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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "I went to THON my freshman year and just kind of fell in love with it," said Tess Kearns.

 

That moment was the start of something special for the Penn State track and field student-athlete.   

 

Kearns is the now head THON chair for the Student-Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB, and she has been involved with the organization since coming here as a freshman.

 

"My freshman year, I came in and really wanted to be a part of SAAB. It was definitely something that was very attractive to me. So, then they gave me the role of planning our first ever lip-sync battle three years ago. All of the money ended up going to THON. I just kind of threw myself right into it," Kearns said.

 

Kearns knew she wanted to follow in her older sister's footsteps. Her sister was the head THON chair for the club cross country team here at Penn State.

 

"My sister went here, and she was really involved with THON. She was on the club cross country team and she was their head THON chair, so I was always hearing her talk about it," Kearns said.

 

But Kearns has a more emotional reason for being a part of this organization. Kearns said she hasn't been affected by childhood cancer, but she has been affected by cancer itself.

 

"I've never been personally affected by childhood cancer but growing up my dad did have cancer when he was 33. Not childhood cancer, but he was still pretty young. Cancer has always had a place in my heart, I just always want to help as much as I can," she said.

 

Kearns found herself shadowing Angela Widlacki, who was the head THON chair for SAAB last year. Now, Kearns is the head chair for SAAB and works alongside co-chair and football player Charlie Shuman. Kearns and Shuman are in charge of organization all the THON fundraising efforts for SAAB.

 

"We do the lip-sync battle, a pie in the face contest, our annual auction. So, a bunch of teams donate stuff and we auction it off online. I think this year we made almost $5,500 on it. We did an assassin game this year, we did a bake sale, and a lot of small fundraisers through athletics," Kearns said. "We sold programs in the fall at the football games, and we did some sustainability stuff with the Penn State Tailgate Ambassadors, so kind of dabbled in a little bit of everything."

 

Although juggling both track and field and being the head chair for THON on SAAB can be time consuming, Kearns expresses how much Shuman and her collaborate to make sure the job gets done.

 

"I can tag team with him. So, when one of us can't do something, the other one picks up the slack," Kearns said. "It works well. We make it work. It's time consuming, but it's worth it." He's done so much this year. I wouldn't be able to do what I do without Charlie."

 

Kearns is also in charge of leading Athlete Hour, which is a special hour that kids at THON get to come interact with athletes.

 

"Every year on Saturday we rent out the Tennis Center or the IM building, and we set up booths with fun simple games. The kids come over from the Bryce Jordan Center and we play around and have fun," Kearns said. "They love it. There's a DJ and people are dancing and playing games. They get to interact with athletes which is really fun for them."

 

Seeing the kids play with all of the athletes is one of Kearns's favorite parts about THON. She also loves how this organization brings so many people together for one goal.

 

"Within athletics, it's such a big organization. We are all going at different speeds all year round but when THON does come around and we get 18 teams up on stage for pep rally, all fighting for one cause and we get 22 teams at Athlete Hour to dance around with the kids. To see that sense of community and love and that you are all fighting for one single goal, is just amazing," Kearns said.

 

That community and love will be felt throughout Happy Valley this weekend, and Kearns will be a big part of it. 

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State track and field assistant coach Fritz Spence has been surrounded by the sport of track and field his entire life. It is a sport that has given him much more than just a chance to compete, it has given him life.  

 

Coming from the Bahamas, Spence started competing in track and field at a young age. So young, he doesn't even remember exactly how old he was.

 

"I've run track for as long as I could remember," Spence said. "I've been running and jumping. In the Bahamas they pick up track because it's a relatively easy sport to pick up as far as it doesn't cost a lot of money to run track, so a lot of the kids will do track and field. Over the years, I got better at becoming a jumper. When I graduated high school, I joined a local track club in the Bahamas and we would travel to the U.S. to compete at different universities."

 

A love for the sport started at such an early age allowed him to dream of becoming a coach someday, with a goal to pass that love on to others. 


His dream has come true, now an assistant track and field coach at Penn State leading the jumpers and multi-event athletes for the last 12 years.

 

"To be honest, I wanted to be a coach all of my life," Spence said. "I enjoy doing track and field. Even as a young kid, I would always kind of be directing the younger athletes, my younger friends, what to do and how to do so. I always had a passion for coaching."

 

Coaching comes with a lot of responsibility but it also comes with a lot of gratification. For Spence, it's seeing his athletes become successful in life that's the most rewarding aspect.

 

"The most rewarding part of being a coach is to get athletes to perform a high level but also is to see athletes graduating," Spence said.  "It's rewarding to see them coming in as a 17, 18-year-old and they graduate as a 22-year-old and get a good, decent job, and come back 3-5 years later and share their experience."

 

Even though coaching has proved to be rewarding from the beginning, it became even more important after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008. Spence was diagnosed almost 10 years ago on February 28, 2008.  That was the first of his two battles with cancer during his time at Penn State.

 

"During my treatment, I would come back to the track and just hang out," Spence said. "Just being in the environment with my student athletes, they gave me motivation to push through. I remember asking the head coach at the time if I get permission from my doctor will I be allowed to come to meets, just to be in that environment. I got permission and even through the whole process, I've been in and around track and field. I think that's my lifeline. It gives me motivation to continue to push through it."

 

In remission after his second fight, Spence wanted to find a way to give back to the place that gave him so much during his hardest moments. Starting in 2013, the athletes and coaches at Penn State host an annual walk-a-thon called "Fit for Fritz" to raise money for the American Hope Lodge, the place where coach Spence stayed during his treatment.

 

"Fit for Fritz is an event we started about five years ago. Now, it has grown so much over the years. This year, we raised over $17,000 for the American Hope Lodge Society in Hershey, Pennsylvania. All the money goes directly to the Hope Lodge because that was a place that I stayed at during both of my treatments. It was a place where you get to live pretty much for free," Spence said.

 

"After I got healthy, I thought about giving back along with student-athletes who have been motivated and excited to give back and do community service. We continue to do that every year, and I continue to give back to Hope Lodge and help people that is in my positon today."


Senior high jumper, Megan McCloskey was the head coordinator of the Fit for Fritz event this year and has been an athlete for coach Spence the past four years.

 

"It's been very special getting to work with coach Spence over the last four years, not only in track & field but with Fit for Fritz as well," she said.  "He's definitely a tough coach but all with the intention of helping us get the most out of ourselves and helping us realize our full potential. He reminds us after every meet that these days are special and we need to cherish every moment we have with our teammates and in competition because you never realize how quickly it goes or that one day you won't have it anymore. His appreciation for life and competition is something that I'll always be grateful for."

 

Whether a young child in the Bahamas, a cancer patient getting treatment, or a coach in Happy Valley, Spence has always had an appreciation for both life and competition, and he has nothing stopping him now. 

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Junior Maddie Holmberg has been very familiar with the sport of track and field for years. Holmberg has been competing ever since her dad and neighbor started a track club through her local YMCA.

 

"It was really just something fun that I was able to do with my friends during the summer time. There, I found my love for racing and competing," Holmberg said. "It is really great to see that since then the size of the club has grown dramatically. I am very thankful for that program and my dad for introducing my favorite sport to me at a young age."

 

One of the main reasons Holmberg chose to come to Penn State was because of coach Fritz Spence, the assistant track and field coach in jumps and multi-events. Holmberg said that he possessed many similar qualities to her high school coaches and felt very comfortable with the team chemistry here. Along with that, Holmberg also chose Penn State because her father was a student-athlete here, the excellent balance between athletics and academics, and it's close to home.

 

"I knew I wanted to commit immediately after my official visit. I always tell recruits that Penn State is the full package and that it sells itself," said Holmberg.

Although Holmberg has been familiar with competing in the sport for many years, her experience competing in the pentathlon has just began. During her recruitment process, many coaches felt that her versatility in hurdles, long jump and sprinting would make her a very successful multi-event athlete.

 

"I was not very familiar with the event prior to college. I cannot say that the event came naturally to me," Holmberg said. "I went through some growing pains with injury and frustration at times, but ultimately with hard work and coach Spence's faith in me, I was able to trust the process and see my hard work start to pay off."

The pentathlon is an athletic event that comprises of five different events for each competitor: 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800-meter race. For Holmberg, her favorite events are the ones that come most natural to her.

"I really like hurdles and long jump because those are the events most familiar to me. In those areas, I am expected to score the most points," Holmberg said. "However, over the years I have really learned to love shot put as well. While there is a lot more technique involved than most might think, it allows me to use my explosiveness and aggression."

Although those events are ones that Holmberg favors, there are many difficult aspects to being a pentathlete. Even though there are times she struggles, she loves the event for its all-around mental and physical component.

"Most people probably think the physical training or the 800 would be the hardest part of the pent. While that part definitely isn't easy, I would have say the mental side of things is the most difficult. Training for multiple events with different techniques requires a lot of focus and dedication," she said.

"It is important to build mental toughness during the meet. This allows you to put the previous event behind you and focus your energy on the next event. Staying level-headed and maintaining composure throughout the rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions is challenging. This is why I love the pentathlon, it pushes me not just physically, but also mentally to be the best all-around athlete that I can be," Holmberg added.

Holmberg most recently broke the 4000-point barrier at the Penn State National Open. Breaking this barrier (4,133) puts Holmberg at No. 3 in the NCAA in the pentathlon. Although breaking this barrier is a very impressive mark, Holmberg knows the hard work doesn't stop here.

"It is really satisfying to see my hard work pay off this season. I am so thankful for my motivational training group and coach Spence who help me to push my limits in practice," Holmberg said. "I still have many areas that I can improve, but I am very happy to look at how far I have come. I look forward to continuing to push that personal best in order to earn my team as many points as possible at the Big Ten Championship."

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State National Open provided the team with just what they needed- progress in performances.

 

The Nittany Lions are now about halfway through their indoor track season and are seeing some great improvements in their times and marks. Head coach John Gondak sees these improvements and is really excited for what the rest of the season has in store.

 

"As we talk about year in and year out, it's about just getting better as the season moves along. I think if you look at from where we were for the first meet, to last weekend, to this meet, people continue to get better and that's all you can ask for," Gondak said.

 

Some of these improvements involved athletes setting new personal bests in their events. Senior Greta Lindsley ran her best time in the 3000-meter.

 

"I think coming off from a PR in the mile two weekends ago, I had the confidence to do what I did today in the 3000-meter. I think I went out a little hard, little aggressive, but that's what you should do," Lindsley said. "I thought I had the confidence to PR today, I want to keep that momentum going and just want to see where that takes me and keep working hard and not giving up, especially since it's my last year."

 

Along with Lindsley, freshman Terrance Laird and junior Dan Chisena ran their personal bests in their events at the open this weekend. Chisena ran his first open 400-meter of the season and came out with his best time ever in the event.

 

"That was my 400-meter opener, so I was very happy that I could PR in an opener," Chisena said. "I'm just hoping to build off of that."

 

"I feel good. I was in lane 6, so I didn't get to see anybody. I know Malik, Xavier and the kid from Coppin State were coming for me, so I just ran scared and as fast as I could. I just hoped that I put myself in a good position coming down the home stretch," Laird added.

 

Although senior Hannah Mulhern pole vaulter didn't set a new PR at the meet, she knows that her mark will only continue to improve from here.

 

"I'm really happy with my performance today. I think that I'm progressing really well as the season goes on, just keep getting a little bit higher each meet which is really important," Mulhern said. "I haven't peaked yet I don't think, but I think that's coming. It'll come at the right time for me."

 

Mulhern and the other pole vaulters got the chance to compete with some great competition today. Olympic gold medalist, Jenn Suhr, was at the open.

 

"There were some really good unattached girls who came in to compete today, one of them being the Olympic Gold Medalist Jenn Suhr, who didn't end up actually competing, but we got to warm up with her," Mulhern said. "Seeing her take some jumps was really, really cool for us to see an athlete at that level in our sport do what she knows how to do best."

 

The season isn't nearly close to over, so the athletes and coaches know that they still have to continue to work hard in order to have great performances when it comes Big Ten time. Luckily, the athletes will get an opportunity to compete at the Spire Institute, where Big Tens are held, in two weeks.

 

"One of our meets is at the Spire institute, which it's also good to run there before the Big Ten meet just to get a feel for the 300-meter track and running on a flat track again. I'm just looking to hopefully figure things out there and then transition how I feel at that meet to the Big Ten meet," Chisena said.

"There's always room for improvement. I'm just going to work on those things for practice. We are at Spire next time we travel, and I've never ran on a 300-meter track before, so I hope that helps me going into Big Tens and being prepared for that," Laird said.

 

"We are starting to put up some performances now that are very competitive with the Big Ten, that are leading the Big Ten in a lot of different areas, so I think we are right on track for what we want to accomplish this year," Gondak said.

SAAB Hosts Third Annual Lip Sync Battle

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As is tradition, Penn State's Student-Athlete Advisory Board hosted its third annual SAAB Lip Sync Battle to benefit THON at the HUB earlier this week.

A total of nine Nittany Lion teams put on a show in the Freeman Auditorium to benefit Penn State's annual 46-hour dance marathon, which kicks off February 16 in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Following a full slate of performances, a panel of esteemed guest judges featuring Penn State sports medicine's Dr. Roberta Millard, Mike Herr or better known around campus as, "Mike the Mailman" and Penn State cheerleader Francis Alvare made their selections.

Penn State's men's swimming team took home the golden microphone this year with their rendition of Flo Rida's "Low." Men's volleyball and women's volleyball finished second and third, respectively.

"We've been working on this since October," said SAAB THON chair Tess Kearns (track and field/cross country). "Teams started signing up right before winter break so that was a lot of fun seeing who was coming together and the acts they were doing."

True Freshman Takes First

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - True freshman Terrance Laird captured the 60-meter dash title at the Nittany Lion Challenge over the weekend, his first collegiate track meet ever.

 

Laird started off the indoor season strong with a time of 6.80, claiming first place in his first time ever in the Nittany Lion Blue and White. Laird is used to being on top, though. He currently has a meet record in the PIAA Track & Field Championships, where he ran a time of 21.02 in the 200-meter dash last year during the outdoor season.

 

The funny thing is, Laird started his track career by being cut from the high school baseball team. Quickly deciding that he should run track, finding out it was definitely the right choice of sport for him.

 

"I didn't want to a job, so in high school I just chose to play a sport. I tried out for the baseball team, but got cut," Laird said. "So, then I just started running track."

 

Laird began his track career as a sprinter just by his natural thought of him believing that he was quick. Little did he know, he'd end up being the fastest runner in the state of Pennsylvania just a few years later.

 

"I thought I was pretty fast, so sprinting was the area and group I was interested in," Laird said. "It really worked out."

 

Boy, did it work out. Laird was no doubt a great runner in high school, but running in college is a completely different dynamic. Laird is currently a Rehabilitation and Human Services (RHS) major at Penn State. He knew that academics was also a big part of choosing where he wanted to run. Penn State was the easy choice for him when he was deciding where to compete at the next level.

 

"Penn State is close to home," Laird said.  "Coaching wise, it really felt like a team here, like a real team. There isn't any separation between anyone. It was somewhere I wanted to be and academically, it's all here. So, it was really a package deal."

 

Although being at Penn State has proved to be a good choice for Laird, he still has a long way to go for this season and the rest of his time here.

 

"From here, I am just going to keep listening to coach and what he tells me to do and what I have to work on. Just keep putting forth all my effort at practice and staying as healthy as possible," he said. "I want to keep getting better. I want to show up when it's time to show up like when we are at big meets or conferences, just show up and compete to the best of my ability. As long as I keep putting in effort at practices, the better I am going to be throughout the season, which will hopefully transfer to other meets and my Big Ten performance."

 

Assistant sprints, hurdles, and relays coach, Erin Tucker, believed that Laird had a great performance for his first collegiate meet. Although great races are good to have, it doesn't mean the work stops here. Tucker knows there are things Laird needs to work on in order to continuing progressing throughout the season.

 

"I want him to just stay the course, progress, and getting better. It's a process, obviously. He's a very eager guy and we have some things we need to fix with his start and some things we need to fix with his running mechanics in general," Tucker said. "As long as we continue to stay the course, and keep working on the little things, I think we will have some better performances down the road."

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions opened up their indoor season this Saturday as they hosted the Nittany Lion Challenge at their very own Ashenfelter III Indoor Track. This season opener came with both personal records and school records, proving that the team's training this winter has paid off.

 

Senior Greta Lindsley ran a 4-second personal record in the mile today, showing that her hard work over the winter break was something to be proud of.

 

"I ended the cross country season I think in the best shape I've been in since I've been at Penn State, so I made sure to have a strong, quick recovery and then get back on the track and working hard," Lindsley said. "The crucial part was training over winter break. It's hard to train alone and in the cold, but I always made it my priority over break, so I think that helped a lot."

 

Although coming out the first meet of the season and running a personal best is an accomplishment, Lindsley knows that her training does not end here.

 

"Coming in and PRing in the first me was definitely exciting for me, showing them my hard work has been paying off. Starting off with a PR, I think means that I don't think I'm in peak shape yet, so I think I have a couple more seconds to knock off," Lindsley said. "The goal is just to keep getting stronger and to keep doing the little things, like sleeping, eating, stretching and being committed to being the faster runner I can be."

 

Along with Lindsley, senior Rachael DeCecco also ran her personal best today. Running a 56.48 in the 400-meter dash, DeCecco beat her best time of 57.28. Even though the 400 isn't her main event, she knows this PR will only confirm that her 600-meter will also improve.

 

"It's a good start to the season and it'll just get the momentum going for the rest of the season," DeCecco said. "It's kind of cool because the 400 isn't my event, and I PR'ed in it so it'll now translate to my main event the 600. So, hopefully I'll get a PR out of that soon."

 

DeCecco is also excited to see how this PR will help improve her role as a leg in the 4x4-meter relay. Her split being lower will keep the Nittany Lions on track for a great showing in the Big Ten come championship season.

 

"PRing in the 400 will hopefully also translate to the 4x4 relay with running a faster split. If I can maintain a leg on the 4x4, and if all of us can split 55's, it'll add up to a total time of 3:40," DeCecco said. "Coach Tucker said to us that those are all really good splits to have to get us in a good spot in the Big Ten, so hopefully that'll translate to a lot of big points at the Big Ten meet in the future."

 

This first meet not only included some personal bests, it also had two school recording-breaking performances on the men's side. Senior jumper Bryce Williams and junior thrower David Lucas both captured a school record title on this indoor season opener.

 

"Breaking a school record feels great. I have really been working hard for it. I've just been thinking about it and training for it pretty much since the end of the last track season," Williams said. "It feels good, but I'm not going to be satisfied from here, it's like a stepping stone to keep working and improve to help my team."

 

"I'm ecstatic about it. I wasn't really sure what was going to happen coming into today," Lucas added. "We haven't throw a regular weight yet in practice, we've thrown 35 pounds but on a longer chain, so it goes further. So, I really didn't have too many expectations coming into this. I just went out and on my first throw, went out and broken the record. I'm very excited about it, really just starting and make my mark in indoors."

 

These performances only act as a starting point, though. These men are prepared to continue their hard training in order to have an even better performance come late February in the Big Ten Championship meet.

 

"It's definitely a confidence booster. It's something to be proud of, but it's still early in the season. Just because I jumped this doesn't mean I'll be jumping that at the end of the season, I still have to continue to work hard in practice from here," Williams said.

 

"I was talking to some guys afterwards and a really cool piece of advice I was given was that I'm not going to try to get too caught up in trying to throw over 70 feet every meet from here on out. I want to try to focus on training, trusting my training. Some meets I'm going to have to train through to try to build and culminate through Big Tens," Lucas said. "I think it's an awesome start and I'm really excited to be over 70 feet moving forward, we are going to keep focused, keep practicing and step up and preform at Big Tens." 

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's officially indoor track season for the Nittany Lions as they head into their first meet of the season this weekend. Although it's only the beginning, the women's track and field team is looking to accomplish big things this season.

 

The women's team is reigning Indoor Big Ten Champions, as they won the conference last season at the Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio. The women are looking for nothing less than a repeat of that this year.

 

"This season I think the ultimate goal for our team is to go defend our Indoor Big Ten Championship. I think that we have a really good chance to do that this year with the people that are returning from last year and also our incoming freshman class," senior pole vaulter Hannah Mulhern said.

 

Although winning the indoor championship meet last year was great, the women say that winning the Indoor Big Ten again would be even sweeter if they did so alongside the men's team.

 

"It would be even more special if we did it on the same day as the boys because it was really cool that they won outdoors (Big Tens) and we won indoors (Big Tens). It'd be better if we all did it on the same day, I think that would be a major team goal," senior high jumper Megan McCloskey said.

 

Winning the Indoor Big Ten Championship is the ultimate goal for the women's team this year, but so is maintaining a great team atmosphere as the seniors prepare for their last indoor season.

 

"As a team, we're going to try to obviously go after the Big Ten Championship, we'd love to do that indoors and outdoors and at the same time as the boys would be awesome. I think just creating a really good team atmosphere this season. We have a lot of great talent and it would just be great to bring us all together and have really great team unity," senior sprinter Rachael DeCecco.

 

This indoor season, the women are traveling more than they are used to, and earlier on than usual. They travel to Clemson next weekend for their second meet of the season as the compete at the Clemson Invitational. The women say traveling this early will only benefit them more going into championship season in late February.

 

"I definitely think it's going to benefit us. I think it's exciting to get on the road early in the season. The benefits of that is really understanding what it feels like to travel and to not be at our home facility. We are pretty lucky to have a lot of meets at our home track, so it's good to get used to being at other tracks," McCloskey said. "The most important part is to get out of our comfort zones, so when Big Tens rolls around we will already know what it's like to be at away meets."

 

"I think that traveling a little bit more is really going to help us out. It really helps for us to get experience on the road early," Mulhern added. "I know in the past we haven't traveled as much, and our coaches think that may have affected us at the Big Ten Championship, so they're trying to get us out and traveling a little to get exposed to different facilities and competing against different people."

 

The Nittany Lions will also travel to the Spire Institute, where Big Tens are held, earlier in the season to get a feel of the environment there.

 

"Going to Spire for a meet will be great because that's where Big Tens is held, so we get a feel for the track meet atmosphere and to prepare a couple weeks before Big Tens," DeCecco said.

 

Even though clinching the Big Ten title is the main intention of the women this season, for the seniors, so is making it memorable.

 

"With it being my last season, you never know what the season is going to hold for you. I definitely just want to make this last season one to remember with my teammates," Mulhern said.

Champions Visit State Capitol

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Penn State hit the state capitol today for an afternoon of recognition, celebrating Nittany Lion conference champion student-athletes and head coaches following a record-setting 2016-17 season both in competition and in the classroom.

Joined by select head coaches and staff members as well as student-athletes, the group toured through the Pennsylvania House and Senate, stopping in for lunch with Sen. Jake Corman in his office. Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate before remarks from Corman, welcoming the group to the state's capitol following a few early proceedings.

Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania House, which holds all 203 members, including Pennsylvania's Rep. Mike Hanna, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Rep. Rich Irvin and Rep. Scott Conklin, who read a resolution to again welcome and congratulate the Nittany Lions on an all-around successful season, one that drew a standing ovation from the members on the floor. 

"I want to congratulate the teams for not only what they do on the field but what they do in the community, the outreach they give, the coaches who oversee them," Conklin said. 

Nittany Lion director of athletics Sandy Barbour only echoed the all-around success in her remarks in the main rotunda later in the afternoon, noting that the individuals surrounding her representing a combined 2016-17 total of nine conference titles, among a few other crowns, are only one part of the story.

Penn State was recently slated fourth in the first spring update of the Learfield Directors' Cup standings following a year that saw seven Nittany Lion squads earn Big Ten Championships or tournament titles in seven sports, the most of any league institution and the third-highest total in school history.

As head coach Cael Sanderson brought instantaneous cheers from the floor of the Pennsylvania house upon his introduction, the room was reminded of Nittany Lion wrestling team's stunning second consecutive NCAA Wrestling Championship, marking its sixth in the last seven years, with five individuals earning NCAA titles along the way.

As Barbour pointed out though, the impact of the Blue and White extends much further than excellence in competition.

Nearly a month ago, a school record 114 Penn State student-athletes graduated, bringing the 2016-17 total to 142, with more students on track to cross the stage in August. Penn State also revealed its 89 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate this year, which stands just one point below its all-time program mark. 

"Penn State student-athletes, not unlike their student colleagues and their servant hearts, have dedicated themselves to service," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes served over 6,200 hours of community engagement this last year. This comprehensive excellence is embraced by our Penn State and Pennsylvania community. It's truly Penn State's point of difference. It has historically motivated a state and a community, connected passionately to each and every one of our programs and each and every one of our student-athletes who wear the Blue and White."

Representative of just a small piece of a variety of community engagement close to Penn State student-athletes is THON, a beloved annual event that encompasses the entire university and Happy Valley community.

Led by the efforts of the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB raised $59,679.49 for THON in 2017, which ranked third among the 400-plus general organizations represented. Surging past a fundraising goal of $50,000, the 2017 figure is SAAB's second-largest total in the history of the organization, adding to a career total of $680,000, all for THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, with four Penn State student-athletes joining the 703 dancers on the floor this year.

Among those dancers this year was women's soccer's Megan Schafer, a Big Ten Champion from Langhorne, who joined the group today for her second trip to state capitol, but first as a Nittany Lion. 

"A couple of years ago I got recognized for winning a state championship, so I think it's pretty cool coming back at the collegiate level to get recognized for our hard work all season," Schafer said. "I think it's really cool everything that people put together just to recognize us today."

Prior to Penn State, Schafer scored the overtime game-winner to lead Neshaminy high school (also the alma mater of Penn State head football coach James Franklin) to a Pennsylvania state title.

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The entire group of Nittany Lion coaches and student-athletes were treated to a personal meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped by the steps of the main rotunda to greet the champions before heading back to Happy Valley.

Lions Make B1G Championship History

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State made history Sunday afternoon, as the Nittany Lion men were crowed Big Ten Outdoor Champions, earning their first Big Ten title in program history.

Carrying the momentum of a standout opening day throughout the three-day event, the Penn State men finished 14 points ahead of second-place Ohio State (103) to lock up the title.

Hosting the event for the first time since 2007 and just the third time in program history, the Nittany Lions wasted no time setting the tone, with three of four day one silver medalists coming on the men's side. 

"This has been, personally, a date that I've had on the calendar for three years," Penn State head coach John Gondak said. "When we first found out we were going to host in 2017, it was a goal to host a great championship and have two teams that can contend."

By the end of the first day, even with some unpredictable weather, the Penn State men had rocketed to the top of the team standings with nearly double the team score of second-place Nebraska and Wisconsin. 

"They just went out and from the first day, scoring 40 points in three events, which is something we weren't expected to do, and just jumped out to a big lead like that," Gondak said. 

Penn State powered through day two, highlighted by a school record performance in the long jump. Fueled by the energy of the crowd, Malik Moffett joined an elite group with a jump of 26'-3" (8 m) to surpass a school record set by David Coney in 1985.

It wasn't until just after the record-setting gold medal performance that Moffett realized he had etched his name into program history.

"I found out and my coach picked me up and I thought, did that really happen, I'm in the eight meter club," Moffett said. "It's a nice club to be in and not too many people can say that so I'm pretty psyched about it."

Having already qualified for the 200-meter finals a day prior, sprints had actually been the focus of the senior Nittany Lion leading up to the weekend.

"Really I stopped doing a lot of long jump stuff and focused more on sprints," Moffett said. "I only really practiced long jump two times out of the week and I don't know why, but I guess it worked. 

A first team All-Big Ten selection, Moffett, wasn't finished, claiming the 200-meter title with a time of 19.87w to ascend to the top of the all-condition standings in program history. 

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Penn State also saw fellow first team All-Big Ten selection Isaiah Harris pour on the points, extending his stretch of dominance in the 800-meter race. With a time of 1:49.68, Harris earned his fourth consecutive Big Ten title, having now won each indoor and outdoor titles consecutively across the last two years.

"Every time I come to the conference meet I know there's going to be good competition out there so it means a lot to go out there and defend a title against that many good guys," Harris said.

Despite windy conditions, Harris wasn't fazed by the snippets of unfavorable weather throughout the weekend. 

"It was really windy out there today so I wanted to tuck in behind someone and let them break the wind for me and then the last 250 I just went for it," Harris said.

Just two of a wealth of key performances and top contributors across the weekend, it's the entire team effort that has Gondak most impressed at the end of the weekend.

"It's obviously a goal of ours to try and win a men's and a women's title on the same day, we came a little bit short on the women's side today, but the men came through and it's a testament to them and their passion and their competitiveness," Gondak said.

On the women's side, Dannielle Gibson was among two to earn gold on the final day of competition. With a 45'-1.75" (13.76m)w mark, Gibson locked up the triple jump title to help propel the Nittany Lion women to a third-place finish in the final team standings. 

Relying on training and preparation, pure joy took over as Gibson peered to the results to find out she'd be taking home the title.

"It was an exhilarating feeling, nothing like it to be honest," Gibson said. "More so not proud for myself, but proud to contribute points to my team, that was the major thing I was focused on so it was a wonderful feeling." 

Perhaps no feeling is greater than the sight of the Nittany Lion men's team hoisting their first Big Ten trophy in program history, circled by the support of the entire men's and women's team.

"Seeing the guys able to make history right here on our own track, it's like a whole different level," Gibson said.

For Moffett and Harris, it's the culmination of years of hard work, especially for those in their final season in the Blue and White. 

"The first time we came to this facility Penn State said, they've never won a Big Ten title and they've always kept on hammering us about it," Moffett said. "To make it reality is just amazing."

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

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