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By Richard Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With piles of snow flooding Beard Field, one might be skeptical about softball season kicking off in just a week. Thankfully, there's not a flurry to be found in Boca Raton, Fla., where the Nittany Lions will make their 2015 debut.

In years past, there hasn't been much to be scared of in Penn State's dugout, but a deep, veteran outfield group this year should have opponents marking their calendars before the season starts.

Leading the charge for this year's group is junior Lexi Knief. She was named an All-Big Ten second team honoree in her sophomore season, while leading the Nittany Lions in batting average, slugging percentage, runs, hits, and doubles.

"Her competitiveness is what makes her special," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "She just has that grit and that 'it' factor. When she feels she's getting beat she gets better. She's fun to coach because if you push her she's just going to fight harder. I never want her to graduate."

Knief has earned high praises from the conference, her coaches and her teammates for her outstanding 2014 season, but she isn't dwelling on her past successes.

"Last year was last year," said Knief. "I don't really even think about last year. Stats are not relevant to me right now. I'm more worried about how the team is progressing and how we're going to start the season in Boca."

Knief has established herself as a star offensive force on the team and in the conference, but she can't do it by herself. In 2014, the seven other outfielders who saw the field recorded a combined .147 batting average. This year, the team will look to the junior transfer from Akron, Erin Pond, to provide Knief with some offensive assistance.

"What you're going to like about Erin Pond is that she has a little Lexi in her," said Lehotak. "Erin gets stronger when she gets punched in the face by the game. That's what the best athletes are able to do so well. She's going to be a huge asset for us in left field, especially offensively."

Junior Macy Jones is also turning some heads this preseason. Jones started in all but one game last season and recorded 22 RBIs, good for third on the team. However, she was unable to perform as well as she did in her freshman season, so she and coach Lehotak are hoping for a bounce-back year.

"Macy had a great freshman year, but hit the sophomore slump last year," Lehotak said. "Where she is now is far better than where she was all of last year, so we expect Macy to get back in the frame and repeat the freshman year that she had."

Another player to watch for this year is senior Alicia Walker. Walker has taken it upon herself to provide leadership and confidence to the outfield group.

"Personally, I want to improve as a leader," Walker said. "I've never been known as the most verbal leader. I'm more of a lead by example type of player, but as a senior I'm trying to take everyone under my wing and take more control as an outfield leader."

Senior Meghan Bradley, juniors Maegan Tupinio and Shannon Good, sophomore Mary Ward and freshman Mollie Sorenson join Knief, Pond, Jones and Walker. Freshman Rebecca Ziegler would've contributed greatly this year as well if not for a knee injury that knocked her out for the season.

"Everyone in the outfield is doing tremendously well right now," said Knief. "Everyone's working hard, and we got a great group of girls so it's anyone's game out there."

"What's great about our group is that we have a large group of outfielders," Walker said. "We're confident that no matter who's out there, everyone will perform well. Everyone works hard at practice. We're confident that whoever's out there will perform well."

The team begins their 2015 campaign at the Kickoff Tournament in Boca Raton, Fla. Feb. 6-8, where they will play five teams in three days. 

By Richard Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Softball season is quickly approaching, and the Nittany Lions are eager to kick off their 2015 campaign. In two short weeks, Penn State will be on the field in sunny Boca Raton, Fla. for the annual Florida Atlantic University "Kick-Off" Tournament.

Head coach Amanda Lehotak and the Lions get a fresh start this year, and they plan to make the most of it. There's plenty to be excited about, including a young, tough-minded infield group.

"They're extremely athletic," said Lehotak. "They do exactly what they need to do, which is why I trust starting them. They make all the routine plays. If we can make all the routine plays and make a great play every now and then, we're going to be tough to beat."

The group boasts three freshmen, three sophomores, and two juniors, giving Lehotak plenty of options to mix and match with. Last year, seven infielders saw time on the field, so it wouldn't be surprising to see all eight players out there at some point in 2015.

Junior Reina Furuya, who started in every game last year, knows the importance of depth and versatility in the infield.

"Everyone brings their own skills to the table," Furuya said. "We have plenty of weapons and we're much more well-rounded this year. We always push each other in practice because we know all of us are capable of starting."

Coach Lehotak has been impressed with Furuya thus far. With a lack of experience scattered throughout the infield, it was imperative that someone took over as the leader, and that's exactly what Furuya has done in the offseason.

"I trust her," said Lehotak. "She gets it. She studies the game and she's always watching film. She enjoys that role and has really embraced it."

On the opposite end, the three freshmen are showing no signs of fear or uncertainty. Most notably, Gianna Arrizurieta has been turning some heads in the preseason.

"Her work ethic, her knowledge of the game and her offensive ability has far exceeded our expectations," Lehotak said. "Offensively, we did not expect her to have the pop that she has, or the mental toughness. That's a kid that can strike out on 3 straight pitches and on the next at-bat hit a rocket up the middle."

Another player to watch this year is sophomore Kristina Brackpool. As a freshman, Brackpool started 25 games and hit two home runs while compiling an impressive .987 fielders percentage.

"I'm looking for her [Brackpool] to have a big year," said Lehotak. "Last year, she was our own worst enemy mentally. This year she really has matured and worked her butt off, and she is far better mentally and physically than she was a year ago."

"My main objective is to play solid defense," said Brackpool. "We've been stressing it a ton this offseason. If we don't allow runs, we only need to score one and we should win every game."

Defense has been a major point of emphasis going into the year. The Lions were fifth in the Big Ten last year with 31 infield errors, but they are looking to improve.

"We want to be top three defensively in the Big Ten," said Lehotak. "I think we have the talent to do it. Even if we're starting 3 freshmen in the infield, we're sticking to that goal. Sixty percent of our practices are strictly based on defense."

The Nittany Lions are going to have to be stout defensively to succeed in the Big Ten, as five teams from the conference received votes in the USA Today/NFCA Division Preseason Poll.

Furuya has been stressing the importance of defense to the younger players herself.

"Defense is a game changer," said Furuya. "We can score 10 runs each game and still lose every single one if we can't defend. We have to play every pitch like it's our last."

Other strong contributors on the field include sophomores Shelby Miller and Sam Shanahan, along with junior Maegan Tupinio. Miller was one of just four Nittany Lions to bat over .300 last year, so expect her to carry the load offensively while Miller leads the way defensively making just five errors in 84 chances in 2014. Freshmen Alyssa VanDerveer and Mollie Sorenson will also look to make an immediate impact in any way they can.

There are unlimited roster possibilities for coach Lehotak, and she will be utilizing as many different lineups as she can. The ability to rotate infielders and sub in fresh legs when needed will be a huge advantage for Penn State this season.

Penn State will start the season Feb. 6-8 at the FAU "Kick-Off' Tournament in Boca Raton, Fla. as the team plays five games in three days vs. opponents Arkansas, FAU, LIU Brooklyn, Georgia Tech and Kansas.

By Miranda Kulp, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With just a little less than a month left until the first game of the 2015 season, the Penn State softball team is entering the final stages of preseason prep before traveling to Boca Raton, Fla. for its first tournament of the year.

With a mix of new and returning players training since the fall, the Lions are determined to improve and are entering the season with high intensity throughout every workout.

Returning for her second year as head coach, Amanda Lehotak is ready to hit the ground running. She is preparing the team for the new season and new chance to make a splash in the Big Ten.

"I'm always eager to start a new season," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "We were really impressed with the team's work ethic this fall and I can already start to see some major improvements in some of our weaker areas last year."

Last year the Lions went 14-35 overall, but instead of dwelling on the wins and losses the team is using them to its advantage and learning from past mistakes to grow.

"I think this group is capable of doing great things," Lehotak said. "We have a good batch of fresh talent being guided by our returning players. Already they've shown a constant willingness to work hard and improve during the preseason and I'm looking forward to see that intensity continue."

This year, the Lions will be welcoming six new players, five freshmen as well as a junior transfer. Redshirt Freshman Mia Monopoli is expected to compete for playing time behind the plate and is looking forward to opening day.

"I'm more excited than anything to start the season," said Monopoli. "I mean there are obviously some nerves but I can't wait for the games to start.
We've been preparing since the beginning of the school year so it's crazy thinking the season is this close to officially starting."

While some of the players are entering their first season as Nittany Lions, others are returning to Beard Field ready for another slate of games.

Among the group of returning players ready to grow from last season is senior pitcher Marissa Diescher.

"I think this year is going to be a big year for the program," said Diescher. "We have a lot of talent this year and I'm excited to see how everything meshes together once we start the season. I'm looking forward to proving ourselves this year since last year didn't end exactly the way we were hoping it would."

The Lions will be starting the season on the road in California, Florida, Mississippi and Texas. The team won't be playing at Beard Field until March 18.

"We intend on giving it our all this season and really proving ourselves," said
Diescher. "Whether it's in a tournament or individual game we want to always play our best."

Although the season doesn't officially start until Feb. 6, the players have been getting both physically and mentally ready for months.

"The thing about being an athlete is you always want to get better both personally and as a team so we never really stop training," said Diescher. "My goal this season is to improve my individual game and help my team win as much as I can."

As the start of the season approaches, both the coaching staff and the players are staying focused and keeping intensity levels up during training and using last year's upset for motivation.

"As a coach, our biggest thing is to put the team in the best position to succeed," said Lehotak. "We see great potential these players and want to make sure we're providing them with the proper training and confidence to play at their best."

 By Alexis Shelton, Student Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa--- Six years ago, Megan Gibson graduated as a student-athlete from Texas A&M. Today, she is the pitching coach for the softball team at Penn State.  Now, Gibson was inducted into the Texas A & M Athletic Hall of Fame. 

Gibson learned about her honor in a laughable way.

"I got a phone call from one of our alumni, who I believe is in the Hall of Fame already. She called me and left a message kind of in a panicking voice saying she needed to talk to me. It made me nervous. I called her back and she told me I was being inducted and I was just like, what? It was a comical situation, we laughed for quite a bit."

Becoming a successful coach wasn't easy for Gibson. There were a lot of challenges that she faced in her four years with the Aggies.

"There was so much that happened, said Gibson. "There were a lot of firsts. My freshman year we won the Big 12 Championship, which was the first time that ever happened. My sophomore year was a very difficult year, we overcame a lot and it was a lot of learning so that was our transitioning year. But, my junior year we made our first run at the World College World Series, and my senior year was just a great one."

Gibson has quite the history under her name, during her 2008 season, she was a National Player of the Week, and later that year went on to become the first Big 12 player to be named both Big 12 Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year.

She also led her team to win the program's second Big 12 regular season championships as well as making it to the final series of the Women's College World Series.

Two years later, she met with current Penn State head coach Amanda Lehotak at the University of Texas-San Antonio as an assistant coach before the duo made the transition to Penn State in 2012.

And, Lehotak couldn't be happier to have her on board at Penn State.

"Megan brings a lot of strength to our team because honestly, she is just a wealth of knowledge," said Lehotak. "She was an All-American because she was one of the best hitters of our game." 

"First base, outfield, pitcher. She's one of the few athletes that can teach hitting, she can teach pitching, and she can teach defense," she said. She just brings that championship mentality, she knows what it takes and how hard it is to get there. She's very universal."

Gibson's decision to coach was one that changed her life.

"I stayed on for my fifth-year at A&M for a semester," said Gibson. I had started grad school. I was really unsure of what I wanted to do. My mom actually suggested to me that I should be a coach."

"While I was there, I figured I'd help out with the team in my free time and there was this one girl that they asked me to help out with this one pitch. I remember when she got her first hit she came into the bullpen and was so excited. That was truly an amazing feeling."

After that, she went to play in a Japanese league for four years before coming back. She went back to Tesas A&M for a short period of time as the pitching coach before meeting Lehotak.

"She was wise beyond her years," Lehotak said. "I remember after first talking to her on the phone. I was praying that she would come coach with me," she added.

When asked what it's like coaching with her, Lehotak said, "I think we've become family. We've become a good tandem because we're similar but different. We're similar because we understand the difference between business versus personal. We're very good at keeping those two separate."

Lehotak also commented on how the two balance each other out.

"I'm kind of out-going and quick to react," said Lehotak. "She's more analytical and likes to sit back and relax. We're a good balance, she can come in the next day and tell me when I was a little too much. I think we work well together, we have great respect for one another."

Gibson was officially inducted into the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame on October 31, 2014.



Lehotak Relishes Opportunity to Coach Against Sister

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10412684.jpegBy Alexis Shelton, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sibling rivalries have gone back through the history of time.  For softball Head Coach Amanda Lehotak, a sibling rivalry was taken to a new level over the weekend.

Lehotak is in her second year as the leader of the Nittany Lion softball team.  Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, softball has always been a passion for her. She watched her older sister, Michala Cimino, who is 10 years older than her, play and grew inspiration to be just as successful as her growing up.

"Michala is actually my hero, I've looked up to her since day one," Lehotak said. "Growing up, going to all of her games, learning from her and watching her career when she won a national championship and being her biggest fan, I've learned a lot from her."

Cimino is currently the head coach at Bellevue University, which is located in Bellevue, Nebraska. The school is apart of the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics).

Over the weekend, both Lehotak and her sister met for the first time as head coaches in a friendly matchup between schools.

"The humble people inside of us say its no big deal its about the kids," Lehotak said. "But the truth is its a lot of fun we're a very competitive family. This is something we've always talked about doing and have always wanted to do.  The opportunity to actually do it is very exciting."

Competitive is definitely a word you may want to use when you look at the family. The athletic director at Bellevue is Ed Lehotak, who is both Lehotak and Cimino's father.

"Knowing my father, he's probably rooting for Michala. I say that because it's his school and he's always ranked like the top athletic director in that region," said Lehotak. "We've always been raised to be the underdog and so I know he sees them as just that. I actually see them as an equal opponent however. So knowing him just for the underdog way I feel like he's secretly going for his school."

But with so much talent and skill on both sides, one may begin to wonder if there's any ribbing going on between the two.

"We've both been on our best behavior. But I think the honesty is that we want to beat the crap out of one another," laughed Lehotak.

Despite the difference between the two--Penn State being a NCAA Division I team and Bellevue being in the NAIA--Lehotak wanted to make it clear that the team would treat their guests like they were a Big Ten team as well as having a few surprises for them.

They were given just that; when the team arrived on Friday, they were given their very own special locker room as well as multiple tours throughout the Penn State campus.

"They were given a tour of the football stadium," said Lehotak. "They also got to see the football locker room as well as run Beard field."

She noted that that the bus was full of family members from the Nebraska team. They were treated as family as well; as the whole Bellevue team including the family were treated to a special trip to the creamery and a dinner as well Friday night.

"They sold out their whole bus for this special occasion. We want to hopefully give them something that they'll never forget," Lehotak said.

The two sisters faced off twice on Saturday. It was an experience Lehotak will not forget.

"Michala and I talk almost everyday," added Lehotak. "Some of their team punishments are probably because of me. As well as some of my team punishments are probably because of her. Drills, how we motivate our teams, she's my go to. She's the one I go to [to] say hey I messed up or I'm thinking I'm doing this well. It's really neat."

Barbour Eager to Lead Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 18th of August cannot come soon enough for Sandy Barbour.

Introduced as Penn State Director of Athletics on Saturday afternoon, Barbour is thrilled to begin her tenure as the leader of an athletic program that aspires to continue its long history of excellence on and off the field of play.

"When you spend a professional lifetime serving institutions and most importantly students, you dream about coming to a place like Penn State," Barbour said. "You dream about the opportunity to lead a program like Penn State athletics. Why? Because it represents the opportunity to have it all: Athletic excellence, academic achievement, community engagement and fiscal responsibility. So thank you, Eric [Barron]. I am absolutely thrilled, over the top excited about this opportunity and about being the athletic director at Penn State."

A graduate of Wake Forest where she was field hockey team captain, Barbour grew up on the East Coast and has always had a deep passion for Penn State University and its athletic department. That's what drew her to the position when she originally spoke with President Barron about the opportunity.

Immediately, Barbour felt a connection with the people, pride and remarkable accomplishments of Penn State University and its athletic department.

"I love the 'We Are Penn State.' I particularly love what it stands for. It stands for family," Barbour said.

Barbour desires to see national titles in all 31 sports on campus. But first and foremost, she will strive to lead a department with student-athletes who are elite performers in the classroom.

"We are athletic programs again that are all part of a university," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes will be students first, Penn State is incredibly proud of the academic performance of their students and we will continue to be."

Eager to hit the ground running when she begins her duties as athletic director in 23 days, Barbour wants to learn from everyone in the department, especially the head coaches leading Penn State's 31 athletic teams.

"Unity doesn't mean one opinion, and I actually embrace that, embrace the diversity of opinion, diversity in a variety of different ways, and I actually think that will make us stronger in our ability to move forward," Barbour said. "As I said before, I have something to learn from everybody, and I'll be doing a lot of listening."

Numerous head coaches were in attendance at Saturday's introductory press conference. The coaches and athletic department staff then had a chance to mingle with Barbour at a private reception before she boarded a flight to Chicago for Big Ten meetings. The head coaches in attendance exuded great confidence in the future direction of the athletic department.

"There is a culture, history and tradition of tremendous academic achievement at Penn State and that will continue," said head football coach James Franklin. "I know it's important to our president, athletic director and all of our coaches. That will continue. I know we'll spend as much time as we need to so we can start building."

"I am truly thrilled that Sandy Barbour will serve as the next athletic director for Penn State," Lady Lions head coach Coquese Washington said. "Sandy is a strong, dynamic and passionate leader. She is also an incredibly smart visionary and strategic thinker. It is exciting to imagine all the ways Penn State University, and Penn State athletics in particular, will be positively impacted by her leadership."

"I loved everything I heard today," head women's hockey coach Josh Brandwene said. "She has passion, vision and just a great understanding of the Penn State community. Both as a head coach and as an alumnus, I am really excited to start working with her."

Barbour will return to California in the coming days to prepare for her full-time return to Happy Valley on Aug. 18, and the new leader of Penn State Athletics is fired up to get started.

"We are Penn State. I'm all in. I'm ready to get going," said Barbour.


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Coaches Caravan Day IX - Erie

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VIDEO: Williamsport & Wilkes-Barre | VIDEO: East Stroudsburg & Lehigh Valley

Erie Photo Gallery

ERIE, Pa. - After more than 2,000 miles on the road, the 2014 Coaches Caravan drew to a close on Thursday night on Penn State's Behrend campus during a sold out evening event.

Nearly 6,300 fans attended the 17 stops, which spanned across 13 locations in Pennsylvania, in addition to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York City.  In all, 11 different Penn State head coaches joined head football coach James Franklin during at least one stop since the Caravan began on May 1 in Pegula Ice Arena.

Thursday's finale featured a new lineup of coaches, which included Franklin, baseball's Rob Cooper and softball's Amanda Lehotak.  Director of Athletics Dave Joyner joined the group, as well, addressing the crowd prior to hearing from the three head coaches. Take a look through some highlights from the final stop of the 2014 Caravan.

Stop No. 17 - Erie (Penn State Behrend)

20140522_155416[1].jpgA sold out crowd inside the McGravey Commons heard from three of the newest coaches on the Nittany Lion roster in Franklin, Cooper and Lehotak. Cooper and Lehotak each finished their first seasons at the helm of their respective programs, while Franklin will lead the Blue and White onto the field for his first game on Aug. 30 in Dublin, Ireland against UCF in the Croke Park Classic.

"The reason we are able to do the things we do and have the success in the classroom and on the competition front is because of the support and encouragement we get from our alumni and fans," said Joyner.

It may have been the last stop, but the three coaches were received with great energy and shared the visions they had for their programs. They spoke about competition, academics and representing an incredible university as a whole.

"It is an honor to represent Penn State and we all want to do what is best for this university," said Lehotak. "Coach Franklin has an incredible vision and we need to help him achieve that by packing Beaver Stadium this fall."


Thank you to the nearly 6,500 loyal Penn State fans and alums that made the Coaches Caravan a resounding success for the third-straight year.  And a big tip of the cap goes out to Fullington Trailways ace driver Gottfried Fodor, who did a superb job behind the wheel of the Caravan bus for the third-straight year.  We look forward to seeing the fans on the road again in 2015.

"This caravan has been outstanding," said Franklin. "These three weeks have really helped me build some great relationships with other coaches, our support staff, members of the media, and most importantly, our alumni and fans."

Miles Traveled:

Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles

Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles
Day VIII - 261 miles
Day IX - 426 miles

Total - 2,186 miles


Nittany Lions' Growth Shows Promise for Future

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Habitz_10005307.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ending the season with a 6-2 loss against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament was not the ideal outcome for the Nittany Lions.  Nevertheless, despite this disappointment, the small successes that have accumulated throughout the year have had much more of an impact on the program and on its bright future.

As a first year head coach, Amanda Lehotak is proud of her team's efforts and growth this season.  The Blue and White finished with an overall record of 14-35, going 5-18 in the Big Ten.

"From the coaching aspect, we finished a spot higher than they did last year in the conference," Lehotak said.  "We had two less wins, but when you're best returning hitter is .253 from a year ago and you have three or four people hitting at .300 that have never done that before, have raised their batting average anywhere from 90 to 100 points in a season, you're moving in the right direction."

One of the biggest assets at the plate for the Lions this season was sophomore Karlie Habitz, whose impressive focus and determined also shined through in tournament play.  In last Thursday's game alone, the California native went 2-for-3, driving in one of the team's two runs.

Throughout her 48 appearances this season, Habitz batted .309 and recorded 42 hits.  Furthermore, the sophomore led the team in home runs (4) and RBI (35).

"Karlie did what she did all year," Lehotak said following the Ohio State loss.  "She just battled.  My favorite thing about Karlie Habitz at the plate is nothing really shakes her.  I feel like she keeps the same body language first at-bat, third at-bat.  She usually gets stronger as the game goes.  You always have a plan, and she stuck to her plan and was really successful."

While happy with her own performance, Habitz also recognizes the importance of this season for the team as a whole.  It was a season full of learning, testing, and building, which will dramatically help Penn State in the upcoming years.

"I thought we improved a lot on a lot of things," Habitz said.  "Hitters really started hitting the ball more, were more patient and had more quality at-bats, and our defense has really gotten a lot stronger this season.  We've taken some baby steps, some big steps, but overall, I think we should be better in the future."

Habitz was not the only sophomore to produce offensively this year, as Lexi Knief also had a standout season.  The centerfielder led the team with a .372 batting average and tied for sixth in the NCAA with triples after accumulating six in the 49 games she played.

"We went from the bottom offensively of all of the Big Ten to being middle of the pack," Lehotak said.    
"We have a couple kids that are top 10 in triples in the NCAA.  We did a lot of good things individually, so from a coaching standpoint, and the program and the future aspect, I'm very proud of the small successes that we had.  I know they did not equate to wins, but I think that happens.  As coaches, we have to continue to be better, figure out where we went wrong as a staff, and we will do that."

Next season, Penn State will return its top three hitters in Knief, Habitz, and Shelby Miller, meaning much of the team's offensive production will be carried over.  The three combined for a total of 62 RBI and accounted for 45 percent of the team's hits this spring, with a total of 137.

In addition, the Lions' top two pitchers, Marlaina Laubach and Macy Jones, will also return to the circle for Penn State this fall team.  With the conclusion of the 2014 season, Laubach and Jones earned ERAs of 3.64 and 5.35, respectively.

After playing hard for 49 games and leaving everything on the field, the Nittany Lions will begin to prepare for next season, hoping to come back stronger than ever before.  Penn State softball will continue to strive for success and to proudly represent their university.

"My kids," began Lehotak, "I appreciated how they played the game.  I thought they played the game with respect.  I thought they represented Penn State with pride and respect all year long.  We had so many improvements in so many areas.  I think the future looks good.  It's going to be a marathon.  It's not going to be a sprint to get the program where we want it and where we all want it to be at Penn State, but I am very proud.  Overall, we did a lot of good things, and I think my kids should walk out of here with their heads held high."

Seniors Shine in Softball Send-Off

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SeniorsSoftball2014_9986366.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This past weekend's series marked the final regular season home stand for the lone three Penn State seniors, Kasie Hatfield, Liz Presto and Alyssa Sovereign.

The three seniors led the Nittany Lion offense as they combined to hit 6-for-14 with two walks, two runs scored and a home run over the weekend despite Penn State (14-34, 5-18 Big Ten) falling in all three games to conference foe Illinois (23-25, 7-16 Big Ten).  

"I'm very happy with how the seniors played today and all season long," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "I thought they played with guts and character and hard work. It was a great class. I feel very selfish in the fact that I'm disappointed I didn't get to coach them for four years."

All three seniors recorded a hit in Sunday's regular season finale.

For Hatfield, she managed to go out with a bang, crushing her second home run of the season, in her final regular season at-bat as a Nittany Lion on Sunday.

Hatfield fouled the first pitch down the line; a ball that Lehotak argued was in fair territory. She then looked at a changeup for a ball. The last pitch of the at-bat was right down the heart of the plate. Hatfield wasn't trying to hit a home run, but she put a charge into it, and the ball flew over the wall in centerfield.

"It felt great," said Hatfield. "To go out my last at-bat here with a home run is pretty sweet."

With that being said, senior day was Saturday for Penn State, a special moment for the three seniors and their families.

"I loved [senior day]," said Hatfield. "My brother has never been up here, and he came up yesterday to make it to one of my final games and senior banquet, so I was really happy with that. "

For Presto and Sovereign, the final home stand was full of emotions, but for Hatfield, the feeling was bittersweet.

"I think I have a different view because I am coming back," said Hatfield. "It's just going to be weird that I'm not playing."

That's right. The senior catcher will be returning next year as part of Lehotak's staff as a volunteer assistant. Hatfield thinks that playing catcher will translate well into being a formidable coach.

"I'm just really excited to learn because I feel like I know a lot about the game," said Hatfield. "I'm curious to see what exactly it is they do behind-the-scenes."

Lehotak joked about the idea of having her senior catcher as a coach next year.

"I think I hit my head when I agreed to that," said Lehotak. "We're very honored that Kasie [Hatfield] is choosing to stay on. Hopefully we can teach her a few things about the business side of softball. I look forward to learning from her, as well."

The season is not over, yet. Up next for the Nittany Lions is the Big Ten Tournament, which begins Thursday at Northwestern University.

Tenth-seeded Penn State will take on No. 7 seed Ohio State at 2:30 ET. Penn State will try to replicate last year's upset win as an 11 seed against sixth-seeded Illinois.

"Crazy things happen in tournaments," said Hatfield. "You never know who's going to win. We can come through, as long as we do what we're supposed to do."

Hawaiians Set Relaxed Tone for Penn State Softball

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Tupinio_Furuya_9972805.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The distance between Penn State and Hawaii is 4,766 miles, such is the rare trip that Penn State softball sophomores Reina Furuya and Maegan Tupinio both decided to make two years ago to receive a world-class education and play Division I softball.

With the average annual temperature 25 degrees higher in Hawaii than in State College, the looming question is why make the extensive trip east to wake up to snow five months a year rather than to the sounds of the ocean crashing up against the soft, warm sand?

"I just like the education system on the East Coast," said Tupinio. "It's different. My brother lives on this side of the country, so I've been here before. I just wanted to do something different, and I really liked Penn State. It's well known in Hawaii, so I wanted to do something that would make the people there [in Hawaii] proud of me."

For Furuya, her answer is similar to that of Tupinio's, but incorporates her freshman year in Happy Valley to evaluate the entire expedition.

"If you asked me a year ago I would've just said academics and softball, but now that I have a year under my belt, I love it here," said Furuya. "The whole atmosphere, including the academics and coaches, it's just fun to be around with football and watching other sports compete, it's just a fun college town to be around."

Three years ago both Furuya and Tupinio were seniors in high school. And, despite growing up just 11 miles apart - Furuya in Waipahu and Tupinio in Wahiawa - neither really knew each other until they both decided on Penn State.

That last sentence is not entirely true.

"I knew of her [Tupinio]," said Furuya. "I played against her. But I never really got to know her until I got here."

For Tupinio, her knowledge of Furuya is a little bit different. Because Hawaii is such small compilation of islands, both played against each other all the time.  

"I definitely knew Reina more than she knew me," said Tupinio. "She's a well-known player on the islands."

The two Hawaiians have helped each other adapt to the different environment up along the east coast of the United States, but the move from Hawaii to Penn State was far from a walk in the park.

"Oh my gosh! I do [miss the warmth]," said Tupinio. "No offense, but this winter was terrible."

Keeping in touch with family back in Hawaii has been a challenge that both have had to overcome. Each has had to deal with the six-hour time difference to talk to their loved ones. When it's Noon here in State College, the sun is rising in Hawaii.

Together, Furuya and Tupinio have brought their tropical culture to Penn State, culture that is rarely experienced in central Pennsylvania.

"I like just listening to the way that they talk," said senior Kasie Hatfield. "Even just the way they say certain words is really cool, so it's just fun to have them around."

If you ask Furuya or Tupinio, they will both agree that Hawaiian food is what they miss the most of home during their time at Penn State.

"I definitely miss the food at home," said Furuya. "I just love food so much. Here I can get burgers, fries and pancakes, but at home I can get the Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian food. Love it."

Their teammates aren't complaining though because Furuya and Tupinio have not only introduced them to new cuisine, but they also have a knack for finding the best local restaurants.

"The food that they introduced to us is really cool because they eat a lot of rice and spam," said sophomore Macy Jones. "They find the best sushi places in State College, too, so that helps a lot."

On the field, Furuya and Tupinio's relaxed, vacation-like mindsets have helped calm their teammates battle through frustrating mishaps.

"They're actually our calming forces," said head coach Amanda Lehotak. "So when everybody else is bouncing off the walls, they're the ones just chilling and going with the flow."

Penn State wasn't always a certainty.

"When I first came here I thought everything would be so big, and I wouldn't really know people," said Tupinio.

Now, Penn State is a certainty.

"Everything here is well put together, and everyone is very close," said Tupinio. "I feel like I am a part of a family here, and I love it. I love the feeling of tradition and just the values that everyone has here."

The fusion of cultures, highlighted by the two Hawaiian sophomores has provided a balance among the team. A diverse balance that Lehotak thinks reflects the power of college athletics.

"You get so many people from different cultures and different areas of the country that teach everybody, whether it's about their culture or what they are about," said Lehotak. "It's awesome."



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