By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Replacing Aaron Russell was never a thought coming in to this season for the Penn State men's volleyball team. But after sweeping through their weekend series against Ball State and IPFW, the Nittany Lions (4-2) may be starting to find a rhythm.
Chris Nugent, the leading attacker on this Penn State team, displayed why he is the best all around player on the Nittany Lion squad and why he may be the best bet in filling some Aaron Russell-like roles on the floor. Nugent complied 28 kills in the two matches, hitting well over .500 for the weekend.
Nugent showed his versatility with cut shots, roll shots, back row quicks and all around power at times. The junior is a six-rotation player, who leads not only with his attacking prowess but also with his power behind the service line. The well-rounded play of Nugent was in full effect on Friday and Saturday. However, no matter his stats on the court over the weekend, Nugent stayed modest and was quick to deflect the praise to his teammates.
"I never really expect to get a kill, I always hope I can get one," said Nugent. "When Taylor [Hammond] puts it up there for me to take hard swings it makes it pretty easy because I know where that ball is going to be all the time."
Even his approach to hitting seems simple when Nugent explains it. On the court it may seem complex, moving around, taking swings from back row and front row, but Nugent sees it a different way.
"I just see the ball go up in the air from Taylor (Hammond) and try and hit it past the block," said Nugent. "I don't think too much about it."
The best attribute for Nugent this season is filling a role that Russell filled so effectively all of last year, stepping up when the game starts to get tough. He is a dynamic player at all times, but brings a sense of calm to his team when they need him the most.
"I try not to do anything differently, I just try and stay confident no matter what the situation is," said Nugent. "The big thing is I try not to let the game effect how I'm playing and just try and keep hitting high hard swings."
Nugent would be the first to tell you that he was not solely responsible for the stellar effort put forth this weekend by the Nittany Lions. In game one, it was his teammate Jalen Penrose who proved to be electric with 15 kills on 25 swings. Penrose is one of, if not the most dynamic force on the Penn State team and it showed with a great performance in game one.
"I just treat every game like a new game," said Penrose. "I wanted to finish all of Taylor's good passes with good swings and was able to for the most part."
In game two, the supporting role fell on a more unassuming character in Andrew Roberts. Roberts, known more for his role as a serving specialist on the team, stepped in during the second set for a struggling Penrose and had an immediate impact on the court.
"He really helped out a lot," said Nugent. "I was able to get single blocks to hit past and they had to pay a lot more attention to Andrew because he was hitting so well so he really helped the whole team."
Roberts has been on the team for four years now and is one of the veterans who head coach Mark Pavlik leans on for leadership. He also knows the system extremely well due to the amount of time he has been a Nittany Lion.
"He's an old man," said Pavlik. "He did a great job coming in and filling a role for us. He knows the system very well and he is a reliable player so we feel confident putting him in a lot of different scenarios."
Roberts compiled nine kills on the night and hit over .400. He was consistent and really provided a rhythm for the Nittany Lions who were lacking just that in the first set.
"I wasn't really sure how it was going to go," said Roberts. "After I got that first kill I started to get into a rhythm and then I just played my game and took swings like I know how to."
Coming off their first weekend sweep of the year, Penn State has now won seven sets in a row and nine of its last 10. The Nittany Lions will have a lighter schedule next weekend as they only play one game. They will be away at St. Francis on Saturday.
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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
By Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The goal of every wrestler is to finish. Finish their match strong. Finish practice strong. Finish their workouts strong.
For sophomore Matt McCutcheon, finishing his shots has been a work in progress since the first day he stepped on campus. And for all of the hard work he has put in during practice, it came to fruition last weekend to the joy of McCutcheon and his coaches, as well.
Finishing was the theme during last Friday's match for McCutcheon and head coach Cael Sanderson has noticed the work McCutcheon has put in to work on finishing his shots.
"[Matt]'s been working on finishing his shots since he got here," said Sanderson. "That's been an issue as a redshirt and even last year getting in on legs, he would have a nice shot but wouldn't finish."
While Sanderson believes that the sophomore made it harder for himself than he needed to against Nebraska's TJ Dudley, he was happy with the way McCutcheon fought back to stand victorious at the end of the night.
"He did a nice job finishing when he really had to. I think he could have finished better a couple times throughout that match when he didn't have to put himself in a position where he was down like that," said Sanderson.
McCutcheon, looking back on last weekend's matches, knew he had a big weekend coming up and is excited about the increase in talent he will be facing down the stretch.
"I knew I had some good matches going in so it was an exciting weekend for me and always looking forward to wrestling the better guys," said McCutcheon.
Despite going 2-0 on the weekend, including a thrilling, last second upset win over Dudley on Friday night, McCutcheon is still not satisfied at where he is at.
"I gotta find some things I have to improve on and work from there in practice the rest of the week," said McCutcheon.
One of the biggest areas that the sophomore has been working on has been trying to finish his shots.
"One big thing is finishing shots. That was important in my match. I let him scoot the corner on me a couple of times so I had to get back to basics when finishing a shot," said McCutcheon.
Another area McCutcheon has really focused on is riding his opponent tougher. These are the areas, McCutcheon says, if he can shore up now, they won't turn into bigger problems later in the season, which could ultimately be the difference in a win or a loss.
After missing a couple weeks with back spasms, McCutcheon can gain confidence from these past matches, but moving forward, he still isn't satisfied with how the matches played out.
"It's definitely a confidence builder but at the same time, there were a lot of things that I did wrong in the match and things I need to learn from," said McCutcheon.
The confidence that McCutcheon is gaining isn't going unnoticed, as Sanderson see's the progress the sophomore has been making and is happy where he is at this point in the season.
"Matt's wrestling really well this year. He's confident and he's aggressive. He's looking good and looking strong, so we are real happy where he is right now."
The 184 pounder's key to figuring out his mistakes is by treating every match like a loss and examining his efforts through that perspective. By taking the good with the bad in every match, McCutcheon is able to learn and move on to the next match. The Apollo, Pa. native also has a short memory, putting each match in the past and only moving forward with the the areas where he can improve in. This is a strategy that McCutcheon believes helps him to focus more on the small details.
The Nittany Lions, holding the No. 1 rank since the start, have been wrestling well all season but McCutcheon, just like his teammates, believes that there is always room for improvement, a mindset that keeps the team hungry.
"I think that one thing with our team is that we are always looking to improve and we are supposed to be at our best by the time Nationals come around, so we have a lot of time left to keep getting better on the little things," said McCutcheon.
With three potential top 10 matchups in the upcoming weeks, McCutcheon believes that the coaching staff does a great job of keeping the team motivated through the constant message of improvement and never being satisfied.
"I think our coaching staff is great at picking out the things that each person needs to improve on," said McCutcheon. "I think that we are solid right now, but there's always room for improvement."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
With 11 regular season games to play in his Penn State career, senior guard
Devin Foster knows the number of opportunities he has to put on the Blue and
White are limited.
In his second full season on the floor for the Nittany Lions, the Dayton, Ohio, product is playing the best basketball of his career in Happy Valley.
During the past four games, Foster has been a key contributor on both ends of the floor in extensive playing time. Averaging 27 minutes per game during that stretch, Foster has manufactured a string of games with 12, seven, nine and 10 points, respectively (9.5 ppg).
His 12 points and 30 minutes of action against Michigan State were both career-highs. On Thursday, Foster was instrumental in helping the Nittany Lions slice a 17-point Wisconsin lead down to just three in the final minutes of a 66-60 setback. He played 28 minutes and scored 10 points against the Badgers, including a career-high tying two 3-pointers down the stretch. Foster was a tidy 3-for-5 from the floor and had four rebounds and an assist.
"He's making timely plays for us," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "He's rebounding the basketball. He's an elite finisher...And he has a better understanding of our defensive slides now. You know, he's only been here a year and a half. I think he's feeling more comfortable out there, and I think that's what you are seeing."
His path to Happy Valley began with a stop at Vincennes University in southwest Indiana. Foster was a JUCO All-American during the 2013-14 season before his signed to play at Penn State on April 16, 2014. He's gotten more comfortable by the week and is primed for a strong finish down the stretch.
Foster averaged 12.8 minutes of floor time in 19 games last season. Playing in every contest, he's already played in 20 games and is averaging 19.5 minutes in 2015-16. It's a big credit to Foster's mindset that he remained active in the practice gym and worked to refine his game to help the Nittany Lions in any way that he can.
"He stayed engaged. He didn't lose faith, and we didn't lose confidence in him," Chambers said. "I see his confidence rising. I see him in the gym more without being told to be in the gym."
Foster's emergence on both ends of the floor is huge for giving starting point guard Shep Garner a breather from the relentless pressure he has been accustomed to bringing the ball up the floor in Big Ten play. Foster is a reliable ball handler capable of setting the table for the Nittany Lions on the offensive end of the floor. He also brings a level of toughness to the Nittany Lion backcourt.
"With Devin Foster playing with great confidence, that's really going to help us down the stretch here," Chambers said.
Penn State (11-9, 2-5 Big Ten) travels to Foster's home state on Monday for a matchup against Ohio State (12-8, 4-3 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. on BTN.
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By Miranda Kulp, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One thing that Penn State prides itself off of is producing well-rounded students. This especially can apply for the more than 800 hundred student-athletes.
The University wants to ensure its student-athletes are more than competitors on the field of play; it's imperative that these men and women are not only performing greatness inside their sport but in their personal lives as students and influencers in the community, as well.
Many student-athletes take time out of their busy schedules to volunteer for charities around campus and give back to the community. One major charity all 31 teams volunteer for is THON.
Penn State's THON is a student-run philanthropy committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer. Being the largest student ran philanthropy in the world, this is something that every Nittany Lion can take pride in joining.
With thousands of student volunteers each year, many student athletes partake in a variety of THON related actives and fundraisers.
On Wednesday, the Penn State Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) hosted a lip sync battle to benefit THON.
"I think it's important to have student athletes to volunteer in these type of events, it shows we care about this school and want to help raise money for THON to better the kid's lives," said fencing freshman Anton Piskovatskov.
The fencing team joined the likes of student-athletes from swimming, men's hockey, wrestling, football, volleyball, field hockey, women's gymnastics and others at the first-ever event.
Piskovatskov, alongside his teammates performed to the classic single "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper.
"It was really fun performing and being goofy with the other teams. I was amazed to see the crowd and how many people came to support the event," said Piskovatskov.
Although the student-athletes all play different sports, they each represent the Blue and White and take pride in their school and all the good Penn State does.
"The atmosphere in Alumni Hall was great! It was a lot of fun seeing everyone come together as one and all the teams were having a blast performing so it made for a really upbeat and positive atmosphere," said freshman fencing student-athlete Gavin Turner.
"I think it's important to always give back to the community and help those in need," said Turner. "Although I'm not very involved in THON this year I plan on becoming more involved next year since it's such a great cause."
Representatives from the wrestling team earned top honors in the first lip sync battle hosted by SAAB with a rendition of "Same Girl" by R. Kelly and Usher, beating out finalists from men's hockey and fencing.
Many teams also take part in several activities during THON weekend, whether that's by performing in the talent show, joining committees to help run THON weekend, or even some athletes such as the four student-athletes from SAAB dancing in THON to help fight pediatric cancer.
THON 2016 is only a month away as many students plan to take part of the 46-hour no sitting, no sleeping event from Feb. 19-21.
"I think THON is important we're raising awareness and money for all those who have been impacted by childhood cancer in their lives," said Turner.
THON gives all Penn State students a chance to make a positive impact on the world by standing together to fight for the kids and for the cure.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team (10-0, 5-0 Big Ten) travels to No.
8 Illinois (9-3, 1-3 Big Ten) for its lone match this weekend. The Lions and
Fighting Illini will collide at 4 p.m. on Saturday (BTN).
GoPSUsports.com caught up with sophomore Matt McCutcheon this week to talk about his return to the mat against Nebraska and Northwestern. McCutcheon is 12-1 on the season and ranked No. 10 at 184 pounds.
By Mandy Bell, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three-year-old Mason Hosek was kicked out of her local dance class. As other kids were slowly getting into dance, Hosek was the rambunctious child that just wanted to do flips. Her dance teacher knew she did not belong in dance. Hosek was a gymnast.
At age six, Hosek's club coach Tami Jaso took her team to Auburn University for a gymnastics camp. Auburn's head coaches at the time, Jeff and Rachelle Thompson, watched the young Hosek gravitate toward the beam and always avoid the bars.
"She was the cutest thing ever," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said.
Assistant head coach Rachelle Thompson competed with club coach Jaso at Louisiana State University. Because of that bond, Jaso took her club team to the Thompsons' camps multiple years at both Auburn and Penn State allowing Hosek to create a strong bond with the couple.
In ninth grade, Hosek committed to the University of Oklahoma to continue her gymnastics career. As a result, all ties with the Thompsons had to be severed because she was no longer allowed talking to other collegiate coaches.
"At that time we weren't ready to pull the trigger on any ninth graders," Thompson said. "As she got closer to graduating her priorities changed."
As her collegiate career inched closer, Hosek decided to decommit from the University of Oklahoma. With Hosek back out on the market, Jaso knew she had to act quickly.
"My club coach called Rachelle and said, 'Hey Mason's open what do you think?'" Hosek said. "Rachelle called me that night and said 'we want you. Come please' and I was like, 'yeah, this is my dream school.'"
Hosek went on to become the national champion on both the balance beam and the floor exercise in her junior year of high school at the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics National Championships, however, during this time, she started to experience some discomfort in her back.
"I had two bulging discs in my back," Hosek said. "I was out for about a year, on and off, during my junior and senior year. That put me back a little bit."
Because of her injury, Hosek debated whether coming back to gymnastics was the right decision. But once Hosek received another phone call from Rachelle Thompson, she knew she needed to compete again.
"Rachelle talked to me and said 'you need to come back. It'll be good for you'," Hosek said. "And it has been. I haven't had any back problems since I've been here."
Hosek has made a quick impact for Penn State as she has performed in both of the first two meets of the 2016 season. She competes in the floor exercise, the vault and the balance beam for the Nittany Lions.
"College gymnastics is so completely different from club because, in club, if you fall it only hurts your score. Then they get to college and its 'oh my gosh, if I fall everybody's going to be mad at me,'" Jeff Thompson said. "There's a period where they try too hard, and I think Mason worked through that in preseason because she's done very well competing."
Hosek's favorite event is the beam. Ever since she was little, she realized the beam was something that came naturally to her even though most kids found it to be the hardest event. For Penn State, Hosek has the second highest score on beam so far this season with a 9.825.
"The season is young. We are not ranked as high as what we know we will be at the end," Jeff Thompson said. "But the opportunities are there for her to be in the lineup every weekend on three events, so she should strive to get as close to 30 as she can."
The Nittany Lions will travel to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After a home sweep of Wisconsin last weekend, the Penn State men's hockey team (15-4-3, 5-1-0 Big Ten) is looking forward to its first conference road trip of the season, facing Ohio State (6-12-2, 1-3-2 Big Ten) in Columbus. This weekend's games are vital for the Nittany Lions as they inch closer towards the stretch run of the season.
While head coach Guy Gadowsky constantly raves about how good of a home ice advantage the Roar Zone gives his team, the Nittany Lions will be without their most vocal and loyal fans this weekend. Instead, the Nittany Lions will need to manufacture their own energy.
"I think it's something I believe that the guys are sort of looking forward to the challenge," said Gadowsky on playing in Columbus this weekend. "We love playing in Pegula, we love the Roar Zone, they're huge for us, they're huge for enjoyment, they're huge for motivation, I think they've been a big part of the strong home ice advantage we have and the strong home record."
The Nittany Lions are 11-3-1 at home this season, and went 13-2-3 at home during the 2014-15 campaign. In contrast, the Nittany Lions are 2-0-2 on the road this season, and look to improve on that record this weekend.
"I think any time you play in the Big Ten it's going to be hard, whether it's home or on the road and I think if you want to be a good team you have to learn how to win on the road," said Gadowsky.
Senior forward Curtis Loik knows that any away game is an opportunity for the team to focus in on what the team refers to as a "business trip." Away games allow for players to focus in on their task at hand, rather than all the distractions game day at home can provide.
Rather than be entranced by the Roar Zone's chants, or the blaring of "Timber" through the speakers, being behind enemy lines provides an atmosphere of work instead of play.
Loik mentioned that although home games are a different atmosphere, each player enters every game with the same level of seriousness, whether on the road or not.
"You have to come to each game with the same mentality," said Loik. "It's a challenge on the road but we're going to get there early, get ready and be prepared for Ohio State."
As the season digs deeper into conference play, matchups become more important for rankings and the possibility of a post-season, especially seeding in the Big Ten Tournament.
Last March, the Buckeyes ended the Nittany Lions' season by defeating Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, 3-1.
Penn State has faced Ohio State 10 times in its short history as a varsity program, and has come out on top three times. Gadowsky is confident that after this weekend the Nittany Lions will be closer to evening the record.
The Nittany Lions look forward to putting all their hard work to use this weekend, and come home with two vital wins.
"Every game is a business trip for us," said Loik. "Each one of these games coming to the end of the season, it's so important for the rankings and for our personal success, so it's going to be a big weekend for us."
Penn State takes on Ohio State on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. in Columbus.
By Jack Milewski,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As every sports season wears on, the pressure of each game increases. With roughly two-thirds of the regular season already in the books, each game has an increased meaning to it for the Penn State women's hockey team.
Pressure can do interesting things to a team. Usually it has one of two effects, it can either break a team down, or make them stronger. Based on how this Penn State team has handled challenge and adversity, the pressure is making them stronger. If you ask the team they will all say that they thrive in pressure packed situations. Junior forward Laura Bowman says that she has noticed a huge changed in her abilities to perform under pressure from the time she first arrived in Happy Valley until now.
"My comfort has definitely increased there is no doubt about that," said Bowman. "A lot of the time in close games my freshman year I would try and do too much, but now I know that doing my job right is the best thing I can possibly do for the team."
It is always key for the leaders on a team to show poise in tense situations. For the Nittany Lions, this stretch run with eight of their next 10 games being played at home will be one where they need that poise. With the remaining games on the schedule being in conference, the excitement and pressure are ratcheted up that much more says Head Coach Josh Brandwene.
"You always want the intensity to start peaking at this time of the year," said Brandwene. "You can see it in their preparation and their excitement to be home and these should be great battles coming down the stretch."
The stretch run is the time when the games start to mean more and with added meaning comes added pressure. But as Bowman mentioned, the Penn State Nittany Lions thrive under pressure. They have been in numerous games this season that have been decided by one goal and they have two one goal wins in their last three games. Assistant coach and director of operations Alex Dawes says that he has noticed success from this team in those close games and that those situations have almost become a comfort zone for the Nittany Lions.
"I think I've really noticed that since I've started working here that a lot of games are one goal games," said Dawes. "I think that the kids thrive on the pressure a little bit. It's always fun to play in those one goal games, it makes winning that much sweeter for us."
Brandwene says he also notices that same mentality from the team where they enjoy playing in the tightly contested games and they don't shy away from the big moments.
"It's all a credit to this team's togetherness and competitiveness," said Brandwene. "They just love to compete and play and their togetherness in those moments is something that helps fuel them as well."
The Nittany Lions have a great balance of youth and experience and Brandwene pointed to some key players who really step up in the pressure situations.
"You have to look at players like Laura Bowman and Amy Petersen," said Brandwene. "Petersen always loves the big moments and she wants the puck on her stick at the end of the game, she's been like that her whole career."
With the amount of one goal games that the Nittany Lions have played, the team feels ready for the home stretch of the season leading into the playoffs. Bowman feels that all of the close games that they have played so far this season have them suited perfectly for a solid run here to end the 2016 slate.
"Moving forward late into the season and the playoffs those are always close games," said Bowman. "I feel like our team is more than ready to take on those types of games and we won't crumble under that pressure because we have been there before and know what it feels like. In the end we just have to keep playing our game and keeping it simple is the most important thing in these tight games."
The Nittany Lions head back out on to the Pegula Ice for the first time since November this coming Friday and Saturday against Robert Morris University. Puck drop for game one is slated for 7 p.m. while game two is a 2 p.m. matinee start.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - An 18-game slate in the Big Ten is an arduous task for every team in the conference.
Penn State's first 10 games of the Big Ten schedule this season may be an exception, though. Come Feb. 3, the Nittany Lions will have played seven of their first 10 conference games away from the Bryce Jordan Center. The team is currently in the midst of a stretch where it will play five out of six outside of Happy Valley.
The lone exception is Thursday night when the Lions (11-8, 2-4 Big Ten) welcome Wisconsin (10-9, 2-4 Big Ten) to the Bryce Jordan Center for an 8 p.m. tip (BTN). Penn State enters the only meeting between the Lions and Badgers this season following a hard fought road win at Northwestern (71-62).
"We've got to keep sharing the ball," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "In our two wins, we had 14 and 15 assists. We have to continue sharing the basketball (to be successful)...Look, we made shots (at Northwestern). We made nine threes."
The Nittany Lions are averaging 14.5 assists per game in their Big Ten wins this season. In the four losses, the Lions have averaged just seven assists per contest. Chambers has said the magic number for made 3-pointers in a game for this team is seven. The Lions went 9-for-21 at Northwestern. The good looks on the perimeter come from efficient ball movent.
A big piece in Penn State's performance at Northwestern was senior Donovon Jack, who has come on strong of late. The forward played the best basketball of his final season last week, averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the contests at Purdue and Northwestern. Jack was one rebound shy of a double-double in the win over the Wildcats when he tallied 14 points and nine boards.
"He's playing with great confidence," said Chambers. "When you see the ball go through the basket, it's going to give you confidence. The thing I really enjoyed about how he played last week was at Purdue. He didn't back down. He played tough and physical. To me, that was a sign that he is back on track and going to finish strong here."
Another key contributor in the rotation during recent games has been senior Devin Foster. The backup point guard has played major minutes in Penn State's last three games, scoring 9.3 points and 3.7 rebounds during that stretch. That series of games includes a career-high 12 tallies, which came against Michigan State. Foster had nine points, six rebounds and five assists at Northwestern.
Wisconsin snapped a three-game losing streak with a 77-76 victory over then-No. 4 Michigan State in Madison. Under the direction of interim head coach Greg Gard, the Badgers are 2-4 in Big Ten play, but have lost the four games by a combined 15 points.
"He is doing a great job," said Chambers. "I think their defense has gotten a lot better. Against Michigan State, they got to the line a ton. They have lost some close games. They've been in a lot of games and they lost a lot of tight games."
Junior forward Nigel Hayes leads Wisconsin offensively at 16.3 points per game. Hayes was instrumental in Wisconsin's run to the national title game last season. Junior guard Bronson Koenig is averaging 14.3 points per contest. Wisconsin is leading the Big Ten in offensive rebounds per game (12.63).
The Nittany Lions are 7-14 all-time against the Badgers in games played in Happy Valley.
Penn State will head back on the road Monday when it travels to Ohio State (7 p.m.). The Lions will then meet Michigan in Madison Square Garden on Jan. 30. The stretch of three-straight road games will wrap up on Feb. 3 at Iowa. From there, the Lions will play five of their last eight conference games at home.
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