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By Mike Gilbert, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the 25th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in town for a doubleheader on Wednesday, it served as a good test for the Nittany Lions in front of their home fans as Big Ten play moves through the season. 


Senior pitcher Marlaina Laubach did not disappoint in front of the home supporters.  Laubach spun a gem in game one, hurling her seventh complete game of the year and stymying the Buckeyes offense, leading to her eighth win of the campaign and a 2-1 Penn State victory.  Laubach added in four strikeouts, to give her 55 strikeouts in 90.1 innings pitched this season, and she has gone the distance in every win she's tallied except one.  Despite her stellar performance in the circle all year, her head coach believed this was one of her finest outings.


"[Ohio State} doesn't strike out much, so for her to get some strikeouts looking, that's pretty impressive.  It was probably one of the best games I've seen Marly throw in a long time," said coach Amanda Lehotak. 


Even more impressive was the offense plating runs against a pitcher who no-hit them just one season ago.  The Blue & White got to the Buckeye ace Shelby Hursh in the fourth inning, as a Destiny Weber blast scraped off the top of the left field wall, missing a home run by inches but bringing home two runs.  Laubach did the rest, allowing only one earned run that didn't come until the top of the seventh inning.  Even in innings where Penn State didn't score, the team hit several hard lines drives to the outfield that ended up being caught, but they were right on top of Hursh all evening. 


The defense did its part as well.  With the sun glaring in the outfield, Rebecca Ziegler shielded her eyes with her glove and made two superb grabs in centerfield, helping to slow down a potential Ohio State offensive rally. 


Second baseman Gianna Arrizurieta served as the spark plug for the offense, leading off two separate innings with a single and a walk, respectively, to give her squad a chance for a big inning.


In game two, Penn State showed resiliency after going down early 9-2.  The team never gave up, rallying to cut the deficit to 10-7, the eventual final score.  Madison Shaffer pitched well in relief, going four innings and only giving up one earned run, giving the bats a chance to mount a comeback.  Even though a frenetic comeback came up just short, the team showed heart, something that Lehotak stressed has been happening all season, both at home and on the road.


"We're finally showing people who we see them do that, it's kind of what they've done all year.  We're finally starting to find some holes [at bat], so I'm really proud of our offense."


"We had a couple of situations where we had the bases loaded," she added.  "We're right there, so sometimes, we just need to make one more play on defense or offense to bust through."


Splitting a doubleheader against a top-25 team is a nice way to begin a week that should prove to be an emotional one for the Lions.  On Friday, Lehotak leads her team against Nebraska on the road, a trip back to her home state.  The head coach has never played a game in Lincoln since she has been with Penn State.


With a possibility to get a few more Big Ten conference wins this week, things are looking up for a softball team that has been fighting and scrapping all season long.  The first game of a three game set is scheduled for Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET.  Friday's contest will begin at 4 p.m. ET, while the rubber game begins at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.  Penn State's next home game will be next week; a nonconference doubleheader against the Bucknell Bison at Beard Field.  


By Anna Pitingolo, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After an 0-4 start to Big Ten play this season, Penn State is back on track thanks to two straight wins, and a series win, over Indiana last weekend.

As the Nittany Lions travel to East Lansing next to take on Michigan State, they are hopeful that that momentum will continue and the next three games will end in their favor.

"It felt amazing," said freshman catcher Destiny Weber, about the Indiana series win. "As a team we worked very, very hard and we went through a little rough patch with a couple of losses and we really pulled it out, we worked hard for it and it felt really good so we're hoping to take the wins into Michigan State this weekend."

Weber got her first career start behind the plate against Indiana and was part of the bottom of the lineup that combined for five of Penn State's six hits against the Hoosiers in game three.

After losing game one 6-1, there was a noticeable change in energy heading into game two for the Lions. Head coach Amanda Lehotak made some adjustments to the lineup, and that proved to be key in getting the win in game two.

"We're really focused on really just controlling what we can," said assistant coach Sarah Sigrest. "We've been working on hitting the ball hard and I think that anybody that came to our games can see we're not scoring a ton of runs. So we're just trying to do a better job at putting the ball in play and going back to the little details that we're not capitalizing on right now." 

The Nittany Lions will be riding the success of their pitching staff into Michigan State, which is led by senior Marley Laubach. Laubach pitched the final frame in game two when Lehotak called her in to relieve starter Madey Smith. Laubach entered the game with Penn State up just one run with runners on second and third with no outs.

 After forcing two fly outs and a groundout, Laubach got the save for the Nittany Lions. She followed up that performance by pitching a complete game in the finale on Sunday. 

"Marley's tremendous, she's the kind of kid who puts the team on her back," Sigrest said. "She'll say, 'hey, guys I got this, settle down, just give me some runs and we'll make it happen' and I think as a senior that's what she does. So I'm happy that she figured it out and found a way to win." 

The entire pitching staff has been a strong point for Penn State up to this point in the season, with Laubach leading the pack. With the matchup against the Spartans looming near, the coaching staff will have to make a decision as to who they want on the mound come game time. 

"Right now it's going to be between Smith and Laubach just because they've been the most consistent for us throughout," Sigrest said. "We have a lot of depth in the circle and I think we're just trying to figure out how we structure it. You've got to think of it in 21 innings instead of just the seven." 

Regardless of who's on the mound, there's no word on who will be on the receiving end of the pitches. Weber is one of three catchers to see playing time this season, along with Delaney Elling and Mia Monopoli.

"I didn't actually think that I was going to start [against Indiana] until game day but our other two catchers, Delany and Mia, are great catchers and we're just rotating through to see what works and what doesn't," Weber said. "Coach does everything for a reason and all three of us catchers are very supportive of each other so we just work together to make each other better."

The series against Michigan State kicks off on Friday at 4 p.m. with games on Saturday and Sunday set for 1 p.m. starts.


By Anna Pitingolo, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions got their first Big Ten series win over the weekend when they beat the Indiana Hoosiers 2-1 on Sunday after splitting a doubleheader on Saturday. 

Junior Gianna Arrizurieta got the start in right field for game three and, as head coach Amanda Lehotak described it, was the "MVP of the year [with] how she played."

Arrizurieta was one of the lone bright spots on offense for much of the game in a largely defensive outing for the Nittany Lions, hammering out two doubles after entering the game batting .056.

"Gianna's one of those special athletes, she's a special person and the fact that her work ethic defines who she is, she works every day," Lehotak said. "She hasn't gotten a lot of opportunities and she's been chomping at the bit, and today she got the opportunity and is going to keep it for awhile, so I'm so happy for her and she's just proof that hard work pays off."

Her first double came in the bottom of the second with Toni Polk on first base. Polk rounded the bases to give Penn State the one run lead and Arrizurieta her first RBI of the season. Her second double came in the fifth inning when she ripped one down the left field sideline. 

Penn State has struggled throughout the season to plate runners who are in scoring position, but was successful in doing so against the Hoosiers all weekend.

"It's so refreshing [to do that]," Lehotak said. "We've been right there all year and we just haven't been able to bust through the door and hopefully these past two games are just the little momentum that we need."

 In between her two doubles, Arrizurieta had a strong defensive showing as well, robbing Indiana power hitter CaraMia Tsirigos of an extra base hit in the fourth inning with a diving catch in right-center field.

"Nothing was different [for me], we just came out and we wanted to show everyone, all our homes fans and families, how we play the game and how we're supposed to play the game," Arrizurieta said. "So we played hard, we played with heart, it was a full team effort and that's what we came out and did today."

In the bottom of the seventh, it was Arrizurieta who scored the walk-off run off a Sam Shanahan line drive to right field. But before the game winning play, it was heads up base running that got Arrizurieta to second base and into scoring position.

With Polk on first base, Arrizurieta went for the sacrifice bunt to advance her, but Indiana instead turned the play to second to get Polk out. As Polk was walking away, Arrizurieta noticed the shortstop look away, and she made her move, stealing second. 

"The shortstop, she had just made a play at second, she started peeling off the bag and the pitcher wasn't paying attention so I just took the base and that's how we practice so that's how we're going to play," Arrizurieta said. 

Arrizurieta, batting in the seven spot, wasn't the only player in the bottom half of the lineup to produce against the Hoosiers. Five of Penn State's six hits came from the six through nine hitters.

"My favorite part about today is, we always talk about it's a total team effort, and it was the bottom of our lineup that really allowed us to win," Lehotak said. "It just goes to show that Shelby Miller doesn't have to have all the pressure, KB [Kristina Brackpool] doesn't have to have all the pressure, you know anybody can step up at anytime, so I'm really proud of them." 

Penn State will look to carry this momentum into a weekend series at Michigan State. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. on Friday and then 1 p.m. starts on both Saturday and Sunday. 

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By Mike Gilbert, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After Friday's game against Indiana was rained out, the Nittany Lions played a doubleheader on Saturday.  After losing the first game 6-1, the Blue & White picked up its first win in conference play in the latter game, 3-2.  Here are some thoughts and takeaways after a full day of softball at Beard Field:


Game 1


Defense, Defense, Defense


The Lions did their part when in the field - the team committed no errors, and had a slew of nice plays.  It began in the first when Kristina Brackpool made a nice pick at first base.  She made another nice stretch to beat the runner to the bag, helping the team get out of a jam in the third frame.  A sliding grab by Sam Shanahan in right field saved at least one run in the seventh. 


Shelby Miller Stays Hot


Miller finished the contest 1-2 with a single, a walk and an RBI sacrifice fly.  The sac-fly finished off what would be a well-manufactured run by the Blue & White - Toni Polk doubled and stole third, and Miller did the rest, flying out to deep right center. 


Game 2


Power Surge


Tori Dubois put a charge into a ball in the fourth inning, hitting it over the centerfielder's head and driving in Rebecca Ziegler to put the Lions on top 1-0.  With two outs, Polk achieved one of the goals head coach Amanda Lehotak has been stressing all season: getting the clutch hit in a pressure situation. 


Small Ball Gets the Job Done


Still in the fourth inning, second baseman Mollie Sorenson wisely got caught in a rundown between first and second base, giving Dubois time to cross home.  That run gave Penn State a cushion with a 2-0 lead.


Twice as Nice


Penn State managed to turn two double plays in the game.  The first was a 6-4-3 double play fielded by shortstop Toni Polk.  The second was a line drive caught by Sorenson who fired to first to get the second out. 


Madey Smith Spins a Gem; Laubach Has Ice in Her Veins


The freshman Smith continued her dominance on the mound, striking out four and hurling a shutout until the seventh inning, when Indiana managed to plate two runs.  She exited with runners on second and third and no outs, and the team turned to senior leader Marlaina Laubach to save the game, up just one run.  After a fly out, a groundout and another fly out, Laubach was the hero, and preserved a Nittany Lion victory after stranding two runners in scoring position.     


Head coach Amanda Lehotak has complete faith in Marlaina.


"That's why we put her in that position," Lehotak said.  "She's been our ace for four years and she's been our attacker for four years"


Laubach is used to the high-pressure situations and knows how to manage her emotions.


"I'm coming into a situation that already has its own energy so I need to adapt myself to that particular moment," said Laubach. 


What's Next?


The rubber game of the three-game set against Indiana concludes Sunday starting at 1:00 p.m.  After wrapping up the first home series of the season, Penn State heads to East Lansing to take on Michigan State for a weekend series.  Friday's game begins at 4 p.m., while first pitch for Saturday and Sunday's games are set for 1 p.m.  


By Mike Gilbert, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After what seemed like an eternity on the road, the Penn State softball squad finally returns to Beard Field this weekend.  The team played its first 30 games away from the friendly confines of State College, but now gets a chance to open up their home turf against Indiana beginning on Friday. 


"We're so excited and at the same time, I worry about us being so excited that by the fifth inning, our adrenaline crashes.  We've done that in the past, but to be at home in front of our fans, it's going to be amazing," said head coach Amanda Lehotak.


The Lions have only been the "home team" eight times this season, meaning even though they have been playing away from Beard Field, they have started the game on defense.  According to Lehotak, there is a big difference in strategy and feel of the game when opening up on defense instead of at bat. 


"Statistically, if you're the home team, the winning percentage is much higher.  When you're the visitor, you feel like the underdog.  If you're the home team, I feel like you can ease into it a little bit.  You can see how they're going to throw you and how they are going to attack you," said Lehotak.


There is a mental part of the game associated with being the home team as well. 


"It's a completely different mindset and kind of out of our comfort zone since we've had so many games where we're not in that position.  But, it's a weekend where we can take care of business," added Lehotak. 


The keys to the weekend series against the Indiana Hoosiers are the same as all season, according to Lehotak.  Her team must rely on the starting pitching relaxing and finding a groove, and the defense needs to limit runs being scored in bunches.  Of course, timely hitting is a key factor, something the team is still working on.


The players themselves can't wait for Friday to arrive.


"I'm very excited.  Everybody always talks about how it's the best part playing at home, and I'm just very excited," said freshman bright spot Madey Smith. 


The excitement coming home is even higher due to the stakes, as the game with the Hoosiers will open home Big Ten play Friday, Saturday and Sunday, at 6pm, 3pm and 1pm, respectively.  The Nittany Lions come into the conference home opener at 12-18 on the year, while Indiana is 16-16. 


Fairly evenly matched with their Big Ten opponent, the Nittany Lions are primed to make a splash this week, and can do that in front of an army of supporters.  


By Anna Pitingolo, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Madey Smith stepped foot on campus in the fall, she had no idea what she was about to be thrown into. A four-year letter winner at Warren Hills Regional High School in New Jersey, Smith came in highly touted but struggled in offseason workouts with the team.

"Coming in the fall, I struggled with our workouts, our conditioning, and everything so I think I've had a lot of mental progress from the fall to now," Smith said. "It's definitely helped me from the fall when I was struggling to now which I can get past and work through easier situations especially in the game or something like that."

After initially being surprised by Smith's struggles in August, head coach Amanda Lehotak has seen Smith make big strides since then. 

"Smith came in and it's not a secret that she was not ready in the fall, we were kind of like 'what happened to you over the summer?'" Lehotak said. "But I give that kid 100% credit because she zoned it in and she has worked her tail off."

That perseverance is exactly why Lehotak felt ready to give Smith her first starting nod this past weekend in the George Washington Capital Classic. Smith's first career start also turned in to her first complete game, in which she had a career-high eight strikeouts and only gave up three hits. 

"She has kind of been asking for the ball like and we were like 'you're not ready in practice, you need to do this, this and this' and every time we would give her a checklist she would hit it," Lehotak said. "So it was finally our time to be like 'okay, we have no more excuses on the coaching end to not give it to you.'"

Lehotak and company were pleasantly surprised with Smith's outing against GW, and so was Smith. She's been learning under veteran pitchers Marley Laubach and Maddie Seifert and has picked up one very important lesson from them: always compete.

"They've taught me to compete every inning and to never give up and just keep working as hard as you can because you're going to get your opportunity and that's exactly what happened [for me]," Smith said. 

Now that the opportunity has presented itself to Smith, it's her top priority to hold on to it, something that Lehotak preaches to her players.

"We always talk about in life when you get an opportunity you better keep it and she kept it," Lehotak said. "As of right now she's arguably our ace going into the weekend, so it'll be interesting to see how she handles Michigan at Michigan." 

Lehotak called Smith her hardest thrower on staff and, given that she's a freshman, when Smith is called upon in a game, she isn't overthinking or overanalyzing the moment­--it's just "get on the mound and compete."

"The greatest thing about freshmen is they can kind of bring the sense of being fearless because they don't know any better," Lehotak said. "And then she's very different because she's our hardest thrower so the ball kind of gets on you quickly. She has probably the best rise ball on staff and right now her curve ball is pretty amazing." 

Smith ended up at Penn State at her high school coach's insistence when the recruiting process began. During her first visit, she immediately thought it was "awesome," but didn't want to commit right away, especially since the coaches hadn't seen her play yet.

"As the fall went on, the coaches came and saw me so then I went and revisited Penn State to see if it was actually going to be my school," Smith said. "I went back and fell in love with it and I knew I was going to get a great education and I wanted to help the softball program, so it was a perfect fit."

As the Nittany Lions start the conference portion of the season this weekend in Ann Arbor, Smith is keeping a positive outlook moving forward. With assistant coach Sarah Sigrest, Laubach, and Seifert there to help her along the way, Smith is ready to go in the Big Ten.

"I'm just trying to keep calm going into the games and just having a good mindset and knowing that I can do it and knowing that my team has my back and just being confident always," Smith said. 

Penn State will play three games against the No. 19 Wolverines this weekend with the first pitch of game one set for Friday at 4 p.m.


By Mike Gilbert, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Playing a college sport on the opposite side of the country with no family close by can be difficult for a student-athlete.  But for one Nittany Lion, the opportunity to return home and receive a hero's welcome last week allowed her journey to come full circle. 


Sam Shanahan is a native of Seattle, Washington, where the Penn State softball team played in the Husky Classic last Friday.  With a large softball alumni base in Washington, the alumni committee, including president of the Seattle alumni chapter Chrysty Laske, and vice president Elizabeth King, greeted the team with a warm welcome to say the least.  The girls had personalized signs waiting for them upon their arrival, and were able to enjoy plenty of experiences that the area had to offer during their visit.  In addition, the alumni presented the team with a sizeable donation. 


"It was the coolest experience ever.  It had been my dream ever since I committed to Penn State to play against the University of Washington just because I live less than a mile from the stadium.  So, being there in front of my family and friends was a dream come true," said Shanahan. 


The team didn't just play softball in Seattle; the trip was about much more.  On the first off-day, the squad headed on a duck tour of the Emerald City with alumni, followed by a family dinner at the Shanahan's house.


On the second off day, the girls had a golden opportunity:  a day in the famed space needle, followed by an alumni networking meet-and-greet event with alums working and living in the area.  The trip was not only designed to make the team better off the field, it also utilized Penn State's massive reach to try and help the team with their future careers as well. 


"[The Seattle chapter] made us feel at home.  They gave us an evening in the space needle... It was pretty phenomenal to have that love and support... It's something the girls will never forget," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. 


As for the games themselves, there was such a home-field advantage for the Blue & White that it felt like they were playing at Beard Field, not 2,500 plus miles away. 


"It was probably the first time all season that we felt like we had a home crowd because so many of the Penn Staters came out," said Lehotak. 


As for Shanahan, she enjoyed playing in front of familiar faces.


"At first, I was a little nervous.  My brother has never seen me play before so I'd better do well!  But once the game actually started, it was very calm and I was just very excited to be able to play."


Shanahan's mother and grandparents have seen her play at Penn State, but the rest of her family has not seen her play in person, until this past week.


"It's a far trip [to State College] and it's expensive," Shanahan said.  "Plus, all of my brothers and sisters are either in college or working, so it's very hard for them to get time off.  But to have them all there was very nice."


The Lions split their two games in the tournament, beating South Dakota but falling to the host Huskies.  Looking ahead, the Nittany Lions get set to take part in the George Washington Capital Classic this weekend, with two games apiece against both Niagara and George Washington. 


Win or lose, Shanahan and her teammates will be riding high after a productive trip both on the field and off.  


By Anna Pitingolo, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Jess Cummings has been surrounded by softball her entire life. She is the middle child in a house of all girls, all of who played the sport growing up. Now in her junior year at Penn State, she's primed to have a breakout season under head coach Amanda Lehotak. 

"I think that's part of the reason why I love [the sport] so much. I always wanted to be just like my older sister [Danielle] and she was a pitcher so that's why I would say I pitch," Cummings said. "And my younger sister [Micaela] is a catcher and she's my best friend in the entire world and I think part of that has to do with softball. I'd throw to her every day, that's how we would spend time together so my sisters are my two best friends and it's because of softball."

Danielle and Micaela are also Division I softball players, with Danielle having played at Mount Saint Mary's from 2011-2015 and Micaela currently playing in her freshman season at Delaware State. 

Following in Danielle's footsteps as a pitcher has taught Cummings a lot. Both of them have battled through injury in their college career, and Cummings has learned about pushing through adversity. Even when not being able to contribute on the mound, Cummings made sure that she can be the best teammate possible, another thing she learned from her big sister. 

"She had a tough road too with some injuries so [I learned about] perseverance," Cummings said. "She was always a good teammate and had everyone's back and everyone wanted to be on a team with her whether she was their star pitcher or not and I think that has really inspired me to be the teammate that I've had to be through injury and everything like that." 

Cummings had a career outing against Cleveland State in last weekend's Chanticleer Showdown. She had a career-high nine strikeouts in a 9-0 win over the Vikings. Lehotak was thrilled to finally see Cumming reach her potential on the mound. 

"It was great to see her. She battled with injuries all of last year, so to see her healthy on the mound, ready to go, was exactly what we needed," Lehotak said. "Jess had a great game and really that's just her building on what she's done her freshman and sophomore years. It's just been so hit and miss because of her injury so I know she needed that."

Cummings currently has a 1.91 ERA in three appearances this season, including two starts. With the strong pitching staff that Penn State boasts this year, Cummings knows that it's always a competition to get to the mound.

"Obviously we all want to throw and everyone's working their butt off to throw but we're making each other better and just really having a blast together," Cummings said. "I don't think there's a lot of schools in the country that have that, where you can have good pitchers who still want the best for each other and I think that we definitely do right now and that's what is making us successful."

The Nittany Lions will travel across the country for the next week as they head to Colorado for the Colorado State Classic this weekend before facing Seattle at home in Washington.


12463569.jpegBy Mike Gilbert, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Last season, the softball program boasted a talented and experienced outfield, featuring seniors Lexi Knief, Erin Pond and Macy Jones.  This season, redshirt sophomore Rebecca Ziegler, in the midst of a four-game hitting streak, is picking up some of the slack.

Having sat out her freshman season due to injury, and backing up centerfielder Lexi Knief a year ago, head coach Amanda Lehotak knew Ziegler would be ready to go this year. 

"She's been outstanding for us.  I thought opening weekend, it didn't really show in the stat line, but she had a lot of quality at-bats.  So this weekend, to see them kind of finally fall for her, I was really pleased...Having that spark in the leadoff spot is exactly what we needed from her," said Lehotak. 

When you first meet Ziegler, you can see her passion for the game.  Lehotak sees it too.

"Ziegler just loves the game.  When you talk to her, she's just passionate about softball, baseball," Lehotak said.  "She can tell you baseball stats of who's doing what, so I think its just a perfect storm in the fact that she's finally physically healthy, and I think she's just having a really good time playing the game right now."

Where did Ziegler develop her love of the game of softball?  Part of that has to do with her family.  Her older brother, C.J., was a first baseman at the University of Arizona before playing professionally in the minor leagues.  Seeing him perform well on the diamond was where Ziegler got her fire. 

"Growing up around a baseball field, seeing him dominate on the field, really drove me to want to be as good as him," she said.  "He made me love this game, so watching him be such a force at the plate and on the field, that's who I aspired to be."

Now, playing for a Nittany Lion team heating up early on in the season, Ziegler can leave it all on the field manning the starting center field position.  Her effort can be seen during the week in practice behind the scenes and in the cage.

"As long as I swing as hard as I can in the cages, it translates onto the field...I just try to improve every single at bat and try and make it better than the last time," said Ziegler.

Ziegler also has bought into the team philosophy this season.

"This year's theme is staying within the tribe, being a tribe, so as long as we do that, we'll be ok," she said.

Ziegler and her teammates will be traveling to Conway, South Carolina to take part in the Chanticleer Showdown this weekend.  The squad will face off with Coastal Carolina, Campbell, Cleveland State and Morehead State, and Lehotak knows what needs to be done to continue the team's four-game win streak.

"Our defense needs to sustain and we need to keep doing a good job... Pitchers, were looking for them to attack," she said.  "There were a couple of situational areas this past weekend where we kind of got lucky, so making sure we fix that, and, offensively we have to do a better job of making adjustments earlier."

With that in mind, Ziegler and the Lions are trending upwards in the early stages of the season, especially in the eyes of Lehotak.

"The mixture of having our youth be really mature and our seniors having the 'been there, done that' mentality, I think it's been the perfect blend."


By Anna Pitingolo, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is back on the road this weekend, this time in Atlanta where they'll take on Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the second annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.


Teams are picked for the tournament based on the final standings from two seasons ago. The top eight teams in each conference are invited to compete, so after missing out on the tournament last year, Penn State is excited to use this as an opportunity to prove themselves in the Big Ten.


"It's the first step to be relevant in the Big Ten," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "The qualifications go on RPI and in my first year, when they scheduled two years out, we did not qualify. But to know we're in the tournament for next year and even be a higher seed in the tournament based on last year, it's very exciting and it does show that we are now relevant."


On top of proving themselves in the conference, Lehotak is excited for the opportunity for her team to represent the Big Ten. And with postseason implications on the line, she's looking forward to the matchups going on around the conference.


"This is the first time we've qualified for it so that's really exciting for us. And it's a big weekend, it's a weekend that can separate the Big Ten from the ACC on Selection Show Sunday so really we just want to represent well and play good softball," Lehotak said.


Senior Shelby Miller, playing in this tournament for her first and only time, added to that sentiment, and has high hopes for Penn State.


"It's an honor to compete in this tournament because we get to go out and represent the Big Ten," Miller said. "I'm hoping, and I know, that we will do a good job representing the conference."


In last year's inaugural Challenge, the Big Ten finished with a 20-12 record. And for Penn State, after topping then-No. 4 LSU during opening weekend, Miller knows that in order to keep that momentum heading into the Challenge the team has to make sure their game is on point.


"In the LSU game, everything was on," Miller said. "The pitching was on, the hitting was on and our defense was on. It's just a matter of, in every game, having at least two of the three being on, because we can't just have defense or we can't just have pitching. We need to have at least two of the three to win."


Despite having a young team, Lehotak feels that her players have shown maturity so far, and that's helping them to fix mistakes from week one as they move forward.


"We really want to continue with the process. We had our ups and downs, and we know where we're weak," Lehotak said. "The team has high maturity in the sense that we don't have to convince them where we're strong and where we're weak, which is nice, we haven't had that. So for them to come back this week and really prepare for the ACC schools, I like our preparation and I like our mindset."


Penn State's first game of the tournament is on Friday versus Georgia Tech. First pitch is set for 3 p.m.


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