By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team heads to West Virginia this weekend to compete in its last regular season meet of this year's slate. This season has been another incredible year for the program under the direction of Jeff and Rachelle Thompson. With six wins in eight meets and a deep, talented lineup, the potential that this team has for the postseason is off the charts.
But, before the team heads to the Big Five meet in Minnesota, the qualifying tournament to the Big Ten Championships, the Nittany Lions take on the Mountaineers this Sunday.
"You never know how dual meets will pan out, especially with changes to your rotation," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "At home, we almost always finish on floor, but this weekend we will be ending on beam, which is different."
Penn State is currently ranked No.11, compared to West Virginia's No. 30 placement. Of the four events, bars, beam, vault and floor, the Mountaineers are only ahead of the Nittany Lions in the rankings on floor.
"We have had two road losses this year," Thompson said. "That plays into where we fall in the rankings. But we have made a lot of adjustments since those losses and the girls have been working hard."
Keys To The Meet:
When the average person thinks of the phrase "stick a landing" in terms of gymnastics, typically the reaction is "not falling." Sticking a landing is so much more than that; It is the most mentally challenging aspect of the sport. With so many variables working against you, sticking a landing is challenging and a skill where deductions come from, most often. If you step out, wobble or even seem a bit uneasy, you are most likely going to get a deduction and those begin to add up.
"A lot of our gymnasts have incredibly challenging routines," Thompson said. "But if you have the slightest big of a wobble, you are going to lose points. The girls have to be confident. We are ending the meet on beam so we have to keep things consistent."
The Nittany Lion roster is strong, powerful and exciting to watch. They are incredibly consistent and successful; there is no question why channeling adrenaline is a major component to a successful day on Saturday. It will be even more of challenge due to a change in their rotation; ending on beam is a deviation from the norm.
"Gymnastics is an individual sport and a team sport," Thompson said. "If one person doesn't perform well, it can effect the entire team. But the girls trust each other; they work well under pressure. If they do what they do in the gym, every day, I have no doubt that we will be successful this weekend."
Coming Full Circle...
The team has benefited from the rigorous judging they have seen all season; the way they have been scored all season is similar to the way they will be judged in the postseason. Considering they have generally gotten better, more consistent scores, week in and week out, they are more than prepared for their championship hunt.
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By Gabby Richards, GoPSUsports
Student Staff Writer
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While the Nittany Lion football team is just 15 days from returning to the practice field for the start of spring drills, the group is not thinking about putting helmets back on quite yet.
Led be Director of Performance Enhancement Dwight Galt and his strength staff, the football squad is in the midst of its annual three-day physical testing period to measure the progress it has made since winter conditioning began in January and to set a baseline leading into the summer workout season.
The Nittany Lions kicked off the testing week on Monday by running the 40-yard dash, broad jump and triple jump inside Holuba Hall and maxing out on the bench press in the weight room. Tuesday's testing featured the vertical jump and the power clean max out in the weight room. Following a snow day on the University Park campus on Wednesday, the testing culminated on Thursday with the shuttle run in Holuba Hall and a squatting max out session in the weight room.
When Galt addressed the media one year ago this week, he talked about how pleased he had been with the team's effort. This year, he said the growth has elevated to a different level.
"What a difference a year makes. It has been unbelievable," Galt said. "Fifty-six of the guys in here are guys we had last January...It's been a phenomenal difference. They did a great job last year, but they know the expectations and they are really excited about the 2015 season....It has been a noticeable change."
Roughly eight weeks into the winter conditioning program, Galt is confident in where the team is at during the final week of strength and conditioning before the student-athletes are off for spring break next week. The team has lifted three days a week and conditioned during the early-morning hours the other two days.
While Galt still has some numbers to analyze once the week is over, he has seen a big jump in the team's testing results when comparing this year to last year.
"I went back and looked at some of the records I'd had at previous places where we had older, more established teams," Galt said. "We actually had 56 guys (power) clean 300 or more pounds. The highest I've had in the last five years was 43. This is a young team that is basically one of the stronger team's I've ever had."
Galt said the power clean results translated well into the 40-yard dash testing, which puts explosiveness at a premium. Last year, nine players ran a 4.59 or lower in the 40. This year, 19 players ran 4.59 or lower. Of the 93 guys who tested in the 40-yard dash, 74 ran 4.99 or lower.
On the bench press, the team's max out average jumped from 312 pounds last year to 323 pounds this year. Additionally, seven players topped 35 inches in the vertical test. Galt said the team's overall speed and explosiveness have taken a big step forward in the past year.
"All of those things work hand in hand with one another," Galt said. "The numbers, especially in the explosive moment, have been great."
A few position groups have jumped out at Galt during the winter workout period. He highlighted the defensive ends, which is a unit that had four players power clean 350 pounds or more. Galt also said the offensive line has done a superb job improving its strength and movement capabilities. The third group he singled out for their efforts this winter was the wide receivers.
With the media in attendance at Thursday's workout, junior offensive lineman Derek Dowrey put on a show in the final squat of the team's first lifting group of the day. Dowrey squatted 545 pounds five times with his fellow teammates cheering him.
Now, the Nittany Lions are counting down the days before the start of spring practice, but they have an eye on the bigger picture. The 2015 season is just around the corner, and they have one thing in mind.
"Everybody is so excited about getting back on the field," Galt said. "They want to get better on the field."
"We have a great week going. We are really excited about how much improvement we have made," Galt said. "A lot of that has to do with the work ethic. There's no doubt about. But we have talent here."
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While the opponent may be familiar, the situation will certainly be different for the Penn State women's hockey team this Friday.
When the Nittany Lions take on Syracuse this Friday in the CHA tournament semifinals, it will be the fifth time this year they will have taken on the Orange. The difference however, will be what is at stake.
This time around, the two clubs won't be playing a two-game series like they did on Oct 31-Nov. 1 and Jan. 30- 31. Now, the winner of Friday's contest will move on to the CHA finals, where they will face off against the winner of Robert Morris and Mercyhurst.
So far this season, the Lions are 1-1-2 against the Orange, losing 3-1 and tying to 2-2 the first series and tying 2-2 and winning 4-2 the second.
"I think the familiarity makes for exciting competition this time of year," Penn State head coach Josh Brandwene said. "We are focused on us, our preparation and continued growth as a team and looking forward to competing."
The Nittany Lions reached the semifinals by beating Lindenwood twice last weekend, by scores of 1-0 and 3-1. In those contests, Penn State got big performances from Shannon Yoxheimer, who scored in each game, and Bella Sutton, who registered two goals and an assist in the second victory.
On the backend, the Lions also got an impressive performance from goaltender Celine Whitlinger, who allowed just one goal on 48 shots during the weekend to finish with a terrific .979 save percentage. Whitlinger is now 13-10-1 on the season with a 2.17 goals-against-average.
While winning both games over the weekend was obviously important for the Lions in terms of advancing them to their first ever CHA tournament semifinals berth, it also gives them a much needed boost of confidence at this time of the season.
Prior to last weekend, the Lions had dropped five contests in a row and hadn't won since Feb. 6. Now with two straight wins under its belts, Penn State can go into Friday knowing it's primed for a peak performance.
"We had an excellent week of preparation and looking forward to getting after it," Brandwene said.
As for Syracuse, the Orange had a bye in the first round of the tournament and haven't played since Feb. 21, a 1-0 loss to RIT. In their last six games, the Orange are 4-1-1 but have a 5-6 all-time record in CHA tournament games.
If Penn State can get past Syracuse, it will have a tough test no matter what opponent it gets next. On the season, the Lions are 2-2 against Meryhurst and 1-3 against Robert Morris. The winner of the tournament will also get a automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.
However the weekend does play out, the Lions have taken a major step forward as a program by advancing to the semifinals. No matter what, Brandwene knows his club is moving in the right direction.
"This team's continued success and growth is a credit to the players' commitment to excellence and to the process everyday," Brandwene said. "We're excited and really looking forward to competing."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three years ago, Jacob Friedman, Taylor Holstrom, Nate Jensen, PJ Musico and Peter Sweetland were all playing hockey for Penn State's club team, the Icers. When Max Gardiner arrived the following season, all six student-athletes partook in the team's inaugural Division I season. Last year, with the addition of Patrick Koudys, they dressed for the first season of the Big Ten Conference, the first season in Pegula Ice Arena.
Now, their time at Penn State is coming to a close. This weekend, all seven seniors will see the final home games of their careers as Nittany Lions. Nevertheless, this class is incredibly special to the program. The mark they have left on Penn State Hockey will remain intact forever.
"This was really the first guys that were sort of recruited, and if you remember, when they were recruited, when they committed to us, when they said yes, we weren't even Division I at the time, let alone in a league," said head coach Guy Gadowsky. "They said there was going to be a league, but there wasn't. They said there was going to be this beautiful building, but there wasn't. There wasn't even a shovel in the ground.
"These guys, they had to have a lot of faith in Penn State and what this staff was sort of saying would happen. More importantly, they had to have a lot of faith in themselves because we recruited a lot of players. A good portion of those would come back and say, 'Jeez. I just don't want to lose for four years.' These guys never said that. Anybody that came from this class, they never said that."
These athletes didn't come to Happy Valley solely to win. The road ahead was going to be tough, but they wanted to build a program. They wanted to be the foundation of Penn State hockey.
That is exactly what they have done.
This group includes players with tremendous leadership abilities, players with a strong presence both in the locker room and on the ice, players with true character.
"I've learned that you just have to take things as they come and help everyone stay focused on the tasks at hand," said Jensen, the team's assistant captain. "There's always going to be ups and downs. It's not easy, but that's part of hockey and being a leader."
The determination of the senior class is a big part of the reason the Nittany Lions have found what some may call unexpected success this season. Yet, these seven knew there was magic in Hockey Valley. It just had to be uncovered and recognized.
During their time at Penn State, the class has combined for 150 career-points. Holstrom currently leads the way with 67, followed by Gardiner's 28 and Jensen's 26.
Koudys blocked 137 shots for the team in his 68 appearanced. Muscio has registered a .904 career save-percentage, and Friedman and Sweetland have appeared in 41 and 42 games for the Blue and White, respectively.
The class continuously provides depth for the team, but they also add personality.
"Goofballs," said Jensen when describing his fellow seniors. "No, but really, we're a hard working group. We may not be the most skilled class, but we definitely have a lot of heart. We like to lead by example and give it our all every time we're out there."
The final games in Hockey Valley for these seven will not be an easy task. With Michigan coming into town, emotions will be high. The history between Penn State (16-12-4, 8-7-1 B1G) and the Wolverines (19-11-0, 11-5-0 B1G) always drives up the level of play, the level of physicality.
With such few points separating the top four spots in the Big Ten Conference, the Lions know they'll need to dig deep and focus.
"There's definitely a rivalry between Michigan and Penn State that started from last year and earlier this season," Jensen explained. "Our two teams don't like each other. It's definitely going to be good hockey games, and I'm excited. I'm looking forward to the weekend."
Although Friedman, Gardiner, Holstrom, Jensen, Koudys, Musico and Sweetland will all be honored in a senior ceremony this weekend, the seven will have one final series against Minnesota and the Big Ten Tournament to prepare for following the last two games in Pegula Ice Arena.
With such tough weekends ahead, the Nittany Lions know playing their best hockey is even more important now.
"What I like is that we're facing the top two teams going into playoffs," said Gadowsky. "I like that. To face the best going into playoffs I think is a positive experience. You're going to be forced to play at such a high level that I feel that can only help you going into the Big Ten Tournament."
These seven seniors have experienced all the ups and downs of this program.
They played in club games. They played in the first Division I season. They played in Greenberg Ice Pavilion. They played in Pegula Ice Arena.
Most importantly, these seniors gave their hearts and souls to Penn State hockey. That kind of dedication is rare and can never be forgotten.
"I will definitely always remember," said Gadowsky of this class. "Always. Forever."
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. - Battling to the last second, Penn State fell, 68-65, to Indiana in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday night.
The Lady Lions and the Hoosiers took turns getting numbers on the board for a high-energy and aggressive start, an energy that lasted all 40 minutes.
"We're a very competitive team. So we always come out fighting, and we're going to fight to the end, whether win or lose," said sophomore Sierra Moore.
The Lady Lions did just that with less than a minute left in the first half, a clutch Alex Harris layup followed by a Peyton Whitted jumper cut Indiana's lead to seven (38-31).
When the second half begun, it was clear that both teams were going to leave everything out on the court. An exciting half followed as Penn State answered back, bringing the difference within two with a minute left in the game.
Unable to execute, Penn State attacked to the very last second as Indiana found a momentum that brought the final score to 68-63.
Sierra Moore led the Lady Lions with 18 points, notching her 21st game with a double-figure performance. She shot 9-for-13 and dished out six assists. Fellow sophomore, Kaliyah Mitchell got hot in the second half to snatch her fourth double-double this season, grabbing 10 rebounds and 13 points against the Hoosiers.
Fourty-four of Penn State points were made in the paint, 14 of which by Candice Agee
"I think that it was something that we know to do and something that we've found that is we get better shots off in the paint," said Candace Agee. "So not that it was a surprise to me. Something that we work on, something that we try to focus on doing is getting the ball inside and out."
Using their size as an advantage, Penn State outrebounded Indiana 40-29, eight of which were pulled down by 6-foot-5 Tori Waldner.
Waldner closed out her senior season by becoming the 31st member of the 500-rebound club.
"There's certainly a lot of learning, a lot of lessons that we'll take away from this season, this game, the Big Ten Conference play, said head coach Coquese Washington. "We've got the majority of the team coming back next year. So a lot of these lessons and the growth we saw over the course of the season is something we'll build."
This young team will do just that as they continue to build for next year.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Take a look at this year's postseason lineup for the Penn State wrestling team and you'll notice a few differences from last year's.
There are seven new names, much less experience and no returning national champions. There's no denying it, plenty has changed for the Nittany Lions.
But that doesn't mean their mindset is any different than the past four years. When the Lions begin the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday in Columbus, they'll still be gunning for their fifth consecutive conference championship.
"We need all 10 guys scoring points, we need all 10 guys scoring bonus points when they have that opportunity," head coach Cael Sanderson said. "Similar to the southern scuffle, same mentality. We need to use every second of every match, we've got to win those close matches, that was the difference in the dual meets we won."
Out of the 10 wrestlers competing for Penn State this weekend, five have experience in the conference tournament. All-Americans Matt Brown (174) and Morgan McIntosh (197), along with sophomore Jimmy Gulibon (133) return from last year's squad while junior Jordan Conaway (125) and senior Jimmy Lawson (285) wrestled in 2013.
As for the newcomers, freshmen Garett Hammond (165), Matt McCutcheon (184) and Kade Moss (141) will make their postseason debuts after holding down their weights all season long. The same goes for sophomore 149-pounder Zack Beitz, who just missed out on going to the Big Tens last season when senior James English earned a spot in the lineup in the final weeks of the season.
Finally, there's senior 157-pounder Luke Frey, the most improbable addition to the team's lineup. A natural 149-pounder, Frey wrestled just three duals all season but earned the spot over freshman Cody Law and senior Dylan Alton, who's dealing with lingering shoulder injures.
"It was always my goal to be able to compete in the postseason, Frey said. "Was it going to hard, yeah, but I pushed myself and it ended up working out for me. It's different how people wrestle from 149 to 157, just getting prepared so I can push the pace."
In order to prepare, Frey has relied on the advice of Brown and assistant coach Frank Molinaro, who earned four All-American nods at Penn State and won an individual national title in 2012.
With half their roster making their tournament debuts, the Nittany Lions will need plenty of leadership from their veterans. Still, each wrestler knows that it will ultimately be on them to decide their own fate this weekend.
According to McIntosh, last season's Big Ten runner-up at 197-pounds, the team has grown accustomed to expectations that come with wrestling for such a distinguished program. At this point, even the newcomers are used to pressure-packed situations.
"The team score does matter this weekend just like in dual matches," McIntosh said. "I think we should be competing the way we wrestle in practice and just have fun. Coaches tell us all the time it's about having fun and not worrying about all the pressure to win the fifth title. We all just need to relax and wrestle hard."
In fact, the Nittany Lions only have one less wrestler with postseason experience this year than they did last year when they captured their fourth straight national title.
While that team had national champions David Taylor and Ed Ruth in the lineup, Sanderson still doesn't feel like this year's squad is at too much of a disadvantage. Like McIntosh, he believes the Lions' familiarity with hostile crowds will keep their minds at ease.
"I don't think [experience] is a big deal, I think these guys have wrestled in big tournaments," Sanderson said. "These freshmen have wrestled in front of the [second] largest crowd in a dual in the NCAA (Feb. 8 in the BJC against Iowa) and they've been in all those spots, everywhere we go there's a big crowd. I don't look at it like these guys are freshmen."
As always, the biggest key for the Nittany Lions will be qualifying as many wrestlers as possible for the NCAA Tournament. With only so many spots available and many of the nation's best wrestlers in the Big Ten, it will be a challenge for Penn State to send all 10 guys for the third-straight year.
But as Sanderson likes to say, iron sharpens iron, and the Lions can only prepare themselves by taking on the best competition possible. With the competition as tough as ever, the Blue and White will see exactly how far along they are.
"There's some benefits of being in the Big Ten, it's very competitive," Sanderson said. "The more you put on a kid, the tougher they get the more they respond. When they get to the national tournament it's like another weekend in the Big Ten."
By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's lacrosse is set for three road matches against Harvard, Marist and UMass during the academic spring break.
Although their luck on the road hasn't been ideal, the Nittany Lions hope their fortunes will change over their spring break campaign. Historically under head coach Jeff Tambroni the Nittany Lions' record has been superb on the road, and Penn State looks to continue this tradition and notch its first road win against Harvard this Saturday.
"It has always been a part of this program that we find more success on the road than we do at home," said Tambroni. "So finding that formula is going to be kind of what we're gonna set out to achieve this week."
The team will leave Happy Valley on Friday and head to Boston for their first of three games over the course of a week. The long bus ride will give the team and coaches time to further build relationships amongst one another.
After their game Saturday against Harvard, the Nittany Lions face Marist on Tuesday, then travel to Amherst to take on UMass the following Saturday, but despite their full schedule, the Nittany Lions do have a small amount of downtime. The team plans to use this time to take in the sights and sounds of all that Boston has to offer.
"We have extremely generous and gracious parents throughout the course of the entire year, they go way above and beyond caring for this team when we go on the road," said Tambroni. "Connor Darcey's parents are local, they're from Wellesley, Massachusetts, so they have scheduled a number of things including a tour of Fenway Park, we're going to go to a Boston Celtics game and we got a day of bowling. This will give the guys the chance to see each other in a different light."
Small adventures like these are nice ways for the team to further bond with one other, but also get some much-needed downtime during such a busy week. Coach Tambroni joked that, being a diehard New York Yankees fan, he'll have to wear his pinstripes on the Fenway Park tour.
Coach Tambroni hopes that Penn State's successful run at home will translate into wins on the road now that the team knows what needs to happen to notch wins. Communication is key on the field and the Nittany Lions have focused on being more vocal during practices to lay the groundwork for their spring break games.
"We had a great week of preparation before Penn, I think we learned a lot, grew a lot as a team," said Tambroni. "I'm hopeful that we'll travel a lot better going into Harvard and start stringing together some wins."
Junior faceoff specialist Drake Kreinz knows the team needs to get its first win on the road and emphasized the hard work the team has put in during this week of practices. Kreinz believes the team is well prepared, but it all comes down to the mentality of the team during game time.
"I know we've got our hands full," said Kreinz. "Harvard's a very good team, we got a short weekend and then on to Marist and UMass, all great physical teams. Being on the road I know there will be a lot going on but the biggest thing is just staying mentally prepared and, especially with the cold and the snow in Boston, we just gotta play our game and stay focused."
On these road games, the one element that will impact the team the most is the weather. Having played both home games in Holuba Hall, the Nittany Lions have only battled the elements on the road, including blizzard like conditions at Villanova. Overcoming the inevitable cold and possible snow in Massachusetts will be the biggest challenge the team faces, but Penn State is prepared.
The Nittany Lions have studied film, practiced hard, and have conditioned themselves in order to be as well prepared as possible for the week ahead. Winning three games in a row would be the perfect spring break for the Nittany Lions, but Tambroni emphasized that wins aren't the only thing that decide a successful bout of road games.
"At the end of the day I hope we come back a more united team and a much closer team when we head back from Amherst," said Tambroni.
The Nittany Lions will start their spring break campaign at Harvard on Saturday at noon.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It may have been the last home game of his college career, but Ross Travis didn't waste any time feeling nostalgic.
For the senior forward, Wednesday night's game against Ohio State was an opportunity to show just how effective he could be. In his first start since Feb. 4 against Maryland, Travis gave perhaps his best performance of the season, scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 29 minutes in an eventual 77-67 setback to the 23rd-ranked Buckeyes.
"Ross is playing great basketball the last couple of weeks and down the stretch," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "He's been dialed in, doing everything he can for us and it's great to see."
Travis has always been a player defined by his effort, and Wednesday was no different. But while the 6-foot-7 forward's game has usually been defined by defense and rebounding, he went to great lengths to assert himself on offense against the Buckeyes.
In the game's first two minutes alone, Travis scored two of the Lions first three baskets in what turned out to just be a taste of what was to come for Penn State's third-leading rebounder of all time.
After the Buckeyes took an early 15-8 lead, the Lions went on a 21-5 run that lasted nearly nine minutes and resulted in a 29-20 Penn State lead with 3:21 remaining. In that frame, Travis went 3-of-4 from the field and scored seven points before finishing the first half with 12 points and three rebounds as Penn State led 30-29.
Not only did he match his highest point total of the season and finish just two rebounds away from a double-double, Travis played with a ferocity that was unique even for him. Clearly exhausted afterwards, the forward said he was merely trying to do his job.
"The same thing that inspires me everyday and every game," Travis said. "Playing for my teammates, playing for certain individuals. Just the same thing."
Of course, Travis wasn't the only senior honored prior to the contest. Former walk-ons Kevin Montminy and Alan Wisniewski started for the first time all season in their last game in the BJC.
And then of course, there was D.J. Newbill, who led the Nittany Lions in scoring with 17 points while dishing out five assists and grabbing four rebounds. It was the 6-foot-4 guard's 29th double-digit scoring effort in 30 games this season.
Not only that, but the 17 points also helped the Philadelphia native pass the 2,000 mark for his career, making him the 10th active Division I player to have accomplished the feat. When asked where he ranked Newbill against the greatest players in Penn State history, Chambers put him near the top.
"He's got to be top five," Chambers said. "The only thing that might prevent him is wins. You feel for him. The guy took a chance on us and he's done his job and I need to do mine. I need to do a better job of helping him out these last couple games here to help him finish strong."
After playing the 23rd best team in the nation evenly for the first 30 minutes, the Lions came out on fire to start the second, opening the half with a 8-0 run that gave them a 38-29 lead and all the momentum.
At that moment, Ohio State freshman guard D'Angelo Russell began to show why he's considered a future NBA lottery pick. Having gone just 3-of-9 from the field in the first half, the Big Ten's second leading scorer went 5-of-7 the rest of the way and finished the night with 28 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Although the Lions kept it close for a while and trailed by eight with 10 minutes to go, Ohio State's hot shooting proved to be too much to stop. In the second half alone, the Buckeyes shot 52 percent from the field and 56 percent from three.
"I thought we played really well for 30 minutes," Chambers said. "We played really, really well. And then [D'Angelo] took over the game, that was the difference. And then everybody got hot, it seemed we couldn't get a stop for a while there, everybody made a shot. It was contagious."
Though the loss stings like always, Chambers was still able to be proud of the effort his seniors gave. From the star in Newbill to the grinder in Travis and finally to two of the hardest workers in Montminy and Wisniewski, everyone was deserving of the accolades they received.
"I thought Ross did some good things," Chambers said. "It was nice to see Kevin and Wis, I thought they played to a stalemate before I took them out which was just typical for those guys. Kevin Montminy played [former first team All-American] Trey Burke at Michigan. Alan Wisniewski was in critical games his last four years. It didn't surprise me at all that we didn't really miss a beat with those guys in the game."