. He leads all freshmen in the country in catches and receiving yards. I don't think there is any frustration. The guys are continuing to develop. Sometimes opportunities present themselves in other ways. Teams have done some things differently. But I think we have continued to take steps forward each week. Each game is different depending on what teams are doing. But we need to continue to develop as an offense. We are such a young unit that each week is something new, and we have to continue to gain confidence to move forward."

Q: Are you pleased with how the group has continued to maintain its confidence level during the past few weeks?
"One thing about these kids is that they want to win as bad as anybody else wants to win. I think a lot of people need to understand that. They want to win as bad as these coaches want to win and as bad as the fans want to win. It has weighed heavily on our kids these past couple weeks. But they continue to show up each day and work hard and continue to improve. We continue to focus on being the best that we can be and continue to work on the areas that need to be worked on. But our kids have handled it with the utmost respect."

Q: What is the next step for the young freshmen Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin as they progress into bigger roles?
"I think those guys are really progressing. I'm really happy about Saeed and Chris. Those guys are playing really good ball. They are making some plays out there. It's hard sometimes when you have a bunch of guys rotating in. Some of the opportunities they aren't in for, they can't make. But as far as their attempts, their completions and their targets, I've really been pleased with how they are playing as they continue to develop. This is a young group. DaeSean still has room to develop, but he has been playing really good football. Geno (Lewis) is a young player who is playing good football, but he still has a lot more room to grow. I think as a group, we have to continue to find ways to get those guys more active as far as Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin. We need to continue to get those guys more and more reps."

Q: Blocking is such an important part of a receiver's job. Can you talk about the way your unit has blocked this season?
"I think blocking is just an unselfish thing. There is really no way to coach it. You have to have it deep down on the inside. I've been pleased so far with our blocking. We've changed some things up as far as blocking on the perimeter. Our receivers have been very, very active as far as blocking on the perimeter in our screen game. We are going to get them more active in our run game. I think it's an unselfish mentality that you've got to develop as an offense. Our guys truly know, we say it all the time, 'no block, no rock,' so in order for us to get the ball we have to be unselfish and block for others. And that's how we create explosive plays, not only in the pass game but the run game."

Q: What type of challenges do you think the Indiana secondary will pose on Saturday?
"Whenever you play a team that is, kind of like last week, that is a three-man rush team on a 3-4, some of the challenges would be that they drop eight men into coverage. They have an extra defender, whether that's in deep coverage or underneath. So, I think that is always a challenge when you are going against a 3-4 team is that they are going to drop eight. They have a little bit of history with us. Their defensive coordinator is a good friend of mine that I've known over time that was the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest. They are going to be ready. They are a well-coached team. They have good players in their secondary with a lot of starts. They are going to try and challenge us. And we are going to be prepared."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

By Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Head coach Bob Warming had two words to describe goalie Andrew Wolverton's performance against Akron Wednesday night.

"Cheese and crackers," Warming said. "It was a really good night for him to do what he did."

Against the Zips, Wolverton registered five saves as the Nittany Lions won their regular season finale 1-0.

Although that may not seem like a huge number, the situations he made them in and the level of difficulty proved why the 6-foot-6 senior is considered the best goalie in the Big Ten.

With 2:30 remaining and the Lions trying to hold off a last-ditch Akron rally, Wolverton made an incredible lunging save off of a shot from Sean Sepe before recovering in time to block another attempt from Stuart Holthusen.

It was the second time Wolverton came up huge at the end of a half, as he also stopped a prime attempt from Adam Najem with 2:09 left in the first.

"It was awesome, he did a great job today," senior forward Mikey Minutillo, who scored the team's lone goal, said. "I told him after the game he's the reason we got the shutout. He made three or four big saves that I haven't seen any other goalie in the nation make."

Minutillo was perfectly calm as he praised his goaltender, and it's understandable why. After all, Wolverton is the reigning Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, and his teammates have become accustomed to such performances.

Still, the shutout was important for both Wolverton and the Nittany Lions in general.

After registering nine shutouts (Wolverton had eight) during their 10-0-1 start, the Lions gave up 11 goals in their next five games, which included four losses.

While the amount of goals a team allows doesn't fall completely on the shoulders of a goaltender, it felt good for Wolverton to get another shutout under his belt with the conference tournament beginning Sunday.

"Having a game like this always helps [your confidence] but it's better for the whole team," Wolverton said. "We got a goal and did well defensively and got a big win."

After four years of filled with highlight reel saves, it's no wonder that Wolverton takes a humble approach to his success.

The Nittany Lions all-time shutouts leader, Wolverton knows no goalie can perform well without a great team in front of him. However, it was his teammates that really needed him on Wednesday.

"That's just part of my job," Wolverton said. "Just like Mikey scoring goals, that's what I have to do to help the team win and I was fortunate to get a hold of a few tonight."

Grant and Gravatt Thrive Against Former Team

Riley Grant and Brett Gravatt both saw plenty of familiar faces Wednesday night.

That's because the two Nittany Lions were on the same field as their prior teammates in addition to their current ones, having both played for Akron as freshmen last season.

Though neither transfer has been a regular starter for Penn State, both came up big on Wednesday against their former team.

Gravatt started at midfield and got off three shots, while Grant came off the bench and assisted on Minutillo's goal with 9:16 remaining in the game.

"It was a weird feeling," Grant said. "I'm glad I was able to help the team, there's no hard feelings or anything."

Afterwards, both players spent a few minutes speaking with their former teammates and coaches.

"We're just wishing each other the best of luck," Gravatt said. "I think we left on good terms and we just want the best for each other."

For the two of them, the night was more about getting on the field in general and winning than getting on the field against their old team.

Gravatt earned his first start of the season after logging just 84 minutes of playing time in seven prior appearances while Grant spent the game against Northwestern on the bench.

"[Brett's] been playing better and better and been training and worked hard and he's been a good teammate," Warming said. "It was great that he got to play against his former school and he played very well.

"I'm just happy for Riley that he's playing better. He's got some talent and maybe the role we've had him in [at forward] is a little better than what we've tried with him in the midfield."

The performances come at a good time for the duo. With the postseason about to kick off, Grant and Gravatt are just happy to be contributing in any way possible.

"It felt great," Gravatt said. "I've been struggling with my knee all season and just trying to get fit and it just feels great to be on the field." 

Washington's Energy Fuels Teammates

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10431045 (1).jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNVIERSITY PARK, Pa. - If you have attended a volleyball match at Rec Hall this fall, then it's likely that you have witnessed freshman Haleigh Washington's high energy on the court as she brings encouragement to her teammates with high-fives and fist pumps after successful points.

"I think my parents helped kindle that [lively personality]," said Washington. "I've always been kind of a goofball and just loud and obnoxious. My dad always said that if someone has a problem with how you act, then that's their problem, not yours, so just go out and be yourself, and that's what I do."

Washington made her collegiate debut against Yale on Sept. 12 and recorded six kills on .545 hitting with zero attack errors, but that was just the beginning. She entered the starting lineup against Illinois on Oct. 11 and though the team fell against the Fighting Illini, Washington had 14 kills and a team-high of seven blocks. Since that match, Washington has been a regular in the rotation for the team and has been making huge contributions during the Lions' six-match winning streak.

This week, Washington earned her first Big Ten Player of the Week honors following career-high performances in the two wins against Ohio State this past weekend.

In the matches against the Buckeyes, Washington led the team in blocks with 16 blocks, averaging 2.67 per set. She set a career-high record with nine total blocks in Columbus last Saturday. She also logged 15 kills in those two matches.

"It's really humbling [to be Big Ten Player of the Week] and it's just an honor and blessing that I get to represent Penn State in such a positive light," said Washington. "It's just a very humbling award and I feel very blessed."

Washington began playing volleyball in the seventh grade, but volleyball wasn't her first sport of choice.

"I actually really wanted to start playing football, but my dad wouldn't let me because well, he's my dad," said Washington. "He said, 'You're not allowed to play football,' so my best friend said, 'Hey, I'm going to this volleyball camp at the middle school if you want to go,' so I said okay. I went to this volleyball camp, played, ending up really liking it, and then I played club for our local club team, and then a bigger club, and then Colorado Springs found me and said, 'Hey, come play for us.' That's how I competitively started playing."

During her volleyball career in high school, she broke the Colorado state record by logging 48 kills in a single match and led her high school team, Doherty, to a state championship title in 2012. Her success continued as she was selected as the 2012 Colorado Volleyball Player of the Year, a two-time Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year from 2012-'13, the 2013 Volleyball Magazine Player of the Year, a 2013-'14 Under Armour First Team All-American, among many other accolades.

Nothing was able to hold Washington back from playing collegiate volleyball at Penn State. Not even the 1,500-plus miles that separated herself from her home in Denver, Colorado.

"This gym - I love this gym; it just feels like home," said Washington. "I love the program, I love Coach Rose's coaching style, and then the campus is just beautiful and it felt like home. [Penn State] offered a wide variety of majors and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I still don't, but it's good to have options."

Teammate senior Lacey Fuller has really enjoyed playing alongside Washington.

"It's definitely been great [playing with Haleigh]," said Fuller. "I love playing with people with high energy...Someone who you can rely on to keep you fired up and it's just great to play with someone who is equally passionate about the game as you are."

Even with a bubbly personality, Washington is unaware of the effect she has on her teammates.

"I never really thought about it. I just kind of go out and play and I get excited," said Washington.

Aside from her play and extraordinary energy, Washington brings another special element to the team even though she's an underclassman

"She brings not only great energy, but a lot of wisdom for a young player," said Fuller. "I like to listen to what she has to say; she has a lot of great input that can help the team rally and do well."

Though Washington has earned numerous awards in her volleyball career, she believes that she still has plenty to improve on.

"I need to be better at so many things," said Washington. "My blocking still struggles; it needs to get better. I don't really trust my read. Getting smarter on hitting shots and improving my serves. I don't really serve yet, but I still need to be able to that in future seasons...Being a more versatile player, not just a one-trick pony."

Washington continues to push herself to become a better player, but her favorite attribute of herself is one that every teammate and fan loves.

"[My] energy and my personality is a pretty good thing. I mean, we have people on the team who can hit pretty hard and people on the team who have more experience, more volleyball IQ, so my volleyball energy is something I bring to the team. It's like a fire and it gets people hype, it gets people excited," said Washington.

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Indiana 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 travel to Indiana on Saturday at noon (BTN).

New Challenges Await Nittany Lions as Season Begins

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10502867.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State wrestling team enters the 2014-'15 season in both a very similar and very different situation.

On one hand, the Nittany Lions are defending national champions for the fourth straight year. At the same time, a new era has clearly begun for head coach Cael Sanderson and company.

For starters, David Taylor and Ed Ruth are no longer in the lineup, having both graduated after finishing two of the greatest careers in recent wrestling history. The Lions will also likely be without All-Americans Nico Megaludis and Zain Retherford this season, as both have been granted redshirts.

Sanderson knows he doesn't have the same team as last year. The Nittany Lions are young and will need to take the wrestling world by surprise.

"This year, it's a different type of a challenge I think," Sanderson said. "We were sort of favored the past couple of years. It was very competitive ... but we felt very confident. This year, there's a different dynamic. We've got to climb and improve and make progress."

Still, that climb is part of the fun for the Nittany Lions. After winning with same faces for so long, trying to accomplish the same goals with some new wrestlers is an exciting task.

And make no mistake, the same goals still exist. True, the Nittany Lions have a long way to go, but the winning culture that has been built is very much alive.

"Every year's different regardless and you always have change over and different obstacles and blessings," Sanderson said. "We'll see what we can do this year, we'll see how well we can coach."

Let's take a look at the 2014-'15 Nittany Lions.

New Kids on the Block
When the Nittany Lions take the mat against Lehigh for their opener on Sunday, at least four wrestlers without significant starting experience will be in the lineup.

First off, at the 141-pound weight, redshirt freshman Kade Moss will get the start but will always see competition from junior Michael Waters throughout the year.

While both could see dual action this season, they'll have the tough task of replacing Retherford, who was remarkable during a 33-3 campaign last year that included a perfect regular season and a fifth-place NCAA finish.

"Kade Moss had a solid summer," Sanderson said. "He's a guy that's going to have to get some experience and develop, but he's the kind of guy that's got the mentality that we feel he can do that."

Even more daunting will be the task of filling the voids at 165 and 184, where Taylor and Ruth dominated for four years respectively.

Right now, redshirt freshman Garett Hammond will start at 165 while sophomore Wes Phipps and freshman Matt McCutcheon will compete at 184.

Phipps already has a taste of dual experience, having gone 2-2 in four starts last year. McCutcheon on the other hand, is eager to prove he can hold his own at this level.

"Wrestling with these Penn State guys, it doesn't get much better than the competition we have in this room," McCutcheon said. "This year is a little different, because we don't have the guys we may have had last year, but I think we're going to be an excellent group from top to bottom."

Finally, redshirt freshman Cody Law is expected to start the season at 157 while senior Dylan Alton recovers from injury.

Veteran Experience
Even with the new, youthful additions, there are still some familiar faces in the Penn State lineup.

It all begins at the 174 and 197-pound weights, where All-Americans Matt Brown and Morgan McIntosh will be relied on heavily.

There's no questioning the talent and production of the duo. Brown is 62-11 over the past two seasons and was the NCAA runner-up in 2013, while McIntosh went 32-5 last year and finished seventh at nationals in March.

What the Lions really need from both is leadership, something that Brown, a redshirt senior and two-time All-American, is more than capable of providing.

"Every year have a team vote on the leaders, and it seems he's always won that award," Sanderson said. "He leads by example, now we just need him to step it up a notch and compete with the same mentality he has from the beginning."

McIntosh, while only a junior, is looking forward to taking on a more vocal role as he works towards his personal goal of being a national champion.

"I want to start taking more responsibility," McIntosh said. "I want to be one of those guys that carries the team, and leads the team and scores bonus points."

Elsewhere, the Lions also have sophomore Jimmy Gulibon returning at 133, sophomore Zack Beitz getting more action at 149, and Alton, a 2012 All-American, looking to bounce back from a shoulder injury and regain his previous form.

At the end of the lineup, the battle for the heavyweight spot remains the same as the past two seasons. Seniors Jimmy Lawson and Jon Gingrich, who each have NCAA Tournament experience, will compete for duals while fellow senior Nick Ruggear is also in the mix.

"They all have experience and all have the potential to do well," Sanderson said. "That's a must score weight class for us at the national tournament."

Back in the Saddle
And then there's Jordan Conaway, who almost feels like a new addition even though he has plenty of experience.

Two years ago, the redshirt freshman was expected to be a temporary starter at 133 and proved to be more than capable in the role, going 19-10 (11-2 in duals) and coming one win short of being named an All-American.

With Gulibon sliding into the 133-pound weight class last year, the Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, native was relegated to the sidelines for all but five duals. Now, with Megaludis redshirting, he'll have a chance to make his mark at his natural weight of 125.

"After what happened last year, starting a little bit and getting beat out, I'm ready to go again," Conaway said. "Top position and riding people and a little more defense on my feet are the things I was working on [in the offseason]."

As tough as it is to have a three-time All-American in Megaludis sit out, Sanderson is glad that Conaway will once again get chance to showcase his skills.

In a sport that exemplifies hard work and dedication, the 125-pounder somehow manages to go beyond the call of duty when it comes to effort.

"He's a kid that doesn't ever want to go home. We have to say, 'hey Jordan, you need to go home for a few days,'" Sanderson said. "He trains all summer long and he's here working because he wants to be the best."

Like the rest of his teammates, Conaway knows that people think this is a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions. But proving everyone wrong, that's where the fun begins.

"We have a lot of guys that are stepping in for the first time and it's exciting to see how they're going to do, "Conaway said. "I think they're going to do really well." 

A Home Full of Tradition and Energy

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10502355.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNVIERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Eighty-six years ago, a new building stood on the corner of Burrowes Street and Curtin Road. They called it Recreation Hall. It quickly became home to many Penn State sports teams, and in 1976, it became home to Penn State women's volleyball.

Tradition and history are what makes Rec Hall so special for the Penn State women's volleyball team. Thirty-four All-Americans and six National Championship teams have played in the same facility that the 2014 Nittany Lions play in now.

Senior Dominique Gonzalez said that playing in Rec Hall, a gym full of tradition, gives Penn State an advantage in home matches. She said playing in Rec Hall drives the players to strive to be great, because of all of the great players before them.

"There is a sense of pride that we have when we step out on to our home court [in Rec Hall]," Gonzalez said. "Other teams, when they walk into the gym, they can look up at the banners and see the tradition that we have here. And that gives us a little bit of an upper hand."

Because the building has the same feel of when it was constructed in 1928, junior Megan Courtney said she enjoys being able to see the past of Rec Hall while in the present. She said the banners that hang in Rec Hall speak to the tradition inside of Rec Hall.  

The tradition is one of Courtney's favorite parts of playing in Rec Hall.

"When you step on that floor, you're like, 'Oh my gosh. There's so much great tradition that's been established here. So many great players have played on this floor that I'm standing on right now,'" Courtney said.

Thousands of fans flood into Rec Hall on match day to support the Nittany Lions. This season, Rec Hall is averaging 2,636 fans per match. On Oct. 24, 4,622 fans attended the Michigan match, setting a record this season for attendance.

Having thousands of fans in a facility like Rec Hall, where the fans are so close to the court and the players, provides an advantage for Penn State.  Courtney said the setup of gym creates a great environment.

"You have fans on both sides. Boosters on one side, student section on the other. And the band on the backside," Courtney said. "Each different section has their own way of cheering for you. Whether it's the band being loud, or the student section or the boosters, who are just incredible, you're surrounded by moral support."

The student section, known as The wRECking Crew, is one of Rec Hall's main sources of energy during matches. The name, a play on words including 'Rec' for Rec Hall, also serves as a theme for the student section. Every match, the members of student section wear construction hats to "demolish their opponents."

Vice President of The wRECking Crew, Mackenzie Rupert, said that the passionate group of students loves to support Penn State women's volleyball at every home match.

"We are the seventh man on the team as an outside source of energy for the ladies when they need it most. When opponents come to Rec Hall, The wRECking Crew is there to make it loud," Rupert said.  

Gonzalez appreciates the fan base in Rec Hall and said that it helps fire up the team.

"You have a certain fan base that follows us all of the time. You have the boosters and the loyal student section that come, and that means a lot to us," Gonzalez said. "It's very warming for us to look up in the stands and see a group of people that we really appreciate and know is there to support us every home match. I think it's great to play behind supportive fans. "

Whether it's the tradition or the fan base, there is something about Rec Hall that gives the Nittany Lions a true home court advantage. Penn State is 253-19 in Big Ten matches in Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions are looking to extend that record this weekend as they take on their new Big Ten foes, Rutgers and Maryland.

"I love everything about Rec Hall. The fans, the sense of being at home, it's a place where I looked at for four years before I came here," Gonzalez said. "So being able to step out on the court in Rec Hall and be a part of the program is my favorite part."