By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the 2014 outdoor season underway, the Penn State track and field team isn't taking any breaks as it looks to continue a record-breaking year.
This year, the Nittany Lions have showed off every last bit of sweat, every extra minute of effort, and every ounce of dedication they've shed at practice. Their perseverance has been reciprocated with new record times and numerous event sweeps.
A big component of the track and field team is the group of women that make up the 4x400 meter relay team: One freshman, one sophomore, one junior, and one graduate student who not only won at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, but also broke a university record at the NCAA Championships with a fifth-place finish.
Relay and sprinting assistant coach to the team Randy Bungard says this group of women is one of the hardest working on the team.
"They do everything I ask them to do," Bungard says. "They always want to do better and I believe they can."
The relay team has brought together four women who are accustomed to individual competition and created a team of champions. That being said, a Big Ten title and a fifth-place finish at the NCAA level does not come without adversity and obstacles.
When the sun rises and the mind is racing and the nerves are wired and the adrenaline is pumping, it can only mean one thing - it's race day.
The starter pistol fires and off she goes, baton in hand, at full-blown All-American speed, the lead runner of the Penn State women's track 4x400 meter relay race, junior Dynasty McGee.
For McGee, race day is when you show how much you've been putting into practice. Race day is a reflection of dedication and time.
"How you practice is how you run. Practice makes perfect and if you practice hard, you run hard," McGee said. "And when it's time [to race], we're serious and we're praying. I'm trying to calm [the team] down while keeping myself calm."
This season is McGee's third with the team and, so far, her dedication and commitment to the track is evident. She's consistent in victory, as most all-American athletes are.
In the 2013 outdoor season, she won the 200m race at the Jim Thorpe Open, she won the 400 m race at the Bucknell Team Challenge, and she finished fourth overall at the Big Ten Championships, to name a few.
There is always room for improvement, she says, and she will continue to work on the things she needs to work on to reach her goals, individually and with her team.
"Practices are going really well. We are working on the things we need to. As a team, I feel like we are getting along really well," she said. "The team now is a totally different team than it was my freshman year. We get along a lot better and we support each other a lot more."
She reflects on the changes she's seen in herself and her team throughout her three years.
"As a freshman, it was hard for me [to transition] so the things that they did to me that I didn't like, I make sure that I don't do that. Freshman year we have a bunch of divas and we weren't walking around holding hands, but now we have a good relationship. I make sure that I'm easy to talk to. If they need something, I will do my best to provide that," she explains. "Without [the other team members], I wouldn't have these accolades. I'm very grateful to them."
Coach Bungard is a fan of McGee's consistency and ability to mentor those around her. He is certain that her tenacity will lead her to her goals.
"Dynasty is steady," Bungard said. "She will probably get to first rounds, which is the NCAA qualifying. She didn't get there last year and having a shot to make the NCAA championship is a big thing."
On race day, she nears the end of her lap and hands off the baton to the second runner of the relay team All-American sprinter and veteran member, Mahagony Jones.
Jones is finishing her fifth and final season with Penn State where she's spent five years growing into the person and the athlete she is today. In 2013 alone, Jones was an All-American, a two-time Big Ten Champion (200 m and 4x400 m relay) and the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Women's Mid-Atlantic Track Athlete of the Year.
"Mahagony is just Mahagony. She's always there when she needs to be," said Bungard.
She, like her teammates, spends day in and out on the field working on her goals.
"It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of motivation, and staying focused," she explains. "You can't get in your own way. You need confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself and in your teammates."
This season is more than just another one for the record books for Jones. This season is her final chance to leave her legacy at Penn State before venturing out to the world of post-collegiate track.
"Penn State track has raised me these past five years. I've definitely grown a lot since I got here," Jones said.
She wants to capture some more All-American moments, she says, which she will focus on for the rest of this year.
As for her post Penn State career, let's just say Jones does not plan on leaving the track behind her just yet. She hopes to one-day stand on a bigger podium, one where she will have the opportunity to represent something bigger than herself.
Halfway through the race.
Up next on the spotlight, the third runner of the relay and the youngest of the Nittany Lions, freshman Tichina Rhodes.
Rhodes is in her first season as an NCAA Division I athlete and it has definitely a road of adjustments.
"When she first came in, she lacked a little bit of confidence. She wasn't sure what to expect and probably never expected to make this relay," said Coach Bungard. "She was overwhelmed with academics and the training was a bit different than she had done and I think without the other three [relay members] she probably wouldn't have survived."
"It's been a lot of fun but it has also been a lot of hard work. In high school, I was at the top. I was leading workouts and [I] come to college and [I] have to work my way up," said Rhodes. "[My teammates] push me a lot to better myself. Here I'm not always leading the workouts and they help out a lot."
Confidence is a fundamental for success and Rhodes has put all her trust in herself, her teammates, and her coaches, who have been working all season to mentor her to become the best she can be. Being a top-level athlete is no easy feat and coming off an up and down individual season, Rhodes is just working on progress.
She steps up the plate when necessary and her teammates smile when they talk about her dedication.
"She hasn't let us down yet," they say.
Almost at the finish line.
Anchoring the relay and running one of the most crucial last moments of race is sprinter, hurdler, All-American sophomore Kiah Seymour.
Last weekend, Seymour broke a 200-meter race facility record at the Bucknell Team Challenge finishing in 23.66 seconds.
Seymour is in her second year with the Penn State Track and Field team where she's already established her ability.
"Kiah is very mature and she's one of the top athletes on the team. She came in in such better shape this year," said Bungard.
"From this year to last year I would say I made a 180-degree change. I've progressed a whole lot more because I want it more now. I love what I do. I love the sport and that makes it easier for me and this is where I feel the most comfortable. That's really what motivates me and drives me to keep going," Seymour said.
Seymour is a quiet individual with a fierce competitive attitude. She sits quietly, still, and focused. As her time at Penn State passes, her drive only becomes greater.
It's evident to her teammates and those around that while she is great at what she does, she will one day be phenomenal. She's a force to reckoned with.
End race day.
This race day, however, ended with more than just tired legs. This race day ended with history. At the end of the day at the NCAA Indoor Championships, the women earned a fifth-place finish in their relay race, a Penn State record.
They just went out there and did what they know how to do: run hard, they said.
"We weren't expecting to break a record," said Jones. "We just went out there and did our best."
Modesty at its finest.
"But it was great," Jones said with a smile on her face.
Her teammates laughed with her.
The Nittany Lions are more focused now than ever as they enter the prime of their outdoor season.
This is what they train for, they said.
All four women agree that the most important part of racing is believing in yourself and in your teammates.
"Don't get into your own head," they all said. "Confidence is key."
McGee says their relationships on and off the field are great and they are key components in team performances.
"We have gotten a lot closer this year. Relationships outside the track definitely contribute [to success]," said McGee.
"They've got a pretty good natural chemistry and that's one of the things that I think is special about this relay," said Bungard.
For now, all four athletes will focus on their individual events.
McGee will look to qualify and impress at a national level.
Jones will strive for All-America status and she will look to break her own personal best.
"Mahagony was third indoor in the 200 [meter race] so she wants to at least be that good outdoor and [she] want to make the 100-meter final," said Bungard.
Seymour will look to surpass even her own expectations.
"Kiah didn't win the Big Ten in 400-meter hurdles last year so I know that's a goal of hers and she's leading the Big Ten; she wants to finish high in the NCAA," said Bungard.
Rhodes will look to grow to full Nittany Lion Division I potential. She will continue to work on her confidence and hopes to truly prepare herself and to make her presence known.
When they compete as a relay team, the women bring together their most valuable assets and they hope to outshine to competition.
While Penn State will be losing a valuable runner in Jones come graduation, the future looks very bright. McGee, Rhodes, and Seymour will return next year with the Nittany Lions in search to break more records and Coach Bungard is confident that fans can expect nothing but great things from these four superstars, both individually, as a team, on and off the field.
Look out for these four dominant girls and the rest of the track team as they venture through their outdoor season. Up next is the Penn Relays held in Philadelphia, which begin on Thursday.
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By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- During a sunny Easter weekend in Happy Valley, the Penn State men's lacrosse team took down Delaware behind a disciplined defensive game plan and a potent offensive attack.
"We harped on discipline and hustle all week," said senior defender Tyler Travis.
The Nittany Lions put on a fundamentally sound performance in front of their home crowd en route to a 10-6 victory over the Blue Hens. A display of patience on offense and composure on defense earned the win for the Blue and White, moving their record to .500.
"I thought that collectively they made a lot of big plays," head coach Jeff Tambroni said of the defense after last Saturday's win. "We just asked each one of those guys to do their part and Coach Toner did a great job of putting a game plan together."
On the attack, senior Shane Sturgis's stick came to life in front of nearly 1,500 fans in attendance. A six-point performance (4g, 2a) was exactly the spark that the offense needed to rally behind.
"He took charge of the offense," Tambroni said. "He's by far our biggest and most dynamic leader in the offensive end and typically when he's playing well, everybody feeds off his energy and confidence."
Sturgis' big game increased his goal total to 30 on the season, which is already three more than what he scored in 2013. The senior has been a staple in Tambroni's offense since his freshman season, and the coaching staff is pleased to see him finish his career strong.
"Earlier in the year he was playing hard and productive; in the middle of the season he was playing hard but shots weren't falling, but today he was the one guy that was shooting consistently," Tambroni said.
The offense went on a 6-1 run that spanned three quarters against Delaware, fueling the Nittany Lions with all of the momentum. The scoring run was sparked by the timely decision-making and poise displayed by Sturgis.
"He did a wonderful job of reading Delaware's offense and getting our guys organized on the fly," Tambroni said.
Sturgis and fellow senior Tom LaCrosse have been tremendous leaders to the younger players this season, enabling them for success in seasons to come.
"Between TJ Sanders and our freshman crew, it's taking a little while for those guys to season and develop," said the fourth-year coach. "It was nice to see those guys (the seniors) come out and play the way they did because they complemented that group of freshmen very well."
Seniors on the defensive side of the ball were extremely impactful as well. Travis and Steven Bogert combined for 11 ground balls while goaltender Austin Kaut was locked in to the Delaware shooters and made 14 saves.
"I thought what stood out is some of the seniors made some consistent efforts and consistent plays that made us comfortable in the offensive end," Tambroni said. "Travis, Kaut and Bogert were so reliable and they just made such a difference to holding Delaware to low-angle looks."
The Nittany Lions are down to just one game left on their 2014 slate as they prepare to host CAA rival Hofstra next Saturday. Faceoff against the Pride is set for 12 p.m. on senior day.
By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On a beautiful night in State College, the Penn State Nittany Lions turned in a superb performance, beating the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays, 12-10, to earn their ninth win of their season.
Simply put, the Blue and White buckled down, did their jobs, and got the win.
After a back-and-forth first half, the Nittany Lions went into halftime trailing the Blue Jays, 7-4. Penn State had some success in the first half, but Johns Hopkins made huge defensive stops to limit an offense getting into their groove.
That all changed as soon as the second half got underway.
"Well, again, I wasn't necessarily mad about the first half," Doherty said. "We needed to make some saves, we needed to come up with some momentum-turners, and we needed to put our shots away. Thankfully, [in] the second half the girls got their heads up; we put our shots away, got a couple goals in transition.
"We know we can score quickly, so the girls took advantage of that in the beginning of the first half. I was saying, 'we need to make them stop us,' because sometimes we're going up and we're not being stopped yet. So keep going until they stop you and they did a good job of doing that."
As we have seen before, the Nittany Lions seemed to just turn a switch and dominant games. They opened the second half by scoring five goals in a row to take an 8-7 lead. Madison Cyr scored three goals in a 26-second span and completely put the Blue Jays on their heels.
"You score one you want to keep going," Cyr said. "You score two you want to keep going. It definitely helped."
The three goals in 26 seconds are not that unusual for a player like Cyr, according to her coach.
"We're trying to get her to score four in 30 [seconds]," Doherty said with a laugh. "So we just missed the mark. She's great. She's great because she is a smart cutter and a smart challenger. She knows when to come in and make the most of a situation and she did that tonight."
Part of what made the Nittany Lions' comeback look so smooth was their play in transition. The turnovers they were creating on the defensive end were becoming excellent offensive opportunities, and they were continuing to capitalize on the Blue Jays not having their feet set defensively.
"Despite Hopkins, I think we are a good transition team," Doherty said. "I think we see each other well. We go hard to goal well. We can score quickly. We took more advantage of it in the second half than we did in the first half."
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, the game was tied at 9-9. Cyr scored her fourth goal of the game when fellow midfielder Jenna Mosketti hit her in stride and she beat goalkeeper Caroline Federico five-hole to take the lead. The Nittany Lions outscored the Blue Jays 2-1 in the games final minute to secure the victory.
One of the major storylines in the second half was the play of freshman goalkeeper Cat Rainone. She stepped in mid-way through the first half and helped provide a serious spark to the Nittany Lions. She made five saves to earn the win, including some sensational saves on free-position shots.
"In the cage, it's not a mental thing," Rainone said. "You just have to go in there and do it. Get your body behind the ball and just make the save.
"It was a great game for everybody; it's definitely a team effort. The one play that I made doesn't make he game. So I am definitely proud of everybody on the field, especially our sideline, being our support system, being there when we have turnovers and when we make good, big plays. They are always there to support us."
The Nittany Lions will now head back to the practice field as they prepare to go for win number 10 against Princeton on Senior Day this Saturday.
"We have great character on our team," Doherty said. "We work hard all game long and sometimes the breaks go your way, and sometimes they don't. This game we were able to put our shots away when it counted and we were able to make huge defensive stops. We had a great couple charge calls when the girls got in position to take that charge, and those were momentum-turners for us. They stepped out when they needed to, defensively, and got in front a lot of the players. They were just on it tonight; it was great to watch."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After dropping all three games of their weekend series with fellow Big Ten competitor Wisconsin (27-15, 9-5 Big Ten), the Nittany Lions (14-26, 5-10 Big Ten) are focusing on the basics and striving to keep their game simple and skilled.
Four errors over the course of the two days proved costly for Penn State, which fell by a score of 6-3 on Friday night and scores of 4-0 and 5-2 during Saturday's double-header.
"Both teams gave great effort and made some spectacular catches, but we dropped two routine pop flies," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "That's killer. We couldn't recover. We felt offensively, it was just a matter of time to score runs, and if we catch that [pop fly], then that could be a completely different ball game."
Agreeing with the remarks of her coach was Macy Jones who appeared in all three games, playing at first for games one and three and pitching game two.
"It was just a few key errors that ended up really costing us runs," said the pitcher. "Sometimes they don't, and sometimes they do. In that case, they did, and our offense didn't really show up the first game either. I think sometimes errors are ok because you can get out of them, and sometimes they are really costly."
Although the Lions were unable to make some of the more routine plays, they had a number of impressive defensive catches.
Sophomore Reina Furuya and freshman Shelby Miller both made spectacular grabs in the second of Saturday's two games. Furuya made a diving catch along the third base side, while Miller nabbed a soaring line drive, both of which helped to keep the game within the Lions' reach.
Additionally, Furuya, along with senior Kasie Hatfield, led the way offensively for the Blue and White. Furuya recorded two hits in game two, and Hatfield reached base twice in game three. Nevertheless, throughout the entirety of the series, Penn State was outhit by the Badgers 20-13.
"A lot of us were trying to do too much," said Hatfield of the team's batting struggles. "I think a lot of us wanted to come through and be the one to hit a homerun instead of just doing the simple things and getting hits."
"I think we should have been attacking the pitchers more, and we were kind of being passive," added Jones. "Instead of being hitters, we were being swingers."
Despite the fielding mistakes and cold bats, the Nittany Lions are still confident and ready for what the rest of the season has to bring.
With Jones and freshman Marlaina Laubach nabbing a majority of the pitching time for the Lions, the position is becoming much more of a strong point for the team.
Laubach started games one and three, going the distance for seven innings in both. The right-hander gave up five earned runs on Friday and one earned run in Saturday's second game.
Jones also turned in a complete performance on Saturday, allowing only three earned runs off a homerun.
"I think I did pretty good, minus the homerun, which I don't think was a bad pitch," said the Virginia native. "She put a good swing on it. I think that I hit my spots well and all my pitches were working."
Looking forward, the Lions will travel to Ohio to take on the Buckeyes in a Wednesday evening double header. Ohio State is currently 6-9 in the Big Ten and 20-23 overall.
When asked what the most important aspects will be leading into the match-up, Hatfield was very concise and definite with her response.
"Making the simple plays," said the senior. "Trying to limit our errors and get back to hitting the way that we were hitting coming in to this weekend will be very important."
Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As proud as the Penn State baseball team was of its 8-0 record at home entering a three-game weekend series against Illinois, it knew that the bulk of its Big Ten schedule presented some daunting challenges.
Going up against the second ranked team in the conference, the Nittany Lions led at different points of all three games, yet couldn't find a way to pull out a victory, falling by scores of 6-3, 8-3, and 7-6, respectively.
Despite the losses, the first two games were highlighted by strong performances from the Nittany Lions' starting pitchers. On Friday, senior Tim Dunn tossed a career high six and two-thirds innings in which he only gave up two unearned runs while junior T.J. Jann went six plus innings on Saturday, giving up four runs, as the final two crossed the plate after he had been taken out.
"[Tim] was awesome and you're seeing a guy trusting himself and he's not afraid to throw strikes and start bats," head coach Rob Cooper said. "[TJ] competed and gave us a chance to win after giving up two early runs and that's what we ask our guys to do."
Friday night especially was a showcase for Dunn, who made just his fourth start of the season and set forth a strong case for future appearances, striking out five batters while allowing just one walk and five hits.
Jann on the other hand, didn't have his best stuff in his team high 10th start of the season, but he gave a gritty performance in an attempt to get the Lions back into the series. While he was unable to record a strikeout and gave up two runs in the first three innings, the Westford, Mass. native settled down to retire 11 straight batters from the end of the third inning through the sixth.
"I tried to keep my team in the game and give us a shot to win," Jann said. "I had a good rhythm and when I was pounding the [strike] zone things were going my way."
In each of the first two games, it only took one rough inning for things to turn the Fighting Illini's way. On Friday, Penn State entered the eighth inning with a 3-2 lead, but three singles, two walks, and a hit batter led to four Illinois runs that produced the game's final score.
The next day, reliever Jack Anderson nearly got out of a bases-loaded, zero out jam by recording two straight outs before a timely single by Adam Walton led to another four-run inning that erased another 3-2 Penn State lead.
"Jack was one pitch away from getting us out of that inning having given up nothing and even the [single] that put them ahead was a good pitch. Their guy just did a good job of hitting," Cooper said. "We were five outs away from winning [on Friday] and nine outs away from winning on [Saturday] and we've got to finish them off. This is part of the learning process."
Sunday's game went the opposite way for the Blue and White, as Ian Parvin managed to go just three innings in his first career start and the Nittany Lions saw a 1-0 first inning lead erased by seven Illinois runs over the next four innings.
Trailing 7-3 after seven innings, Penn State stayed determined, adding one run in the eighth before hits in the ninth by Taylor Skerpon, Ryky Smith, and Ryan Richter produced two more runs and put the tying run on second base before Illinois pitcher Tyler Jay managed to end the game with a double play.
Despite the third loss, Sunday marked a career day for the third baseman Richter, who went 3-for-5 with an RBI in just his 11th start of the season.
"Even when it was 7-3 we felt like we were right in it the entire time," Richter said. "That's just our mentality and if one ball squeaks up the middle we could have won the game."
Cooper acknowledged the spirit of his players and while he said he is proud of their efforts, there is plenty the team can do to improve as they prepare to move forward.
Having already won three more games this year (17) than they did all of last year (14), the first year Nittany Lions coach knows that many have already called this season a success, a mindset he does not endorse.
As Cooper has stated before, he couldn't care less about the past or what others outside of the program expect of his team. With more Big Ten opponents approaching on the schedule, all that matters is that the Nittany Lions take this weekend as a learning experience and use it to get better.
"It's easy to say that last year these games wouldn't have even been close but we can't accept that...we need to finish games off," Cooper said. "Nobody is going to feel sorry for us but if that last inning is any indication, our guys are going to keep competing."
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Growing up in Boston, Penn State senior catcher Alex Farkes had his own little Patriot's Day tradition.
Every year, Farkes and his friends would attend the Boston Red Sox game in the afternoon and then walk to Boylston Street to catch the end of the Boston Marathon. For Farkes and many Boston natives, it was not just another day on the calendar, it was the city's own holiday.
"[Patriot's Day] is a very important day in Boston and it's part of the city's identity," Farkes said. "I'm blessed to be from [Boston] and I'm proud of it."
Last year, as Farkes spent his Patriot's Day afternoon preparing for practice, he received the same shocking news as the rest of the country: a bomb had gone off near the Marathon's finish line at Boylston Street.
Suddenly, all of the trivial things that had been on the Nittany Lions catcher's mind, such as his team's 8-1 loss to Michigan the day before, didn't seem to matter much. After speaking with the coaching staff, Farkes quickly called his three older brothers and his parents to make sure they were unharmed, which thankfully, they were.
While the reassurance of his family and friend's safety helped ease his mind somewhat, the news and the aftermath of the day were still hard for the junior to process.
"It's hard when you live so close that you can feel the ground shake when you talk to your family," Farkes said. "I just prayed for the victims and hoped that they would be rushed to safety and that everything would be okay."
Looking back on the fateful day a year later, Farkes is able to take pride in the resiliency that his hometown showed during the traumatic period. However, the week following the bombing remains one of the toughest of the 22-year-old's life.
With the city of Boston on lockdown as police searched nearby Watertown, Mass. looking for the culprits, Farkes tried to remain focused on the team's upcoming series against Iowa, something that wasn't easy to do with his family on his mind.
Luckily for Farkes, he had fellow Massachusetts natives in pitcher T.J. Jann and outfielder Sam August to lean on throughout the week. On April 20th, the day following the successful manhunt, Farkes managed to go 2-for-4 in a game against Iowa, though his mind was still largely elsewhere.
"[That week] was tough because my brothers live near Watertown and it was scary. It hit right at home...right there and it was pretty crazy," Farkes said. "I try to play the game the same way every time but it definitely put things in perspective and I just wanted everyone to be okay."
The 2013 season was still in full swing and Farkes did his best to go about his normal routine as usual. When the Nittany Lions final game on May 18 ended, however, Farkes knew there was something he needed to do.
Returning home a few days later, the loyal Boston native made a special stop before he did anything else. He walked to the spot of the finish line and took a moment to let everything sink in.
"I walked to Boylston Street, walked up the street for five minutes and I just stood there for a while," Farkes said. "There's a Marathon Sports (running store) there and I bought a "Run to Remember" t-shirt and stood there and just took it all in."
For Farkes, Boylston Street had always been a part of his childhood. In that moment, it dawned on him that the place now represented so much more.
"It's scary because I walked around there my whole life, to get a bagel or get food and those are the streets that I grew up on, and everyday my parents let me go out," Farkes said. "My heart slowed a little bit walking around there."
Over the past year, Farkes has watched his hometown rebound slowly but surely. The Stanley Cup Finals appearance by the Boston Bruins and the World Series victory by the Red Sox helped bring the city's community together and will forever remain highlights for him.
Though the senior said he never needed a reason to be proud to call Boston home, watching the response to the attacks by both civilians and hospitals as well as the actions by the Boston Police Department made him realize how lucky he is.
"I'm so blessed to know that those people were protecting me my whole life and I feel very lucky for that," Farkes said. "I was already proud of that city and I guess I'm even more proud now. I'm just thankful that they were able to save so many people."
Watching the tributes given this past Tuesday by Vice President Joe Biden and many others on the one-year anniversary of the day, Farkes was reminded of the importance of Patriot's Day and the Boston Marathon, two things that will always hold a special place in his heart.
He may currently be enjoying his senior season on a team striving to give new head coach Rob Cooper a winning season, but if there is one thing Farkes learned over the past year, it's that some things are more important than baseball.
"Some people can do some scary things," Farkes said. "If there's one thing I take away it's that each day is a blessing."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion basketball team's 2013-'14 season was marked by individual and collective progress.
While head coach Patrick Chambers and the players on the roster would be the first to tell you that they had hoped to win more games last season, the foundation laid and steps forward have given the squad a great deal of optimism as preparations for 2014-'15 begin.
The program moves forward without Tim Frazier, who graduates following a decorated career in Blue and White, but the Lions return one of the Big Ten's elite players in all-conference guard D.J. Newbill.
Following a tremendous junior campaign, the Philadelphia native will head into the fall as the conference's second-leading returning scorer. After tweaking his shot mechanics during the offseason, Newbill set career-highs in field goal (45 percent) and three-point (33 percent) percentages. Newbill's 17.8 points per game mark was second only to Nebraska's Terran Petteway.
"I definitely didn't achieve the goals I wanted to achieve, team-wise and record-wise," Newbill said. "But there were so many close games, and we just have to learn from them. We have to work harder than we did last year. That's my mindset going into this offseason. We worked hard last year, now, we've got to work even harder."
A dynamic player with a tenacious attitude, Newbill is again primed for a big offseason and another step forward on the floor in 2014-'15. He had 10 20-point games last season, including six in Big Ten games. Among the conference's most complete scorers, Newbill will play a central role in Penn State's success next season.
"Our team chemistry was good, but it can get a lot better," Newbill said. "Our defense needs to improve and we need to hit shots. We need to have guys continuously getting into the gym and working on their jump shots. That helps you shoot with confidence, and that is going to help us next year."
Collectively, the Nittany Lions return 78 percent of their scoring and 77 percent of their rebounds from last season in Newbill, Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis, Donovon Jack, John Johnson, Geno Thorpe, Jordan Dickerson, Julian Moore, Alan Wisniewski and Kevin Montminy. Redshirt freshman Payton Banks will debut for Penn State in the fall. Additionally, Penn State welcomes second-team JUCO All-American Devin Foster to the rotation and true freshmen Shep Garner and Isaiah Washington.
"It's repetition. We're youthful," Chambers said. "I think with every passing year, everything slows down a little bit, especially for guys like John Johnson, Jordan Dickerson, Geno Thorpe. I think the pace of the game will slow down. I think that's when you're going to see shots go down. Plus, with experience, I think you'll start to see shots go down. We're going to have seniors and juniors next year, which is exciting."
The Lions are on the brink of a breakout season after finishing with 16-18 overall mark and a 6-12 record in the Big Ten. Penn State lost eight games by five or fewer points in 2013-'14, including four during Big Ten play. The Lions' 16 wins reached a mark topped just three times this millennium.
Penn State won five road games, including three in Big Ten play, marking the most since the 2008-'09 season when they won six. Penn State swept Ohio State for the first time since 1998, becoming the second team to beat the Buckeyes twice in the regular season in the last five years (Michigan State is the only other team).
"It takes time, and we all have to be patient, but I don't know if we were appreciated for what we did," Chambers said. "Not me, the players. I don't know that they were appreciated for how hard they competed on a nightly basis. Every game, other than a few, I felt like they competed to the best of their ability. To be sitting here again, 15-16 wins, is a great jump up from where we were."
Now, the Nittany Lions are looking to take the next step with another strong offseason of development in the practice gym from everyone on the roster. Expectations are high for Chambers and the Lions as they continue the building process leading up to the 2014-'15 season.
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By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With only two matches left in the regular season for the Nittany Lions, the squad of 16 has been through a journey of streaks this year going from two losses to 12 wins followed by seven consecutive matches on the road.
"It seems to be a year of streaks - mostly travel streaks," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We go to Hawaii with the idea of let's see where we are and how we stack up against Hawaii. It was very good for us. Then we came back and had the ability through who we played to get those who don't play much some action, refine our skills, and then we were on the road for a tough stretch."
Despite long stretches on the road with less than ideal traveling arrangements, the Nittany Lions have stayed mentally tough and taken the necessary steps to ensure their bodies could perform at their best.
"We've picked up our physicality, which I'm very glad to see the travel weariness has been handled well. We've done a good job keeping fresh in the gym and all in all it's been a pretty good season for us," Pavlik said.
Although it can be easy to focus on their record of wins and losses throughout the season, the coaches stress that the level of improvement is more important.
"The team has steadily improved and we don't pay a lot of attention to wins and losses," Pavlik said. "We pay attention to are we getting better and what do we have to do to get better. This team has really made a commitment to getting better and you look at every one of the guys on this team and you can point out aspects in their game that have improved. That's all we can really ask for."
Through their journey, the team has learned from each and every chance they have had to compete. Their level of improvement is a testament to the resiliency of this group.
"They roll with the punches really well. This is a group that is confident; they understand how hard it is to be good. They learn that within this group they can push each other and hold each other accountable. I like the growth they've had this year and I'm excited about the future for this core group of student-athletes," Pavlik said.
Even though this particular group of 16 players started playing together in the fall, their development goes back a year where they grew under the six seniors that graduated in 2013.
"The development of this team can be traced back to the six seniors we had last year. They were there if we needed them in a certain situation and they were always ready to go. Our current group saw that. They saw the selflessness and they saw how much the program meant to that group of seniors. This team has picked up on the strength of those seniors last year and have carried it on and they've made it stronger this year," Pavlik said.
It may seem like their season is winding down from the fan perspective with the EIVA championships right around the corner, however, the most exciting part of the season is still to come.
"This is the fun part - everything is winding up," Pavlik said. "This is what you come to Penn State for. We're going to gear up and we're going to make sure we aren't overtaxing these guys. If they keep it sharp, we're going to stay in the gym only as long as they need to be."
At this point in the season, the team starts "tapering" which means they reduce the amount of practice time and focus more on quality and their execution.
"This is not the time to keep them in the gym for practice sake. They're responding well to this. We've had some great short practices over these past few weeks. We want them to be at their best when the whistle blows," Pavlik said.
The Nittany Lions secured the No. 1 overall seed and home court advantage as they host the upcoming EIVA tournament after their win against Saint Francis. This win also gave the Nittany Lions their 30th EIVA/ECVL regular season title.
"Hosting keeps them in their routines," Pavlik said. "They're comfortable there and everything that they normally do, they can do. That's huge for college athletes and even more so with men's volleyball across the country. Teams have really been good at home and it's been tough to win on the road. I like the fact that we don't have to go anywhere for the two biggest EIVA matches of the year."
PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's gymnastics team took part in their practice
session at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Thursday, April 17. Head
coach Jeff Thompson and freshman Emma Sibson talked to GoPSUsports.com
following the team's tune-up.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Riding the hot bat of freshman Shelby Miller, the Nittany Lions (14-23, 5-7 Big Ten) swept intrastate rival Bucknell (15-20, 7-5 Patriot League) in Wednesday evening's doubleheader at Beard Field, 6-3 and 10-5. After a slow start to the season, Penn State has now won eight of its last nine games.
"We know we can win now," said Miller. "We've seen that we can do it, and we're doing it."
In Game one of the doubleheader, Penn State used a complete game performance by Marlaina Laubach to lead the Nittany Lions to a 6-3 win.
Laubach went the distance, throwing 118 pitches, while allowing three runs, two earned. The 5-foot-8 right-handed freshman walked just one batter and tied a season-high with six strikeouts. She improved to 9-10 on the season and recorded her eighth complete game of the year.
"We're much more confident as a staff," said Laubach. "We all have a lot more confidence in one another. When I'm on the mound, I go out and try to act the most confident that I can."
On the offensive front, the Nittany Lions scored in all but one inning in the first game.
Batting seventh, Miller was a perfect 3-for-3 at the dish, driving in one run and scoring another.
"We're kind of protecting her [Miller] down there," said first-year head coach Amanda Lehotak. "She's getting better pitches. She's kind of our second leadoff to get that bottom of the order sparked again."
The Blue and White carried the momentum into game two of the doubleheader, jumping out to a 9-0 lead after just two innings of play.
"Game two we attacked early, which was exactly what we wanted," said Lehotak. "The top of the order really came out and followed the game plan to a 'T' and when we do that we can put up 10 runs."
Like the first game, Miller was a big reason why Penn State was so dominant offensively against the Bison. The second baseman went 2-for-3 with a triple and four runs batted in.
"I was just seeing it, and my biggest goal today was just, and every time I go up to bat, was just to relax," said Miller. "Just take a couple deep breaths, go up there, and do what I need to do."
Unlike the first game, however, the Nittany Lions used a trio of pitchers to get past Bucknell. Christy Von Pusch, Marissa Diescher and Macy Jones took to the mound to combine to give up five runs, three earned, on seven hits, five walks and six strikeouts.
Looking ahead, the Nittany Lions host Big Ten foe Wisconsin this weekend for a three-game series. Nevertheless, according to Lehotak, adjustments will need to be made to get past the aggressive Badgers.
"Bottom of the order has to get on," said Lehotak. "We have a couple big holes. We have to take care of the ball defensively. Wisconsin is very aggressive. They are very top heavy in the top of the order, batting average, numbers-wise. They swing hard, and they're going to come right after us. Our pitching is going to have to hit their spots. We have to keep limiting our walks."