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Commemorating 25 Years of Penn State and the Big Ten

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Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).



By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just four months into his tenure as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany recalls an idea brought to the table by former Illinois President Stan Ikenberry.

It was October of 1989 when Ikenberry, who spent time as a senior administrator at Penn State earlier in his career, broached the thought of adding an institution to the Big Ten for the first time since Michigan State was invited to become a member in 1949.

The Big Ten then began a formal research process of an institution that would bridge a Midwestern league to the East.

The Pennsylvania State University was on the table for discussion as a superb academic institution with a rich tradition in athletic success.

Delany, whose sister attended Penn State as a graduate student, didn't need much convincing. He knew the level of potential a partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten could foster.

"The Big Ten hadn't changed in many, many decades, but I thought if the opportunity to expand presented itself it was a no brainer," Delany said earlier this week. "Excellent academics. Excellent athletics. And pointed towards the East Coast, I thought there was a lot of potential there. That was my recommendation at the time."

The process moved forward with the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten institutions discussing the topic before news broke just before the holidays in December of 1989 that Penn State could be on its way into a new conference. Under the direction of athletic director Jim Tarman at the time, Penn State had been competing as an independent in football for more than a century, and the rest of the department had been a member of the Atlantic 10 since 1976.

When the news initially surfaced, women's volleyball head coach Russ Rose, who along with field hockey coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss are the two current Penn State head coaches who were on staff in 1989, was giving a presentation at the annual women's volleyball coaches convention (AVCA) about the importance of NCAA Tournament at-large bids for teams in smaller conferences.

"I remember talking in front of the group about the importance that not all of the at-large bids go to the bigger conferences and that there were good teams in other conferences even though they didn't have the same notoriety, said Rose. "We have a lunch break. I turn on ESPN at lunch, and I see that Penn State is going to be a member of the Big Ten. I come back. I say to some people that I would like to retract what I said about at-large teams."

The formal process concluded with a vote in Iowa City on June 4, 1990, at which time Penn State was officially accepted as a member of the Big Ten Conference. Twenty-five years have passed in a partnership that allowed both the University and conference to reach unprecedented heights on the field and in the classroom.

"From a broad perspective, at the time, my view was that it was a tremendous fit for both sides. And history has proven that," Delany said. "With all the other expansions around the country, I'm not sure there was one that benefitted both institution and conference as much as this did, largely because of the characteristics of Penn State were so well matched with the characteristics of the Big Ten."

The positive news zipped throughout campus shortly after the vote in Iowa.

"I remember hearing about the announcement from Mary Jo Haverbeck, from the Sports Information office," said Morett-Curtiss. "She told me about us going in and how it was going to have a major impact for women's athletics at Penn State."

It was an announcement that changed the landscape of funding and development for all of Penn State's 28 programs at the time, and it was a day Morett-Curtiss remembers quite well.

"Ironically, I had gone for a run that day on the trails near Sunset Park and as I'm running, I see someone walking in front of me and it was Joe Paterno," Morett-Curtiss said. "And it was that day, so I said to him, 'hey what's going to happen?' He said, 'I think this is going to be a really good thing for Penn State and the exposure all of the programs are going to get.'"

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The women's volleyball program captured Penn State's first Big Ten title in 1992, marking volleyball's first of 16 conference crowns.

 
Penn State's teams felt the impact of the Big Ten conference almost immediately.

"What it did for us when we joined the Big Ten is that it No. 1 it resulted in a reassessment of the levels of commitment we had to the various programs," Rose said. "We became fully funded when we joined the Big Ten. Prior to that, we were not fully funded. And we were not fully staffed. Entering Big Ten, collectively, for all of the sports resulted in us having a new commitment from the University to try and be competitive. From a volleyball perspective, we had been competitive prior to that, but playing in the Big Ten in women's volleyball made us better because the level of competition was better than we were experiencing in the Atlantic 10."

At the time, women's volleyball had just one assistant coach on the staff alongside Rose and nine scholarships to field a roster. Joining the Big Ten boosted the program to full funding and 12 scholarships.

"As I look at it now, we could have had some great teams if we had funding in the early years," said Rose. "That was just the way that it was.  When you take a job, that is the job you took. When we joined the Big Ten, a lot of us got a better job without having to move. But it's way more competitive. Recruiting is a lot different than what we had experienced in the Atlantic 10."

The same can be said for what Morett-Curtiss experienced within the field hockey program.

"The financial support from a scholarship standpoint was huge right away," said Morett-Curtiss. "And knowing our field that we were going to build was going to be a first rate facility."

The investment for success around the Big Ten stood out during Penn State's transition. Every institution and athletic program strives to be the best. It's a trait that has not changed during the department's 25 years as a member, and it's something that will be a trademark of the Big Ten for decades to come.

"The level of commitment to being good across the conference, everybody cared," said Rose. "I don't believe every conference across the country has that sort of commitment in all of their sports. I think that is one of the things that makes the Big Ten really unique. If they offer it, they care and they want to be relevant."

Penn State's time in the Big Ten has been marked by excellence in the classroom and on the field of play. In all, Penn State's programs have accounted for 92 Big Ten championships from 15 different programs - 76 regular season and 16 post-season. Additionally, more than 170 student-athletes have accounted for nearly 300 individual Big Ten titles.

Penn State student-athletes have earned more than 5,000 Academic All-Big Ten recognitions since it joined the conference, with its three highest totals during the past three years, led by 296 in 2012-13.

"Penn State's entrance into the Big Ten not only changed the intercollegiate sports landscape, it also changed our academic landscape and our future. Our size, our academic reputation and our athletic tradition matched up well with Big Ten schools," said Penn State President Eric Barron, who also noted that all Big Ten schools are flagship universities for their states. "The academic side of the Big Ten is known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the institutions together have annual research expenditures topping $10.2 billion -- more than the Ivy League and the University of California System combined -- and they educate a total of nearly 600,000 students. The benefits from being part of such an outstanding and prestigious organization with such an expansive footprint across the nation are immeasurable."

The women's volleyball program earned Penn State's first Big Ten crown during the 1992 season, just one year after the team began competing in the league. The title marked the first of Penn State's superlative 16 Big Ten titles in women's volleyball, in addition to seven NCAA Championships since 1999.

Like women's volleyball, the women's soccer program has been a benchmark of success in conference play. The program became the department's 29th varsity sport in 1994. Since then, Penn State has won an unprecedented 16 conference titles, including a string of 15-straight from 1998-2012.

The football program claimed the Big Ten title in its second season of competition during an undefeated Rose Bowl championship campaign in 1994. Coach Joe Paterno's '94 squad became the first Big Ten team to ever post a 12-0 record. The '94 crown marked the program's first of three Big Ten championships to date (2005 and 2008).

The fall season of 2005 stands out as a monumental period in Penn State's history within the conference. Nittany Lion teams clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days. The list included field hockey, football, men's soccer, women's soccer and women's volleyball. Since the fall of 2005, Penn State teams have won 51 Big Ten championships (5.1 titles per year in a 10-year span).

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Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.



It's impossible to quantify how the partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten altered the recruiting landscape for the teams on campus and how the recruiting gains equated to success on the field of play. But pitching a world-renowned education with an elite conference affiliation cultivated relationships with premier student-athletes.

"The name recognition was big for football, but when you see how many of the Universities and programs have been successful on a national level, I think that has greatly helped," Morett-Curtiss. "Exposure for all of the Universities within the conference has helped us all grow. Combining the academic side of what these Universities have with the athletics, it's a very powerful combination when we go out recruiting student-athletes."

A big piece to the exposure of Penn State teams during the past 25 years was the launch of the Big Ten Network on Aug. 30, 2007. More than 800 Penn State sporting events have aired live on the BTN since it launched. The benefits of the conference's TV network, which is in more than 60 million homes,  increased visibility across the country for the department in a way that cannot be measured.

"The Network was a major step for us," Morett-Curtiss. "Just having the opportunity to have games on TV so that little girls can watch and learn about the sport. It's helped, not only exposure for the program, but it's helped the sport grow. It's just a phenomenal avenue for us to showcase our University and the sport."

The BTN's impact goes back to what Rose talked about as one of the immediate impacts his program felt - funding. Not only did the BTN infinitely increase exposure for Penn State teams, it has played a paramount role in increased revenues for each institution.

"Certainly, the Big Ten Network has been instrumental in generating funds for the Universities and the conference and the bowl revenue sharing has resulted in more money for all of the schools and the conference," said Rose.

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In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.

 

While the competitive atmosphere is intense between teams across all of the conference's sports, each member institution understands that the individual success aids in the growth of the collective conference.

"I think the relationship has been a really positive one," said Rose. "There are a lot of similarities between the various Universities."

"Everybody in the Big Ten shares what they do and why they do it; best practices," said Dave Baker, Associate Athletic Director for Business Operations. "We share lots of ideas, at least from the business manager and ticketing perspective. We learn things from one another. And there aren't secrets. We all work together and try to help each other out...We all don't do things the same way. We all have limitations, but we are all looking to help one another out for the betterment of the conference.

"Some people would find it hard to believe that people in the Big Ten root for other Big Ten teams in the postseason, but we do. We follow what is going on...It is a cooperative spirit and a partnership."

Baker is one of just a handful of Penn State administrators and coaches who have been with Intercollegiate Athletics during the past 25 years. That list includes Jan Bortner, who was head coach of the men's tennis team in 1990 and has since transitioned into a role as an associate athletic director. Among the key changes Baker felt from the business operation centered on travel. Bus trips were the norm for Penn State teams in the Atlantic 10, but the geography of the Big Ten led to more plane travel.

A quarter century has passed since initial discussions of a new relationship took place and bonds were formed. Many things have changed significantly for Penn State, the conference and intercollegiate athletics nationwide, but it's been 25 years marked by growth stemming from a vision in 1989.

"Pennsylvania is a very important state. It served as a bridge to the East for us. It made our football offerings stronger," said Delany. "It has been excellence with national championships in a variety of sports. And I have always felt that the 1994 Penn State team was the best team in the country; no disrespect to Nebraska. When you look at the players that team had (five first team All-Americans on offense) and what that group accomplished. That team was the national runner-up. That was a tremendous football team. I've seen some very good basketball teams both on the men's side and the women's side. And obviously, the wrestling and volleyball programs have been dominant on the national scene."

Penn State has won a total of 27 national championships since joining the Big Ten, including three in 2013-14, and the department's collective success speaks for itself.

By no means was the integration in 1990 an easy one, but the partnership between the University and Big Ten is a match that enabled both sides to mutually prosper in a way neither side could have envisioned when the formal vote concluded 25 years ago today.


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The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten titles in March of 2011.





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

VIDEO: THON 2015 Pep Rally Dance - Men's Soccer

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Check out the Nittany Lions dancing on stage during the THON 2015 Pep Rally on Saturday night.




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

By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA.- It was a season full of achievements for the Penn State men's soccer team.

From individuals awards like Connor Maloney winning Big Ten Forward of the Year to team ones including a No.3 national ranking in October, the Nittany Lions accomplished plenty during a 13-6-1 campaign that ended with a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament. 

Still, when head coach Bob Warming thinks about the season, the first thing that comes to mind won't be the goals or the victory celebrations. Instead, Warming will remember how much fun he and his players had on a regular basis.

"I'll remember everything but I think the one thing that I'll ways remember is the relationships and how they developed," Warming said. "We had a lot of guys with great character on this team." 

That attitude and the mindset carried over onto the field, where Penn State opened the season with an incredible 10-0-1 run that included standout wins over Big Ten opponents Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers.

Along the way, the Lions attracted the strongest fan base the team has seen in years. Not only was the student section at Jeffrey Field regularly packed, a bus full of students made the four-hour trip to Maryland on Oct. 18 to watch the Blue and White take on the Terpins. 

"I'm really pleased with how our fan base has grown," Warming said. "If the timing is right, we can attract kids to our sports and it's happening. We have a great leader in (marketing director) Rob Roselli who connects so well with the fans. I think we'll continue to grow." 

Although the season ended with a disappointing 2-1 loss to Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Lions saw young players develop, veterans leave their mark and a season will plenty of memories.

Lets take a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the 2014 campaign.

The Wolf of Park Avenue 
Perhaps no game better exemplified Penn State's overall team play than its 1-0 victory over Michigan on Sept. 28.

The victory gave senior goaltender Andrew Wolverton his school record 29th career shutout. While the 6-foot-6 goalkeeper made a signature diving save to preserve the win with eight minutes remaining, he also received terrific defensive support from his backline of Eli Dennis, Mason Klerks and Mike Robinson.

That was a theme throughout the season for the Nittany Lions. While Wolverton, the 2013 Big Ten Goalkeeper of the year and a 2014 All-Big Ten Second Team selection, was his usual stellar self, his success would not have been possible without the support of his teammates. 

"The whole team was instrumental in Andrew getting the shutout record," Warming said. "The amazing saves made by him are something I'll always remember, but I'll also remember the saves that our other players made by diving in front of balls for him." 

By the end of the season, Wolverton had nine shutouts on the year and an incredible 32 over his four years as a starter. For a team that won 13 1-0 games over the past two years, the goalie's performance was irreplaceable.

The Magical Touch of Maloney
Try to tell  Warming that he has a defensive minded team and the coach can't help but laugh.

True, the Lions were involved in eight 1-0 games this season. Still, that is simply the nature of a sport like soccer.

"The most common score in men's collegiate soccer is 1-0," Warming said. "The reality is our team can really score they're just so good at defending."

In 2014, no player in the Big Ten scored throughout the season quite like sophomore forward Connor Maloney. Not only was he named the conference's top forward, he also led the Big Ten in goals with 10 and notched five game winners.

More impressive than his scoring, however, was the way the Harrisburg native carried himself throughout the season. Even as he was emerging as a star, the 5-foot-6 striker remained humble. 

"I think Connor has grown a lot as a player in just two years," Warming said. "Last year he led the Big Ten in assists and didn't get much recognition. Now with him scoring goals people are starting to take notice and he'll continue to get better." 

A Lasting Legacy and Bright Hope for the Future
Warming has been coaching college soccer since 1976. At this point, he's used to watching groups of players graduate after four years.

However, this year's seniors, Dennis, Randy Falk, Owen Griffith, Mikey Minutillo, Robinson and Wolverton, will always have a special place in the coach's heart because of their leadership, humility and general sense of Penn State pride. 

Having only been at Penn State for five seasons, Warming has gotten to know these six players as well as any group he has ever coached. Over the past four years, they have helped Penn State capture two Big Ten regular season titles, qualify for the NCAA Tournament twice and remain in first place in the conference standings from October 2012 to November 2014.

"These seniors all wanted to make their mark on Penn State and they've done a fantastic job," Warming said. "This was a team that didn't play well on the road before they got here and now they've always done well on the road. They've been remarkable." 

Although the 2014 campaign ended earlier than they would have liked, the Nittany Lions created a plethora of memories on Jeffrey Field this season, from their 1-0 win over Ohio State on Mack Brady Day to the thrilling 2-1 victory over Hartwick in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

With six starters returning next season, Penn State should remain a force to be reckoned with in 2015.

"That's the exciting part about coaching, even if you lose just one player it makes a huge difference," Warming said. "This team is never the same, and part of the joy of coaching is seeing that evolution. I never go into any season without expectations and I'm always pretty optimistic and I want to win every game. I always feel that if the preparation is there and the work is there than that is something that we can achieve. I'm always going to believe that."

By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-Less than a month ago, Brett Gravatt was a bench player trying to fight his way into the lineup for the Penn State men's soccer team.

Now, he's the player that sent the Nittany Lions to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

During Penn State's first round game against Hartwick Thursday night, the reserve midfielder scored the first goal of his career with 16 minutes remaining to give the Lions a thrilling 2-1 win.

"Wow," Gravatt said afterwards. "I felt excitement, I guess. I'm glad I could help."

Although the feat may seem impressive itself, it doesn't give complete justice to the beauty of the sophomore's goal. 

Taking the ball on the right side of the box, Gravatt separated himself from a defender with a quick move to his left, then fired a rocket that curled past goaltender Tom Buckner and into the top left corner of the net. 

As teammates engulfed him in celebration, Gravatt simply turned and walked towards the Penn State sidelines. 

"One of my strengths is [one-on-one] so I like to go at people," Gravatt said. "I was able to beat him inside and got the shot off and I got lucky and it went in. I curled it pretty well and I guess I hit it pretty well."

Not only did the goal give the Nittany Lions a lead they wouldn't relinquish, it was a moment that Gravatt had spent the entire season working towards. 

After coming back from a torn meniscus in the offseason and playing just 84 minutes in Penn State's first 16 games combined, the Dunn Loring, Virginia native finally got into the starting lineup during the Lions' previous two games against Akron and Michigan State.

While the sophomore didn't enter the game until the second half against Hartwick, he made sure his presence was felt when the opportunity arose.

"The message to the guys before the game was, 'don't blend in, standout'" head coach Bob Warming said. "When the game is over with, know that you've stood out in some manner, that you made a big play, that you helped your team win and obviously Brett did that. He took advantage of a moment and helped our team come through."

It may have been Gravatt's first tally of the season, but it didn't come as a surprise to any of his  teammates, who are used to seeing such plays from the midfielder in practice.

"Yeah, we've seen him do that a lot," senior forward Mikey Minutillo said. 

"All the time," midfielder Brian James added.

However, the goal was more than just a big moment for Gravatt. It was also proved that the Nittany Lions were capable of coming from behind in the second half with their season on the line. 

After playing the Hawks to a draw in the first half despite outshooting them eight to two, Penn State fell behind less than a minute into the second when a scrum in front of the net produced a goal by Jhevaughn Beckford.

Down 1-0 and with only 44 minutes remaining to salvage their season, the Lions didn't roll over and quit. Instead, they responded by continuing to create chances in the Hartwick zone. 

Just over 13 minutes after Beckford's goal, Minutillo answered for the Lions, beating Buckner to a ball from midfielder Drew Klingenberg and tapping it past the goalie to knot the score at 1-1. 

Afterwards, the 6-foot-1 forward admitted he was nervous as he watched a Hawks defender nearly prevent the ball from ending up in the net. 

"To be honest, I was a little doubtful that it was going to go in," Minutillo said. "That center back came in sliding and he got a piece of it, but luckily it had enough pace, but as it was rolling I just wanted it to go faster and faster and thank god it did."

In total, the Nittany Lions outshot the Hawks 17 to seven in a hard fought, physical game. What impressed Warming the most though, was seeing the fortitude of his players after they fell behind.

Soccer is a low scoring game, and one goal can often be enough to determine a winner. But on Thursday, the Nittany Lions overcame that and found a way to chip away at the Hawks' defense until the game was won.

The NCAA Tournament is now in full swing, and Penn State is sure to see another challenge when it takes on Syracuse on the road on Sunday. Still, wins like this prove the team will not go away without a fight. 

"You know what I liked the most, is that we've had games this year where we had a goal scored on us and for the next few minutes we were a little poor," Warming said. "[Tonight], I thought we stepped it up a little better. We just kept going, kept going at them. I was really excited about that because it means that your team has confidence and they feel they're going to win it. I think not having that self doubt anymore is going to help us."

By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- There's not much you can throw at the Penn State men's soccer team that it hasn't seen before.

After all, with every starter on the team at least a sophomore and five seniors seeing regular time in the lineup, the Nittany Lions have the experience to handle any situation. 

This season alone, they've enjoyed plenty highs, fought through a few challenges, and with the NCAA Tournament kicking off this Thursday at home against Hartwick, they feel they have the necessary experience to make a serious run.

"It's going to be great," senior goaltender Andrew Wolverton said. "A lot of guys have been through this before and we know how to prepare, we know what it's going to be like. It's going to be hopefully a great atmosphere here on Thursday."

Last year, the Nittany Lions won twice in the NCAA Tournament en route to a trip to the Sweet 16. They return six starters from that group (Mason Klerks, Drew Klingenberg, Owen Griffith, Connor Maloney, Mike Robinson and Wolverton) as well as Eli Dennis and Kyle MacDonald, who have started for much of the season.

With so many players having not just played in the tournament but also having success there, there won't be much anxiety for the Blue and White leading up to Thursday. For the most part, it will simply be business as usual.

"I think we have enough experience in the NCAA tournament," Maloney said. "We've got a lot of older guys and a few new guys and I think we'll be ready and that'll get us through."

Out of all the players seeing regular time for the Nittany Lions, the only ones without NCAA Tournament experience are sophomore Brett Gravatt and junior Michael Gonzalez, who have both recently seen time in the starting lineup.

When asked what he advice he has given his less experienced teammates, Wolverton kept it simple. You've got to go about your business as usual, even if there is more at stake.

"Treat it as any other game honesty," Wolverton said. "Obviously, it's got that hype and everyone's going to be pumped up but you can't let it affect how you're going to play you've just got to be focused."

At the same time, Wolverton and his teammates know that Thursday's matchup against the Hawks is more important than a regular season game. If the Lions are going to keep playing into November, there can't be any margin for error.

Having been off since Nov. 9, Penn State will also enter the tournament extremely fresh and rested. With no games last week, the Lions spent the time relaxing and participating in light exercises to keep their fitness up. 

After ramping up the intensity of their workouts over the weekend, the plan is spend the next few days going over the scouting report and watching video. 

"This weekend, we had a couple of really tough practices, scrimmaged a lot, put a lot of running on their legs," head coach Bob Warming said. "[This week] we'll do our normal pregame routine that we do. Our guys are still in recovery mode, still got some guys nursing injures so we can't do too much right now. We're not going to lose fitness."

That extra preparation is one thing that Lions have over the Hawks, who played last Sunday when they defeated Georgia Southern 1-0 to win the Sun Belt Conference.

With the Hawks only having three days of rest in between games, the Lions will clearly have the advantage in both recovery and training.

"A lot of rest was key for right now," Maloney said. "We're pretty good right now, we're coming off a lot of rest and I think we'll be ready with practice this week, it'll be pretty light and we'll be ready.

"We've kind of had dinner and just been around each other in the locker room [last week], That just about it. A little bit of mental regeneration last week getting primed for this week."

The other difference between the Lions and the Hawks is the way the two squads made the tournament.

For the Hawks, qualifying required overcoming a 0-6-4 start by finishing the season 6-3 and winning their last three games. 

Penn State on the other hand, has been a force throughout the season and enters the game with a 12-5-1 record. Now that the postseason is finally upon them, the Lions are looking forward to giving their fans a little more to cheer about.

"It never gets old, man, it never gets old," Warming said. "I had a lot of anticipation [waiting for the bracket to be announced]. I'm really happy for our guys, I'm happy for the body of work they've put together this year. 

"The reason they're in is the body of work they've put together this year. Some teams got hot at the end of the year, this team got in because of what they've done throughout the year. I know they are primed to make great run at this thing."

By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The past two semesters have been a whirlwind for Brett Gravatt.

From switching schools, adjusting to new teammates and dealing with an injury, the Penn State men's soccer sophomore has certainly had his hands full since last spring. 

Still, the 19-year-old believes his transition from Akron to Penn State has ultimately gone as well as possible.

"It went really smooth," Gravatt said. "The players welcomed me really well and the coaches have been really helpful and supportive."

A midfielder for the Nittany Lions, Gravatt has gotten the first two starts of his Penn State career the past two games. However, his rise from bench player to Division I starter hasn't been an easy one.

It all began last year, when the Dunn Loring, Virginia native realized he didn't want to spend the rest of his college career at Akron, where he had appeared in 11 of 22 games as a freshman.

After getting released from his scholarship, Gravatt spoke to his high school best friend, Nittany Lions backup goalie Evan Finney about potentially coming to Penn State. Finney got him in contact with head coach Bob Warming, who told Gravatt about the benefits of the university as a whole.

"I went to Akron for soccer but when I talked to coach Warming, he sold me on getting a great degree and being a part of another great program," Gravatt said. "He told me even if the soccer thing didn't work out, I'd still be getting a great education."

That was all it took to convince Gravatt that he belonged in blue and white. Still, the challenges didn't end there for the 6-foot-1 midfielder.

Looking to get accustomed to his new environment as quickly as possible, the former Zip showed up in State College early in the summer to begin training. Although things went well at first, the trouble began when he tore his meniscus.

Soon after the surgery was completed, doctors realized that his knee also contained a blood clot. The injury caused Gravatt to miss training camp and the Lions season opener against Oakland.

"It was definitely difficult," Gravatt said. "I gelled pretty well in the summer before the injury. The guys were great to me [while I was out] though. I still felt like I belonged." 

Once he recovered, Gravatt was not handed a starting spot, as he needed to shake off the rust and prove he could play serious minutes for a Big Ten contender.

In Penn State's first 16 games, he received just 84 minutes of playing time in seven appearances. Finally, with the Nittany Lions playing his former squad in their regular season finale, Gravatt was given his first start.

Against Akron, the former Zip was around the ball all night, getting off three shots in a much needed 1-0 victory for Penn State.

"[Coach Warming] was hinting that I was going to start," Gravatt said. "He knew I was really excited for a game like that and that I would perform." 

Since then, Gravatt started for a second time against Michigan State and is now primed to be a key performer for the Lions when the NCAA Tournament begins next week. 

Gravatt credits his teammates for encouraging him when he wasn't playing. One player that was particularly helpful was the only one who has been his teammate for all of college, fellow Akron transfer Riley Grant.

Dealing with an injury would have been tough enough without the added pressure of adjusting to a new school in a completely different state. In Grant, Gravatt had both a roommate and a friend to lean on and make the transition with.

"It's been really great having Riley here," Gravatt said. "It was nice to have a familiar face when I first got here. We've had the experiences together and we're roommates now. We're very good friends."

For Grant, it was a pleasure to help his friend out during a difficult time. After all, the Copley, Ohio native may not have ended up at Penn State if it wasn't for Gravatt.

When Gravatt made his decision to become a Nittany Lion, he knew Grant was also going through the process of choosing a new school. He made sure to get his teammate in contact with Warming.

"After I got my release, Brett always said, 'I'll talk to coach for you,'" Grant said. " He told me how great coach [Warming] was to him and that really helped." 

Grant also agreed that having Gravatt around was a huge help when he first arrived at Penn State. Not only has his company been nice, but the determination Gravatt showed in working his way into the lineup has been motivational as well. 

"It's great [having Gravatt around] because I wouldn't have known anybody," Grant said with a laugh. "It was a whole new beginning just like it was when we started at Akron.

"Brett's one of the hardest workers I know. When he was hurt or not playing he kept his head up and just wanted to help the team and that shows how driven he is. He's helping us now and we're going to need him." 

No matter how much the team does need Gravatt in the NCAA Tournament, there is little room for error for any of the players now that they are in a do-or-die situation.

That challenge is something Gravatt is looking forward to. Now that he has proven himself in Penn State's rotation, there is nowhere to go but up. 

"I want to do whatever I can to help the team," Gravatt said. "I've always been an offensive player and coach and everyone has helped me a lot with becoming a better defender." 

 

By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- After an entire season of soccer, playing three games in eight days is not an easy task.

That's the situation the Penn State men's soccer team faced this week. After falling to Northwestern 2-1 in overtime on the road last Sunday, the Nittany Lions gutted out a 1-0 overtime victory against Akron on Wednesday before hosting Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday. 

"We played a double overtime game on turf in Chicago, in the cold" head coach Bob Warming said. "We sprinted as hard as we could against Akron Wednesday and we got to [Michigan State]."

Against the Spartans, the Lions got off 12 shots but weren't able to get a ball in the net, falling in the first round with a 1-0 loss. 

Afterwards, Warming said that both he and Michigan State head coach Damon Rensing agreed that fatigue had a factor in the way the game was played.

With both teams having trained every day in addition to playing games since August, November truly is the dog days of the soccer season.

"The big factor to me, and Damon and I were just talking about it, both teams are just tired," Warming said. "I just talked to all the guys, and I'm really proud of all of their efforts this week, they worked hard this week and [gave] as much as they had in them."

For nearly the entire game, both teams played with a defensive-minded approach that prevented either team from dominating possession of the ball. After a scoreless first half, Spartans forward Tim Kreutz ripped a shot off a volley from 18-yards out to put Michigan State ahead.

The Lions came close to tying it with six minutes remaining, when a header from Connor Maloney off of a Brandon Savino pass went just over the top frame of the net. 

"It happens and that's soccer right there for you," Maloney said. "Yeah it was frustrating a little bit but you've got to keep playing the entire game." 

While losing in the conference tournament is never fun, it doesn't end the Nittany Lions season. They still have the upcoming NCAA Tournament to end their season on a high note. 

"We're in the tournament, we're top 20 RPI (ranking), we're going to get a home game," Warming said. "We need some time to get freshened up. I hated to lose, but if you're looking at the long run, maybe this gives us a better chance ... you gotta look at the positives of it."

Although Penn State will have to wait until next Monday to find out the details of its first-round NCAA Tournament game, it is guaranteed to have this week off.

Having lived and breathed soccer the entire fall, some time away from the game could be good for the Nittany Lions. According to Warming, the entire team would get at least three days off to rest up, refocus and spend some time on schoolwork.

"One of the most important parts of fitness is recovery," Warming said. "While everybody else is beating each other up, we're going to get in the pool, get on the bike, relax, play a lot of FIFA, and maybe a study a little bit would a really good idea and then make a good run."

At the same time, the Lions haven't given up on their goals for the season. A year after making it to the Sweet 16, they are determined to have another successful postseason this year.

Even as they take the next few days to work on refreshing bodies, they will remain hungry and itch for their next chance to get back on the field.

"If you want it enough you'll get far in the NCAA Tournament," Maloney said. "I know Michigan State will and I think we will too to be honest with you. Our guys got the heart and we'll bounce back and make a deep run." 

By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The Penn State men's soccer team is approaching the Big Ten Tournament a little differently this year.

"I've been on different sides of this thing," head coach Bob Warming said. "We want to win the Big Ten. The statistics show that the team that loses in the conference tournament goes deeper in the NCAA tournament. That was with the old format ... with the new model, we might as well just go ahead and win it."

Although some teams are wary of going far in the conference tournament for fear of being too tired when the NCAA Tournament rolls around, that isn't Penn State's plan.

This year, the Lions will have four days in between games if they can get past the Spartans. Their second game won't take place until Friday, November 14.

"We're going right through," senior forward Mikey Minutillo said. "I think we're going to go all the way until the end and win the conference tournament. We're playing good and it's a bummer we didn't win the Big Ten outright but we've still got the tournament to fall back on."

Both Warming and the players aren't going to lie. They're disappointed they weren't able to capture their third straight conference title.

Last Sunday against Northwestern, the Lions were 100 seconds away from securing the tie needed to win the regular-season championship before a double overtime goal from Mike Roberge gave them a heartbreaking 2-1 loss.

Needing Rutgers to tie or beat Maryland on Wednesday in order to still pull out a conference championship, the Nittany Lions weren't so lucky. The Terrapins defeated the Scarlet Nights, 3-2, at the same time Penn State wrapped up its regular-season with a 1-0 win over Akron.

"We were a 100 seconds away from winning our third one," Warming said. "That was massively disappointing and because we played so well. It was just disappointing how we lost.

"But to their credit, guys are back playing hard tonight (against Akron) and we can't control [the Maryland game] and just move on to the next thing."

Penn State will also have plenty of motivation because of the first-round matchup they've drawn.

While the Spartans won their regular season finale against Indiana on Wednesday 3-2, they've recently endured a tough stretch of their own, having gone 0-2-2 in four games after their win over Penn State.

"I think our guys are always itching to win," Warming said. "I think it's going to be an incredible tournament. I told the [other Big Ten] coaches in the conference call the other day, 'we have the best collection of goalkeepers I've ever seen in the history of any conference I've ever been in.'"

The last time the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Tournament was in 2005, five years before Warming took over the program.

The mindset of the team isn't necessarily focused on ending that drought as much as it is on proving to the Big Ten it can still play at the level it was at earlier in the season.

Beating Akron on Wednesday was a good first step. The next step is stringing together consecutive victories, like the streak of seven in a row they had between Sept.13 and Oct. 4.

"We talked about it right before the [Akron] game," Minutillo said. "We got to get this win so we can carry it right into the conference tournament."



By Matt Allibone, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Head coach Bob Warming had two words to describe goalie Andrew Wolverton's performance against Akron Wednesday night.

"Cheese and crackers," Warming said. "It was a really good night for him to do what he did."

Against the Zips, Wolverton registered five saves as the Nittany Lions won their regular season finale 1-0.

Although that may not seem like a huge number, the situations he made them in and the level of difficulty proved why the 6-foot-6 senior is considered the best goalie in the Big Ten.

With 2:30 remaining and the Lions trying to hold off a last-ditch Akron rally, Wolverton made an incredible lunging save off of a shot from Sean Sepe before recovering in time to block another attempt from Stuart Holthusen.

It was the second time Wolverton came up huge at the end of a half, as he also stopped a prime attempt from Adam Najem with 2:09 left in the first.

"It was awesome, he did a great job today," senior forward Mikey Minutillo, who scored the team's lone goal, said. "I told him after the game he's the reason we got the shutout. He made three or four big saves that I haven't seen any other goalie in the nation make."

Minutillo was perfectly calm as he praised his goaltender, and it's understandable why. After all, Wolverton is the reigning Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, and his teammates have become accustomed to such performances.

Still, the shutout was important for both Wolverton and the Nittany Lions in general.

After registering nine shutouts (Wolverton had eight) during their 10-0-1 start, the Lions gave up 11 goals in their next five games, which included four losses.


While the amount of goals a team allows doesn't fall completely on the shoulders of a goaltender, it felt good for Wolverton to get another shutout under his belt with the conference tournament beginning Sunday.

"Having a game like this always helps [your confidence] but it's better for the whole team," Wolverton said. "We got a goal and did well defensively and got a big win."

After four years of filled with highlight reel saves, it's no wonder that Wolverton takes a humble approach to his success.

The Nittany Lions all-time shutouts leader, Wolverton knows no goalie can perform well without a great team in front of him. However, it was his teammates that really needed him on Wednesday.

"That's just part of my job," Wolverton said. "Just like Mikey scoring goals, that's what I have to do to help the team win and I was fortunate to get a hold of a few tonight."

Grant and Gravatt Thrive Against Former Team

Riley Grant and Brett Gravatt both saw plenty of familiar faces Wednesday night.

That's because the two Nittany Lions were on the same field as their prior teammates in addition to their current ones, having both played for Akron as freshmen last season.

Though neither transfer has been a regular starter for Penn State, both came up big on Wednesday against their former team.

Gravatt started at midfield and got off three shots, while Grant came off the bench and assisted on Minutillo's goal with 9:16 remaining in the game.

"It was a weird feeling," Grant said. "I'm glad I was able to help the team, there's no hard feelings or anything."

Afterwards, both players spent a few minutes speaking with their former teammates and coaches.

"We're just wishing each other the best of luck," Gravatt said. "I think we left on good terms and we just want the best for each other."

For the two of them, the night was more about getting on the field in general and winning than getting on the field against their old team.

Gravatt earned his first start of the season after logging just 84 minutes of playing time in seven prior appearances while Grant spent the game against Northwestern on the bench.

"[Brett's] been playing better and better and been training and worked hard and he's been a good teammate," Warming said. "It was great that he got to play against his former school and he played very well.

"I'm just happy for Riley that he's playing better. He's got some talent and maybe the role we've had him in [at forward] is a little better than what we've tried with him in the midfield."

The performances come at a good time for the duo. With the postseason about to kick off, Grant and Gravatt are just happy to be contributing in any way possible.

"It felt great," Gravatt said. "I've been struggling with my knee all season and just trying to get fit and it just feels great to be on the field." 

By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- For the second straight game, it took over 100 minutes for a winner to be decided in a Penn State men's soccer game.

A week after Michael Gonzalez gave the Nittany Lions a thrilling 2-1 victory in double overtime against Wisconsin, the Blue and White were not as fortunate this time around, falling to Northwestern 2-1.

Entering the game needing only a tie to clinch their third straight Big Ten title, the Nittany Lions were just 100 seconds away from a draw when Wildcats forward Mike Roberge took a long pass and got the winning shot by Andrew Wolverton.

Although the loss was heartbreaking, it certainly wasn't because of a lack of effort. The Lions got off 14 shots and rallied to tie the game after falling behind 1-0 15 minutes in on a goal by Eric Weberman.

"I couldn't be prouder of my guys," head coach Bob Warming said afterwards. "Northwestern can be such a tough place to play. Our guys played with great cohesion and great organization."

A few weeks ago, the Nittany Lions may not have even gotten into overtime in a game like that.

In back-to-back losses against Maryland and Michigan State, the Lions fell behind early and were never able to recover. Against the No. 20 Wildcats however, they managed to fight back, tying the game on a Mikey Minutillo goal off of a penalty with eight minutes remaining in the first half.

In the second half, the Lions took control early on and looked poised to break the tie. Brandon Savino, Mason Klerks and Connor Maloney all had prime chances stopped by Northwestern goalie Tyler Miller, who played terrifically and made eight saves.

"They really kept playing hard and battling," Warming said. "They showed a lot of fight in them today.

"Northwestern is really organized and well coached and they just don't give up a lot of chances. We had a couple of good ones that were just a little off today."

One player who epitomized the attitude that Warming wants to see is Minutillo, who scored his sixth goal of the year despite coming off the bench for the first time all season.

Entering the season with the expectation of being one of the keys to Penn State's offense, Minutillo was a consistent producer early in the season yet entered Sunday having not scored since October 1 against Bucknell.

With Owen Griffith returning from an injury that kept him out of the Wisconsin game and Gonzalez having proven himself as a capable starter on defense, Warming moved Griffith up to forward and decided to see if Minutillo would be a better fit as a spark off the bench.

That certainly proved to be correct, as the California native didn't complain about the change and gave the Lions the offensive boost they needed. On the goal, the senior had his initial attempt and first rebound blocked before finally knocking it home on the third try.

"I thought [Mikey] could be the type of guy that could come in and really give us a spark off the bench," Warming said. "He certainly did that."

As heartbreaking as the loss was, it doesn't end the Nittany Lions season or their chances of winning the Big Ten title. They can still win the conference if Rutgers can win or tie against Maryland on Wednesday.

The Lions could still wind up playing Northwestern again in the conference tournament, and at the very least their effort today gives them the confidence that they can play with the Wildcats.

"We are all really disappointed in the loss," Warming said. "I still think the guys are really focused. They came here a good team and left an even better one."