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Spring Football: McSorley, Stevens Growing Inside New Offense

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11863056.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The reps have been invaluable. The progress has been significant. And the process has been a pleasure.

That's how quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens would best sum up the last four weeks of spring practice at the helm of the Nittany Lion offense.

Splitting reps throughout spring drills, McSorley and Stevens are just grazing the surface in their time commanding the new offense, but both are very optimistic with how things have gone and where the offensive unit can go from here.

"It's been a very good spring," said McSorley. "I think the offense has done a really good job picking things up. I think we are ahead of where we thought we would have been through (12) practices. We have been able to move the ball against our defense, which has been among the best in the nation during the past couple years. It's going to be exciting in the fall."

The offense began laying the groundwork of installing a new scheme immediately after the TaxSlayer Bowl. It was new for everyone in the offensive meeting room, which benefitted the young duo of returning quarterbacks. The entire group spent the spring learning together as one collective unit, and the on-field results have improved with each passing practice.

"Things have really become more efficient for the offense since the start of spring practice," said Stevens. "The pace at which we are getting in and out of plays has been very effective and at a high standard has been a big area of improvement."

Tempo has been the theme of the spring for the offensive players. McSorley, a redshirt sophomore, and Stevens, a redshirt freshman, are the men who set the pace at which the offense operates. When a play is over, the unit gets to the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible before looking to the sideline for the next signal. There is no huddle for the quarterbacks to lead, and it's something both returning quarterbacks can't help but smile about.

"The no-huddle is awesome," Stevens said. "It puts the power in our hands."

"It falls on each guy to get where they need to be at a fast tempo and then look for the signal," said McSorley. "In a way, it almost takes a little bit off of the quarterback because each guy gets where they need to be and then looks at the signal to get ready for the snap. The tempo really gives you some momentum."

The swift pace at which the offense is operating lets the Lions dictate things when they have the ball. Penn State can be the aggressor, put a defense on its heels and make the opponent play faster than it may want to. McSorley and Stevens said that conditioning was a factor in the first three or four practices this spring, but the unit has taken a big step forward with the effectiveness of the tempo.

Additionally, the offense puts a premium on getting the skill players in space. The quarterbacks have plenty of options to find talent across the offense, and they are enjoying how many chances it gives the Lion athletes to make plays in the open field.

"I really like how the offense lets our athletes get in space and go one-on-one with a defender," said McSorley. "We have a lot of really good athletes on the outside and in the backfield, so letting those guys get out in space and make someone have to tackle, like Saquon (Barkley) one-on-one, more times than not a guy like him is going to make people miss."

McSorley and Stevens both lit up when asked about the weapons Penn State's offense will have at wide receiver in 2016. The wide receiver group is an impressive unit to watch on the practice field. It's a diverse group with size, speed, experience and some youth.

"I really like the variety of the group. We don't have one guy who you can lock in on," said McSorley. "Saeed (Blacknall) is really good down the field. Chris (Godwin) can do so many different things. DaeSean (Hamilton) is so precise with his routes and diagnosing the defense. Then you have the speed of (Brandon) Polk and DeAndre (Thompkins). We have Juwan (Johnson) and Irvin (Charles) coming in and making plays. We have so much size and speed that I think it's going to create problems for defenses."

McSorley spent 2015 as the primary backup behind Christian Hackenberg. He played in seven contests, including significant reps at the TaxSlayer Bowl. Stevens played a paramount role on the scout team during his redshirt season last fall. The move into the primary rotation on the offense has been an adjustment for the Indianapolis native, but it's one that he has relished.

"Getting the experience on the scout team was really important, but the number of meaningful reps I've had this spring has been great. Being able to compete and make the team better has been a lot of fun this spring," said Stevens.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead sets the tone for the unit every day. The Lions faced a steep learning curve this spring, but Coach Moorhead has put the group in a great spot to be successful on the field.

"Coach Moorhead brings a ton of energy and juice to practices and the meeting room," said Stevens. "He pushes us to get better every single day. He's always expecting a championship standard, and it's really challenging us to be at our best."

The Lions will have a couple more opportunities to grow before showcasing the new offense in front of the fans on Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

"I look for the group to continue to get better each day," McSorley said. "We need to clean some things up that we aren't 100 percent certain on and just continue to grow. As an offense, we have a good grasp on the base playbook. At the spring game, we hope to give people a little taste of what is to come next year."

The quarterbacks are pleased with the progress, but the unit knows this is just the beginning of the process leading up to 2016. The first chapter will draw to a close on Saturday when spring drills commence.

"Ultimately, we are prepared and want to be confident in what we are doing. We are excited to finally get out there and compete in front of the fans on Saturday," said Stevens.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football Position Breakdown - Cornerbacks

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the 12th during spring drills on Monday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the cornerbacks.

The Cornerbacks

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:

Who's Back:
Kyle Alston (Jr./Jr.), Christian Campbell (Jr./Jr.), Desi Davis (Jr./So.), Grant Haley (Jr./Jr.), Amani Oruwariye (Jr./So.), John Reid (So./So.), Troy Shorts (So./Fr.), Jordan Smith (Sr./Sr.), Garrett Taylor (So./Fr.)

The Breakdown:
11861635.jpegCoach Terry Smith and the Nittany Lion cornerbacks entered the spring with the mindset that they can do their part in helping the team by challenging more balls and forcing more turnovers in the back end of the defense. A group mixed with experience and youthful talent, the Lion corners have put together a very productive spring and will head into the summer with confidence.

The unquestioned leader of the cornerback room is junior Grant Haley. The 5-foot-9, 184-pound Georgia native played the best football of his career in the latter stages of 2015. Now, Haley is eager to lead the unit into 2016. He started in 11 games (missed first two due to injury) in 2015 and appeared in all 13 contests in 2014. Haley finished with 42 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, tied for the team-high in interceptions (2) and led the team with nine passes defended last fall. The junior has taken another step forward and will be among the top returnees on the defense.

Like Haley, John Reid played the best football of his season in the final few weeks of 2015. One of just four true freshmen to start a game, Reid appeared in all 13 contests during his first season on campus and started two games at corner. Named to's Big Ten All-Freshman team, Reid made 29 tackles and tied Haley for the team lead in interceptions with two. A student of the game, Reid made good strides in his first winter conditioning period and will play a key role on the defense and challenge for the starting spot alongside Haley.

Jordan Smith is one of just six seniors on the defensive side of the ball. The Washington, D.C., product is primed to play a role in the Nittany Lion secondary when the season kicks off in September. With 27 game appearances under his belt, Smith has made good progress this spring.

Junior Christian Campbell, sophomore Amani Oruwariye and redshirt freshman Garrett Taylor will all be among the group competing for a much bigger role on the defensive backfield in 2016. Campbell has played in 18 games during the last two seasons (missed five due to injury last fall). He made 16 tackles and broke up two passes in 2015. The Alabama native will be among the Lions competing for a starting assignment.

Oruwariye played in all 13 games last fall and was one of 17 redshirt freshman to see action in 2015. The Tampa, Fla., native made five tackles and defended a pass last season. Taylor made good progress on the scout team defense and is eager for an increased role when camp commences in August.

Sophomore Nick Scott, who transitioned into the secondary following the TaxSlayer Bowl will give the Lions another player with game experience in the defensive backfield. Scott has made a smooth transition into a new role for the Nittany Lions this spring.

Junior Kyle Alston, sophomore Desi Davis and redshirt freshman Troy Shorts will provide the cornerback group with increased depth for the 2016 season.

Collectively, the Lion cornerbacks are a talented group looking to have a bigger impact at the line of scrimmage in press coverage and get their hands on more balls. Coach Smith enjoys the group's attention to detail, and the corners are poised to be one of the team's strengths in 2016.

Quoting Coach Smith:
"The corners have a business-like approach to everything. These guys understand where our deficiencies were in the fall and where we need to improve this spring to be a better football team on the back end of the defense. These guys are studying a lot more film. They are working on technique more. Grant Haley is the leader of the room. He is a junior, and he is the elder spokesman of the group. He's the guy that holds it all together. The young guys look to him."

Tsang Set to Represent Nittany Lions at NCAA Championships

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By Mandy Bell, Student Staff Writer

UNVIERSITY PARK, Pa. - Briannah Tsang stood in front of a crowd of 4,000 people on April 2 performing one of the hardest floor routines in the country.

She took off for her first tumbling pass, sprung into the air, flipped backwards, completed a half-turn in the air and finished by flipping forward twice, also known as an Arabian Double Front.

Because Tsang goes into her landing while flipping forward, she is unable to see the floor. She must solely rely on the "feel" of her routine to stick her landing.

"It was like any other meet. I was a little more nervous than what I usually am, but I just took a breath and calmed myself down," Tsang said. "My first pass is definitely a blind landing, but I've just been doing it so much and for so long that I just know where I am in the air."

The sophomore knew exactly where she was in the air at the NCAA Regional Championships last weekend where she posted a 9.900 that secured her spot at the NCAA Championships to represent the Nittany Lions on the floor exercise.

"She's kind of like a cat. She has very good air sense," Penn State head coach Jeff Thompson said. "She nailed her opening pass which was incredible. Everything in her floor routine, her second and third pass, was the best they've been all year. She gave very little away in terms of deductions in her routine. The overall performance was outstanding."

Tsang was the only Nittany Lion to advance to the NCAA Championships, which makes the practice gym a very quiet environment.

"Practicing is different because my team is now in the off-season and I am not. Not all of them come into the gym, but some do come and it's nice," Tsang said. "It doesn't make it more difficult without them there. I know what I have to do. I guess I just have the drive. That's just me."

Preparing for Nationals is not much different from what Tsang has done all season. She does her conditioning workout at the end of practice, just like the regular season. Her focus is primarily around the floor exercise, however being the alternate for the all-around has made Tsang make sure she is prepared for all four events.

Tsang will take off for Texas on Wednesday and has a practice day on Thursday. She will be accompanied by Thompson and teammate Nicole Medvitz, who is making a separate trip down to support Tsang.

After her practice round on Thursday, Tsang will spend the night before her big meet enjoying a bowl of ice cream. She began this ritual at the start of her freshman year with Penn State when she had a bowl of ice cream the night before her first meet and performed well. This ritual has stuck with her and has now gotten her to the NCAA Championships.

"For some kids they might just spend all their time thinking about their one event, over-analyzing and trying too hard. I don't think that's Bri," Thompson said. "I think she's going down there to do her best, but she's also going down there to soak up the experience."

Although Tsang is usually associated with the vault because of her 2014 Canadian National Championship vault crown and other vault success, she has won five floor titles this season including her most recent victory at the NCAA Regional Championships. She has posted three 9.900s and two 9.925s.

"People would recognize her as her best event being vault, but she's such a dynamic floor worker that it didn't surprise me that she won floor," Thompson said. "I'm happy for her and keeping my fingers crossed that she does a really good job."

After being named the 2015 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and winning at least one event title in each of her first seven career meets as a freshman, Tsang's stellar 2016 season consisted of one all-around title, three vault victories, five floor titles and All-Big Ten First Team honors.

"As a gymnast, she's very talented, but she also works very hard. She's not afraid to work through pain," Thompson said. "Sometimes if you have sore muscles or there's been a few times where she had a hard landing and maybe jarred her back, we've had girls in the past where they would be out for a week because of that. She just kind of rubs some dirt on it, gets back in there and gets after that. She doesn't just love competing, she loves the sport. I think she would miss it if she wasn't out there every single day. That's what I love about her."

Tsang will compete in the NCAA Championships at 2 p.m. on Friday.

"I'm going in with no expectations," Tsang said. "I'm just trying to do my best, hit my routine like I do in practice and just have fun."

Lions Come Up Just Short in OT Thriller Against Maryland

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By Maria Canales, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 14 Penn State men's lacrosse team (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten), despite a strong performance from the offense, was unable to upend No. 5 Maryland (8-2, 2-0 Big Ten) Sunday night.

The Nittany Lions came out fighting during Sunday's matchup, and although the Terrapins got on the board first, it was the Nittany Lions who created the most offensive chances in the first half.

Possession time has been a focus of the team as of late, and Sunday night's performance showed promising improvement in that area.

"From the start of the week we talked about possessing," said junior midfielder Mike Sutton. "The biggest thing was long, sustained possessions, we needed to execute. [Maryland] is one of the best defenses in the country, and we needed to execute and that's what I think we did. We came up short in the end but we're looking at next week already."

Sutton had an outstanding game, as the Sewell, N.J. native recorded three goals in total, one in the first quarter and two in the second.

The Nittany Lions drew jetted out to an 8-4 lead midway through the second quarter thanks to additional goals from Nick Aponte, Grant Ament, Kevin Hill, and TJ Sanders. At halftime, the Nittany Lions went into the locker room leading, 8-7.

During the lower scoring second half, the Lions and Terps battled to a 10-10 tie as the clock ticked to zero in the fourth quarter.

The mood going into overtime was positive, explained head coach Jeff Tambroni, who noted the team needed to play with the spirit and effort they had in the first half if the Nittany Lions wanted to come away with a victory.

Several nail-biting possessions later, the Nittany Lions finally got the ball down the stretch and seemed poised to make one last play in front of Maryland's net. Despite their best efforts, the Nittany Lions were unable to find the back of the net and seconds later were back on defense. Penn State fell to Maryland 11-10 in overtime.

Tambroni was positive at the end of the game, noting how this Penn State team was able to hold its own against another top-tier team, similar to others the Nittany Lions have played this season. He explained how important it is to keep moving forward, and highlighted that even during a loss there can always be positives a team should focus on. 

Tambroni said one standout performance of the night came from sophomore defenseman Mike Aronow, as Aronow was tasked with guarding Maryland's talented attacker Matt Rambo. Rambo didn't score for the Terrapins Sunday night, the first time in 21 games the attacker failed to do so.

Next weekend Penn State hosts No. 16 Johns Hopkins and is looking to bounce back from such a close and effortful loss. Key for the Nittany Lions will be a continued focus on possession time as well as making sure not to let up offensively in the second half.

"I think we've got to hit the rest button immediately," said Tambroni. " These guys are hurting, they've put a lot of time and effort into this one and walking off the field last year against Maryland losing by eight or nine goals and then coming back a year later to be in this position says a lot about the work that these guys have put in throughout the off season."

Spring Football - Scott Relishing Opportunity at New Home

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Like the thousands of Penn State fans across the country, Nick Scott marveled at the dazzling performances Saquon Barkley manufactured as a true freshman.

Working out alongside Barkley in the backfield, Scott debuted as a redshirt freshman in 2015, impacting the team on offense and serving as an ace on special teams.

One of 17 redshirt freshmen to see playing time last fall, Scott appeared in all 13 games and tallied 133 rushing yards on 30 carries and scored one touchdown. The Fairfax, Va., native also had four receptions for 43 yards. He averaged 23.8 yards on 13 kickoff returns and made eight tackles on the team's coverage units.

For his prowess, Scott was named the recipient of the John Bruno Memorial Award, which is handed out to the team's most outstanding special teams player.

Clearly, Scott illustrated his athletic ability on the field when given the opportunity to play. Head coach James Franklin frequently talked about how Scott's attitude on special teams set the tone for the Nittany Lions.

Like any student-athlete, though, Scott wanted to impact the team in the best way possible. Scott was recruited as a running back out of Fairfax High School and rushed for 1,582 yards en route to all-state honors as a senior. He served as a key member of the offensive scout team in 2014 before taking the game field for the first time last fall.

That said, it could not have been easy for Scott to initiate a conversation with Coach Franklin after the TaxSlayer Bowl about switching positions. It was something that Scott and some of the coaches had talked about briefly during his first two seasons on campus, but the redshirt sophomore was serious about a change to the defensive backfield leading up to 2016.

"Watching Saquon Barkley and seeing just how special of a player he was, and knowing that I am a competitor and do what is best for the team, I wanted to go to Coach Franklin to help any way I could," Scott said.

Immediately after the decision finalized, Scott knew he had plenty of work to do. He called several of his teammates from the secondary.

"I said, 'Listen, I've got to make up some ground,'" said Scott. "I hadn't played defense since high school. And even then, I was more of an offensive guy. But I knew that I could play."

Junior safety Marcus Allen was among the first teammates Scott talked to on the phone.

"The first day I let Marcus (Allen) know, I think it was the day after I made the switch, he took me under his wing," said Scott. "He said, 'Ok, you switched. We are going to Holuba tomorrow. Bring your cleats.'"

Scott worked out with Allen and redshirt freshman Jarvis Miller on day one to learn some of the basics and acquire background information on the defensive scheme. Scott said Allen's leadership was a big boost to helping him get started with the transition.

"I always felt that I was athletic enough to play defense, but the thing I really wanted to emphasize during winter conditioning was my footwork," said Scott. "That's something that feels completely different when you move to defense. You have to make a lot of cuts and get your hips in the right spot. I understood that I had some work to do."

Knowing it would be a big adjustment, Scott approached the change like he does everything - with a positive attitude. You won't find a guy who has a smile on his face more than Scott. He has an infectious personality, and he loves being around his teammates and truly enjoys every facet of being a student-athlete.

"I love playing defense," said Scott. "I'm a guy who has never been shy on special teams, and I love being on the defense. The coaches were great during the process because they just told me to fly around and have fun. Once you understand the scheme, you can go out and play and have fun. Their advice was to work hard and do my best to perfect the tasks I'm given."

When it came time to head onto the field for the first time on March 18 to begin spring practice, Scott donned a dark blue jersey with his fellow defenders for the first time in his career. It was a different feel for a guy who had been accustomed to the offense's white.

"It was a little weird putting that blue jersey on during the first day of spring practice," said Scott. "I think I almost ran with the offense (laughter)."

With each passing day, the Virginia product looks more and more like a guy who is a natural in the secondary. And Scott knows things will continue to grow from here.

"I think I'm definitely getting more comfortable every single day as I learn more about the system and understanding what my role is on the defense," said Scott. "I'm having a lot of fun. I think the last (week) of practices have been the most fun I've had because I'm getting comfortable. I was able to play at a good speed."

The evolution in the defensive backfield will continue long after the Blue-White Game on April 16, but Scott is committed to the process.

"I just want to show my teammates and the coaches that no matter where I'm at, I'm going to play hard and give 100 percent. Obviously, I want to have a lot of fun and just compete," said Scott.

To best serve the team, Scott gave up an opportunity to be a running back at Penn State. But if he had the chance to make the decision again, he wouldn't hesitate to do what's best for the team.

"I think the guys on the team would agree with me when I say that I always want to put the team first," said Scott. "I'm at the place I want to be - Penn State. So to me, it didn't matter what I was doing as long as I'm part of the program I love."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Bowersox's Walk-Off Seals Comeback Win in Second Frame of Doubleheader

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11860965.jpeg By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (18-14, 5-4) split a doubleheader with Big Ten-leading Michigan State (21-6, 5-1) on Sunday to get back to a winning record in conference play.

After dropping the first game of the day the Nittany Lions rallied from one run down in the ninth to win the series finale in walk-off fashion, 7-6. Jordan Bowersox was the hero of the day, knocking in Jim Haley for the game-winning run thanks to an error by the MSU second baseman.

With two outs and runners on first and second, Tyler Kendall laced a single to right field on the first pitch he saw that drove in Nick Riotto to tie the game at six.

"I was sitting on off-speed. They had been starting me off low and outside, but I took good at-bats all day with nothing to show for it," said Kendall. "I was just happy to get the next guy up. That's all I was trying to do."

That next guy up happened to be Bowersox, who ended the game with one swing.

"He threw me a fastball up and I just chopped in on the ground," Bowersox said. "I actually tripped coming out of the box. Luckily he threw it a little high and I was safe."

Riotto extended his hitting streak to nine games with a three-hit performance in game two. He also scored three runs and recorded two RBIs to lead the Blue and White.

Haley also smacked three hits in the game and scored the winning run. Riotto (.330) and Haley (.349) lead the team in batting average in 2016 and continue to produce at the plate.

Jack Anderson picked up the win in game two to improve his record to 3-1 on the year. He threw three innings in relief of Justin Hagenman, who struck out four and allowed three earned runs in six innings on the hill.

"He always battles," Anderson said of Hagenman. "He's learning more and more every start he takes. He's always battling out there. He's always shooting knees and mixing velocities. He's a stud and we all have a ton of confidence in him."

The Nittany Lions committed a season high five errors in the contest, including two in each of the sixth and eighth innings.

"We got to take care of the ball better," said head coach Rob Cooper. "We didn't value the baseball at all. We got to move our feet. We got to know when to not throw a baseball. No excuses, we got to play better defensively."

Penn State out-hit the Spartans 9-6 in the first game, but MSU capitalized on its few opportunities to pull out a 5-2 win.

Sal Biasi started on the mound for Penn State and lasted five innings, surrendering only one hit but allowing three runs. Biasi struck out six but suffered the loss to drop his record on the season to 3-4.

Nick Distasio and Marko Boricich each added two innings of relief and gave up a combined five hits and two runs.

James Coates and Ryan Sloniger each tallied two hits in game one. Seven different Nittany Lions recorded a hit in a balanced effort.

Freshman Connor Klemann, in just his third start of the season, singled in the second inning to score Jordan Bowersox for his third RBI on the year. MSU bounced back with an unearned run in the fourth inning to tie the game at one.

In the fifth, Haley knocked in Ryan Sloniger with a sacrifice fly for his team leading 21st RBI on the season. Michigan State scored two runs in both the seventh and eighth innings and held on to win the second game in the three game series.

The Nittany Lions return to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park Wednesday to face Bucknell at 6:30 p.m. Penn State will then head to Evanston, Ill. for a three game series over the weekend against conference foe Northwestern.    

With Eyes On The Bigger Goal, Nittany Lions Honor Seniors and Lock Up EIVA

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By Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The domination of the EIVA continues for the Penn State Nittany Lions.

For the 18th-straight regular season, Penn State is on top of the EIVA after closing out Harvard and Sacred Heart for a weekend sweep and clinching blow at the top of the standings.

As he has so much this season, Chris Nugent was once again the leader for Penn State on the court, tallying 31 total kills over the weekend, including 21 on .645 hitting in and impressive performance against Sacred Heart. With the wins, the Nittany Lions did exactly what they said they wanted to do and locked up the EIVA title at home.

"I really liked all aspect of our game," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "No matter who we threw out there I think we played really well. We were in a good point scoring rhythm and a good side out rhythm."

The match, according to senior Matt Seifert, is just one part of the overall goal for the Nittany Lions. Coming in to the season, the Nittany Lions were a top 15-ranked team. Now towards the end of the season, they still are and they are playing exceptional volleyball. All season long, their eyes have been on the overall prize of a national title.

"It's one step towards the big goal," Seifert said. "We know we can't achieve that goal and win a national championship if we don't win this conference. It's just the first step towards what we want to do."

Though Nugent led the Nittany Lions over the weekend, Friday and Saturday, were all about the Penn State senior class. Spencer Sauter, Taylor Hammond, Zack Parik, Andrew Roberts and Seifert were all honored before the match on Saturday evening. Emotions were undoubtedly running high as the seniors took the court for their final regular season match at Rec Hall.

"Historically this is a tough match for us," Pavlik said. "We have to switch gears early, going from the emotions of senior night and honoring the guys who have meant so much to this program for the last four or five years, to getting into a competitive mindset to win a match."

Every senior that was honored contributed to the overall result on Saturday. Matt Seifert was second on the team with eight kills and led the defense at the net with three blocks. Andrew Roberts finished off the match with the game winning kill from the outside. Taylor Hammond was consistent as always and dished out 49 assists. Parik had four assists and Sauter added a kill as every senior found their way on to the scoring sheet.

Despite all the festivities and the label of Senior Night, the Nittany Lion seniors still said that they don't feel like this match was actually their senior night.

"I think myself and the other guys don't really consider this our senior night," Seifert said. "We know that were going to get another match here and it felt a little different at the start, but when I was walking through the line and talking to the guys I was just saying lets get ready to go."

The Nittany Lions have two regular season matches left before the postseason and they seem to be rounding into the form that helped them rattle off 11 straight wins earlier in the season. Though the regular season may be winding down, for Penn State, the season is just starting.

Lion Winning Streak Comes to a Close

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By Michele Jaroszewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State baseball's winning streak came to a halt Friday night as Michigan State defeated the home team, 7-0, in the opener of the third conference series of the season.

The Spartans got on the board early in the top of the first with a RBI single from designated hitter Brandon Hughes. Teammate Jordan Zimmerman advanced to home from second base off the hit, getting the first tally.

The runs continued for the opposing team with a two-run RBI single in the top of the third by Taylor Grace and another RBI single in the top of the fourth by second baseman Dan Durkin, giving Michigan a four run lead.

The next three runs were driven in by two sacrifice flies into the outfield in the top of the seventh and eighth by Zimmerman and Justin Hovis. Hovis had the final run in the ninth inning after hitting a triple on the right field line, scoring off of a wild pitch.

Winning pitcher Cam Vieaux held the Nittany Lions from getting on the board, allowing only five hits and one walk. Nick Riotto led the home team with two hits into left center field, raising his batting average to .321.

"I don't really think about the batting average at all. I don't look at the board; I don't look at the stats. I would trade two hits for a win tonight," Riotto said.

Speaking for the team, Riotto said when facing Michigan he noticed a lot of aggressive hitters that like to hit and run, getting defense out of their positions. As for going into Sunday's doubleheader the team is staying optimistic, looking to comeback and get the series win.

"They're a good offensive team, but I think we can comeback, control that and be better," Riotto said. "We lost tonight, but that doesn't mean that we can't win a series. That's the ultimate goal right now."

Vieux pitched for seven innings and had six strikeouts. Relief pitchers Dakota Mekkes and Joe Mockbee came in for an inning each. Mockbee allowed the Nittany Lions last hit of the night with Jordan Bowersox's double into left field in the bottom of the ninth.

"The guy really commands both sides of the plate," said head coach Rob Cooper on Vieux. "He can throw a fast ball in or out. He has a real good breaking ball that is tough on righty's but really hard on lefty's."

A few adjustments that the team is looking to make before Sunday's games are figuring out how to manufacture runs. Coach Cooper said that pitching is also a focus, working hard to keep lead off hitters of every inning off the bag.

"I like the way that our kids have been playing and competing, but tonight [Michigan] out played us, in all facets," Cooper said. "We made two errors, we had a chance to turn some double plays and we didn't, that's big. Because that adds more pitches to a pitching count...we got to get our guys off the field when we have the opportunity to."

First game is set to start at 11 a.m. Sunday at Medlar Field with the second to begin 30 minutes after the last out.  

Spring Football: Offensive Line Growing in New Scheme

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11849801.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - You won't find a group more motivated to be successful than the Nittany Lion offensive line.

The past is ancient history, and the unit is looking ahead with great confidence following a strong start to 2016 that began in the weight room over the winter.

"The winter conditioning period was very productive for our group," senior Brian Gaia said. "Each guy had a specific goal, whether it was getting bigger, maintaining weight or getting more flexible. And I think we all grew significantly both physically and mentally."

It has been a period of change for the men in the trenches. In addition to learning a new offensive scheme, the Lions are working through their first spring practice period under the direction of coach Matt Limegrover. The first taste of things this spring has left the unit wanting more.

"Across the board, this offense just fits our offensive line very well, and I've seen a lot of guys take a big step forward this spring," said junior Andrew Nelson. "I love this offense in general. I think you can talk to anyone and they will tell you that they are enjoying it. We've had good success this spring."

It has been a period marked by installation on the field. The Nittany Lions have taken the new scheme in stride, and it has resulted in a high number of explosive plays this spring. Sure, there is an adjustment to learning new terminology, but the Lions have been locked in on the task at hand.

"There are a lot of new wrinkles going in, so obviously there is going to be an adjustment," said Nelson. "But offensively, I think guys are doing a really good job being focused and locked in with all of the new stuff going in."

Gaia and Nelson are two of the offensive line's biggest leaders. Gaia has more game experience than anyone on the roster (37 appearances), and Nelson has evolved into a consistent voice for the unit.

Gaia is in the process of adapting to a new home on the line. The Pasadena, Md., product started his career as a defensive tackle. He moved to guard before the 2014 season, and now he is meshing with the rest of the unit at the center position. Being the voice during pre-snap situations, Gaia knows the importance of leadership for the unit.

"At my position now, I feel that way," said Gaia. "I dictate when we get set and when the play starts. Being a senior and in the spot that I'm playing, I feel like leadership is something that is on my shoulders."

The most striking difference for the offense this spring is the tempo at which the group practices. The Lions are moving to the line at a swift pace and without going into a huddle. The speed lets the offensive players set the tone.

"I think the tempo of how the offense is operating really helps us," said Gaia. "We will be used to working at that pace, and the defense will face a challenge. We can dictate how quickly things move."

The players love operating at a faster pace. It can put a defense on its heels, and the strength and conditioning gains from the winter period are paying huge dividends for the line already this spring. With five practices left in spring drills, intensity is high as the unit continues to learn the intricacies of a new offense and grow as a collective group.

"The competition between the group makes everyone better," said Gaia. "We've had a number of different combinations on the offensive line, so all of us have played together at some point. That helps with the chemistry building."

With the groundwork being laid for 2016, confidence is a huge factor in the offensive line's evolution. There are four starters from the TaxSlayer Bowl back and a host of groomed, young talent ready to take the next step into the rotation. Optimism is very high for a group that is ready to take a step forward.

"The offense has come out this spring with a different mindset," said Nelson. "We have an extremely positive attitude of what we can accomplish, and I think that starts with Coach (Joe) Moorhead."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football Position Breakdown - Offensive Line

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the 10th during spring drills on Wednesday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the offensive line.

The Offensive Line

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:

Who's Back:
Ryan Bates (So./Fr.), Noah Beh (Jr./So.), Brendan Brosnan (Jr./So.), Adam De Boef (Jr./So.), Tom Devenney (Sr./Jr.), Derek Dowrey (Gr./Sr.), Brian Gaia (Gr./Sr.), Evan Galimberti (Sr./Jr.), Alex Gellerstedt (Fr./Fr.), Steven Gonzalez (So./Fr.), Sterling Jenkins (So./Fr.), Wendy Laurent (Gr./Sr.), Brendan Mahon (Sr./Jr.), Connor McGovern (Fr./Fr.), Andrew Nelson (Sr./Jr.), Paris Palmer (Sr./Jr.), Zach Simpson (So./Fr.), Chance Sorrell (Jr./So.), Charlie Shuman (Jr./So.), Chasz Wright (Jr./So.)

The Breakdown:
11846704.jpegOne group that entered spring practice eager grow is the Nittany Lion offensive line. The Nittany Lions return four starters from the TaxSlayer Bowl and are now under the direction of coach Matt Limegrover. Experience is a big piece to an offensive line's success, and the Lions are much more seasoned up front than they were at this point last season.

Headlining the list of returnees is the most experienced player on the field for the Nittany Lions. Graduate senior Brian Gaia has appeared in 37 career games for the Blue and White, including 25 starts during the past two seasons. The Maryland native started his Nittany Lion career on the defensive line before shifting to guard prior to 2014. He was the only offensive lineman to start every game in 2015, and now Gaia is the leader of the unit after shifting to center during the offseason.

Redshirt junior Andrew Nelson is another guy who has been an anchor for the offensive line during the past two seasons. The Hershey product started eight games last fall (missed four due to injury) and all 13 games of his redshirt freshman campaign in 2014. Nelson had a superb offseason and is a consistent performer at tackle. An All-Freshman Team selection two seasons ago, Nelson has started games at both tackle positions and will again be a staple in the starting lineup when the season begins in August.

Fellow redshirt junior Brendan Mahon is another Nittany Lion with significant game experience on the o-line heading into 2016. The Randolph, N.J., native has started 20 times and appeared in 25 contests during the past two seasons. Mahon has spent the vast majority of his time on the game field at the left guard position.

Senior Derek Dowrey is alongside Gaia as one of the most experience players on the roster. Dowrey has played in 33 career games, including six starts. The Virginia product moved from defensive line to the offensive trenches before spring practice began in 2014. After graduating with a degree in journalism in December, Dowrey is again positioned to be a contributor on the line in 2016.

The fourth returning starter from the bowl game back for 2016 is one of the team's most improved players from the end of the season. Paris Palmer transformed his body during winter conditioning and added significant size to his frame and increased his overall core strength. After transferring from Lackawanna College, the 6-foot-7, 302-pound tackle appeared in 13 games and started 11 contests last season.

Senior Wendy Laurent is another very experienced piece on the offensive line for the Lions. The Hamilton, N.J., native has played in 22 games and started eight games. Laurent has experience at all three interior positions along the offensive line.

In addition to the corps of players with significant game experience, the unit has a host of talent looking to break into the rotation once camp commences in August. The battles for playing time along the offensive line will be very competitive. The list of names at the interior positions includes the likes of Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Chasz Wright, Adam De Boef, Tom Devenney, Evan Galimberti and Zach Simpson. At the tackle positions, keep an eye on Noah Beh, Brendan Brosnan, Sterling Jenkins, Chance Sorrell and Charlie Shuman as they compete for playing time.

Additionally, the offensive line includes two early enrollees who are on campus going through the paces of their first spring practice period. Connor McGovern and Alex Gellerstedt joined the roster in January after decorated scholastic careers.

With more depth and experience, coinciding with a new offensive scheme, the Nittany Lions and Coach Limegrover know that the group can take a significant step forward in 2016. The Lions have approached spring ball with a great attitude and will carry some confidence into the final weeks of spring practice and into the start of fall camp.

Quoting Coach Limegrover:
"One thing that has really impressed me since I've been here is that there is a real hunger amongst my group. There is a nice mix of younger guys and older guys, but they share the same passion for improving. It showed during our offseason workouts, and it's transferring onto the field here this spring. When you have a group of guys who are willing to work and put it all on the line, they are pretty easy to coach. With being a new offense and a lot of new installation, my hope is that come April 16 my guys have a good idea of fundamentally what we are trying to accomplish as an offense and a foundation of what needs to continue to be built upon when we get back together in August."