By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When newly appointed Penn State softball head coach Amanda Lehotak stepped onto Beard Field for the first time, she was fulfilling a life long dream. Coming from a coaching family, Lehotak has dreamed of coaching at Penn State and making her mark in the Big Ten.
"This has been a very humbling experience," said Lehotak. "Very few people in life have their dreams come true, now that it has happened, I am just in awe."
Coach Lehotak's collegiate softball career started at the University of Mississippi, where she set a single-season hitting record. After playing two seasons for the Rebels, Lehotak finished of her career at Nebraska-Omaha, where she became a third team All-American and earned two first team All-North Central Conference selections.
After a very successful career as a player, Lehotak took on a new position as "coach." Her first head-coaching job was at Jacksonville University, where she led the Dolphins to their first NCAA Tournament appearance, and she became the 2011 Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year. She coached the Dolphins for seven years before becoming the head coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
"My coaching philosophy and my team philosophy are very different and always changing," said Lehotak. "Each team needs something different, and that is our job as coaches."
As a head coach for UTSA, Lehotak's winning record was just as impressive as her team's performance. Under her coaching philosophy and dedication, the Roadrunner's had five players earn All-Southland honors, a Freshman of the Year, and a All-WAC first team selection.
"At the end of every season, I reevaluate my plans and my philosophy to hold myself accountable," said Lehotak. "The players deserve that."
In July of 2013, it was announced that Lehotak's passion for team building and extensive coaching experience would begin a new chapter, as she was named head coach of Penn State Softball.
"The first thing I did when I got to Penn State was stare at my field for 30 minutes," said Lehotak. "This is mine to build now."
Coming off of a successful fall-ball season, coach Lehotak is happy with the team's progress and excited for what the upcoming season will bring. She believes that their success this fall as made them more confident for the spring.
"This team truly impresses me. Their learning curve over these past four weeks has been great," said Lehotak. "We don't have a championship in October, so this gives us an opportunity to work on handling the ball and stealing the momentum from the other team."
Coach Lehotak's mission is not to just produce a winning program, but to create a sense of community amongst herself, her coaching staff and the team.
"People will always judge you on winning and loosing. But, we are just going to focus on our family and whether or not we are meeting game goals and the goals we set for ourselves, that is most important."
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, coach Lehotak is excited for the opportunity to coach against some of her idols. She is most excited to coach against Michigan's Carol Hutchins.
"For me, it is an honor to share the field with a coach of that caliber," said Lehotak. "I am excited to go through the grind and watch our team perform against these competitive teams."
When Coach Lehotak isn't on the field, recruiting or holding practice she enjoys spending time with her family. Her love for her family is a part of her coaching philosophy as she tries to create a family atmosphere with her teams. Lehotak believes that there are four elements to successful teams - accountability, honesty, positivity, and energy.
"Your team is your extended family," said Lehotak. "These are the people who will be by your side now and later in life, supporting each other is very important."
Coach Lehotak hopes that the lessons and the expectations that she has for her players for practice and games will translate into their lives when they are no longer wearing the uniform.
"I am big believer in body language, eye contact and hand shakes," said Lehotak. "When one of my players walks into my office and they don't look me in the eye when they are talking to me, I tell them to leave and try again."
"In practice when a catcher's body language doesn't match her voice, I make them run the drill again because confidence is key."
In an effort to produce a confident team on and off the field, Lehotak added a list of words and phrases that cannot be used to the team handbook.
"We have our own language," said Lehotak. "You have to be careful with what you think and what you say because it is contagious. We want to look confident and fearless, even on our off days, so I hope that this method helps with that."
The Lions just finished their fall ball schedule and will return to the field in the spring.
"I am very excited for the upcoming season," said Lehotak. "Hopefully we will make Penn State very proud."
Recently in Softball Category
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Assistant coaches Joe Guthrie and Megan Gibson are introduced in the latest GoPSUsports.com exclusive video.
GoPSUsports.com recently caught up with new Penn State softball head coach Amanda Lehotak. Check out the interview:
New Penn State softball head coach Amanda Lehotak is finally on campus and GoPSUsports.com takes you through one of her first days.
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After nearly three months of play, Penn State softball head coach Robin Petrini says that there are two words to describe her 2013 Nittany Lions.
The team ended its regular season with a 2-0 setback to Nebraska on Monday at Beard Field and finish with a 15-33 record overall. But numbers and losses aren't much of interest to Petrini after 48 games that she felt were played hard and played well.
"We never took the field as a defeated team," said Petrini. "We always took the field like, 'Let's go play hard.' And that says a lot about the character of your kids."
And for a team that featured six seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and eight freshmen, successfully coming together and working hard is quite the accomplishment.
Macy Jones, who is one of those eight newcomers, said that she bought right into the Nittany Lion program even though she only expected to be playing a few innings here and there. The freshman pitcher threw 166 of the 305 innings that the team played and started 47 of the 48 contests.
"I think we grew the whole season," said Jones. "I think our record doesn't show our potential and how good we really are and we definitely learned a lot."
Jones said that the rest of her team made her job much less stressful most of the time too, as the Penn State offense scored a total of 206 runs to support her whoever was in the circle.
"It's really encouraging. I don't feel like I have to throw a shut-out every game," said Jones. "Even though we didn't score this game we usually get runs across the board so it takes away the pressure."
Looking ahead, the 11th-seeded Lions turn to the Big Ten Tournament in Lincoln, Neb. and prepare to face sixth-seeded Illinois in the first round of play on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Senior Cassidy Bell played her last contest at Beard Field on Monday afternoon, but said that she's not giving up here blue and white uniform just yet. The veteran said that the way her team has recently been pitching, hitting and fielding, she doesn't see why it wouldn't make a postseason run.
"I think we are underdogs going into it but sometimes teams come into it expecting to just walk over us but that hasn't been the case lately and that's to our advantage," said Bell. "We have everything going right now so I think it will be a good matchup."
Thursday's match-up will be the first between Penn State and the Illini this year, but Bell said that she and her teammates won't prepare much differently than they have been all season.
"We've just got to keep being 'pesky Penn State'," said Bell. "We keep coming at you and we don't back down and that's what we've done all season. We're good at never saying die."
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth,
senior Lauren Yao doubled to left on the 17th pitch of her at-bat to
bring in three runs and give the Nittany Lions a 3-2 lead over Nebraska.
It was her longest at-bat of the season, but when Yao finally put the ball between the white lines she said it was easily the highlight of her year.
"The energy is what keeps you motivated and especially since my parents were here and we had a huge crowd out, I was happy I could be the one to get it done," said Yao.
The hit would prove to be enough to give the Lions the lead and the victory two innings later as the Cornhuskers could not respond. And while head coach Robin Petrini said that she was happy for Yao to come up big in a pressure spot, she was even more proud of the way it all came together.
Kasie Hatfield led off the inning with a single to right and Alyssa Renwick put down a sacrifice-bunt to move her. Then, Liz Presto pinch-hit for Shannon Hutchinson and battled a nine-pitch at-bat to earn a single to left. Cassidy Bell followed with a walk, and the bases were loaded for Yao. Petrini said that she couldn't have asked for more.
"For them to fight and overcome all of the adversity that we've had all year shows a lot of character for this team," said Petrini. "They made it happen like I know they can, but more importantly like they know they can."
And what really sealed the deal was the pressure pitching that came from sophomore Marissa Diescher. Diescher took over for started Jordan Wheatley in the middle of the third and was supposed to get the Lions through two innings of play.
"After I stuck her in there and she got us out of the third, I told her I needed one more out of her and then we'd go from there," said Petrini.
But Diescher wanted more.
She finished the game and allowed just two hits to get the win.
"I just had to attack the batters and kept throwing hard," said Diescher. "As the game goes on I really get into it and I actually start to throw harder as the game goes on."
The victory marks the Lions' fourth in the last six games played, and their fifth Big Ten win this season. And on a day that celebrated six seniors that have averaged more than 162 starts for the Nittany Lions, their head coach was nothing but proud.
"This team has never torn apart, they've never gotten on each other, they've come out every day, they've worked hard and they've encouraged each other," said Petrini. "That's a sign of good leadership from your seniors."
Penn State closes out its regular-season schedule in the finale of a three-game series against Nebraska at 1 p.m. on Monday at Beard Field.
By Sean Flanery, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Wednesday afternoon, Penn State (12-30, 2-14 Big Ten) relied on its clutch hitting and pitching to weather two different types of storms to capture a non-conference victory over the Golden Flashes of Kent State (21-17-1).
It was the first at-bat in the bottom of the first inning in game one of what was supposed to be a double-header, when senior Cassidy Bell connected on a pitch sending it over the wall in left field. However, following the solo-blast from Bell, the Lions began to struggle and opposing pitcher Emma Johnson settled in for the Golden Flashes.
Following Bell's homerun, the Nittany Lions only managed to register one more hit, while Johnson tallied nine strikeouts against the Lions.
"She [Johnson] really has a really nice rise ball," said Penn State head coach Robin Petrini. "It's just kind of a sneaky rise ball and I told her [Kent State's head coach] that no one has made us look that bad all year. We've only been shut out four times and we've hit just about everybody. It was just a smooth rise ball and she did a great job."
Johnson put together a flurry of strikeouts, including four in a row at one point in the game, but the Nittany Lions never gave in despite their frustrations.
"I think it's hard on the pitchers, especially if were not hitting the ball," said Bell. "It kind of puts more pressure on them to make sure they keep the hits from not happening. We started making adjustments and started making contact with the ball, we just weren't getting anywhere with it."
While the Lions struggled at the plate, they persevered through the struggles. However, while the Blue and White offense didn't light up the box score, neither did Kent States until they evened the score at one run apiece in the fifth inning. However, shortly after the Golden Flashes gained momentum, Penn State received a blessing in the form of a thunderstorm. It was an hour and a half delay, which cancelled the second game, but it might have been just what the Lions needed. Petrini stated that the break from action allowed the team to gather themselves.
"I actually pulled them together and told them that they had to refocus. It's really tough coming out of rain delays and I saw people were doing all sorts of different things in our team room and I actually waited until it started raining to send them into the team room because when you go into the team room you get distracted. I pulled them together and said you got to refocus because we need this win and they did. They did a really nice job."
Following the delay, Penn State came out hot, especially one Lion in particular, Jordan Wheatley. The junior sat down the Kent State batters in order during the top of the sixth.
"I think I have been finding the strike zone easier," said Wheatley. "I think I just had a switch in my brain and it's time to get it done. It's the end of the season and we got to get ready for the Big Ten Tournament."
Following the tremendous pitching effort by Wheatley, the Lions came through with some clutch at-bats. With Cassidy Bell on second base and no outs, freshman Macy Jones stepped up to the plate and delivered a much-needed RBI single.
"We did need to score runs and it was a very tight game," said Bell. "We just had clutch hitting like when Macy [Jones] got that hit right when we needed another run and that's all you need. We were very efficient today."
Bell uses the word 'efficient' to describe the Lions two-hit, two-run victory and that is exactly what it was. When you receive a four-hit, one-run outing from Wheatley on the mound, two runs is all it takes.
Moving forward, the Lions will travel to Iowa (24-21, 4-13 Big Ten) for the teams' last road series of the season. The Hawkeyes are another team struggling to find conference wins this season having lost six straight to Big Ten opponents. With only two series remaining before the Big Ten tournament starts, the Lions would love to gather more momentum and build upon the gritty, grind-it-out victory the team captured Wednesday afternoon.
The three-game series versus Iowa is set to begin this Friday afternoon at 6 p.m. CT in Iowa City, Iowa.
Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On a beautiful sunny day at Beard Field, the Penn State Nittany Lions battled hard but fell to the Northwestern Wildcats, 2-1. The Wildcats completed the sweep against their conference foe, but the Nittany Lions showed a lot of promise going forward.
Penn State (11-30, 2-14) had the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh looking for the walk-off victory. After pitcher Jordan Wheatley had thrown a complete game, the walk-off ending seemed perfect. The team, however, was unable to take advantage of the opportunity. Freshman pinch-hitter Karlie Habitz popped out and Lauren Yao grounded out to end the game.
Habitz entered the game for Alyssa Renwick, who had worked a walk and struck-out earlier in the game.
"Karli has been swinging a pretty big stick for us and she has had some great at bats in the batting cage and pre-game and we were hoping that she could get a hold of one and get something in the gap and get us a run there," associate head coach Jen McIntyre said.
After a night where Penn State put up a season-high 14 runs, the Nittany Lions were unable to duplicate the magic loading the bases three times but not scoring.
"You just keep taking your hacks at the plate and having good at-bats. I thought that we were patient at the plate today and with runners in scoring positions it's just a game of inches. You put the ball six inches one way or six inches the other and it's a different ball game," McIntyre said.
The one run of the game came off the bat of infielder Reina Furuya. She ripped a low fastball from Northwestern (25-16, 9-5) pitcher Amy Letourneau over the left field fence and was mobbed by teammates when she got back to home plate.
"[Hitting a home run] felt great. The past couple days I was struggling against [Letourneau] and it just felt really good to finally get a hit off of her. I just told myself, 'swing at the ball'," Furuya said. "I think I'm just getting more comfortable playing at the collegiate level and I'm just trying to help the team out."
Furuya, who has 5 RBI's in her previous two games, played outstanding for the Nittany Lions in the loss. Along with her home-run, the freshman shortstop made several key defensive stops to keep the game close against the Wildcats.
"She's hitting the ball. She has been great. She did a great job of working through a little bit of a slump that she had there and she made a little bit of an adjustment in the batting cage and now the ball is starting to look a little bit bigger and anytime the ball starts to look bigger, you're going to swing a little bit better," McIntyre said of Furuya.
The Nittany Lions got a stellar pitching performance from Jordan Wheatley. After pitching 2.1 innings in Saturday night's game, the junior went a complete seven today allowing just two earned runs on nine hits.
"Anytime that you don't win its frustrating. Jordan [Wheatley] threw a great game, she did a tremendous job keeping the ball down and keeping them off-balance, and that's what you're looking for from the mound, so she did a great job," McIntyre said.
The NIttany Lions had a strong weekend against their conference foes. They managed to score 18 runs on 23 hits during the three-game set. The team also played stellar defense throughout the weekend, including a tremendous diving play from centerfielder Cassidy Bell to keep the game to a one run lead.
"I felt good. It's the first complete game in a while and it was nice to finally be able to go a whole game. It was awesome, Cassidy is a great player and she comes up with many plays and many hits for us and I wish her luck on her season past this," Wheatley said.
The team now prepares for a showdown with Kent State starting on Wednesday. The Golden Flashes come into State College five games over .500 and riding a two game win streak. Although they lost the series to the Wildcats, Wheatley says her team will be just fine and ready to go come Wednesday.
"It's tough. Obviously when you lose, it's always tough, whether it's game after game or if it's one game. We're a good team and were going to fight back that's, why we're going to come through the next few weeks."
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Most of the spectators who had stayed for the second game of Wednesday evening's doubleheader at Beard Field weren't even back in their seats before Cassidy Bell broke her second homerun record this season.
The senior lefty popped the second pitch of the game over the left field wall for her 18th home run of the season and 35th in four years with the team, making her the newest leader in career home runs as a Nittany Lion. The record of 34 blasts was previously held by Shannon Salsburg, who graduated from Penn State in 1998.
Less than a week ago, Bell also broke the record of homeruns in a single season. But she said that for some reason or another, this one was a bit sweeter.
"I knew I was one hit away and I knew I had tied it so after I hit that one, I was I knew that one was out," said Bell. "The single season is great but this one is career, all four years, and I feel like that is a greater accomplish. This one was the bigger one."
The Lions' head coach Robin Petrini has been with the program since 1997 and said that she remembers Salsburg, the former record holder. But as good as Salsburg was, Petrini said that Bell is just seeing the ball that much better.
"I was here for the tail-end of that young lady's career and she hit a lot of home runs," said Petrini. "But Cassidy is hitting them, I mean it's constant. She's getting all of the ball."
Bell's big one to start the second contest of the day didn't spark a victory however, as the Lions dropped a 12-3 decision to Purdue in the final game of the day.
Penn State did get a team-win in the first half of the doubleheader against the Boilermakers, stealing game one by a score of 8-4. Freshman lefty Macy Jones threw all seven innings out of the circle to increase her numbers to 129.1 innings pitched and ten wins on the season.
But what literally brought in the runs for the Lions in the first contest were the smart at-bats at the plate. After the game, Petrini explained how her team warms up offensively by hitting a deflated basketball off of a tee to enhance their power.
"I think that we're just driving the ball really well," said Petrini. "I'm a big proponent of driving the basketball and everyone hit the basketball prior to the game. When you hit it far you get an immediate feedback of what your swing looks like and we looked good."
In the win, Penn State tallied 11 hits and six doubles, which came from five different athletes. As a leadoff, Bell said that it was nice to see such a strong line-up show up to play.
"Hits are contagious so if we can keep stringing the hits along and keep switching places I think that's great," said Bell. "That was a great team win. It showed just how great our character is as a team."
Next up, the Lions continue Big Ten play and welcome Northwestern to Beard Field in a three-game series that begins on Friday.
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Two of the 21 names on the Penn State softball roster have lit up just about every box score since the season started.
Both names belong to athletes who are quick on the base-paths, smart at the plate and swing left-handed. They also wear double-digit jersey numbers that just happen to have the same two single-digit numbers in them, 21 and 12, and they both have long blonde hair.
Senior Cassidy Bell and freshman Macy Jones have been getting it done in all facets of the game for the Nittany Lions.
Take a look across the stat sheet for the start of this 2013 season and you'll see that the two are at the top in almost every offensive category. Bell leads the team with a .462 average on 42 hits, 36 RBIs and 16 homeruns. Jones follows next in suit hitting .355 in a team-high 93 at-bats with 22 hits, 20 RBIs and four homeruns.
"They are both competitors," said their head coach Robin Petrini. "They want to win and they'll do anything in their power to make it happen and I think that their teammates expect that out of them at this point."
Over the past three seasons Petrini said that she has watched Bell grow into not only one of the best softball players to come through the Penn State program, but also one of the best in the country.
"Cassidy is just on her game and when she's dialed in there's no stopping her," said Petrini. "I can't blame her for being so passionate. It's her final season and you can tell every day in practice that this year means a lot to her."
As for Jones, the freshman lefty is beginning to make a name for herself not only at the plate but also out of the circle. Jones has become the clear-cut top starter for the Lions in her first year with the team and has already thrown more than 100 innings of collegiate softball. She holds an 8-9 record overall and has hurled seven complete games.
On Wednesday evening, Jones will likely throw one of the Lions' two games against conference rival Purdue at Beard Field. Penn State has played 196.2 innings of softball so far this season and Jones has thrown 101.1 of those.
"I just really like to play," said Jones. "There's not much else to it. I like to think the game out of the circle, remember which hitters I've faced and try to figure out how I can out-pitch them in their next at-bats. That's why they call it a game."
After three weeks of Big Ten play, the Lions have one win against a conference team. However, the freshman said that a back-to-back contest on her team's home field is the perfect opportunity to add a few more to the win column.
"We have to take advantage of playing on our on dirt and we know we're a good team," said Jones. "We'll get there and we'll get the win and when we do, I think that all of the hard work that we've put in will really show."