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Freshman Shelby Miller Off to a Successful Start

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Miller_Shelby_9753832.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As a native of Sugar Land, Texas, Shelby Miller knew she wanted to leave her home state when it came time for college.  She was ready to find a better fit and continue her softball career in a new place. 

The second she stepped foot onto Penn State's campus, immediately seeing the people and the spirit, she was sold and ready to bleed blue and white throughout her collegiate career.  Now, a few weeks into the 2014 season, the freshman is dominating at the plate and has really proved herself as one of the Lions' key starters.

"Shelby is playing great, especially for a freshman," said head coach Amanda Lehotak.  "She struggled a little bit this fall.  Freshman usually come in and taste failure for the first time, and she kind of went through that, but I give all the credit in the world to Shelby.  She really grew up over break and the month of January, and she has shown great character.  She just is really learning a deep understanding of the game, is being a tough out right now, and is really doing great for a freshman at this level."

Miller currently leads the Lions' in hitting with a .429 batting average and has recorded at least one hit in each of the team's last three games.

This past weekend alone, Miller went 2-for-3 against No. 5 Kentucky and drove in the team's only run of the game.  Nevertheless, Miller does not like to overthink these accomplishments, as she believes producing at the plate is a mental battle.

"Batting is mainly about confidence," said Miller.  "If you think you're going to get a hit, you're going to get a hit.  I know to stay playing and to stay in the lineup, I have to hit and do my job."

While the freshman thinks of hitting in a mental sense, her coach feels Miller's overall athleticism is the true key to her offensive success.  Lehotak also believes Miller's athleticism is an integral part of the team's defense.  The freshman originally came to Penn State as an infielder, but has been incredibly flexible, demonstrating her ability to play in a number of positions for the Lions.

"She's probably one of our biggest well-rounded athletes," said Lehotak.  "She's a triple threat from the left side, which is super fun.  She can bunt, slap, and hit, which just opens up her field for success.  We don't have a lot of that right now, so that is a huge part of our line-up that we need and she provides.  Then really, back to her athleticism, she came here as an infielder.  With her being able to play so many positions, we can move her to the outfield right now so she can keep learning the infield."

Miller's freshman status makes her stellar play all the more impressive and really increases the overall depth of this Penn State squad, which is something her coach truly appreciates.

"Whenever a freshman can come in and get playing time right away, it just makes you that much stronger as a team," said Lehotak of Miller.  "Everybody loves freshman, but you really don't know what to expect.  It's such a different level mentally, physically, and academically.  For a freshman to be able to come up, step in, and kind of grab and maintain that starting role is huge.  It just allows you to do more with your offensive and defensive lineup."

Headed into this weekend, the team will travel to Virginia for the JMU invitational.  While Miller is very happy with her personal success, she has one major goal on her mind for these next few games - winning.

"I want to beat everyone," said Miller.  "We need to get our record back where it needs to be, and I just want to go out there and blow out everyone.  We need to get back to where we were the first couple weekends."

Lehotak wants the same thing from her team as Miller.  She expects to see her team fight and to see her team demonstrate extreme mental toughness. 

"I just expect us to get back to the little things, doing the little things well," said Lehotak.  "I would like to see some more fight from us.  The first two weeks, I really complimented us on our fight, and then this past week, I felt like we got frustrated and lost our fight, which I think is just part of learning and part of the grind.  Week three is always that week where you get kind of tired from all the traveling and everything.  Hopefully, we get back to that grind a little bit and get back to our style of softball versus letting outside factors of umpires and things like that take control of us.  We need to get back to controlling what we can control and playing our style of ball."

Nittany Lions Gain Confidence in Victory over No. 21 LSU

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Jones_9722104.jpegBy Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After dropping two of their first three games played on Sunday and Monday, the Nittany Lions came out hungry, played intensely, and were able to upset No. 21 LSU in their fourth and final game of the Tiger Invitational.

The win marked the first defeat of a ranked opponent for the Lions under head coach Amanda Lehotak, who was extremely proud of her team's efforts and ability to stay composed and competitive.

"I'm very happy with the overall weekend," said Lehotak of her team's 2-2 invitational record.  "It was another weekend of learning and growth for the program. We keep gaining some very valuable experiences of situation awareness that we are desperately in need of and really only games can bring. We got a big win against LSU, which was huge.  That was a very tough environment to play in, and I'm happy our team came away with that win."

Lehotak believes that the victory over the Tigers will spark the team and give it greater confidence moving forward this season, which will be a necessity for success.

"Coach [Joe] Guthrie was talking to the team about how you always need that one key win to prove to yourself that you can compete," said Lehotak.  "We're hoping that was it because we've had some slow starts against the bigger teams like Northwestern, the first LSU game, and even Arizona State.  It's been taking us about two innings to calm down, so it was good that even though LSU came out and scored in the first inning, we came back and finally realized the game doesn't change, no matter who we're playing.  We just have to keep it simple."

While the entire team contributed to the victory, both sophomore Macy Jones and freshman Marlaina Laubach were key to the positive outcome.  Jones tallied four hits across the four games and drove in a total of five runs.  She is currently batting .400 and received all-tournament team recognition for her excellent play during the Tiger Invitational.

"Macy had a great weekend," said Lehotak.  "She's been battling at the plate.  What I love about Macy's play right now is that she may have a bad swing or miss a pitch, and you could never tell.  She's great in the count.  She's awesome with two strikes, and she's just very calming and very unselfish at the plate right now, which is great.  She's not letting the moment get too big.  She's keeping it simple and has just been awesome.  Being selected for the all-tournament team is always an honor, especially with that steep of competition.  It just showed that she can play with anybody."

While Jones assisted the team offensively, Laubach helped settle the defense by pitching another solid game.  With the win against the Tigers, Laubach is now 4-0 this season and has pitched her third complete game.

"My favorite thing about Marlaina on the mound right now is that she just attacks," said Lehotak.  "She's completely fearless and goes right after hitters.  She's all about hitting her spots, and she never looks shaken or scared, which is exactly what you need.  She's growing up every game, and she's getting better and better.  She's just so contagious for everybody and such a spark plug on the mound."

Overall, the split weekend serves as another stepping-stone for the Lions as they continue to grow as a program.  The team looks at every game as an opportunity to learn and further its skills, helping it to become more competitive and more skilled.

"I think the biggest takeaway is the fact that we can play with anybody," said Lehotak.  "We're all learning about moments in that we have to keep the moments simple.  I think the LSU series helped with that, especially with losing game one and coming back and competing in game two.  It really proved that it's all about the now.  Hopefully we can keep improving on that.  Offensively, hopefully we can keep improving on unselfish at bats and really just working within our blueprint of success.  We just need to keep attacking and keep playing fearless ball."

Nittany Lion Pitchers Look to Build Upon Positive Start

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - If this past weekend's results have anything to tell us about Penn State softball, it's that this season has the potential to be incredibly successful.

Nittany Lion pitchers Marissa Diescher, Christy Von Pusch, Macy Jones, and Marlaina Laubach combined for a 3-2 record at the Kajikawa Classic, where this season's pitching staff demonstrated its impressive skills.

The four pitchers are preparing and planning for even more success over the course of the season, as they all believe they can achieve further by using their difference as an advantage.

"I think we have a lot of offsetting talents, so if you throw two of us in a game, we'll really complement one another," said Laubach.  "I think that throwing two completely different style of pitching at a team in one single game is going to be difficult for them to handle."

This concept of diversity was reiterated by Laubach's teammate, as Diescher explained the importance of surprising the opposition with multiple pitching styles.

"It's definitely going to be a lot different from previous years because the coaches want other teams to get different looks at pitchers," said Diescher.  "Macy and I throw totally different, which is good.  For example, she'd go in and start the game, and then I'd come in and finish it.  It's just a totally different look.  We throw completely different pitches."

With such diverse pitching styles, the Lions often look to pitching coach Megan Gibson for guidance, which she provides them with on a daily basis.

"Coach Gibson has done wonders with all of us," said Von Pusch.  "It's great when you can go in to her and just have a bullpen workout and get a nice tune up.  Then you come out, and you're ready to go.  I think that she's definitely prepared us all to go out and compete this season, and I think she's most helped me with simplifying things.  If I think my screwball's not working, and I'm doing things completely wrong, she's like, 'No, it's just one thing, one easy fix.'"

While Gibson provides these four student-athletes with advice and tips, the Lions' pitching has already improved dramatically from last season.  A major problem during the 2013 season was a lack of mental focus, which the team has addresses and worked on in the offseason.  Additionally, this polished mental focus has led to a sense of confidence among the pitchers, helping them to throw more consistently.

"I think that, especially this weekend compared to the fall, after watching film and stuff we picked up, overall as a team, a confidence level," said Laubach.  "I know being on the mound and feeling the confidence behind me, feeling the confidence when we're in the dugout and offense is in the box, is amazing.  We're just radiating it right now."

Jones completely agreed with the remarks of her teammate, as she has noticed the increased confidence among the pitching staff as well.

"Mentally, I think we've already improved a ton," said Jones.  "I'd say that's a big thing that a lot of us are working on, and then just staying in the game for our team and getting wins.  This past weekend was just fun.  We tried a lot to bring a lot of energy because as a pitcher the defense is always going to follow what you do.  I think after the first day watching film, the next day we really picked up our energy and had a lot more fun."

Putting the opening weekend behind them, all four PSU pitchers are ready and excited to participate in the Tiger Invitational this Sunday and Monday.

"I think for me, personally, I just want to stay focused," said Diescher of the upcoming games.  "I know that's for some other people too.  We just have so much talent, and I know we can pitch against the LSUs and the really good teams.  I think it's just about staying focused, staying locked in, and having fun."

The Nittany Lions will take on both George Washington and Northwestern on Sunday, Feb. 16 before playing a two-game series against LSU on Monday, Feb. 17 in Baton Rouge, La.

Gibson, Guthrie Excited to Begin First Season with the Nittany Lions

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By Julie Bacanskas, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With just a little over a week until the first game, Penn State assistant softball coaches Megan Gibson and Joe Guthrie are more than ready for the team's season opener under first-year head coach Amanda Lehotak.

Both Gibson and Guthrie are new to the school's softball program. Nevertheless, both coaches have extensive experience in the sport, which will be extremely beneficial for the advancement of this year's team.

Gibson is the team's designated pitching coach and spends the majority of her time working in the bullpen with the team's pitching staff. Before beginning her coaching career, Gibson was a softball player, picking up the sport at the age of four.  She competed collegiately at Texas A&M University, which is where she first considered the coaching side of sports.

"I didn't really know that I wanted to be a coach until probably about my senior year of college," said Gibson.  "Graduation snuck up on me, and I didn't really know what I wanted to do, so I stayed on for a fifth year.  That really, really got me hooked into the coaching side of sports."

After playing overseas in Japan, and in the United States' National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league, Gibson decided to get back into coaching.

"I was a volunteer pitching coach at Texas A&M University, which is my alma mater," said Gibson when discussing her first official coaching job.  "Then from there, I got an assistant coaching job with Coach Lehotak at the University of Texas San Antonio.  I was there for two years, and then she brought me here."

While Gibson focuses primarily on the team's pitching, she also does her best to help Guthrie with his obligations whenever possible.  Guthrie's main coaching roles for the Lions are working on hitting, outfielders, and recruiting.

The assistant coach had a very unique transition from baseball into the softball world.  After the completion of his collegiate baseball career at the University of Alabama, Guthrie immediately took on the role of assistant coach at a local high school.  Following this experience, he joined the military, putting his coaching career on hold for five years.

"Just as luck would have it, as soon as I got out of the military, the first thing that came to me was going back into coaching," said Guthrie. "All of my coaching experience early on was baseball related.  I got into softball when I was working as a pro scout in Florida.  On the side, I had a baseball and softball hitting business, just private instruction.  That was really my first intro in the softball world, and it sort of planted a seed into the back of my head that if this ever came about I would definitely look into it.  About two years later, a job opened up to start a junior college program near where I was from in Alabama, and I've been in it ever since.  That was seven years ago.  It was just a lucky break on that side of it.  I didn't think I'd ever be doing it, but I'm really glad that I did."

With such diverse backgrounds and experiences, the coaches are excited to join forces and begin the next stages in their careers at Penn State.

"You know, I've always grown up hearing and knowing about Penn State sports and actually played against their softball team in college," said Gibson.  "When she [Lehotak] told me she was going to Penn State, I felt like this is the cream of the crop, and you can't get any better than here.  I told everyone here that I didn't want to hear anything about the facilities. I didn't want to see a picture, just because I had heard so much about it already.  When I got here, I was like, 'Wow.  This is my office.  This is where I get to come to work every day.  How lucky am I?'"

Guthrie explained that the idea of working with Gibson and Lehotak was what originally drew him toward the program, as did the Penn State brand itself.

"It [Penn State] has so much going for it academically and athletically, but the national brand aspect to me is very important," said Guthrie.  "This is not something I have learned since taking the job because I knew already, but you can go anywhere and say, 'Penn State,' and people know that."

As far as the assistant coaches' expectations for this season are concerned, both Gibson and Guthrie want to see the student-athletes compete each and every day.  The season is long, but there are specific expectations that the coaches have for each student-athlete.  These various benchmarks will help to gauge the team's overall progress throughout the entirety of the season.

"I would say my expectations for pitching staff in particular are just to compete," said Gibson.  "I will be very happy if I can just get them to compete on the mound and understand the process of the season.  I'm sure there are going to be bumps in the road, but it's about just getting over those bumps and not falling backwards.  We need to enjoy the process and enjoy learning and getting better.  I think that could go along the same lines with our team as well.  The season is a long process.  It's a marathon.  You have to be nice and steady all the way through it.  I think if we could just get them to really buy into that process and compete all year, I'd be really happy."

Coach Amanda Lehotak's Dream Has Come True

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By Gabrielle Richards, 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.

9338117.jpeg"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."

VIDEO: Meet the Softball Assistant Coaches

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Assistant coaches Joe Guthrie and Megan Gibson are introduced in the latest exclusive video.

VIDEO: One-on-One with Head Coach Amanda Lehotak

| No Comments | No TrackBacks recently caught up with new Penn State softball head coach Amanda Lehotak. Check out the interview:

VIDEO: Get to Know Coach Amanda Lehotak

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New Penn State softball head coach Amanda Lehotak is finally on campus and takes you through one of her first days.

Lions Close Out Regular Season, Look Ahead to Big Ten Tournament

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By Kelsey Detweiler, 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.

"Never quit."

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."

Lions Edge No. 14/15 Cornhuskers on Senior Day

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By Kelsey Detweiler, 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.

8905320.jpeg"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.


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