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Pin Hitters Help Nittany Lions Advance to NCAA Semifinals

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11059407.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
PALO ALTO, Calif. - Thanks to the superb play of its pin hitters, fifth-seeded Penn State (21-9) upended fourth-seeded Hawaii (24-7) in four sets (25-22, 25-20, 17-25, 27-25) in the second of two play-in games Tuesday night at historic Maples Pavilion.

With the win, the Nittany Lions advanced to the NCAA national semifinals and will face top-seeded Lewis at 11 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 7. This is the 17th consecutive season Penn State has reached the final four. 

The Blue and White's pin hitters - made up of Aaron Russell, Nick Goodell and Chris Nugent - accumulated 92 percent of the team's kills (54 out of 59). The trio's dynamic offensive balance created defensive problems for the Rainbow Warriors.

"I thought that our outside hitters did a good job," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "Nick [Goodell] balanced out the rights side with the night that he had. Overall, when the match was on the line, our competition level was as high as it's been all year long."

First-team AVCA All-American Aaron Russell led all hitters with 20 kills in the match. He swung at a match-high 46 sets and finished with a .239 hitting percentage. Russell also added seven digs and a perfect receive percentage.

"I think we've come a long way since the beginning of the year when we faced Hawaii and it feels good to get a little revenge and next we have Lewis who we also lost to twice," Russell said. "And I think the adversity we experienced at the beginning of the season really has helped us improve, and I definitely think that's one of the reasons why were on this run that we're on right now."

The senior outside hitter has been a leader all season long but is using the postseason platform as a pedestal to help make sure his teammates and coaching staff achieve their end goal, a national championship.

"I think I'm getting more comfortable," Russell said. "Being out this past summer in Anaheim really helped me learn a lot, it was a good experience. My experience being a senior now, I've been through a lot and played with a lot of these guys and so were getting comfortable with each other and gelling, and it's a lot of fun."  

Redshirt senior opposite Nick Goodell and sophomore outside hitter Chris Nugent were the two x-factors, however. Goodell was magical, killing 19 attacks on a .378 mark and adding one service ace and four digs. Nugent was spectacular, as well, tallying 15 kills at a .400 attacking percentage.

The performances described above would not be possible without setter Taylor Hammond. The redshirt junior kept the Nittany Lions in system and served up a match-high 54 assists. His play certainly did not go unnoticed by his teammates.

"Again it starts with the passers," Goodell said. "Once they're able to get in a rhythm, then Taylor [Hammond] can get in a rhythm. Then with our middles getting up like they did, everyone is going to be successful. We're a very hard team to stop like that."

Prior to upsetting Hawaii yesterday, the last time Penn State had beaten a team ranked higher than them in the NCAA tournament occurred back in 2010. That year, the Nittany Lions reached the championship only to lose to host and top-ranked Stanford.

The winner of Lewis vs. Penn State will play the victor of Loyola-Chicago vs. UC Irvine in the 2015 NCAA National Championship on May 9.

2015 Coaches Caravan Day I - Harrisburg and Lancaster

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Coaches Caravan Registration | Download Your PSU Caravan Photo Booth Pictures Here

Photo Gallery: Stop #1 - Harrisburg | Photo Gallery: Stop #2 - Lancaster

LANCASTER, Pa. - The 2015 Penn State Coaches Caravan hit the road on Tuesday with a pair of events in the heart of Nittany Lion country at Harrisburg and Lancaster.

The Penn State themed Fullington Trailways bus pulled out of the Bryce Jordan Center parking lot at 7:04 a.m. en route to Harrisburg. Take a look through highlights from the first two stops of a six-event week on the Coaches Caravan.

Stop No. 1 - Harrisburg (Best Western Premier)
Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour and head coaches James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky and Denise St. Pierre headlined the first day of the road tour on Tuesday. The trip began with a visit to the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. Members of the travel party toured the ornate structure, which was built in 1906 at a cost of $15 million.

Just after 10 a.m., Barbour, the head coaches and Penn State Alumni Association Executive Director Roger Williams participated in the opening of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives session for May 5. Representative Frank Farry introduced Franklin before the head coach of the Nittany Lions addressed the room of state representatives. Farry, who hails from Bucks County, and Franklin both graduated from Neshaminy High School.

"I can't tell you how honored we are to be here and address the House of Representatives," said Franklin.

blog_harrisburg15_2.jpg VIDEO - Courtesy of Representative Farry

 From the Capitol Building, the bus traveled to the Best Western Premier for the opening stop of the two-week tour through the region. Barbour spoke to the crowd first, highlighting the department's "why" and her vision for Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics. Everything within the department begins with the "why", and the student-athletes are at the forefront.

"We want to create a world class environment for our student-athletes to help them prepare for life after earning their degrees," Barbour said.

While it is mentioned regularly, the support Penn State fans provide for the athletic department and its 800 student-athletes is something that should never be taken for granted. And Barbour, along with the coaches, would like to use the Coaches Caravan as an opportunity to simply say thank you for the fans' unrivaled commitment.

"The fact that so many people are here with us (today) is tremendous," said St. Pierre. "The fact that all of you stuck with us makes us feel so fortunate."

"One of the best things about this for me is getting to learn from these other coaches," Gadowsky said. "The second thing that I love about this is getting to be around people who share the same amount of passion as you."

Gadowsky's remarks were a transition into a comical story about a fan's commitment to the hockey program. One of the approximately 250 fans in attendance on Tuesday for lunch had been struck while attempting to catch a puck during a Penn State men's hockey game this winter. He met Gadowsky before the program began and showed him some of his battle scars. As the crowd roared with approval, the man pulled the puck from his pocket and waved to the fans while Gadowsky applauded him for sticking with the game and not leaving despite black eyes and a bloody face.

"This is the type of guy I want at our hockey games. He didn't leave!" Gadowsky said.

Franklin promptly asked the fan if he had any eligibility left because he wants that type of commitment within the football program. The second-year leader of the Nittany Lions then highlighted the program's stellar academic success in 2014-'15. Fifty-seven players achieved a 3.0 GPA or higher during the fall semester. Additionally, 21 true freshman earned a 3.0 GPA or better in the fall. Graduation and success in the classroom will always be at the top of Franklin's list of accomplishments for the growth of the football program.

Emphasizing the program's four core values is a staple for Franklin moving forward. He told the crowd that the players and staff members did a good job of memorizing the values - positive attitude, unrivaled work ethic, compete in everything you do and sacrifice - but now he wants to see the program live them.

With five more days on the caravan ahead, the theme of each discussion will focus on what makes Penn State so special - the people.

"I love to take this time to say thank you," Franklin said. Having the opportunity to come out and thank you personally means a lot to me."

VIDEO: Harrisburg Press Conference

Stop No. 2 - Lancaster (Marriott at Penn Square)

More than 360 boisterous Penn State fans greeted the Coaches Caravan in Lancaster on Tuesday night. The crowd was enthusiastic from the moment Roger Williams, Executive Director of the Penn State Alumni Association, welcomed the group with a rousing "We Are" chant in the Commonwealth Ballroom of the Marriott at Penn Square.

Barbour, Franklin, Gadowsky and St. Pierre were joined during the pre-event reception by assistant football coaches John Donovan and Brent Pry, who were in the area recruiting on Tuesday. Donovan and Pry, along with the rest of the assistant coaches have been on the recruiting trail since spring practice wrapped up with the Blue-White Game.

Like the first stop in Harrisburg, Barbour opened the evening with a speech updating the fans and alums in the room about the current state of Penn State Athletics. With 500 of the 800 student-athletes receiving a 3.0 GPA or higher, the department's academic excellence speaks for itself.

Additionally, on the field, it has been a stellar campaign for Penn State teams, as well. Currently sitting in second spot in the Learfield Directors' Cup following the winter season, Penn State had 15 of its 17 teams (through the winter seasons) NCAA postseason competition. That list includes four teams that won conference titles, a record seventh NCAA title for women's volleyball and three individual NCAA championships.

It's no surprise to see the academic and athletic accolades when you hear the coaches speak to the public. Franklin, Gadowsky and St. Pierre are just three examples of what is a tremendous lineup of coaches on the University Park campus right now.

"I continue to listen to the gratitude and passion from our coaches towards their student-athletes, and it's just so impressive," Barbour said.

The success of Penn State's teams on the field and in the classroom would not be possible without superb mentors, and it would not be possible without the support of individuals like those in the room on Tuesday night in Lancaster.

"No one in the nation does passion like we do, and it's not even close," Gadowsky said. "Not only is it fun to be a part of a family reunion (home game), it's very motivating for us."

The sense of pride in Penn State Blue and White is truly unique.

"There is no place like us," Franklin said.

The Caravan will extend outside of Pennsylvania on Wednesday when it rolls south to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

VIDEO: Lancaster Press Conference

Miles Traveled:
Day 1 - 129 miles


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

Nittany Lions Coach Kids During Garth Brooks ProClinic

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By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Saturday afternoon, members of the Penn State men's and women's ice hockey teams spent time inside Pegula Ice Arena. They were not practicing, not skating, not working on their own skills. Instead, they were serving as coaches, teaching 50 kids from the Centre County Youth Services Bureau and YMCA of Centre County about the sport of hockey with the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation.

When most people think of Garth Brooks, they automatically register his successful singing career; however in 1999, Brooks and one other created Teammates for Kids, a foundation aiming to give all kids an even start. They wanted to use statistics in sports, transforming them into dollars that could directly impact children across the world. That is exactly what the foundation has done.

"We started with baseball, Major League Baseball," Brooks said. "I think we had about 60 players the first year, and what it was is a player donates money for homeruns or here goals, saves, assists, stuff like that. Then our job is to triple that money as a foundation. One hundred percent of the money goes to kids. That's it. Every penny goes to kids. We walk into a locker room now with 4,000 professional athletes, and the first thing you say is 100 percent of the money goes to kids. They just start signing left and right. So, it's pretty cool."

With Brooks' current tour making a stop in State College, he knew he wanted to host a camp at Penn State. It was immediately clear that hockey was the way to go. With the ice removed from the main rink at Pegula, it was the perfect setting for a floor hockey clinic. Both the men's team and the women's team were excited to get involved.

The kids in attendance were split into groups by age, and each athlete was given one specific group to coach. The experience was something special for not only the kids but also the Nittany Lions.

"I have the older kids, and they've been just this happy group," said women's hockey junior Jordin Pardoski. "They're so happy to be here. They're having a blast out there, so it's really fun."

Nevertheless, this clinic is not only helping the children involved. It is also assisting the game of hockey as many new faces are being exposed to the sport through the clinic.

"I think the biggest thing for me is I just want to try and share the game," said men's hockey forward Eric Scheid. "Hockey is growing, but it's still not there yet, especially college hockey. So, out of all the kids here today if one or two of them grows a love for the game, then I think today was a success. I just want to spread the game and my love for it. I hope someone get to enjoy the game like I do."

As the 50 kids ran around with sticks in their hands, the enjoyment was written all over their faces. They smiled wide and were constantly talking with their coaches. It didn't matter that many didn't know who Garth Brooks was because that they were having fun and enjoying every minute of the experience.

Clinics like these and sports in general have so much to offer children, allowing them to grow. They promote health, promote friendship, promote positivity, and when working with the kids of Centre County, those aspect are exactly what the coaches emphasized.

"Another thing sport does is it creates bonds and friendships that last a lifetime," Scheid said. "I've been on a lot of different teams in the last five or six years, played with a lot of different players. Every year you play on a team and meet 20 new teammates, and you make friends for life."

Overall, Brooks wants to encourage these kids to be happy, to be healthy and to enjoy life. Hosting these camps is truly making a huge impact on many lives, which is why the country singer continues to have them.

Sports offer children so much in the grand scheme of life. It is of the utmost importance to continue that trend and to allow kids to grow into positive people.

"Hopefully what we teach them is to believe in themselves, to love one another," said Brooks. "And, if it's through the sport of hockey or through the sport of life, if today changes one of those kids to look in the mirror and feel better about themselves then this whole camp, this whole tour, everything is worth it."

Previewing the 12-Stop 2015 Coaches Caravan

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Coaches Caravan Registration - Click Here

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With spring practice in the books, head coach James Franklin and five other Penn State head coaches and eight football assistant coaches are set to participate on the 12-stop 2015 Coaches Caravan.

Festivities kick off on Thursday with a lunch stop in Harrisburg and an evening reception in Lancaster.

"It's important to get it out and mingle with the fans and the alumni base because they are the people who make Penn State special," Franklin said.  "It's about the people here. It always has been and it always will. We have a sense of family and community like nowhere else in the country."

More than 2,500 Penn State fans and alumni have already registered for Caravan events. Following the evening reception in Lancaster, the Caravan bus hits the road on Wednesday with stops in Washington, D.C. (lunch) and Baltimore (evening reception). The first leg of the Caravan will wrap up on Thursday in Altoona (lunch) and Pittsburgh (evening reception).

The lineup of coaches for week one, in addition to Franklin, include men's hockey's Guy Gadowsky and women's golf's Denise St. Pierre.

"The best thing about Penn State is that we are one big passionate family," Gadowsky said. "You don't see that more than when you get to interact with our supporters. For our program, you look at what happens in Pegula Ice Arena, and it's all because of the great supporters that we have. So, to get out there to meet and interact with all of the Penn State supporters is just fantastic."

Among the coaches slated to join Franklin on the road during a star-studded week two of the Coaches Caravan are wrestling's Cael Sanderson, men's basketball's Patrick Chambers (May 19-20) and women's volleyball's Russ Rose.

GoPSUsports.com will again board the modified Fullington Trailways motorcoach for all 12 stops on the Caravan.  Look for photos, video and written content from all 12 locations as the Penn State Coaches Caravan hits the road for six days in the coming two weeks.

Register today for a stop near you, and we look forward to seeing you on the road.

2015 Coaches Caravan Schedule

Week One:

May 5 - Harrisburg/Best Western Premier (Lunch)
James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky, Denise St. Pierre

Lancaster/Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square (Evening reception)
James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky, Denise St. Pierre, John Donovan, Brent Pry

May 6 - Washington, D.C./J.W. Marriott Washington, D.C. (Lunch)
James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky, Denise St. Pierre

Baltimore/Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport; Linthicum Heights (Evening reception)
James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky, Denise St. Pierre, Charles Huff

Sean Spencer

May 7 - Altoona/Lakemont Park Casino (Lunch)
Coaches: James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky, Denise St. Pierre

Pittsburgh/Doubletree by Hilton Cranberry (Evening reception)
Coaches: James Franklin, Guy Gadowsky, Bob Shoop, Terry M. Smith

Week Two:
May 19 - Philadelphia/Hyatt at the Bellevue; Center City (Lunch)

Coaches: James Franklin, Patrick Chambers, Russ Rose, Cael Sanderson, Josh Gattis, Sean Spencer

Philadelphia/Sheraton Bucks County Hotel; Langhorne (Evening reception)

Coaches: James Franklin, Patrick Chambers, Russ Rose, Cael Sanderson, Josh Gattis, Sean Spencer

May 20 - New York City/Edison Ballroom (Lunch)

Coaches: James Franklin, Patrick Chambers, Russ Rose, Cael Sanderson

Northern New Jersey/Hilton; Parsippany (Evening reception)

Coaches: James Franklin, Patrick Chambers, Russ Rose, Cael Sanderson, Ricky Rahne

May 21 - Lehigh Valley/Holiday Inn, Allentown - I-78; Breinigsville (Lunch)

Coaches: James Franklin, Russ Rose, Cael Sanderson

Wilkes-Barre/The F.M. Kirby Center (Evening reception)

Coaches: James Franklin, Russ Rose, Cael Sanderson, Ricky Rahne

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

Lions Looking Ahead to Matchup with Hawaii

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11056894.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After winning its 17th straight EIVA Championship title last Friday over George Mason, No. 7 Penn State (20-9) earned the No. 5 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament being played this week at Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University.

The Nittany Lions open on Tuesday against fourth-seeded Hawaii (21-6) at 11 p.m. ET in the second of two play-in matches.

Before we take a look at the strengths of the Rainbow Warriors and what the Nittany Lions need to do to stymie Hawaii, let's check out how Penn State's journey to the tourney.

Penn State's Journey
Three weeks into the season, the Lions knew they had work to do. They opened play on a six-match losing streak. After falling to Lewis on Feb. 20 and Loyola-Chicago on Feb. 21, Penn State's record stood at 4-9.

Since those two losses, however, the Nittany Lions have caught fire and rolled off 16-straight victories en route to their 31
st EIVA/ECVL regular season title and 17th straight EIVA Championship title.

The Blue and White arrived in California for the 2015 NCAA Tournament on Sunday. Take a look through some highlights.

University Park to Palo Alto
The Blue and White departed from Rec Hall at approximately 6:30 a.m. on Sunday and bused to Dulles Airport. After making sure the players locked up aisle seats for the flight, the team flew across the country to San Francisco. Around dinnertime, the plane touched down in the Bay Area and the group then chartered to the team hotel in Palo Alto.

Following dinner, Penn State traveled to Santa Clara University for a nighttime edition of serve and pass.

The post-practice events were anything but ordinary as the Nittany Lions had an opportunity to meet two iconic sports stars - NBA MVP Steve Nash and 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup star Brandi Chastain. The two famous athletes were extremely down to earth and super cool, causing the team's motivation and will to want to win elevate to new heights.

Scouting Hawaii

Back on Jan. 9, the Nittany Lions lost in straight sets (26-24, 25-19, 25-18) to Hawaii in the 21st annual Outrigger Resorts Invitational. The Rainbow Warriors hold a 14-8 advantage all-time in the head-to-head series.

Here is a breakdown of some things to watch from Hawaii on Tuesday night:

Curbing Taylor Averill
Redshirt senior Taylor Averill is arguably the best overall player in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF). The 6-foot-7 All-American middle blocker holds the second-highest hitting percentage in the country with a .483 mark. He was named to the All-MPSF first team last Thursday.

Containing Kupono Fey
Sophomore Kupono Fey grew up in Honolulu, Oahu. He's a homegrown player competing for his hometown school. The six-foot-five outside hitter has been key in the last few weeks. Against Long Beach State in the MPSF quarterfinal two weeks ago, Fey notched 17 kills and 12 digs for his first double-double of the season.

Preventing Passing
In addition to Averill and Fey, the Rainbow Warriors have more hard swingers with outside hitter Sinisa Zarkovic and opposite Brook Sedore. The junior Zarkovic is second on the team with 3.20 kills per set, while the senior Sedore leads the squad with 3.36 kills per set. If able to remain in system, Hawaii is dangerous. Strong passing leads to strong sets from sophomore Jennings Franciskovic (10.8 assists per set), which in turn leads to potent swings from Hawaii's pin hitters.

Haley and Guers Lead Offensive Surge for Lions Against Rutgers

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11056778.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was the best Jim Haley had felt at the plate in a long time.

The Nittany Lions shortstop had just finished off a dominant performance, going 4 for 5 with two singles, a double and a triple during Penn State's 12-10 comeback victory over Rutgers on Saturday. Asked how he felt, the sophomore told it like it was.

"Honestly, today was one of those days I was invincible at the plate," Haley said. "Every time I went to the plate, [my mindset was] I know I'm getting a hit here. I was seeing the ball really well and it worked out well for me."

Haley wasn't the only one feeling that way during the weekend series against the Scarlet Knights. In a three game sweep, Penn State piled up 28 total runs, winning by final scores 8-1, 12-10 and 8-5.

Along the way, the Nittany Lions totaled a whopping 37 hits, including an astounding 18 on Saturday as they overcame an early 9-1 deficit to claim an improbable victory that clinched the series.

That win came after a comfortable 8-1 victory Friday night. On Sunday, the Lions saw an early 2-0 lead slip away yet battled back multiple times to clinch the sweep with an 8-5 win.

According to head coach Rob Cooper, the key to the offensive explosion was staying patient and not getting frustrated after last weekend's setbacks to Big Ten leading Illinois.

"Last year we would have had a series like Illinois where we had great at-bats but nothing to show for it and guys would have gone away from their approach," Cooper said. "This year, guys are more mature, and they said we're going to take the same approach and have something to show for it."

While the Lions had multiple standout performers, the star of the weekend really was Haley, who put together the best series of his still young career. The 6-foot-2 shortstop hit .538 over the course of the weekend and raised his season average from .278 to .299.

He also produced while hitting in multiple spots in the lineup. After hitting cleanup like usual during his banner day on Saturday, Cooper moved him up to second on Sunday. The Philadelphia area native responded by going 2 for 4 with an RBI and three runs scored.

"It was weird today, I was a little messed up in the head," Haley said with a smile on Sunday. "But I didn't mind it. I'll hit first, second, third, fourth, wherever."

But Haley wasn't the only Penn State hitter to thrive despite being moved around in the order. Greg Guers also continued his season-long power onslaught while hitting in two different spots.

On Friday, the 6-foot-3 outfielder ripped his seventh home run of the season while batting second as usual. With leadoff hitter James Coates getting a day off on Sunday however, the slugger was moved to the top of order and started the afternoon off with a monster blast to right field in the first inning.

Overall, Guers hit .417 and drove in six RBIs over the weekend. He is now hitting .291 on the season and is leading the Lions in home runs (eight) and RBIs (37).

"I think everybody had a feeling he was going to hit a home run [on Sunday]," senior Aaron Novak said. "It looks pretty effortless for him up there."

Yes, it certainly does look easy for Guers right now. But what impressed his coach the most was not his two home runs, but the bunt he laid down to advance a runner in the eight inning on Sunday.

For Cooper, Guers and Haley are two players that have benefited not only from hard work and coaching, but also their willingness to fill any role.

"I knew we were going to give Coates the day off, so then it's a matter of lets get Guers up as many times as possible," Cooper said. "He's locked in right now. It's really important because he hits a home run, hits line drives throughout the game and then gets a big bunt down, that's a complete offensive player.

"Haley's really stating to stay inside the ball a bit more. It's a testament to him and his approach but also to [hitting coach Ross] coach Oeder and the fact that he continues to work with these guys."

Still, they weren't only players to shine against the Scarlet Knights. Novak raised his season average to .346 with a two-hit day on Sunday while Tyler Kendall also went 2 for 4 with two RBIs in the final game.

It was a team effort, something that the Nittany Lions will look to continue during their final two regular season series. The Blue and White are 16-13 since March 17 and still looking to improve.

"We're just staying consistent with our approach," Novak said. "Nobody's trying to do too much, just trying to stay inside the ball and it's paid off. We're hitting balls hard."

11056508.jpegBy Tori Gerlach, GoPSUsports.com Student-Athlete Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A small, yet prepared, group headed out to Palo Alto, California to compete in the Payton Jordan Invitational on Saturday.  We had men and women competing in the 800, 1500, and the steeplechase. This meet is known for its distance races and amazing competition and it certainly lived up to my expectations this year. 

All across the board we had a number of PRs, season bests, and even a top NCAA leading mark. We competed against some of the best competition in the country and gained more confidence and experience rolling into championship time. With the Big Ten Championships coming up in a couple of weeks, this is just the type of meet we needed to prepare with. 

Once again, Penn State gave us the opportunity to show the west coast all the hard work we put in so far this season. I am excited to see what the rest of the season brings!




Nittany Lions Crowned First-Ever B1G Tournament Champions

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By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a Big Ten Championship on the line, the Penn State women's lacrosse team entered the tournament feeling confident. The Nittany Lions took down Northwestern in the second round, bringing them one step closer to the trophy. While the team was excited, the job was not done yet. Penn State still needed one more win.

When Ohio State (13-7) took down previously undefeated Maryland, the Lions (14-4) prepared for the challenge and trusted in their abilities. After 60 minutes of play, Penn State emerged as the conference's first winner by defeating the Buckeyes, 13-11.

The Nittany Lions are Big Ten champions.

"I don't know if it sunk in yet," said head Coach Missy Doherty. "I think it was a great game. I just love that competing aspect of it, but certainly being the first Big Ten winner is such an honor. We have such a great tradition in our program that goes so far back. Our alums are so proud of our program and have done well in the past. It's nice to really put Penn State on the map with our first Big Ten Championship."

Key to the win was Penn State's offense, which has dominated throughout the entirety of the season. Senior Tatum Coffey led the way with her four goals, but in all the team saw scoring from seven different players in the final. This balance up front made the Blue and White a difficult team to beat. They challenged Ohio State's defense, went to the net and came away from the game shooting at 52 percent.

For Coffey and the rest of the senior class, this game was crucial. With so little time left to play in their careers, every second counts. They wanted to leave it all on the field, which is exactly what they did.

"I honestly had an epiphany," Coffey said. "It was a moment that just hit me, and I realized that I'm a senior. I'm never going to be in this position again. So, I let that take over me and decided to be a leader out there and pump everyone up."

Going into halftime, the Lions had a three-goal lead. Nevertheless, the team knew it would not be an easy task to finish the game, especially against the Buckeyes.

Ohio State controlled play in the opening minutes of the second, tallying three consecutive goals to even the scoring. The Nittany Lions called a timeout to regroup, but they were never concerned. Staying calm proved to be key.

"Right when they quickly scored three goals on us, we stayed confident and composed," said Abby Smucker. "We knew that we had to pick up our defense a little bit more, but I was confident in the way our defense was playing. And, having Emi [Smith] back there in the cage was critical for us."

All season long, Smucker has anchored the Nittany Lion defense. Doherty has labeled her the team organizer, keeping the Lions cohesive in the back. Her play in the semi-final and final helped boost the Lions and did not go unnoticed as Smucker was named the tournament MVP.

Also stepping up for the Lions was Emi Smith in the cage. She made seven stops that kept the Lions ahead. Her biggest save of the game came with just over a minute to play. Had she not made the stop, the Buckeyes would have pulled within one. The dynamic of the game would have shifted.

"She just came up with some really crucial saves," said Doherty of Smith. "I think she's been solid all year, but when the game is on the line I think she gets better. Especially in that last minute coming up with such a huge save, it was really that last step we needed to seal up the game."

As time evaporated, Penn State realized the magnitude of what it had done. This team battled through tough losses, through injuries and through close games to get to that point. The work it had done all season long finally paid off.

"It shows that we can bounce back," Smith said. "It shows that we can improve on the losses that we've had, and we can always learn from the things we don't do right. There's always room for improvement, and I think the team really shows that. We have improved a lot over this season, and I think that's why we came up big here. We just focused on the things that we do well and emphasized that."

From the start of the year, this team knew the season would be special. It worked hard day in and day out for this opportunity. Now, the Nittany Lions could not be more proud of their accomplishment. They will forever be the first Big Ten Champions.

"We really the whole year tried to work on proving who we are, and we made a statement today," said Coffey. "I'm so proud of my team for doing that. We really just knew what we needed to work on, knew what we needed to do, and we went out there and did it."
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There are 98 total student-athletes on the Penn State track and field team - 48 women, 50 men. Of all of those, there are a total of four women pole vaulters: Kasey Kemp, Erin Knabe, Lexi Masterson, and Hannah Mulhern.

As if that wasn't exceptional enough in a sport that takes everything from upper body strength to gymnastics ability, all four women rank within the top ten pole-vaulters in Penn State history.

"That's something that I value. I earned that," said Masterson, who holds the school record at 13-3.5. "But to have three other teammates in the top ten is something that's more for Penn State than it is for me. To have us, kind of, rewrite pole vault for Penn State is so great."

"It feels really cool and it feels like we're making our mark. We're letting people know: you might not know Penn State pole vault but you're going to know [it], I promise you," said Knabe.

To add to the prowess, the women are fairly young. Masterson, Kemp, and Knabe have sophomore athletic experience and Mulhern is finishing up her freshman year.

"We're so young and we have so much more to learn and grow and keep building," said Mulhern.

From a training standpoint, the women have all the support form the university and their coaches, which, for them, makes being part of such a small group better.

"We have to thank Coach Kelly. Practice, meets, he always has our back. Pole vault is so frustrating, he can be so patient with us," said Masterson. "It's nice to have our unique little thing. We have respect for the people that do endless 200 [meter sprints] on the track and think 'Man, I couldn't do that' but then, we're like, 'They probably can't pole vault'."

Pole vaulting by definition is a track and field event where athletes must run with a long pole and use it to help them jump over a bar. It requires more athleticism than most people would predict and can be more dangerous than most other events.

"As a girl pole vaulter you have to have upper body strength and all of us have gymnastics background that helps us be successful," said Masterson. "We have two lifts per week, each about an hour. We'll have drill days and strength days and plyometric days. There's a lot of time to put in."

"[During] preseason, we lift three days a week at 6:30 a.m. and then come back later for practice 2:45-5 p.m. Then, on Wednesdays we have lifts, practice, and then gymnastics from 5 to 6 p.m.," said Knabe.

Aside from being physically fit, pole vaulting takes a lot of mental discipline and poise.

"Pole vaulting is all about confidence," said Knabe. "It's a lot of technique. You can be really fast and really strong but if your technique is wrong you're not going to go anywhere. That's why it's so mental because if your technique is not perfect then something is going to go wrong and it can be dangerous."

Fear is far from their vocabulary, though, and they are excited to have each other to rely on. Being best friends only adds the excitement of being talented.

"With this group, it's not about you, it's about all of us," said Masterson.

"We know our goals and we're always helping each other get there. The practice environment is really positive all the time. I think it's helpful that we're friends outside of track," said Kemp.

"We have an awesome vibe during practice. There's such a respect for this sport between athletes because you understand how hard this sport is so we just try and lift each other up," said Knabe.

Penn State is about to earn a whole new reputation in pole vaulting and the women thrilled to be part of the process confident that this is just beginning.

"Penn State is the best school ever. I wish I could put that into better words but it's true. It's such a good school academically and it's respected athletically," said Kemp.

"It's important for [people] to see how much we have improved," said Masterson. "I was a 12-foot jumper two times in high school. I wasn't consistent and within the first month on competition [at Penn State], I was 13-1. So, to see the improvement and how far it's going to go." 


Defense Leads to Offense as Lions Capture EIVA Championship

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11050936.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - They did it. Again.

For the 17th-straight season, No. 7 Penn State (20-9) captured the EIVA Championship. This time, the title came in the form of a straight sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-17) win over George Mason (15-13) in Rec Hall on Friday.

"Defense is leading to our offensive," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "And the offensive guys are working hard to finish those opportunities. It's something that if we can continue, we are going to force teams to play pretty physically against us."

With the victory, the Nittany Lions are headed once again to the NCAA tournament being held in Palo Alto, California. The Blue and White will find out its seeding Saturday, when the selection show begins at 1 p.m.

Thanks to the senior class and assistant head coach Colin McMillan's integrated defensive scheme, Penn State breezed by the Patriots. Aaron Russell finished with a match-high 15 kills on a .619 attacking percentage. He also added six digs and two service aces en route to being named the 2015 EIVA Championship Most Outstanding Player.

Just like in Wednesday's semifinal match against Princeton, tonight's bout ended with a Nick Goodell service ace. By taking advantage of George Mason sending two and three blockers to Russell, the redshirt senior finished with 11 kills and eight digs.

"Everyone looks to Ron for them to block, and then whenever one of us steps up, it makes it that much harder, but when everyone steps up, teams don't have a chance," Goodell said.

The third senior on the team, Connor Curry, kept the Nittany Lions in system all match long. Curry dug five swings, initiated brilliant first contacts and added three assists to pace the Blue and White.

"I've been lucky to have won this thing five times," Curry said. "I'm just happy to be going back to NCAAs, and that's our goal at the beginning of the season. We've set ourselves up in the right place, so we'll see what we can do in the next three matches."

However, it was two non-seniors who changed the complexity of the match in favor of the Nittany Lions. Sophomore Chris Nugent accumulated 14 kills on just 19 swings and redshirt junior setter Taylor Hammond compiled 41 assists.

"I thought our passing and serving was pretty good," Pavlik said. "Can't give enough credit to our offense. We took what they gave us, and we understood what they were giving us, and made it real tough on them to try to adapt to anything we did."

Russell echoed the words of his four-year head coach, but went even further by praising the play of his talented setter.

"A lot of credit to Taylor [Hammond]," Russell said. "He spread the offense really well tonight, and he gave us a lot of good opportunities.... We had a very offensively efficient game, and that is a good thing when you're going into a national championship tournament."

Now Penn State has a quick turnaround before leaving for Stanford on Sunday. Though according to Russell, the team's challenging non-conference schedule this season has prepared the team well for the NCAA Tournament.

"Through the non-conference play that we've had, we've experienced a lot of adversity," Russell said. "I think that just being able to learn and improve from that has brought us to where we are today.... We want to take it to these teams that are standing in our way of a national championship."