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Penn State Weekly Check In

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After splitting this past weekend's series in Minnesota, Penn State men's hockey has a lot of information to work with heading into their home opener against American International College Thursday. 

The Nittany Lions came out strong, beating the Golden Gophers on Friday night 3-1 with goals coming from the sticks of sophomore forwards Nikita Pavlychev and Denis Smirnov along with junior forward Andrew Sturtz. Both Sturtz and Smirnov also scored on Sunday night in the team's 6-3 loss, along with junior forward Alec Marsh.

"If you asked us in the start of the year if we were to guarantee ourselves 500 out of those two trips, we'd probably take it," Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said

One of the bright spots from the weekend, Sturtz's back-to-back goal scoring performances.

While the righty shooter led the team in goals last season and tied the single season scoring record, that's not all he adds to the team. Sturtz brings passion, enthusiasm and intensity, know by his teammates and coaches as the type of Nittany Lion to lead by example.

"When he's 'Sturtzy' there's no excuses," Gadowsky said. "When he's going out there and sacrificing his body, bumping into people and flying over people, no one has an excuse to take it easy."

Although scoreless in the Nittany Lions season opener on the road, it goes without saying Sturtz felt like himself again this weekend while finding the back of the net twice. 

"Personally, I didn't think I played that well the first weekend," Sturtz said. "I thought I caught a second gear last weekend, and hopefully I can just keep amping it up." 

Sturtz wasn't the only one who got back to his "old self," with sophomore goalie Peyton Jones showing off his skill and concentration with an unbelievable diving stick save in net. The play was even impressive enough to crack the SportsCenter Top 10, coming in at No. 4.

"I know it's only two weekends in, but [Jones' save could be] the save of the year," Gadowsky said. "When something like that happens you can't help but think, 'oh man this is our night.'"

The save wasn't just luck though, as Gadowsky noted Jones had pulled off the same save in practice earlier during the week and in Friday's pregame skate. 

Come Thursday, Penn State hosts its home opener in front of a rowdy and eager blue and white crowd. With the puck drop set for 7 p.m. on Thursday, the Nittany Lions are anxiously awaiting their return to Pegula Ice Arena.

"The area that really separates us is honestly the atmosphere in Pegula, starting with the Roar Zone. It is truly is the best in college hockey and that truly is a significant statement," Gadowsky said. "That's a big part of our record at home."

In addition to getting their first taste of Hockey Valley for the season, the Big Ten Championship banner will also be raised in Pegula to commemorate last year's historic team. 

"It makes me extremely grateful to be a part of Penn State, that's the honest truth," Gadowsky said. 

Although this will be a special moment for many, there is still a game to play afterward. Gadowsky didn't seem too worried about how his team would handle the pressure to perform after the ceremony.

"It's a really good problem to have," Gadowsky said. "Is it a concern? Yea it is, but it's a concern I'd love to have every year."

Freshman Feature: Pilewicz Family Ties to Penn State

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State hockey freshman Adam Pilewicz, becoming a Nittany Lion was once a faraway dream. This season though, it's been a reality for the Pennsylvania native who has bled blue and white since the day he was born.

With both of Pilewicz's parents Penn State graduates, he can recall becoming quite familiar with campus at a young age, traveling to football games on weekends with his family.

"When coach Gadowsky called me [with an offer to play at Penn State], he gave me the weekend to think about it and I called my parents right away and we all agreed I was insane to not accept it on that phone call,"  Pilewicz said. "I'd be insane to not go to the place I've always wanted to go to, not too many people can say they're exactly where they want to be, but I can." 

Both of the righty shooters' siblings are also Nittany Lions, including his brother Jake, a fifth-year pitcher on the baseball team and his sister Emily, a sophomore education major. 

Pursuing hockey, Pilewicz spent a significant time away from home, with Penn State now providing an opportunity for the family to be closer than they have in a while.

"Especially the last two years, I haven't really seen them much at all so now that we're all back together in the same place we can hang out," Pilewicz said.

Prior to coming to Penn State, Pilewicz spent two seasons playing with the Johnstown Tomahawks in the NAHL, skating a total of 108 games. During Pilewicz's 2016-17 season, he appeared in 56 games and anchored the blue line with 27 points and a plus-32 rating, good for second-highest on the squad.

"It's a physical league," Pilewicz said reflecting on his time in the NAHL. "Everyone wants to win there and it's the same thing here."

Pilewicz also wore the "A" for Johnstown during the 2016-17 season, taking on a big leadership role, hoping to carry the skill into his first season as a Nittany Lion, even as a freshman.

"They made it pretty clear it doesn't matter how old you are here, everyone is on the team, so if you're a freshman or if you're a senior it doesn't matter," Pilewicz said. "Whatever you bring to the table is what you bring to the table and if you're a leader, you're a leader." 

For Pilewicz, the early part of the season has been working toward emerging in a role on the team, with head coach Guy Gadowsky trying him out on both sides of the puck in practice. Looking to older members of the team for guidance, he's working toward finding where he fits best within the team dynamic, leaning on sophomore defenseman, Kris Myllari.

"Kris Myllari is my mentor and I've learned so much from him," Pilewicz said. "But I could pick out anyone on the team and tell you something they've taught me though."

Pilewicz also spends a lot of time with his fellow freshmen class. Other newcomers have already commented on the closeness of the group and Pilewicz only adds to the notion. 

"We do everything together, from eating meals to movie nights," Pilewicz said. "We try to do that at least once a week but whenever we get together it's a good time."

Opening Weekend Driving Improvements

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 10 Penn State didn't let an opening night loss keep it from bouncing back the next evening. After falling to Clarkson, 2-1, Friday night, the Nittany Lions quickly bounced back, beating St. Lawrence, 4-1, Saturday.

Sophomore forward Brandon Biro scored the lone power-play goal against the Golden Knights, while sophomores Kris Myllari, Denis Smirnov, Nate Sucese and Liam Folkes all contributed goals against the Saints the following night. 

"We enjoy how we play, we play to score goals, but the goaltender always has a say." Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said.

On the flip side of the puck, consistency in the defense has been a point of emphasis for Gadowsky throughout the preseason. This weekend senior assistant captain, defenseman Erik Autio set the example.

Gadowsky noted as early as media day that the Nittany Lions would work toward identifying who would fill the role former Nittany Lion Vince Pedrie left on the blue line. While Gadowsky did mention freshman Cole Hults as a potential option, Autio has shown he is ready to take on some of the responsibility.

"The way he [Autio] moves the puck with possession, not just at his end, is incredible," Gadowsky said. "I guarantee he leads the nation in that."

The Blue and White combined for 11 penalties throughout the weekend, with nine of those coming from Saturday night. These nine penalties combined to take an 18 minute chunk out of Penn State's quick level of play on Saturday, but aren't all exactly causing extreme concern for Gadowsky. 

"When you play hockey tough and intense, you're going to get coincidental penalties," Gadowsky said. "Is it something that concerns us? Yes, we will not be successful if we let that get away from us." 

Going the other way, the Nittany Lions only allowed one power-play goal throughout the entire weekend, coming from the stick of St. Lawrence sophomore forward Alex Gilmour.

Since last season, Gadowsky and his staff have been working on special team lines, focusing on keeping the puck out of their own defensive zone on the power play. During opening weekend, that emphasis was on display. 

"We killed [the penalty] very well and I don't think we gave a lot of power play opportunities," Gadowsky said. "But the best way to kill a penalty is to not take them." 

Looking toward the weekend, Penn State heads to Minnesota to get an early start on Big Ten play this season. 

The Golden Gophers, who have been serious contenders in the NCAA national championship race the past few seasons, will pose as an early test for the Nittany Lions.

"I think everyone knows when it's a Big Ten game it's a little more hyped up and people are a little bit more amped up," junior defenseman Kevin Kerr said. "But as a team, we still go out there with the same objectives." 

For Kerr, the opportunity to return to the ice is one that has him particularly hyped, after an injury sidelined him for Penn State's unprecedented postseason run.

Still, with all the success from last season, the team as a whole, is as determined as ever to stay on track and keep their focus. 

"We try not to think about what everyone else's expectations are for us," senior captain forward, James Robinson said. "We know what we have to do to be successful."

Penn State Hockey Weekly Check In

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's hockey weekly check in is back, featuring one-one-one interviews with Nittany Lion head coach Guy Gadowsky, James Robinson and Kevin Kerr. Listen in as the Nittany Lions recap opening weekend and look ahead to an early beginning to the Big Ten slate. 

Guy Gadowsky

 Robinson, Kerr

Freshman Feature: All Business for Limoges

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Like many other first year Nittany Lions on this year's team, freshman forward Alex Limoges arrives in Happy Valley bringing lots of experience, also arriving with a positive attitude that radiates from the locker room to the ice. 

The Winchester, Virginia native played his last two seasons in the USHL, mostly with the Tri-City Storm in Nebraska before being traded to the Waterloo Blackhawks in Iowa during his 2016-17 season. While in Waterloo, Limoges skated in 27 games, contributing 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points. 

"It was tough leaving, I left a lot of friends and teammates," Limoges said. "Waterloo was very welcoming and made the transition really easy."

In his USHL career, Limoges skated in 106 games, totaling 101 points, scoring 37 goals and dishing out 64 assists. 

Limoges also helped Waterloo to the Clark Cup Finals, a moment he says is his favorite hockey memory so far.

Many rookies and veterans come to Hockey Valley with similar experience, having played in the USHL for multiple different teams. Like Limoges, many of the Nittany Lions have either played with each other in the past, or had teammates who have played with each other, almost like a small network that can offer an added advantage on the ice in the collegiate setting. 

"It's a lot of trading stories from back playing against each other," Limoges said. "It's also a quick way to bond and make friends."

Limoges also has experience in a Team USA jersey, having earned a spot on the U.S. Junior Select Team, helping the squad to a gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge.

Still, it's his USHL experience that he noted has his most prepared to make the transition to the collegiate game.

"I think going in there, my coach Bill Muckalt, coached it like a college team so it prepared me with the style of play and just what to expect," Limoges said. 

This year, a freshman class of six skated onto a Penn State hockey team coming off its most successful season in its program's history, which could sound a bit intimidating. This close-knit group was able to make it through preseason and up to this point, it's all about supporting each other.

"All the freshman are really close, we have a pretty strong bond right now," Limoges said. "It's been unbelievable getting to know them.

Limoges not only has the freshman class to lean on, with an upperclassmen mentor like the rest of the newcomers. For Limoges, that's alternate captain Chase Berger.

"I look up to a lot of the older guys for different reasons, but mainly Chase Berger," Limoges said. "He's been helping me a lot on the ice, off the ice and in the classroom."

When asking Limoges about his first taste of collegiate hockey in last Sunday's exhibition against Ottawa, his response was quick and simple.

"College hockey is fast," Limoges said, "And it's physical, but I'm excited to get things started this season."

Limoges, along with all the other freshman, will have to wait a few weeks to get an official taste of Pegula's home ice advantage. The Nittany Lions open the 2017-18 season on the road at Clarkson and St. Lawrence this weekend before taking a trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota to meet the Golden Gophers.

Come Thursday, Oct. 19 though, Limoges will have the opportunity to see Pegula from an entirely new perspective.

"(I'm excited for) that first home game, being able to be there when they raise the banner and watch," Limoges said. "That is going to be really cool, and to see the Roar Zone in action."

The lefty shooter will also face a lot of former teammates throughout the season, like many others on the team, but he's not worried about keeping things professional and competitive once he steps on the ice. 

"I have a lot of old teammates on other teams and it's going to be a lot of fun to compete against them," Limoges said. "But there's no friends out there, on the ice it's all business."

Exhibition Provides Starting Point

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's hockey lost a hard-fought 4-3 overtime battle against Ottawa in an exhibition game Sunday at Pegula Ice Arena. Although an early exhibition, the outing proved to be a productive benchmark for what's ahead for the Nittany Lions. 

All three of the Nittany Lion goals were scored on power play opportunities, the first coming from freshman defenseman Cole Hults' stick in the second period. Sophomore forwards Denis Smirnov and Brandon Biro also respectively contributed goals in the third period. 

Penn State went 3-7 overall on the power play, while Ottawa only went 1-2. Although able to capitalize on opportunities offensively, the Nittany Lions have identified some areas to improve  on the other side of the puck.

"There is some work to be done," Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "But because of the familiarity from last year, I thought at least when we got possession we did a pretty good job."

Even though a loss wasn't the outcome the team was hoping for, Gadowsky was still happy with the style of play and what it meant for final preparations ahead of the season opener. 

"I actually thought it was a good game," Gadowsky said. "It gave us a lot to work on and I think we got a lot out of it for an exhibition game."

Many of Penn State's newest freshmen also saw their first ice time in Pegula after a long preseason of captains practices and off-ice workouts. Even though the rookies played strong on their lines, there is still a long road ahead.

"I think it's good to get that first game over with," Gadowsky said. "It is a step up, but I don't think there was anything that really stood out."

Hults, specifically, arrived in Happy Valley with an impressive resume and high expectations on defense. During his first game at Pegula, Hults did not disappoint. The freshman scored his first collegiate goal to tie up the game halfway through the second period, forcing a goalie change for the Gee-Gees.

"I think he knew there was a possibility he would be playing in that position specifically because he's replacing Vince Pedrie and that's where he played on the power play," Gadowsky said. 

Hults committed to Penn State not long after Pedrie signed with the New York Rangers after last season and since his arrival, Gadowsky noted on media day that the Wisconsin native would be poised to skate alongside Autio as Pedrie's replacement.

Although the pair has only been together for about a week and a half at this point, while on the ice together, Autio and Hults displayed early potential,  both assisting on Smirnov's goal in the second period. 

"I thought it was nice to see them play, but it the experiment is not over," Gadowsky said. "But we didn't see anything that tells us it's not going to work."

Freshman Feature: Hults Adds Depth on Defense

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  Penn State freshman Cole Hults has always played hockey close to his hometown in Stoughton, Wisconsin. After three years of playing for the Madison Capitols in the USHL, Hults decided on a change of scenery for his college career, and what place better than Hockey Valley. 

"For me, to get away was really good for my development," Hults said. "The facilities here are the best in all of college hockey and they give you every tool to be successful." 

Hults posted quite an impressive career in the USHL, a league in which Nittany Lion head coach Guy Gadowksy praised as the "best college preparation league in North America." Hults capped off his most recent season with the Capitols registering a team-high 32 points on six goals and 26 assists, finishing sixth in the USHL for defensemen scoring. Across three seasons, Hults played in 122 games, closing out his campaign with 42 points, scoring six goals to go along with 36 assists. 

"A lot of my points came from just moving that puck quick and getting it to the forwards," Hults said. "I know here they like to play fast, and that's what I'm really excited about because that's what I did back in Madison." 

For Gadowsky, Hults is just what the Nittany Lions were looking for when it comes to replacing Vince Pedrie, who decided to forgo his last two years of eligibility with Penn State after last season to sign with the New York Rangers.

"To have a puck moving, very intelligent, left-hand shot defenseman is essential," Gadowsky said, "We think he will be the guy who has a chance to replace Vince Pedrie."

With big shoes to fill, Hults has looked to older teammates as mentors and who better than senior defenseman, Erik Autio, who Hults could very likely play alongside this season. 

"They call him the horse because he never stops," Hults said. "It's been really influential on me, and I try to take after that now."

In addition to Autio, Hults also looks up to Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, the brother of his coach back in Madison, Garrett Suter.

"My coach Garrett always told me 'you don't want to be noticed out there,' and that's Ryan," Hults said. "You don't know he's there but he's really good at what he does."

Hults also comes into his rookie season having been recently drafted in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings in the fifth round. Even though it was a cool experience, it doesn't mean much, the lefty shooter said. 

With aspirations to play at the next level, Hults isn't the only member of his family with eyes set on the NHL. Hults' older brother Mitch, who also played for the Madison Capitols, decided to forgo his last two years of eligibility at Lake Superior State University to sign a two-year entry-level deal with the Anaheim Ducks in late March of 2017. 

"To see how far he's come and how much we pushed each other in the summer, he deserves it for sure," Hults said. "It's good to see things work out for him."

Nittany Lions Building on Chemistry Ahead of 2017-18

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Thursday afternoon, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky and his Nittany Lions were eager to preview the 2017-18 campaign, meeting with members of the media on media day.

For the first season in program's history, Penn State will open the season ranked, slotted No. 10 in the USCHO.com preseason poll. Picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten poll, the Nittany Lions are also coming off a Big Ten Championship season that saw Penn State finish with a 25-12-2 overall record. 

With just two hours a week on the ice at this point, Gadowsky noted that there's still much to figure out when it comes to this year's squad.

"I think the chemistry that we had last year hasn't been lost," Gadowsky said. "I think they're really good guys and I think they are working really well together so far. To really find out what has changed with chemistry on the ice, you have to play."

Come Sunday, Oct. 1, the Nittany Lions will host Ottawa in an international exhibition set for 3 p.m. in Pegula Ice Arena.

"Moving into Sunday, we just want to do the right things, work on some things that we've worked on since we got here in August and try to put us out on the right foot headed into Clarkson and St. Lawrence," sophomore forward Nate Sucese said. "I think obviously every team is a preseason game for a reason and I think it will really tell us where we are at headed into Clarkson."

Catch up on four things you need to know before heading to Pegula Ice Arena Sunday afternoon.

Strong Leadership
Senior forward James Robinson was voted as one of three team captains by his fellow teammates in the weeks leading up to this season. "Jimmy Pucks," as he's known, is accompanied by senior defenseman Erik Autio and junior center Chase Berger as the team's alternates

"It's just a huge honor and I'm extremely humbled," Robinson said. "You look at that dressing room and we have so many guys who could be wearing not only the 'C' but any kind of letter." 

Robinson brings plenty of strong leadership experience to the role, wearing the 'A' last season as well as during his junior hockey career. Along with the rest of the team, Gadowsky and the staff are very excited to see the direction Robinson will take the team.

"He has the ultimate respect from everybody on the team," Gadowsky said. "He's perfect in that role."

Toughness Within the Big Ten
The Big Ten Conference has grown to become one of the most competitive conferences in college hockey, considering new additions in Notre Dame last season and Penn State's rapid rise in the national ranks. Combined with the high level of play Minnesota brings year in and year out, the Gophers are frequently among the top programs in the country, along with Wisconsin and Ohio State.


"This is by far the toughest head-to-toe league that Big Ten hockey has had," Gadowsky said. "The teams that come out of this league into the tournament are going to be extremely battle-tested." 

Defensive Improvements
The Nittany Lions worked toward improving many aspects of their game during the offseason, but above all, Gadowsky noted that the focus of those improvements were defensive.

"We have to be better defensively but also be much more consistent, and that sounds easy, but it's really hard," Gadowsky said. "If we are to have success, we can't always depend on Peyton Jones playing out of his mind for three games, we have to be much more consistent defensively." 

With that absence of defenseman Vince Pedrie, following his departure signing with the New York Rangers in the offseason, Gadowsky noted that freshmen Cole Hults and Alex Stevens could be potentially prime options to step into a big roles. 

"I've tried to teach the freshman this year that blocking shots goes a long way for the team," senior defenseman Trevor Hamilton said. "I think they've all bought into it and are committed to playing defense first."

In the Past but Not Forgotten
Last year's historic season ended in a heartbreaking 6-3 loss to top-ranked, Denver in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. The eye-opening experience put a lot in perspective for the team, but now serves as a valuable experience in terms of what it takes to get back to playing March hockey. 

"It was unbelievable to play the best team in the country (Denver) and know what level we need to be at in order to get there," junior forward Chase Berger said. "Playing Big Ten teams is great, but it was an unbelievable experience to see the highest level." 

Looking closer at that experience, for junior forward Andrew Sturtz, this year is all about building on the success. 

"I think what we did last year, it was very special and now we have a lot of guys back who have been there," Sturtz said. "We've seen the NCAA Tournament, we've seen the Big Ten final. Now to get back there, we just have to remember what actually got us there. We weren't trying to be pretty, it wasn't cute plays, we were playing Penn State hockey and I think with the skill we have this year, if we play Penn State hockey we should be alright."

Freshman Feature: Barratt Brings Experience to Hockey Valley

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Calling Bristol, Pennsylvania home, freshman Evan Barratt will look to make a big impact in his first season with Penn State. The lefty shooter comes in with quite a resume, looking to add quickness and implement a higher level of play on the ice. 

For head coach Guy Gadowsky, Barratt brings a big hockey IQ, a unique asset for any incoming Nittany Lion. 

"He gets points in so many different ways, he creates offense in so many different ways, just because his mind is so quick" Gadowksy said. "That applies to both sides of the puck."

Barratt fits right into the Nittany Lions' fast paced play that guided them a Big Ten Championship last year. His ability to quickly process on both offense and defenses, only serves to make him a double threat on the ice.

Barratt also brings a lot of international experience with him, including his 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship gold medal, an event he highlighted with a total of seven assists and one goal.

"Anytime you play outside the country it's definitely a harder type of game," Barratt said. "It has definitely helped me as a freshman."

Barratt played on both  the U17 and U18 U.S. National teams before enrolling at Penn State, as well as the U.S. Junior National Team Development Program in the USHL during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

Barratt's style of play has already attracted the attention of the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted him 90th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, but he hasn't let that go to his head.

"Of course it's awesome that it happened to me and I'm so thankful for it," Barratt said. "But I don't put more pressure on myself or anything, I just continue to play."

Now at Penn State, Barratt is preparing for the 2016-17 season just like any other season, working to build strength and add muscle to his frame to play at the next level.

This year, Barratt will face off against one of his teammates from last year in almost every Big Ten competition of the season, something he's excited for, but not taking lightly.

"Every game is going to be fun for me but every game is important, too," Barratt said. "It's going to be a lot of fun battling out there."

Come October 1st in an exhibition against Ottawa, Barratt will experience his first game at home in Pegula, although already having seen a packed arena last year, as well as at last week's NHL preseason game. 

Suiting up in the Blue and White is also a bit of a homecoming as the Bucks County native, returns to his home state. Having moved away from home at the age of 16 to Ann Arbor, Michigan for hockey, his family can now come watch him play in front of a rowdy Hockey Valley crowd. 

"How can you not be excited?" Barratt said. "Selling out in 2:12, I mean, you can't, not be excited for that."

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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