By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As his parents looked on, Akil Howard smiled and hugged teammates at the edge of the celebration. Then it was his turn. He took the Big Ten regular season championship trophy and lifted it high above his shoulders, enjoying the moment.
Every Penn State athlete on the field for the Nittany Lions' title-clinching victory, a 2-1 overtime thriller over Northwestern on Oct. 27, had worked hard to be there. But no one had endured quite as much as Howard: six years of soccer training, stops in two countries and three states and, finally, a heart condition that sidelined him for nearly a year.
"I would go through all of it again right now," the redshirt senior defender said. "I'm in my senior year and I would not change anything about it."
Penn State head coach Bob Warming called Howard's journey "the best story in college sports."
It was late summer of 2011, and everything was going well for Howard as he settled in at Penn State, his third academic institution since graduating high school. Prior to training with the Nittany Lions, all he needed was a sports physical exam, a simple and routine matter.
This one wasn't very simple or routine.
Testing showed Howard's electrocardiogram (EKG) was abnormal, and a subsequent ultrasound from the sports medicine team at Penn State revealed his heart was thicker than normal.
He was quickly sent to Penn State Hershey Hospital to see Assistant Professor of Medicine Eric Popjes and undergo more exams. The testing at Hershey confirmed that the heart was too thick, potentially hampering its ability to pump blood.
"He felt well and was doing well," Popjes said, "and since he had no bad family history we asked him to sit out for six months."
Nonetheless, the diagnosis was hard for Howard to take. He had hoped to play in 2012, when he became NCAA eligible at Penn State. Suddenly, he faced the possibility of never playing soccer again, and even if he was cleared to play, he still faced the daunting task of getting back into shape.
Howard second-guessed his soccer career for the first time in his life.
"When I heard from the doctor in Hershey that I couldn't go and play right away it had me thinking a lot of what else I could do besides soccer," Howard said. "I depended on just soccer and the team and going out and playing every day as a part of bring me happiness.
"Sitting out and watching the rest of the guys play was teasing me because they were out there playing and I was not able to do much, even though I felt fine and didn't have any physical pain."
Howard dealt with the situation by staying close to the team, watching them train and play from the sidelines. Anything that would allow him to stay connected to the game.
"He was right there on the sidelines supporting us even though he really wanted to play," said Julian Cardona, Howard's high school and college roommate. "He wanted us to win and it was good to have his presence there even though he couldn't play."
When his six months were finally up, Howard went back to Hershey to get retested by Popjes' team to see if the heart thickness remained. Good news - it did not.
While the EKG was still slightly abnormal, the heart thickness dissipated and the doctors cleared him to play, while continuing to monitor him closely. He was required to monitor his heart condition via a heart monitor device he had to wear 24/7, even during practice on the soccer field.
"It was a little annoying at first, but with time I got used to wearing it," Howard said. "I had to wear it every time we trained and had to check my heart rate while I was playing and during practice. It was an adjustment at first and I had to continue to do it for a good season and a half."
The next few months weren't easy for Howard, but his life experiences groomed him for such a challenge.
"It's no surprise he kept going," said Cardona. "He just wants to play soccer and he's super gifted athletically, but more importantly has the work ethic to push through."
Big City, No Distractions
Neil and Carine Howard saw their son's love for soccer at an early age. He slept with a soccer ball and dribbled throughout the house, putting juke moves on pieces of furniture.
The Howards are natives of the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, where soccer is a mainstream sport. Upon moving to the United States, they found a way to pass it down to their son Akil, even while living in the Queens neighborhood of South Jamaica, a part of New York City that isn't known for the game.
"Basketball is the number one sport in my neighborhood," said Akil. "My father taught me soccer because that is when he knew when he was growing up in the Caribbean. If it wasn't for my mom and dad, I wouldn't be playing soccer right now."
As all four of Neil and Carine Howard's children did, Akil had his sights set on succeeding in the classroom, as well as on the pitch.
"That was the plan from day one," Neil Howard said. "That is what we expected it to be."
In fact, Neil laid out a very specific, if simple, plan for Akil to reach soccer success: play as much as possible, wherever possible.
Akil says the tight focus on books and soccer kept him on the right path and out of trouble.
"I was lucky enough to have (soccer) because there's so much other stuff like gang and drug-related activity that could get you in trouble," he said.
During his first two years of high school at Archbishop Malloy in Queens, he played for the New York Red Bulls Academy club team.
The Red Bulls are based out of northern New Jersey, so Howard was forced to trek through Manhattan during the peak of rush hour multiple days a week just to get to practice. It was school and soccer. Nothing else.
Then, at 16, Howard and his parents decided he would go to Faribault, Minn., to play at Shattuck St. Mary's prep school for his last two years of high school.
Howard chose Shattuck, a United State Soccer Development Academy member, because of its heralded prep soccer program, which has turned out many college and professional players. Howard began to grow as a player during his time in Minnesota, especially in the eyes of his teammate Cardona.
"He was a freak athlete," Cardona said. "He got really good at Shattuck with his left foot and in other important areas that molded him into what he is today."
After two successful years at Shattuck St. Mary's playing for the competitive U18 team starting as a 16-year old, Howard's next move was to the University at Buffalo.
Despite having offers from a number of Division I programs, Howard chose Buffalo because of its proximity and because of the ability to get in-state tuition and more scholarship money.
But his stay was short. Following his freshman year, Howard left the program to pursue a career elsewhere at a more competitive soccer venue. This time, it wasn't even in the United States.
It was in London.
Playing in the Cradle of Soccer
Howard traveled to England in 2010 to Richmond University in London to get a different type of feel for the game of soccer, with hopes of playing professionally in Europe in the years to come.
The style was a little different in Europe in the way both coaches and players approached the sport. Howard took that experience and put it in his back pocket as he continued to diversify and deepen his soccer knowledge.
Through the Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy, Howard was able to play youth teams like Villareal, Blackburn and Liverpool - the best of the best in Europe. And now he was living a professional lifestyle.
"It was necessary (to play in England) because I said if I want to play soccer professionally I'm not necessarily going to be able to pick the team I go to," he said. "You're going to get sent anywhere and you just have to adjust.
"England opened my eyes to a lot of what it is to be a professional. It made me know how bad do you really want to play professionally and it showed what a career would look like."
After his first year, Howard decided he wanted to turn pro in Europe - but was denied his request to be granted a working visa.
It was a moment of mixed feelings for Howard. On one hand it was a setback, but on the other, a new chance.
"I hit a point where I missed home so much because of the time difference and I didn't have anyone there that I knew," he said of his stay in England. "At times it felt really lonely and I would call my parents and there was a five-hour time difference between England and New York and it was tough because I felt alone a lot."
He began to consider the alternatives, opportunities that would take him to State College. Through it all, Howard continued to find a way to keep playing soccer. That's what impressed the Nittany Lions' head coach.
"It's the two most important things you should have figured out by the time you get out of college," Warming said referring to Howard's journey. "Chase your dreams and don't give up."
Getting Back, Getting Cleared (again), Getting a Degree
Upon his return to the states, Howard chose Penn State because of the potential of playing at a competitive Division I program. He walked on in 2011 and has since earned a scholarship.
After his heart ailment, and then being cleared for the start of the 2012 season, Howard had to get back in game shape both mentally and physically. Retaining his physical shape wasn't terribly difficult, but it was more difficult to get the mental processes back after almost a year of not playing a real game and more than half of a year of not training.
"I wasn't mentally ready for the game when it came to speed of play," Howard said. "I sat out for so long that when playing at a high level with the guys I was playing much slower than before.
"My feet weren't as fast because my thinking process wasn't as quick as it needed to be and I was slow on decision making as well."
With help from his teammates, strength coaches and coaching staff Howard played his way back on to the field in a limited way during the 2012 season. He appeared in 14 games notching three points in 290 minutes of play, while starting in one match.
And his time on the sidelines groomed him for his 2013 season.
"I was able to improve a lot and build a lot of team chemistry with the guys for 2013," Howard said. "The freshman back then are juniors now and we spent a lot of time together and the chemistry is built up to the point where now we play very well together."
His time out and away from the field clearly didn't help his case to get playing time in 2012, but Howard didn't use it as an excuse. Following the spring semester last May, he went down to Florida to play in a Professional Development League with Penn State teammate Andrew Wolverton. The idea was to back into the flow of playing on a consistent basis again, gearing up for a final collegiate season.
It was his last chance, after spending two years at Penn State on the sidelines and in a reserve role. Howard did everything he could to make sure he got on the pitch.
There was one thing he couldn't control, though - a trip back to Hershey Medical Center to visit Popjes and make sure everything was OK with his heart after playing on a daily basis over the summer.
At first glance, Howard's EKG again looked abnormal, so Popjes conducted an MRI of his heart in August. Howard tried to stay calm.
"It didn't show a lot of thickness in the heart muscle and the overall heart function looked OK," Popjes said. "The MRI is the best way of measuring the thickness of the heart muscle so we let him play again."
Finally, Howard had caught a break.
He paired with fellow redshirt senior defender Martin Seiler and Wolverton to create a dominant backline for Penn State, which led the Nittany Lions to a 5-1 record in conference play.
With just the NCAA Tournament remaining, the Howards have begun to reflect on their son's up-and-down soccer journey and its greatest reward.
While the fate of his senior season is yet to be determined, his parents most want to see one single sheet of paper: Howard's degree in psychology from Penn State University, something that at one point in his life wasn't a certainty.
"That's what I am looking forward to," Carine Howard said. "We didn't want him to come home without that piece of paper. That's what our goal was and we were able to do it during soccer and still get an education."
So, back to that Big Ten trophy, the one that multiple times seemed like it would never be Howard's to lift. As they watched the scene, it looked to Howard's parents as if all of their son's trials and tribulations seemed non-existent.
"We are very proud of him," Carine Howard said. "It was a lot of hard work and dedication on his part. We just tried to support him from the beginning to the end."
Like her son's coaches and teammates, Carine knows the reason Akil has made it this far: his heart.
Recently in Men's Soccer Category
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With defending national champion Indiana (7-11-1, 2-4) looming in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, regular season conference champion Penn State (11-5-1, 5-1) has more than just a first-round bye to lean on before Friday's match.
Bob Warming's squad not only is coming off a first-round bye, but they also are coming off their weekend Big Ten regular season bye, which came in the last weekend of the season. The fourth year head coach was able to give his players a couple extra days off before preparing for either Michigan or Indiana. Indiana beat the Wolverines on Wednesday, 2-1, in overtime in the quarterfinals and will have one day to prepare for the Nittany Lions.
"We have now had an extra day off and I think our guys truly needed it after two back-to-back overtime really hard fought matches and the match at Penn before that," Warming said. "The guys' legs were pretty beat up so I think it was good and they had a chance to regenerate a little bit."
During that time his team got to rest physically and mentally was able to prepare for what hopes to be a long postseason run.
After being in a similar situation one year ago as the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament and then falling in the semifinals to Michigan State, the Nittany Lions have been in this spot before and know what it takes to win on Friday.
"We took advantage of the situation we had last year and this year we are really focused and we all really want to win this game and this tournament in order to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament," said goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton. "We are all really focused going into this game."
While the seeding was similar last year, Penn State had almost double the rest heading into the semifinals one year ago and perhaps more importantly, didn't have the same motivation they have this year should they be able to win the conference tournament.
It's more than likely that if Penn State were to seal both the regular season and postseason tournament titles, the Nittany Lions would open the first round of the NCAA tournament at home. Warming said that if his team needed any added motivation, that is it.
"Our guys in the back of the mind now that they have the NCAA tournament at home," he said. "You can't have a motivation that's higher than that motivation. That can't be replicated."
With all that said and the fact that the Nittany Lions beat Friday's opponent Indiana in Bloomington, Warming's main message to his team is that at this stage of the season no opponent can be treated lightly.
Last year's team learned that the hard way and Warming sent a clear message to his team before leaving for Columbus to remind them of that.
"Everybody that you play right now could be in the national championship match," Warming said. "Every match is like a national championship match. The important point is that if you want to win a national championship, win this match because this is the type of teams you are going to have to play. If you came to Penn State to win national championships, perform in this match like you would in the national championship game."
With that in mind, senior defender Martin Seiler says he and his team are ready to begin their postseason journey in Columbus on Friday at noon against the Hoosiers.
"We're absolutely confident in what we can do. We also know that they're a good team," said Seiler. "We are in a knockout stage right now. If you lose, you go home. We're ready to go."
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Jordan Tyler waited for more than a year for a chance to get back to where he was during the 2011 season. Tyler was sidelined for 2012 due to an ACL injury and continued to get back to form over the past few weeks of Big Ten play.
In the biggest match of the 2013 season, Tyler had another chance to prove how good he can be and he did just that. With his team down 1-0 with under two minutes remaining, Tyler was able to team up with sophomore Drew Klingenberg to net the game-tying goal against No. 19 Northwestern.
Then, after a scoreless first overtime session, Tyler took a centering feed from freshman Connor Maloney and netted his fifth goal in seven matches to clinch Penn State's second consecutive Big Ten title.
"Hats off to Connor he was pressuring the defender and picked off a pass and from there it was a 2-on-2 and that is like a dream to have a 2-on-2 in double overtime to have a chance to win the Big Ten," said Tyler. "I knew if Connor could beat his guy I could get myself open for a nice pass and that's exactly what happened."
The end was fitting because of the numerous storylines behind the win.
Not only did it clinch another conference title, but it was also on Senior Day, which perhaps was the most emotional part for Tyler. His two goals were able to send the senior class off in proper fashion, the senior class that frankly he should be a part of if it wasn't for his ACL injury.
"This is actually supposed to be my last home game at Jeffrey Field," he said. "I'm fortunate enough to get another year but it's a dream come true to win the Big Ten for them on their Senior Day in their last game of their careers which was supposed to have been my last game as well."
Tyler's two goals had a lot of short and long-term implications for himself and his nationally ranked Nittany Lions.
It vaulted Tyler into one of the Big Ten's top scorers, clinched another conference title, and it continues to put the Nittany Lions in a good position for the postseason.
For head coach Bob Warming, all of that culminates into the continual development of a program he took over just four years ago.
"Last year was the second time in 22 years that we won the Big Ten regular season championship and now this is the third time in 23," Warming said.
Penn State probably doesn't beat Northwestern, or lead the Big Ten, without it's uncanny knack to stay positive after an early deficit.
It's something that has resonated with Warming's teams in the past and defines this 2013 season. Perhaps, the most important quality as the competition will only heighten for Penn State moving forward.
"We were down one goal again just like we were at West Virginia and Michigan State and we turned the game around," said senior defender Martin Seiler. "It shows how much we want it."
Penn State will have another tough task Tuesday night, this time on the road against Penn, who currently sits atop the Ivy League standings.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There will be a lot of mixed emotions Sunday at Jeffrey Field when No. 13 Penn State hosts No. 19 Northwestern at 1 p.m. The Nittany Lions will host the Wildcats in their final home game of the season.
Seniors Martin Seiler, Akil Howard, Grant Warming and Micah Collins are set to be honored following the match.
It will be a special day for all four seniors, especially for Seiler and Howard, who have embarked on two incredible journeys that have spanned two continents prior to their senior season in Happy Valley.
The two defenders have bonded into a dynamic duo on the back line for head coach Bob Warming.
"I don't think right now there are two better more complementary senior center backs that I have seen in the country so far," he said. "Those two guys have grown and matured and are having a great senior year because of the maturity and how much they have grown in the past few years."
As for the match itself, there is a lot on the line for Penn State, who is undefeated in conference play. A win Sunday would clinch their second consecutive Big Ten regular season title.
"It's going to be an exciting game for a lot of reasons since it's our senior day and our last home game and being able to play in front of our friends and family," said senior defender Akil Howard. "It's against a ranked opponent and if we get the victory it will determine a Big Ten championship. It's a lot more than just our last home game."
Warming knows what the day means for his group of senior leaders, thus, putting the emphasis on the performance of his underclassmen.
It is a fitting way to approach his team's final home game considering that is how much of the season has panned out for the Nittany Lions. The play of Howard, Warming and Seiler has been a given and combining that with numerous underclassmen that have stepped up in big matches, Penn State has been able to take the next step.
Warming expects nothing to change Sunday, with even more of a focus on the performance of his younger players.
"It's a fairly emotional time for the seniors and I usually put it on the underclassmen to make sure that those guys get a win," Warming said. "The pressure has to be on the underclassmen to get the win."
Northwestern comes into Jeffrey Field after three consecutive ties, including a tie against No. 2-ranked Notre Dame on Oct. 15. The Wildcats, who shared the 2012 regular season conference title with Penn State, have yet to drop a game on the road.
The last time Penn State and Northwestern played each other, it was in Evanston on Northwestern's Senior Day in 2012 where Penn State played spoiler in a double overtime 1-0 win.
Howard and his teammates are focused on not allowing that to happen to them, not only because it's Senior Day, but more so because of what's on the line.
"We are trying to finish the big ten on a strong note and keep what we have going into the big ten tournament," said Howard. "Beating a ranked opponent like Northwestern would be another confidence booster for the guys."
Following Sunday's match, Penn State will have three consecutive road matches, including a visit to Ohio State for the conference finale on Nov. 2 before the Big Ten conference Tournament in mid-November.
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There are a lot of reasons why the Penn State men's soccer team (8-3-1, 3-0) currently sits atop the Big Ten with three conference matches remaining. The most visible explanations are outstanding defense and goaltending, the offense clicking at the right time and a mixture of team chemistry and coaching.
The most underrated piece to their success? Yoga. Yes, yoga the word that is defined as "a school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the supreme being or ultimate principle."
How in the world can that work with grown men playing collegiate soccer?
Somehow, it does.
Penn State participates in yoga once a week and has been doing so for more than two full seasons now with Penn State Fitness Coordinator Jill Garrigan.
With how much focus they have to put on their on-field performance and responsibilities in the classroom, the majority of players on the team laughed and were very skeptical when head coach Bob Warming told them they would be participating in yoga.
"The very first time we thought it was going to be a waste of time. We said, 'why do we have to do Yoga?" said senior defender Akil Howard.
Now, for some, two years after partaking in yoga with Garrigan there is little skepticism.
It all started Warming, who participates in yoga himself, approaching Garrigan about possibly implementing her yoga routine, one originally started with the Penn State golf team.
Garrigan obliged, but knew right away she would have to convince the Nittany Lion soccer players that yoga would actually be worth their time. Garrigan said that only about 30 percent of the players had any interest at first.
Now, that number is nearly 100 percent.
What does Garrigan do that entices the players to participate? She makes them view soccer and life in a different light through her yoga routine.
"I try to work with them not so much from the science standpoint but more from an awareness standpoint," said Garrigan. "I try to get them to find out how it feels to stop and pay attention to what they are doing. For some of them it's just turning off the external simulation and what's tapping them on the shoulder."
Garrigan focuses on the way athletes are wired and what their expectations are. The speed at which they take things and how they approach certain situations makes Garrigan ask the players to slow down and think about what they are doing.
She asks them a variety of questions regarding spatial awareness and slowing things down:
- Have you ever stopped to think and connect with what is coming at you?
- Does it feel good? Do you want to do it? Should you do it?
- When we stretch do you know where you back hand is? Do you ever think about that?
These questions get the mental process moving for the players. It might seem odd to ask 18 to 24-year-old men these questions, but it actually works. Slowing things down and devising what is going on in front of them helps them in grueling situations that they are presented with on the soccer field.
A glaring example for senior defender Martin Seiler is the loss against Saint Francis, the team's only loss since Sep. 8.
"You might think it's easy to focus on the good and forget about the bad, but it's not that easy," said Seiler. "We had a yoga session after the game we lost against Saint Francis and everyone had their head down and in that session she was talking about focusing on the good stuff and she helps us do that."
There is a physical aspect to it, as well. Just go to a home match at Jeffrey Field and pay attention to what the Nittany Lions are doing after a match. You will see foam rollers and yoga bands and that is how they recover.
That probably won't be seen at many other postgame routines in men's college soccer, but for Penn State, it's working, so why stop?
The Nittany Lions head to East Lansing Sunday to face Michigan State before returning home for Senior Day on Oct. 27 against Northwestern.
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - If you had asked most Penn State men's soccer fans how to best describe the Nittany Lions style of play prior to Friday night's game against Michigan, you'd most likely hear it defined as a low-scoring, grind-it-out approach to the game.
With four wins coming by the score of 1-0 this season, it's easy to understand that thinking. However, the Nittany Lions established a new kind of tempo on Friday against the Wolverines.
Playing on a damp Jeffrey Field, the Lions jumped out to a 1-0 lead early in the first half before scoring two more unanswered goals in the second period en route to an eventual 3-1 win for the Blue and White.
"I really enjoyed watching our goals tonight," said head coach Bob Warming. "We had some great classic soccer goals and I enjoyed how we got them."
The first goal scored by Penn State came in way that the team hadn't seen in a while. With the score deadlocked at 0-0 10 minutes into the game, a handball by the Wolverines inside of the penalty box gave senior defender Martin Seiler the chance to shoot the Lions first penalty kick of the year.
Seiler took advantage of the opportunity, directing Michigan goaltender Adam Grinwis to the right before drilling the ball into the left side of the net.
"We've had games this year where we thought we should have gotten a penalty kick but didn't," said Warming. "It was great to finally get one."
Following Seiler's goal, the Nittany Lions appeared to sticking to their normal plan of action, as the score remained unchanged for the remainder of the first half.
Then the second half began, and the Blue and White decided to turn it up a notch, adding two more goals to match their season high and not allowing the Wolverines on the scoreboard until after the game was already decided with just under seven minutes left.
Junior midfielder Owen Griffith gave the Lion some cushion after he buried a cross from freshman Connor Maloney two minutes into the half and senior Grant Warming put the cherry on top when he added an insurance goal with just over 10 minutes remaining.
"Our team showed that we have a lot of grit and heart tonight," said Griffith. "The field was wet and pretty chopped up but we just kept working."
While the junior was obviously pleased to score his second goal of the season, the happiest player on the field at the end of the night was Warming.
Playing in his second to last home regular season game, the senior's goal marked the first of his Penn State career.
"I've played a lot of games here so better late than never I guess," said Grant Warming. "It feels incredible and I'm just proud to help my team out."
For his coach, who also happens to be his father, the goal was extra special and a testament to the hard work and patience that he has displayed.
"It's been a big week for him, with a goal and two assists," said Warming. "He's playing with a lot of confidence right now and he deserved that goal.
Coming off of an emotional 2-0 win over defending national champion Indiana, it would have been easy for Penn State to come out against Michigan with less focus.
Thanks to a pep talk from their coach, the Nittany Lions made sure that they were locked in from the moment the whistle blew.
"Coach told us that after a huge win like we had (at Indiana) that it's easy to have a drop off," said Griffith. "We needed to focus on the details and we did that especially in the second half."
With their Big Ten record now at 3-0, the Nittany Lions now have all the confidence in the world against their in-conference opponents.
The key now will be sustaining their momentum with five regular season games remaining.
"I'm so proud of our guys right now," said Warming. "We're 3-0 in the conference right now and feels terrific."
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Exactly one week ago Penn State (7-3-1) was looking to erase a 1-0 double overtime loss to Saint Francis before heading on the road to Indiana. After the Nittany Lions' performance Sunday against the Hoosiers, it's safe to say Bob Warming's squad was able to easily forget about the set back against the Red Flash.
The Nittany Lions topped Indiana 2-0 for the first shutout in Bloomington in program history and launched themselves into the top spot in the Big Ten.
With another conference matchup Friday against Michigan (4-3-3), Penn State will take a lot from the historic win on the road.
"We are trying to defend the Big Ten title and I don't think there is any better way we could have started after winning two games over arguably two of the better Big Ten schools," said junior midfielder Owen Griffith. "Beating Indiana at their place and scoring two goals in the first half was a dream for us and to get that win gives us a big boost confidence wise as we continue Big Ten Play."
Griffith netted one of the two Penn State goals in the first half against Indiana, the other coming from Jordan Tyler, and goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton also earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career.
Penn State went from reeling after the loss to Saint Francis to the top of the Big Ten in a matter of a single match. There is a lot to take from that match that can carry over into the rest of Big Ten play, but just like after playing Saint Francis, Penn State has put the result in the rearview and they are now focusing on their next opponent: Michigan.
"We took one day to relax, get in the hot and cold tubs and regenerate our bodies and bask a little bit knowing that we did win and then the next day we got right back to business," said Griffith.
Griffith said he and his teammates aren't going to completely forget the win over Indiana because there is a lot to take away, but the focus has turned to Michigan and it started in practice earlier this week watching film. Warming told his team that holding on to the confidence gained from Indiana is extremely important, but he said they also must know that any team could still beat them at any time.
Taking it in stride, the confidence factor is the difference maker for Penn State on Friday. There is no further need for any validation or proof that they can hang with the nation's top teams because now they have already done that against California and Indiana.
Now, the difficulty comes with staying atop the conference and keeping the momentum moving forward. However, for Wolverton, that isn't a concern.
"It was our goal at the beginning of the season to win the Big Ten and being in a spot to do so continues to give us confidence and there aren't any worries about being where we are," said Wolverton.
Warming laid out the plan for beating the Wolverines, who are coming off of a 1-0 win at Ohio State. Penn State will focus on keeping fresh legs on the field, especially at the forward position to find holes in the Michigan defense.
The bench for the Nittany Lions is more than capable to relieve starters of minutes and provide valuable time on the pitch, something Griffith said is just another weapon to their arsenal during conference play.
"It makes us almost impossible to scout because of all of our front runners are getting goals and assists and we are all different players," said Griffifth. "We bring guys off the bench that are as productive and such different players than the starters and that's what we need to have a successful season."
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off a non-conference defeat to Saint Francis on Wednesday, Bob Warming and are looking to do something they haven't done since 2005; beat Indiana on the road.
It may seem that a double overtime loss that ended in the fashion that it did couldn't come at a worse time for the Nittany Lions as they face the defending national champions, but that isn't necessarily the case. Penn State will look at Saint Francis, make the necessary adjustments and wipe the slate clean.
"Some of our possessions and ball rotations and stuff into the box was awesome, the loss can't be positive but you can show them some of the clips and what went well," said Warming.
Redshirt senior defender Akil Howard feels the same way as his head coach. The loss Wednesday didn't present many positives, but there's no time to dwell on miscues especially as the grueling schedule of the Big Ten continues.
"We just have to focus on what's in front of us," said Howard. "We can't change anything, what happened already happened. Moving forward we have to get the guys focused on Big Ten because that's the conference we are in and Indiana is a really good team."
The Hoosiers have had some growing pains early after their main goal-scorer from 2012 Eriq Zavaleta graduated and is now in the MLS. Similar to Penn State, Indiana has had to find young goal-scorers to lead them in non-conference play in 2013.
Howard said he knows that despite Indiana's record, this is still the defending national champions and they will still be a tough team to defeat, especially on their home pitch.
"We have played a lot of them and a lot of them are returning guys and they were a good team last year and bring back a lot of strong talented guys," said Howard. "The guys know we have a battle ahead of us and we're just focused on getting prepared as best as we can so we can get another Big Ten title."
A win against Indiana, a team that Penn State is 11-29-3 all-time against the Hoosiers and 2-4 in their last six meetings, would be a major confidence builder, to say the least. The Nittany Lions haven't beaten Indiana in a regular season match since 2008.
Thus, Howard and the Nittany Lions will use that prior history as motivation to get their focus back on getting wins in conference.
"We have to be really pumped for this game because we didn't get the win last year, so going into their place we have to get a good result on the road which is always tough," Howard said. "The guys are pumped and ready to go because Big Ten is what's important for us."
Howard added that a win against Indiana will erase the memory of the double overtime decision to Saint Francis and put the team back in the driver's seat of the 2013 season.
Penn State and Indiana square off Sunday at 1 p.m. The match will be aired live on the Big Ten Network.
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Prior to Penn State's 2-1 win at West Virginia Wednesday all four of the Nittany Lions' (6-2-1, 1-0) wins came in 1-0 decisions. In their Big Ten opener on Sunday against Wisconsin (5-2-1, 0-1) Penn State continued the scoring trend netting three goals in a 3-1 victory.
Despite a tally from Martin Seiler in the 10th minute head coach Bob Warming needed to make a change in the second half after a Badger goal in the 31st minute tied the contest after the first 40 minutes.
"Even though we got that goal I thought we were playing with low energy," said Warming. "We decided in the second half to press so we sent our outside backs to their wide midfield players and pressed the whole time."
The decision to press rejuvenated the Penn State offensive attack as the ball was primarily in the Badger zone for the majority of the second half.
Both of the Nittany Lions' second half goals illustrated that rejuvenation. Although it is scored as an own goal, the second Penn State goal of the game was a product of the changed second half game plan.
Shane Campbell beat a Badger defender on a run down the sidelines in the Wisconsin zone, dumped the ball to Jordan Tyler and Tyler was able to get a shot on net, which eventually forced the own goal.
Five minutes later Penn State again controlled the pace this time with Randy Falk who fed a perfect cross to Eli Dennis who finished the scoring try.
Penn State netted two goals and had opportunities to get even more in the second half, something that was far from normal for the Nittany Lions in non-conference play.
"I felt like we could have had five (goals) in the second half and that's pretty unusual," said Warming. "I told (Penn State women's soccer head coach) Erica Walsh earlier in the week after they won that 6-1 and said I would just love to know what that feels like."
Warming and his squad certainly found out on Sunday. Now, the Nittany Lions are clicking and it is a very satisfying feeling for a group that eyes their second straight conference title.
"For me as a defender it is always great to score three and it takes pressure off of us defenders playing many games only winning 1-0 battling to the 90th minute is always tough," said Seiler.
"It's like we finally figured out how to score, which is good," he laughed.
An important part of the Penn State goal scoring attack is the continued improvement of Tyler who returned in 2013 after being sidelined last year with an ACL injury.
Tyler notched a goal against West Virginia and tallied six shots against the Badgers adding another weapon for Penn State.
"It's always hard coming off an ACL injury and I just felt like coming back I was getting frustrated I wasn't scoring and last game I scored my first goal and now it's just time to keep rolling," said Tyler.
Penn State will look to keep its undefeated home record alive as they host Saint Francis (Pa.) on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Luckily for Warming, he can rotate a number of players in and out of games during this tough string of tough non-conference and conferences matches.
"We played a lot of guys today and I feel like every player we bring in the game is just as good as the guy we took out," said Warming. "I don't think we drop off at all. They are different but they all bring something to the game."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three games. Eight days. Four goals. Three wins. That's how the Penn State men's soccer team (5-2-1) will head into conference play on Sunday against Wisconsin (5-1-1) at 2:30 p.m. at Jeffrey Field.
Coming off their first road win of 2013 and first win against West Virginia since 1990, Bob Warming's squad is in feeling good before opening conference play against the Badgers. The Nittany Lions pulled off a 2-1 comeback win in Morgantown with two important goals from two important goal scorers.
"Shane (Campbell) getting his first college goal, Jordan (Tyler) getting his first goal since coming off of ACL surgery, plus Kyle (MacDonald) and Connor (Maloney) both getting fantastic assists and in the scoring column was huge," said Warming.
Not only was it huge because the goals helped Penn State get the win, but also because it shows the continued improvement of the Nittany Lion offensive attack.
Two weeks ago it was Eli Dennis and Kyle MacDonald, last week it was Mark Wadid and this week it was Campbell and Tyler who came through in the scoring column. Multiple Nittany Lions are getting involved with scoring, which was a worry for Penn State heading into the 2013 season.
Now, entering Big Ten play where goals come at a premium, Penn State couldn't be clicking on all cylinders at any better time.
The Nittany Lions have let up a measly two goals since a Sept. 13 tie with No. 5 Cal, notching a 3-0-1 record. For Warming, it starts with his leaders: centerback Martin Seiler and goaltender Andrew Wolverton.
"Leadership is holding people accountable and those guys are doing a better and better job of holding people accountable for everything to make sure we are taking care of things every single possession," said Warming.
Having leadership is important for any competitive collegiate soccer team, but especially for these Nittany Lions. Nearly half of the contributing players on the roster are underclassmen, players that weren't involved with the Big Ten regular season championship one year ago and haven't played the rigorous conference schedule yet.
With that, Seiler, Wolverton and the other experienced Penn State players, the younger Nittany Lions are prepared to begin Big Ten play starting with the one-loss Wisconsin.
"Some of our guys have never played in a Big Ten game," said Wolverton. "It's a different environment and different situation and hard work every game.
You can't take a single game off. Every single game is a battle to the very end. It doesn't matter if you win 1-0 or 4-0, it's just a battle to the end every single game."
The Big Ten won't be easy. Penn State knows that. Take 2012 for example: the fourth-seeded Big Ten team, Indiana, won the NCAA national championship.
Last year, Penn State won the Big Ten regular season title with every single win coming by just a one-goal difference. One play or one mistake could change the outcome of a game.
"Every game is a real incredible battle," said Warming. "You can't count on anything. All you can do is prepare yourself that it's going to be a tight game. It all comes down to one possession and concentration has to be at a very high-level come Big Ten play. I think our guys are confident and ready to go."
After meeting Wisconsin on the pitch of Jeffrey Field, Penn State will host Saint Francis (Pa.) on Oct. 2 and then travel to Bloomington to play Indiana on Oct. 6, where they haven't won since 1995.