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Second Half Guides Lions to B1G win

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  The long-awaited Big Ten slate finally arrived, as the Nittany Lions secured their first conference victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes Friday at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex.

 

Penn State took possession and launched into Iowa's defense at the blow of the starting whistle, but it didn't take long for Iowa to put pressure the ball and bring it back to Penn State's half.

"We expected Iowa to come out strong," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "I asked the girls in the locker room what they remembered about Iowa, and that was it."

The first quarter of the match was a true toss-up, with the ball on both sides of the field and turnovers for both teams. In just the fourth minute of the game, Iowa attempted a shot at the goal, with a swift block by Penn State goalkeeper Jenny Rizzo. The shot was followed by two consecutive corner penalties for Iowa, where the Hawkeyes placed two more blocked shots at Rizzo. Even when the Nittany Lions fought back with an opportunity from forward Gini Bramley, the first attempted goal of the night was stopped by the Hawkeye keeper.

"I thought they had momentum in the first fifteen minutes of the game," Morett-Curtiss said. "We were just not making good decisions at first, which surprises me, but we made some adjustments and kicked in some speed."

As the half progressed, Iowa's offensive line proved to be a challenge for Penn State as the Hawkeyes pressed on, finding two more opportunities for shots on goal, but Rizzo wouldn't crack, blocking both.

"The backfield works well together," Morett-Curtiss said. "They can interchange really well and Jenny [Rizzo] had some great saves."

Penn State's Cori Conley proved to be a key piece of the defensive line, offering little space for Iowa's offense to get too close to the circle.

"We just had to make sure we were really communicating in the backfield, making sure we were marking our girls and making good outlet passes to our forwards," Conley said. "I thought we did a really good job holding it down and not letting them get an easy ball."

The Nittany Lions earned their first penalty corner of the game in the 23rd minute, followed by an immediate second. Penn State remained energetic on the attack, despite two more shots blocked by Iowa's keeper.

Although unsuccessful in conversions, the Nittany Lions pushed on with force, managing to keep the ball in the away team's half. Penn State continued to pressure the goal and despite a blocked shot by Aurelia Meijer, it wasn't long before the Nittany Lions found an opening with a penalty corner. Senior Shay Cannon perfectly set up her teammate Moira Putsch for the first goal of the night.

The Nittany Lions came into the second half with fueled with new fury. In the second minute, Putsch slammed a goal past Iowa's defense, thanks to an assist by Meijer.

 "We definitely improved with ball speed in the end of the first and into the second half," Morett-Curtiss said. "I think there was more composure and stretching out across the field."

Penn State's offense kept the engine going, progressing with some aggressive play in the second half. The chances kept flying in as the Nittany Lions placed more attempted shots at the goal, until Maddie Morano finally slammed a shot into the back of the net, marking her fifth goal of the season and Penn State's third goal of the game.

"I think our unity as a team improved," Putsch said. "I think since we felt more connected, I could have more space to move into different pockets. In the second half, we definitely opened it up for each other."

Penn State battled on to close the second half, leaving Iowa with little opportunity to mount a comeback. The match wrapped up seamlessly at 3-0 with yet another shutout, making it the third consecutive season that Penn State has defeated Iowa.

"We got our first taste of Big Ten hockey this season and we know it's just a really physical time of year," Conley said. "We're really looking forward to keep pushing at that level."

Big Ten play will resume on September 22, when Penn State will put Northwestern up to the challenge.

"It's always great to win that first Big Ten game," Morett-Curtiss said. "It's a very tough conference, top to bottom, so we have to take care of some business on the road."

The Nittany Lions will head to Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster, Sunday, Sept. 17th to meet defending NCAA national champion Delaware.

Nittany Lions Open B1G Slate Before a Homecoming

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With an impressive 6-0 start to the season, Penn State rose to No. 2 in the most recent NFHCA Poll, but isn't dwelling on its early success. The Nittany Lions are looking ahead with a new challenge on their minds, gearing up for the Big Ten opener at home before hitting the road.

 

First up for the Nittany Lions? Iowa.

 

For Penn State, the Hawkeyes are a fierce opponent to kick off the Big Ten slate. With a slow start to this week's earlier 5-1 win at Bucknell, Penn State is looking to lock in with conference play approaching.

 

"With Bucknell, I think we had a lot of scoring opportunities and we weren't focused to find the back of the net," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "Our focus should've been a bit sharper in the circle and opening up the play instead of playing into the Bucknell defense."

 

Morett-Curtiss has been focusing on implementing both adequate training and rest in addition to film study in preparation for the Hawkeyes.

 

Penn State's other Big Ten outings include home matchups against Northwestern and Michigan before hitting the road for trips to Michigan State, Ohio State and Maryland, wrapping up with a home finale against Rutgers and a trip to Indiana.

 

"With Princeton and Bucknell behind us, it's great to get our focus on the start of the Big Ten," Morett-Curtiss said. "It's obviously going to be very competitive opening up with Iowa, they're a strong team. They come to play, they compete."

 

Equipped with standout play from goalkeeper Jenny Rizzo, she'll guide the Nittany Lions into conference play having totaled 10 saves in Penn State's roadwins at Princeton and Bucknell.

 

 "We know it's our first conference game," Rizzo said. "It's just another game, but it's an important game, and we just want to come out strong and set the tone for good play."

 

Earning both Big Ten and NFHCA Offensive Player of the Week honors this season, forward Gini Bramley has continued her solid play, all backed by a strong sense of faith in her teammates.

 

"Being there for my teammates, they're leading for the ball and I just want to give them that perfect pass so we can get some outcome in the circle, to keep our win streak alive," Bramley said.

 

Iowa aside, the Nittany Lions also travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to meet defending NCAA national champion Delaware at Spooky Nook Sports. Home to the official training location of the USA Field Hockey Team, and to many of the Nittany Lions, Sunday's outing will be a refreshing trip back home to balance a heavy away schedule for the remainder of the season.

 

"We love playing in the Lancaster area because so many of our girls are from that area," Morett-Curtiss said. "It's a great field hockey community, so we have a lot of alums in the area. It's a great hometown feel for us and being at the U.S. training facility has a little bit of a prestige to it."

 

With a roster featuring at least half of the Nittany Lions calling home somewhere in close proximity to the Lancaster area, Bramley and Rizzo, are both from the Lancaster-Hersey area and familiar with the setting.

 

"It's fun because you see familiar faces, like friends from nearby colleges and family," Bramley said.

 

While it's always special to compete in front of a hometown crowd, Penn State is focused on keeping one foot in front of the other, taking each game as its own challenge.

"Our focus is on Iowa and the Big Ten this Friday," Morett-Curtiss said. "Both teams have a lot of spirit and physicality, it should be a great game."

 

The Nittany Lions will take on the Hawkeyes Friday, Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. in the Penn State Field Hockey Complex before heading to Lancaster to meet the Blue Hens Sunday, Sept. 17 in a 1 p.m. matchup. 

Nittany Lions Set to Take On the Road

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a weekend of back-to-back matches to open up the home schedule for the season, Penn State will be spending a lot of time on the road, with a heavy away schedule spanning nearly the next two weeks.

 

With so much time spent traveling, one would assume Penn State must experience some away-from-home jitters requiring extra preparation. As head coach Char Morett-Curtiss and forward Moira Putsch had to say though, it might in fact be the opposite.

 

"Honestly, being on the road is more of a positive thing more than anything," Morett-Curtiss said. "It gives the girls time to regroup, focus on their studies and get away from the hectic campus in the fall. They always go into traveling ready and with a positive mindset."

 

This weekend, Penn State is set to travel to Princeton, N.J. to face off against the Tigers, followed by a trip to Bucknell just two days later. The Nittany Lions then head to Delaware the following week returning for a short trip back to their home field before spending the first two weeks of October everywhere from Michigan, Ohio, to Maryland.

 

"Going to away games is actually such a great thing," Putsch said. "We get away locker rooms, and we have little pregame dance parties."

 

It's not all fun and games though. The Nittany Lions know better than to let their recent successes get to their heads. Despite a 4-0 record this season and a recent jump to No. 3 in the latest NFHCA Poll, Morett-Curtiss emphasizes the importance of taking it day by day.

 

"We've learned a lot this past weekend," Morett-Curtiss said. "Although the team faced some tough competition, they managed to power through to smashing victories at the end. "We take a one-day break and get right back into it. We're very good at taking it one day at a time anticipating each game."

 

Putsch and goalkeeper Jenny Rizzo are both upperclassmen and have been leading the pack with incredible assists and goals from Putsch, and flawless saves from Rizzo. Along with their upperclassmen teammates, the two are excited for their younger teammates to see what life on the road is all about.

 

"It's cool to be home and get the fans, but when we're away, we get into a different flow and it's cool for the underclassmen to be a part of that," Putsch said.

 

The best part of a road trip for Putsch and Rizzo? Their fellow teammates having their backs for each and every play, but the mindset remains on a day-by-day approach.

 

"I think we're going to focus on Princeton for now, because we take it one game at a time," Putsch said.

"We lost to them in the NCAA tournament and in the spring. They're a really good match for us and I think it's important for us to remember the fact that we did lose to them and that it's not going to be an easy game no matter how well our season has been going so far."

 

Whether its on the road or close to home, the Nittany Lions love the support that the nationwide Penn State community provides.

 

"If you go to an away game, you hear the fans. We definitely compete with the away teams with fans. There are Penn State fans everywhere," said Rizzo.

 

The Nittany Lions are set to meet the Tigers Sunday, Sept. 10 at noon. 

Lions Dominate Home Opening Weekend

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Much like Penn State's earlier weekend matchup, the seventh-ranked Nittany Lions found their offensive footing in the second half to power past Wake Forest for a perfect home opening weekend.  

Wake Forest came out charged from the first whistle to start the game, but Penn State held off the Demon Deacons, overcoming a bit of the same slower start that the Nittany Lions saw earlier in the weekend. 

After an early Moira Putsch shot went wide of the goal, Penn State's passing remained consistent between the Nittany Lion midfielders and forwards, keeping the ball under offensive ownership in the first five minutes of the game.

In another early offensive attempt, Skyler Fretz juked a Wake Forest defender before sending a swift pass to Emily Klinger. Moments later, Klinger worked past the Demon Deacon defense looking for a shot on goal before Bes Bovelander followed with a shot, saved by the Wake Forest keeper. 

Less than a minute later, Aurelia Meijer attempted a shot, before Gini Bramley finished moments later with the first goal of the game in the net at the 16-minute mark in the first half.

The Demon Deacons battled back after Penn State's first goal, only to face a now fully charged Nittany Lion offense. Penn State drew its first penalty corner of the game shortly after, but couldn't seem to fit a shot in on a tight defensive line.

The Nittany Lions continued to push the attack as Aurelia Meijer slammed an unassisted shot to the corner of the net to send Penn State ahead with a 2-0 lead. 

With less than four minutes left in the half, Wake Forest looked to capitalize on a few offensive opportunities, only to be stopped by Penn State back Bes Bovelander and keeper Jenny Rizzo.

Heading back to the field with a 2-0 lead, Penn State regrouped and settled into its offensive momentum as Putsch set up Mary Nell Smith for a perfect shot between the Wake Forest keepers legs to spark a 4-goal run. 

"I think our team really buys in to being a strong second half team because they trust their fitness," Morett Curtiss said. "I thought we had a little lull in the second half but I think that we just told them to sharpen up their passing and be firmer with your passes and that will pick up the speed of the game."

As the momentum increased so did the Nittany Lion penalty corner opportunities as Putsch dished to Katie Dembrowski on an attempt to bring the score to 4-0.

Penn State's fire was only getting fueled as Shay Cannon darted to the goal just before the 50-minute mark to send in a fifth goal sending the fans in the stands wild and rallied up for a "We Are" chant.

"I just think this team plays so well as a team," Morett-Curtiss said. "They play together, they don't leave anybody hanging on the field and they have each other's backs, so it's great."

Perhaps no better representatives of that mentality come from Putsch and Meijer. Putsch closed out the weekend with three goals and two assists, including the sixth and final goal off a penalty corner, while Meijer added two goals and three assists.

"I think they're feeling good about the combinations that we're using," Morett-Curtiss said regarding the penalty corners. "Bes, Aurelia, and Katie can really get the ball on the goal, and that's what it's all about." 

With a home opening weekend under their belt, Penn State charges ahead this season with a 4-0 record. Despite the stellar start, the Nittany Lions know better than to let confidence get the best of them, as they remain focused on preparing for one of their most challenging opponents, Princeton, this week. 

Last season, Princeton shocked Penn State with a win in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions and the Tigers are set to meet Sunday, Sept. 10 at noon on the road. 

Offense Finds Momentum as Lions Blank Owls

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a brisk 50-degree evening for Penn State's first home game of the season Despite the cool air, the Nittany Lions had nothing on their minds but christening their home field with a win to open the first weekend at home. 

Seemingly a trend after their past few games, Penn State got off to a slow start. Playing the ball all across the field, the Nittany Lions kept pushing Temple's defense, but the Owl defenders and fierce keeper held their ground. 

Forward Gini Bramley pushed on in the first quarter, with a blocked shot on goal. The midfielders also met some difficulty in the first half with some swift and aggressive competition coming from Temple.

"Temple has definitely improved their program," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "I was really happy with how we played. There were some great plays all around."

Penn State was met with their first of many penalty corner opportunities around the 14th minute of the match, although a missed shot off of the goal post halted the opportunity, before a quick second shot by Penn State forward Shay Cannon was blocked yet again.

"We had two corner penalties off the goal post in the first half, so we told the corner shooters to really read the play, read the defense," Morett-Curtiss said. "They were changing up their corner defense, which threw us off a little bit, but I think we played off their defense really well then." 

After an opening half played predominantly in Penn State's half, the forward line began to find its stride. In the 29th minute, Penn State's Aurelia Meijer slammed the ball into the goal to end the half. 

The Owls showed no signs of backing down as the first half concluded, but they didn't seem to expect what was ahead as the Nittany Lions found their momentum. With another attempted shot off of a penalty corner at the end of the first half, the Nittany Lions were settling in.

"We just had to score," Meijer said. "I feel like we had that in the game against ODU, too, we're almost there, and we trust each other, but we just have to score."

As we've seen as a consistent trend throughout this season so far, Penn State came into the second half with fury and a whole new level of energy.

Within the first five minutes of the second half, junior forward Moira Putsch scored off a penalty corner assisted by sophomore midfielder Maddie Morano to commence the attack of the Nittany Lions. 

In just the fifth minute, the Nittany Lions pushed through for a goal on yet another penalty corner, when an assist from Meijer saw Murano finish for a goal. Penn State rocketed to a 2-0 lead with nearly 40 minutes to go.

"Normally we have to figure out what we have to do with those corners, we don't really know what to do, which can be a problem," Meijer said. "Tonight we really played as a team, we really played together and passed to each other and that resulted in scoring."

For the next 15 minutes, Penn State was able to sustain control over Temple's side of the field.

Temple, unable to generate chances, managed 11 saves from Penn State's peppering on goal at minute 52 of the match, with zero attempted shots of their own. 

The Nittany Lions didn't waste any time with their third goal as redshirt freshman Alexis Horst fired for an unassisted goal, her first of the season. Temple attempted to push back, but not for long, as Penn State kept control. 

"I thought where we improved in the second half was definitely our elimination skills. I thought our attack did a much better of pressuring the defense," Morett-Curtiss said.

Fueled by their first three goals, the Nittany Lions charged on. Murano scored off of a penalty corner, and was quickly followed by junior Cassie Kline, who scored her first goal of the season, and Penn State's fifth of the game to wrap up the match.

The Nittany Lions now look ahead with confidence and composure as they face Wake Forest Sunday.

"We saw them play against Indiana and it was a tough loss for them," Morett-Curtiss said. "They played well, they're a great opponent, and I think it's going to be a very exciting field hockey game."

Penn State will host Wake Forest Sunday at noon in the Penn State Field Hockey Complex. 

Tempo Fueling Lions Ahead of Home Opener

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State field hockey has no hesitation kicking off the season with a strong start, with a 2-0 record after defeating Old Dominion University and University of Virginia on the road last weekend.

 

After a rigorous preseason and back-to-back games during week one, head coach Char Morett-Curtiss is continuing to focus on strategy and aggressive play on the field to keep the team on their toes, and keep up the winning streak.

 

"We're playing an up-tempo pace, which we really want to continue to impress upon at practices and into our games," Morett-Curtiss said. "We're putting great pressure on the ball to try to get our opponents out of their rhythm a little bit."

 

Penn State has certainly done just that, with three of the four goals in the game against Virginia scored within the first half.

 

Junior forward Gini Bramley was responsible for two of the goals, which she scored within a span of three minutes. After an impressive 2016 season and the skill she's shown so far this year, Bramley has been named a NFHCA Division I Award Winner and the Big Ten Offensive Player of the week following her performances across the weekend. Bramley led the team with three goals, with one against the Monarchs and back-to-back goals early in the win against No. 10 Virginia.

 

"The biggest part was moving off of my teammates," Bramley said. "I tried to find the spaces Virginia was giving us and my teammates made spaces for me to lead into. A big part of my goals were the passes I was given."

 

Junior forward Moira Putsch, is another key component of the Nittany Lion offense, with two remarkable seasons under her belt and a unique ability to dish the ball at just the right time for her teammates to finish. Aside from her knack for assists, Putsch came through in the clutch with the go-ahead goal against Old Dominion just minutes following Madison Morano's game-tying goal off a penalty stroke.

 

"My personal goal is to grow as a player, but really my main focus is the team's goals right now," Putsch said. "I want to be the best player for my teammates, by giving 100 percent at our practices, working on what Char and the coaching staff want us to do."

 

For Morett-Curtiss, she's proud of the team's progress this early in the season, but there's still areas for improvement moving foward.

 

"There's great team unity and cohesion," Morett-Curtiss said. "I would like to see a little bit quicker organization for better communication. I think they're really excited about playing at home, we have two tough opponents coming up against Temple and Wake Forest."

 

With solid returning talent and a record that reflects a promising open weekend, there's much to be excited about as the Nittany Lions prep for their first regular season home-opening weekend.

 

"We're really excited about this season," Putsch said. "There are lots of players who can step up and so much room to grow."

Pregame Check-In: Lions Open on the Road

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  For head coach Char Morett-Curtiss, an opening weekend against Old Dominion and Virginia gives a purpose to the preseason. With preseason out of the way, Penn State is set to kick off the 2017 season on the road this year, traveling to Norfolk to meet Monarchs Friday at 6 p.m.

"You can't glide into your season," Morett-Curtiss said. "You've got to be ready to hit the ground running and those two opponents really bring out the best in us so we know that it's going to be challenging because of the opponents we are facing, but also challenging being on the road and away from home."

Prior to the opener, we caught up with Nittany Lions Skyler Fretz and Cori Conley for a closer look at the team mentality ahead of a season where Penn State will look to build upon a Big Ten Tournament tile and a spot on the NCAA Tournament field of six for the seventh straight season.  

"We talked about the process and we've just been building off of what we started off last year during the season, which kind of gradually went into the spring so we're building off last season," Conley said. 

More from Conley and Fretz below. 

Field Hockey Fall Sports Media Day Five

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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State field hockey head coach Char Morett-Curtiss took to the microphone for Fall Sports Media Day Wednesday morning to preview the upcoming season, which kicks off Friday on the road at Old Dominion.

Catch up with Morett-Curtiss for a closer look at five takeaways from the media session.

Preseason Strategies
To start the season off with a bang, Morett-Curtiss put in place a rigorous plan to ensure and encourage improvement from last year, focusing on building fitness levels and positive attitudes. 

"We had an outstanding preseason," Morett-Curtiss said. "I thought the players came back ready to get going, they were fit. It's nice that they kind of had a little bit of a head start on their conditioning factor."

Morett-Curtiss also noted that a main focus this year is increasing speed, with a consistent, high-tempo playing style as the result.

"We've implemented a little bit of a different format," Morett-Curtiss said. "We limited our time on the field, spent a lot of time in video, and just really working on an aggressive style of play to get the season started."

While planning preseason to focus on an assertive attack technique this season, Morett-Curtiss also keyed in on expectations for a few key returners. 

Juniors Moira Putsch and Aurelia Meijer, both forwards, had impressive seasons statistically at Penn State with goals and assists. For Morett-Curtiss, Putsch and Meijer will be key in 2017.

"Moira (Putsch) had a tremendous year, as did Aurelia last year, so we're really looking for those two to get the ball on goal."

As Morett-Curtiss strongly believes though, there's always plenty of room for improvement. 

"They did a nice job in the previous scrimmages putting the ball around the goal but not putting the ball in the goal," Morett-Curtiss said. "Fortunately, they've had some assists, but you know, we're going to work a little bit more this week on honing our corner."

The sunshine was also on Penn State's side, allowing for a smooth week of preseason while Morett-Curtiss and the staff put together final preparations ahead of the season opener.

"It was a great week, the weather was very cooperative, so you always appreciate that," Morett-Curtiss said. "We got a lot accomplished and I think it really reflected in our two scrimmages [against James Madison and Syracuse]." 

Facing the Challenges
With a successful season ending in with a disappointing loss in the first rounds of the NCAA tournament last year, Morett-Curtiss and the team knew there's still work to be done.
 

After an 11-3 record and high hopes going into the tournament, Penn State left feeling defeated. With those three losses against Princeton, Maryland, and Northwestern, all whom Penn State will face again this fall, Morett-Curtiss plans to use her strategies to prepare the team for whatever may come.

"We're still working on our defense to play as a unit, and then we really want our midfielders to be very aggressive getting in to the attacking line," Morett-Curtiss said.

Progress Points
Penn State recently traveled to Syracuse for a scrimmage, having already met James Madison earlier in preseason. Despite showing some nerves and uncertainty with the first scrimmage of the season, Morett-Curtiss had the team work with a sports psychologist to regroup, boosting the squad for a much improved showing at Syracuse. 

"I think what happened is they all crashed at once and they weren't really there to support their players on the field, so we didn't really have any options when it came to playing the ball out," Morett-Curtiss said. "So big, big improvements stretching the field, ball speed was something else we addressed, so I think that they made those changes and it was very clear against Syracuse."

Their strong points moving foward? The team has many, as Morett-Curtiss is proud to point out. "We always say build up our layers, get ahead of the ball, so we're trying to put our fitness into the game, which we think could be a big advantage for us."

Keeping the Big Picture in Mind
Although Penn State struggled with some challenging opponents and rough losses among last year's highlights, Morett-Curtiss likes to emphasize the importance of taking it one game at a time, and putting the past in the past. 

"As we say every year, it's 2017 now, just like last year it was 2016," Morett-Curtiss said. 

The focus now remains on the start of the season this coming weekend, against Old Dominion and Virginia.

Growing the Game
With the Big Ten Network broadcasting Penn State field hockey, Morett-Curtiss and the team appreciate the exposure it brings to both the school and the sport. From a recruiting standpoint, the elevated exposure brings new, excited potential summer campers , who are often enthusiastic about being amongst the Penn State student-athletes they were able to watch on TV. Morett-Curtiss also emphasized the importance of field hockey being on a national stage more frequently than just every four years for the Olympics, all helping to further expand the growing sport.

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By Lisa Winters, Field Hockey Student-Athlete
12724276.jpeg UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Seven weeks ago, I made my way from Hershey, Pennsylvania to my study abroad base city of Florence, Italy.  Since then, I visited 20 other Italian cities and towns, made incredible new friends and became closer with old ones, and fell in love with the culture that I got to experience and learn about through travel and class.  I lived in an apartment in a residential part of the city with 11 other girls from Penn State and UConn, and was lucky enough to have an amazing roommate whom I had already become acquainted with through the Sapphire Leadership Academic Program in the Smeal College of Business, Sam Schmitt.  We quickly became great friends and started going everywhere together. 

One of our first, and still one of my favorite, experiences during our first weekend in Florence was going to a Fiorentina soccer game against Lazio at the Artemio Franchi stadium (Photo 1).  Some of my other favorite moments were seeing Michelangelo's David in Florence, hiking between Vernazza and Monterosso in Cinque Terre, taking a boat into the Blue Grotto in the Amalfi Coast, shopping my way to the Duomo in Milan (Photo 2), and taking a gondola ride through the canals of Venice (Photo 3 - feat. Sam Schmitt).

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I spent all of my weekdays in Florence for class, but even the hours spent in my Marketing and Food & Culture classes were far from an average experience.  Learning about branding through visits to Italian companies was a much more engaging process than the typical classroom.  From the Carrara marble quarry that provided the marble for the Pantheon in Rome and Michelangelo's David to the Pitti Immagine men's fashion trade show, there were so many different types of businesses that we got to not only hear about, but see for ourselves.  And while we were constantly experiencing the food and culture of the country throughout our daily lives, having a professor who could take us around the food markets and to a beautiful sustainable garden was a great opportunity.

On our last night in Florence, a group of my new friends and I climbed to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sun set over the city (Photo 4).  My parents had come for the last week of class, so after finals we were able to take off on one last trip to see all the historic sites of Rome together (Photo 5).  So while I was sad to have the semester come to an end, I couldn't have asked for a better finale.  The past weeks have been a truly memorable adventure, and I look forward to any opportunity to continue exploring in the future. 

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Champions Visit State Capitol

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Penn State hit the state capitol today for an afternoon of recognition, celebrating Nittany Lion conference champion student-athletes and head coaches following a record-setting 2016-17 season both in competition and in the classroom.

Joined by select head coaches and staff members as well as student-athletes, the group toured through the Pennsylvania House and Senate, stopping in for lunch with Sen. Jake Corman in his office. Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate before remarks from Corman, welcoming the group to the state's capitol following a few early proceedings.

Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania House, which holds all 203 members, including Pennsylvania's Rep. Mike Hanna, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Rep. Rich Irvin and Rep. Scott Conklin, who read a resolution to again welcome and congratulate the Nittany Lions on an all-around successful season, one that drew a standing ovation from the members on the floor. 

"I want to congratulate the teams for not only what they do on the field but what they do in the community, the outreach they give, the coaches who oversee them," Conklin said. 

Nittany Lion director of athletics Sandy Barbour only echoed the all-around success in her remarks in the main rotunda later in the afternoon, noting that the individuals surrounding her representing a combined 2016-17 total of nine conference titles, among a few other crowns, are only one part of the story.

Penn State was recently slated fourth in the first spring update of the Learfield Directors' Cup standings following a year that saw seven Nittany Lion squads earn Big Ten Championships or tournament titles in seven sports, the most of any league institution and the third-highest total in school history.

As head coach Cael Sanderson brought instantaneous cheers from the floor of the Pennsylvania house upon his introduction, the room was reminded of Nittany Lion wrestling team's stunning second consecutive NCAA Wrestling Championship, marking its sixth in the last seven years, with five individuals earning NCAA titles along the way.

As Barbour pointed out though, the impact of the Blue and White extends much further than excellence in competition.

Nearly a month ago, a school record 114 Penn State student-athletes graduated, bringing the 2016-17 total to 142, with more students on track to cross the stage in August. Penn State also revealed its 89 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate this year, which stands just one point below its all-time program mark. 

"Penn State student-athletes, not unlike their student colleagues and their servant hearts, have dedicated themselves to service," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes served over 6,200 hours of community engagement this last year. This comprehensive excellence is embraced by our Penn State and Pennsylvania community. It's truly Penn State's point of difference. It has historically motivated a state and a community, connected passionately to each and every one of our programs and each and every one of our student-athletes who wear the Blue and White."

Representative of just a small piece of a variety of community engagement close to Penn State student-athletes is THON, a beloved annual event that encompasses the entire university and Happy Valley community.

Led by the efforts of the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB raised $59,679.49 for THON in 2017, which ranked third among the 400-plus general organizations represented. Surging past a fundraising goal of $50,000, the 2017 figure is SAAB's second-largest total in the history of the organization, adding to a career total of $680,000, all for THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, with four Penn State student-athletes joining the 703 dancers on the floor this year.

Among those dancers this year was women's soccer's Megan Schafer, a Big Ten Champion from Langhorne, who joined the group today for her second trip to state capitol, but first as a Nittany Lion. 

"A couple of years ago I got recognized for winning a state championship, so I think it's pretty cool coming back at the collegiate level to get recognized for our hard work all season," Schafer said. "I think it's really cool everything that people put together just to recognize us today."

Prior to Penn State, Schafer scored the overtime game-winner to lead Neshaminy high school (also the alma mater of Penn State head football coach James Franklin) to a Pennsylvania state title.

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The entire group of Nittany Lion coaches and student-athletes were treated to a personal meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped by the steps of the main rotunda to greet the champions before heading back to Happy Valley.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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