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Looking Back at the Top Events from 2013-'14

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the calendar begins to shift towards the start of the 2014-'15 athletic season, GoPSUsports.com wanted to take a look back at a tremendous campaign for Penn State Athletics.

Fueled by national championships from women's volleyball, wrestling and fencing, Penn State accumulated a record point total in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup in 2013-'14.

Penn State's three NCAA Championships are its most since winning three in 1999-2000. Penn State student-athletes, who have an 88 percent graduation rate, won a school record-tying and conference-best eight Big Ten titles in 2013-'14 and 16 over the past two years, easily topping second place Michigan (9) in combined titles the last two years.

Take a look back at some of the top events from a stellar Penn State sports season.


Men's Hockey: Oct. 11, 2013 - Penn State 4, Army 1 (First Game in Pegula)

HKY_Pegula_First Game.jpgIt was a night fans in Hockey Valley had been dreaming of for years. The Nittany Lion men's hockey team christened the state-of-the-art Pegula Ice Arena with a dominant performance before a boisterous sold out crowd on opening night for the 2013-'14 season.

At 8:14 p.m., the puck dropped in the first game inside Penn State's sparkling new home for hockey.

Nate Jenson owns the honor of tallying the first goal for the Nittany Lions in Pegula. He took a feed from Taylor Holstrom early in the first period and beat Army goalie Rob Tadazak to the high corner, glove side. Just as Jensen scored, the crowd of 6,370 exploded and Zombie Nation blared through the speakers.

An early third-period two-on-one shorthanded goal from Curtis Loik and a breakaway goal from David Goodwin would spark the same reaction. Leading 3-1, Eric Scheid notched a last-second empty net goal to seal the first win in their inaugural game in Pegula.

Hockey Valley could not have any been prouder of its team following the 4-1 victory, and the student section made that very clear. The Roar Zone was full song from the moment it walked into the building 90 minutes before faceoff.

The Nittany Lions went on to win four games inside Pegula Ice Arena during their first Big Ten season. The list of victories included a thrilling 4-0 win over Michigan and a 4-2 triumph over Ohio State during conference play.



Football: Oct. 12, 2013 - Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (Beaver Stadium)

FB_Robinson Michigan.jpegDown by 34-27 at its own 20-yard line with 50 seconds on the clock and no timeouts, Penn State found itself in a difficult situation in sold out Beaver Stadium against rival Michigan.

The stakes were simple. Drive down the field and score a touchdown or the game was over.

True freshman and 18-year old signal-caller Christian Hackenberg jogged onto the field to lead the offense during the 2-minute drill with the game on the line.

On first down at the 20, Hackenberg connected with Robinson, who dragged his toe just inside the sideline paint in front of the Penn State bench for a 14-yard gain.

One play later, it was Brandon Felder's turn.

Hackenberg's toss to Felder in front of the Michigan bench covered 29 yards and set up another first down at the Michigan 37-yard line.

Two plays later, Robinson returned to the spotlight with the play of the game.

Hackenberg fielded Ty Howle's snap and looked to Robinson, who was lined up wide on the left side of the formation. Robinson stuttered in the first 10 yards of his route, attempting to freeze the Michigan defensive back. As he regained full speed, Hackenberg's pass was in the air.

Robinson skied over the Michigan defender and plucked the ball at the highest point in his jump before falling to a rest at the 1-yard line.

Hackenberg finished the drive off with a plunge into the end zone, capping off a five-play, 80-yard game-tying touchdown drive that covered just 23 seconds on the clock.

The teams exchanged blows in the overtime frames before Bill Belton became the hero. Belton trotted into the north end zone of Beaver Stadium for a game-winning touchdown in the fourth OT, capping off an epic comeback and a victory that will live in Penn State history for decades.



 
Women's Volleyball: Dec. 21, 2013 - Penn State 3, Wisconsin 1 (Championship Match)

WVB_Title.jpegPenn State's road to the national semifinals in Seattle was not an easy one in 2013. After knocking off LIU Brooklyn and Utah inside Rec Hall to open the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions traveled to Kentucky for the regional round of the 64-team tournament.

Penn State rallied from 1-0 down to defeat Michigan State in the regional semifinals, which set up a showdown against seventh-seeded Stanford for a trip to the national semifinals.

The Lions and Cardinal battled to a fifth set in what evolved into an epic clash among two of volleyball's heavyweights. Penn State trailed Stanford 9-6 in the fifth before head coach Russ Rose used a timeout. Out of the break, the Lions were not going to be denied.

Penn State scored the next six points in the decisive set on the way to punching a ticket to the national semifinals in Seattle.

Playing in the NCAA semis for the 11th time in program history, Penn State rolled over Washington (3-0), which was playing just four miles from its campus, with a truly dominant performance.

The national title match, the Lions' ninth all-time appearance, was next. Facing off against Wisconsin in the first all Big Ten national final, Penn State jumped out to a hard-fought 2-0 lead before the Badgers rallied to make it 2-1.

Wisconsin took a 23-20 lead in the fourth and was just two points from forcing a fifth set, but the Lions were not done. A service error from the Badgers made it 23-21. With ice water in her veins, ESPY nominee Micha Hancock stepped to the service line. The junior delivered four potent jump serves, two of which dropped for aces, before senior Deja McClendon's kill clinched the program's sixth national title and fifth in the last seven years.

In six NCAA Tournament matches this season, the Nittany Lions dropped just four total sets.


 
Men's Basketball: Jan. 29, 2014 - Penn State 71, Ohio State 70 (Value City Arena)

MBB_Newbill_Craft copy.jpgThe Nittany Lion basketball team trailed Ohio State, 59-48, with 7:58 to play in Columbus after Buckeyes capped off a 10-2 scoring run.

Penn State never panicked, largely thanks to a dominant performance from D.J. Newbill down the stretch.

A pair of buckets from Jordan Dickerson and two free throws from Newbill set the score at 62-59, Buckeyes, with 2:20 to play.

Newbill then fielded a long pass moving right to left across the floor from Frazier before burying a corner three, which tied the game at 62-62 with 1:08 to go. Ohio State scored the next three points to make it 65-62.

Newbill answered in the form of a second clutch 3-pointer with 11.0 seconds to play.

After Ohio State's final possession in regulation came up empty, the game headed into overtime.

The Buckeyes took a 70-67 lead on a pair of Lenzelle Smith Jr. free throws in the extra frame, but Newbill was not done.

The Philly product snaked through the Ohio State defense for a lay-in with 45 seconds to play, pulling the Lions to within one (70-69). The Buckeyes turned the ball over on the next possession, setting up an inbounds play with 13.2 seconds.

Tim Frazier inbounded to Jordan Dickerson, who handed the ball off to D.J. Newbill in front of the scorer's table. Down one with 11 seconds to play in overtime as he crossed halfcourt, Newbill raced to the right side of the floor.

The Philly native wanted the ball in his dominant hand. With one of the Big Ten's top defenders an arm's length away, Newbill began his move with 5.4 seconds on the clock.

After one power dribble to his right, he sent the ball to his left hand under Aaron Craft's extended right arm. Newbill took one more power dribble with his left hand before elevating at the right elbow with 3.5 seconds on the clock.

The ball never touched the rim as it sailed through the cylinder to give the Lions a 71-70 victory. Penn State's win at Ohio State was its first since 2001.



Women's Basketball: March 1, 2014 - Penn State 77, Michigan 62 (Bryce Jordan Center)

WBB_Big Ten.jpegTo put it simply, Senior Day couldn't have gone any better for Penn State's four seniors in 2014.

Maggie Lucas, Talia East, Dara Taylor and Ariel Edwards all were double figure scorers on a day where they were honored with friends and family in attendance as the team claimed its third consecutive Big Ten title with a 77-62 over Michigan.

Edwards led the Lady Lions with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the field while Lucas, East and Taylor added 17, 16 and 11 points respectively.

Penn State had control of the game from start to finish as they shot 54 percent from the field, missed just one free throw on 19 attempts and collected seven blocks and 11 steals.

The group of seniors combined for 65 of the team's 77 points; epitomizing their leadership during their time at Penn State in their last regular season home game.

That was expected from a group of four leaders who ensured a team of seven freshmen didn't miss a beat coming off of two-straight conference titles heading into the season.

Edwards, Lucas and East left Penn State as one of the winningest classes ever. They finished with 101 wins, good for second in program history. Taylor was at Penn State for 75 of the 101 wins after transferring from Maryland.

With all of the championships, accolades and wins, it was a perfect way for Lucas, East and Taylor to complete their Penn State careers.

Penn State's third-straight Big Ten title put the Lady Lions in elite company with Iowa and Ohio State as the only programs in the conference to win three or more consecutive conference crowns. The title also fueled the Lady Lions' second run to the Sweet 16 in past three years.




Wrestling: March 22, 2013 - Nittany Lions Clinch Fourth-Straight NCAA Title

WR_Title.jpegPenn State's reign over the college wrestling world continued in March when the Nittany Lions captured their unprecedented fourth-straight NCAA team title in Oklahoma City.

Fueled by NCAA individual crowns from seniors Ed Ruth at 184 pounds and David Taylor at 165 pounds, the Lions celebrated on the sport's grandest stage inside Chesapeake Energy Arena as the 2014 national champions.

By no means was the fourth title an easy one for the Nittany Lions, who edged Minnesota by 5.5 points in the final team standings. Following a victory from Ruth at 184 pounds, the Lions pulled ahead of the Gophers by 1.5 points after two championship bouts.

Minnesota suffered setbacks in its two national title bouts, with the second coming in the ninth match of the evening. As the 157-pound bout ticked to zero on the clock, the white-clad Penn State fans rose to their feet to celebrate the program's fifth national championship.

But the work was not quite done for the Nittany Lions, as Taylor was on deck in the final championship match of night against Oklahoma State's Chris Perry.

You could not have scripted a better way for Taylor's career to end in a Penn State singlet than the way it did on Saturday night. The epitome of a team player, Taylor's imprint on the program goes far beyond his stellar accolades. He didn't miss a match at the national tournament because he wanted to support his fellow teammates. On Saturday morning, he did not need to be at the arena, but he was the first to greet fellow senior James English as he came off the mat after his critical win in the seventh-place match at 149 pounds.

Thanks to another dominant performance, Taylor finished off his collegiate career with a victory in the final match of the national tournament, an individual national title and a team title. 

Taylor and Ruth played a paramount role in Penn State's fourth-straight title, but the Nittany Lions will remain atop the NCAA wrestling mountain because of a hard-fought team effort in the 2014 NCAA Championships.



Fencing: March 23, 2014 - Nittany Lions Clinch 13th NCAA Title

FEN_Title.jpegNo program in Penn State's illustrious sports history has won more national titles than the fencing team. Under the direction of interim head coach Wes Glon, Penn State mounted a furious charge on the final day of the NCAA Championships in Columbus to clinch its 13th national championship.

As a team, Penn State finished the competition with 180 bout victories, toppling Princeton in second-place (159 victories), and St. John's in third (156 victories).

Individually, sophomore Kaito Streets claimed the 2014 men's saber NCAA title. Streets became the 13th individual champion for the Nittany Lions in program history.

In the team race, the Nittany Lions were neck and neck with Princeton throughout much of the competition. The Lions began pulling away from the Tigers on day three of the competition. Penn State clinched the program's third title in the past six seasons on day four.

Streets held the number one spot in the men's saber event heading into the final competition. He knocked off Ferenc Valkai from St. John's to become an individual champion.

Glon has been with the Nittany Lions for 29 seasons, and he has seen all 13 national titles. But the 2014 crown marked his first as the leader of the program.




Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Coaches Caravan Day I - York and Hershey

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HERSHEY, Pa. - The 2014 Penn State Coaches Caravan hit the road on Tuesday with a pair of sold out stops in York and Hershey to kick off the first full week of events.

The Penn State themed Fullington Trailways bus pulled out of the Bryce Jordan Center parking lot at 8:15 a.m. en route to the Penn State York campus.  Take a look through highlights from the first two stops of a six-event week on the Coaches Caravan.

Stop No. 2 - York (Penn State York)

 
Head coaches James Franklin, Erica Walsh, Bob Warming and Coquese Washington headlined the first stop of the road tour on Tuesday.  After a media session, the coaches took the stage for a lunch program before a sold out crowd of more than 225 enthusiastic Penn State fans on the University's York campus.

Walsh, who will enter her eighth season as head coach of the women's soccer team in the fall, opened the panel of speakers.

"It's amazing to see so many people wearing Blue and White," Walsh said.

york_blog_1.jpgWalsh proceeded to take the fans through a vivid story of what a recruiting trip is like for a prospective student-athlete.  The leader of Penn State Women's Soccer guided the crowd through a recruiting visit weekend with every minute detail of what a trip to the campus is like.  From the academic buildings the soccer program takes recruits inside to a gameday experience in Beaver Stadium, Walsh painted a remarkable picture of what campus would look like for the first time as a 17-year-old prospective student-athlete.

"That is one example of many," Walsh said at the end of her speech.  "That (camaraderie on campus) is why we have won more national titles than anyone (tied with USC) since 2007."

Nittany Lion men's soccer coach Bob Warming addressed the crowd after Walsh.  Warming opened his speech by introducing Bob Little, a member of Penn State men's soccer's 1954 national championship team, who was in the York crowd on Tuesday afternoon.

york_blog_3.jpgWarming went on to joke with the attendees that he was thrilled to see a capacity crowd so excited to see Penn State's two soccer coaches.

"We know all of you came here to see Erica and I since soccer is the most popular sport in the world," Warming said with a laugh.

Lady Lion basketball head coach Coquese Washington kicked of the first of her two stops on the Caravan with a direct message to the loyal supporters in York.

"The fans, the alums, with how much all of you support us, it trickles down," Washington said.  "The student-athletes have such an unbelievable experience.  And your support is what lets provide that for them...You are part of our team."

Franklin stepped to the microphone as the featured speaker of the afternoon.  He first joked with the crowd that after listening to Coach Walsh's description of campus that he needs to get out of his office more and see the sights of what University Park has to offer.  After all, he has been living inside his office for more than month.

york_blog_2.jpgThe new leader of Penn State Football provided an update on the team, coaching staff and recruiting as he talked about the direction of the program.  He told the crowd that he met each player on the roster for 20-25 minutes individually before the spring semester ended.  The student-athletes will return to campus for the first of two summer academic sessions on May 18.

"I've been blown away by these kids since I've been here," Franklin said.  "They are an amazing group of young men."

In addition to winning football games on the field, Franklin wants to achieve new heights in all phases of the program, including highs in team GPA, graduation rates and activity in the community.

"We came to Penn State to make a positive impact in the community," Franklin said.


Stop No. 3 - Hershey (Hershey Lodge)


Tuesday night's evening event inside the Hershey Lodge was all about the fans.  Central Pennsylvania is filled with members of Nittany Nation, and the sold out crowd in Hershey gave the four head coaches a warm welcome to cap off a great first day on the road.

More than 750 Penn State fans filled the ballroom inside Hershey Lodge with great energy and enthusiasm.  The Penn State coaches all talked about how important the fan support is for the success of the sports programs in Happy Valley.

"What you guys can embrace is that we are truly a family of coaches and take the responsibility of representing you very seriously," said Washington.

caravan_hershey.jpgThe fan support, coupled with the strong relationships between the head coaches on campus, is what makes Penn State such a unique place. 

"I'm around such successful people who are at the top of their craft," Warming said.

Coach Franklin opened his evening speech by apologizing in advance that if the phone rang during the event, he was going to walk off the stage and take the call.  True to his word, Franklin stood up and walked to his right, off the stage while answering a phone call during the Q&A portion of the show.

Mid-way through the call, he turned to the crowd and led a rousing "We Are!" chant before getting back on the phone and returning to his seat on stage.

caravan_hershey_1.jpgThe overwhelming excitement from the fans in Hershey about the direction Penn State's teams are headed made it a great evening event.  The coaches are proud to represent the University, and the fans are proud to support the teams.

"I can't begin to tell you what it's been like to come back home and be your football coach," Franklin said.

The Caravan rolls south to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
    


Coaches Caravan Miles Traveled:
Day 1 - 165 miles


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Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Lady Lions Prepare Student-Athletes For Next Phase

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Lucas-Maggie (15).jpeg

By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With 15 Lady Lions reaching the WNBA since 1997 - four in the past two seasons - it is clear that Penn State's women's basketball program, led by head coach Coquese Washington, has become a developmental pit stop for players with professional aspirations.

Last year it was seniors Alex Bentley and Nikki Greene who were drafted into the WNBA. This year, senior guard Maggie Lucas was selected by the Phoenix Mercury with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft, and senior guard/forward Ariel Edwards signed a free agent contract with the Tulsa Shock.

"You want to see them grow. You want to see them mature. You want to see them develop," said Washington. "By the time they're seniors they're already itching to get out the door because they're ready for new challenges...It's really gratifying to know that they're ready for the next phase."

For Lucas and Edwards, each has taken a unique path to reaching identical dreams: the WNBA.

Maggie Lucas

They call her "Machine Gun" Maggie for her quick and accurate jumper. The senior guard, who finished her career second on the Penn State scoring charts with 2,510 points, traveled back home to Philadelphia to experience the draft with her family and closest friends.

Once her name was called by the Phoenix Mercury with the 21st pick in the draft, Lucas and those with her were finally able to take a deep sigh of relief.

"It was a great moment to hear my name called in the WNBA draft," said Lucas. "It's been something I've been dreaming about my whole life. I'm super excited, but I have a lot more work to do. I have to go out there [Phoenix] for training camp and there's still a lot of work ahead of me, but I'm very excited at this moment."

In her senior campaign, Lucas finished second in the Big Ten in scoring at 21.0 points per game. The star guard also shot an incredible 94.9 percent from the charity stripe, good enough for second in all of NCAA Division I women's basketball and the second highest free throw percentage in school history.

Over four years donning the blue and white, Lucas achieved the Big Ten and Penn State record with 365 career three-pointers.  Moreover, Lucas is the lone player in Penn State history to accumulate 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists and 200 steals.

"It's going to be hard to leave this place," said Lucas. "I'm going to miss it a lot."

Ariel Edwards

The versatile Edwards really came into her own during her senior campaign, achieving personal bests in nearly every statistical category, while also becoming the 36th player in Penn State history to become a member of the 1,000-point club.


Despite her name not being called during the 2014 WNBA Draft, on Tuesday Edwards signed a free agent contract with the Tulsa Shock.

"I was extremely excited," said Edwards. "I was at the point where I wasn't sure if I was going to get a call at all, and I was thinking more towards playing overseas. Then I got that call, and I was really, really excited because it has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl."

During her senior season, Edwards had her most prolific year on the hardwood. She averaged 15.7 points per game en route to a first team All-Big Ten selection.

Edwards has the ability to score anywhere on the court, inside or on the perimeter. Scoring aside, she was also a force on the boards, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game. Such a versatile presence has the Tulsa Shock excited about her signing.

"Ariel has had a great career at Penn State and I look forward to seeing her in camp," said Fred Williams, head coach of the Tulsa Shock. "Ariel had a terrific senior year at Penn State. She's a powerful presence in the post and can help us in our interior area."

Building 'Elite' Program

Since arriving in Happy Valley back in 2007, Washington has turned the Penn State women's basketball program into a national contender.

Relationship building and player development speak volumes as to why Washington and her players have been able to achieve so much success both on and off the court.

"Coquese takes great individual players and puts them together to make a great team," said Edwards. "It speaks to the fact that she is great at developing players."

For Washington, this past year's senior class is one to remember, not just because two reached the WNBA, but because of their impact on the future of the program.

"Their [the senior class] impact on the underclassmen is undeniable," said Washington. "They showed them the way. They showed them what it takes and how hard you have to work to be a great team. Their impact on our recent history was helping us elevate a program that was invisible nationally just prior to their arrival into one of the nation's elite. That's a pretty cool legacy to have left."

 

--LADY LIONS--

VIDEO: Lady Lions Season Review Press Conference

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Coquese Washington and the Lady Lion players met the media on Wednesday to review the 2013-'14 season.  Penn State won its third-straight Big Ten title and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in the past three seasons.  Take a look.


VIDEO: NCAA Regional Semifinal Postgame at Stanford

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PALO ALTO, Calif. - Head into the locker room following Penn State's setback to Stanford in the NCAA Regional Semifinals on Sunday afternoon.  The Lady Lions finish the 2013-'14 season with a 24-8 mark. Watch postgame remarks from seniors Talia East and Maggie Lucas.


LIVE BLOG: Lady Lions at Stanford - NCAA Sweet 16

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live in-game coverage on GoPSUsports.com for the No. 14/15 Penn State women's basketball NCAA Sweet 16 contest at No. 6/5 Stanford on Sunday, March 30 inside Maples Pavilion.

BLOG: What to Watch  | BLOG: Confidence at a High for Lady Lions Freshmen | BLOG: Tournament Headquarters

Be sure to interact with today's blog coverage with questions or comments at the bottom of our widget. Post your photos to Instagram or Twitter and use #PennState or #LadyLions and your photos may be chosen for use on our in-game coverage.


 

What To Watch: Penn State at Stanford - Sweet 16

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's basketball team will make their 13th appearance in the Sweet 16 today against No. 2 seed Stanford inside Maples Pavilion. The Lady Lions are 4-8 all-time in Regional Semifinals and are making their first appearance in the round of 16 since 2012.

BLOG: Confidence at a High for Lady Lions Freshmen

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Pregame Reading
What To Watch - Penn State

Leading at the Line: Penn State enters today's contest shooting 77.5 percent from the free throw stripe this season. That shooting clip is just off the school record pace of 78.2 percent set by the 2003-04 squad. The Lady Lions have made 581 of 750 free throws and seven players are shooting better than .730 on the season. Lucas is hitting 94.9 percent (185-of-195) from the charity stripe and Ariel Edwards is connecting on 81.6 percent (111-of-136) on the year.

Not So Sweet 16: Penn State has played in 12 previous Sweet 16 games and own a 4-8 mark in those games. The last time Penn State advanced to the sweetest of games, they fell to No. 1 seed UConn, 77-59, in Kingston, R.I. during the 2012 NCAA Tournament. This will mark the Lady Lions second trip to the Sweet 16 under Coquese Washington. Penn State last won in the Regional Semifinal round in 2004, defeating Notre Dame, 55-49.

Yelling Timber: Penn State will look to defeat Stanford in the NCAA Tournament for the second time this academic year. The Lady Lions will look to duplicate the effort of the women's volleyball team. The Cardinal and Lady Lions have met twice before, with both teams claiming a win. Stanford won the last meeting between the two schools in 2001 (90-68), while Penn State won the initial meeting in 1984 (73-63). Both previous meetings came on neutral floors.

What To Watch - Stanford

Redemption In Nashville: Stanford has advanced to the Final Four five straight times entering last season, but were unable to make it six in a row as they fell to No. 4 seed Georgia in the Spokane Regional Semifinals. The loss in the Sweet 16 was their earliest exit since the 2006-07 season when they bowed out in the second round. They are making their 21st appearance in the Sweet 16 and own a record of 16-4 in their previous 20 appearances.

Topping the Charts: Chiney Ogwumike has posted 24 double-doubles this season and been the leading scorer for the Cardinal 32 times. She currently owns the Stanford single season scoring record with 902 points this season and is the career scoring (2,673) and rebounding (1,532) leader for the Cardinal. The senior is also the only player in Stanford history to average a double-double for her career, pulling down 10.8 rebounds and scoring 18.8 points per game in her career.

Texas Two Step: Stanford's three leading scorers this season all hail from the state of Texas. Ogwumike (26.6 ppg) is from Cypress, junior Amber Orrange (9.8 ppg) prepped in Houston and Lili Thompson (8.1 ppg) is a native of Mansfield. Overall, the Cardinal has four players on their roster that hail from the Lone Star State, which is bested only by their six players from California. Four of their five starters are from outside the borders of The Golden State, with the trio of Texans and Ohio native Mikaela Ruef joining Sara James (El Dorado Hills, Calif.) in the starting five.

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

Confidence at a High for Lady Lions Freshmen

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Mitchell-Kaliyah (2).jpeg UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When you arrive on a college campus as a freshman there are a lot of things that you have to adjust to: new classes, being on your own for the first time, and interacting with a new, diverse group of people. There's a learning curve and it was no different for the Penn State women's basketball freshman class.

The group of six rookies arrived on campus in late August and began preparing for college life and college basketball. They've come a long way since that day and will suit up for a Sweet 16 matchup today in Palo Alto, Calif. against the No. 2-seeded Stanford Cardinal.

Even though the senior class accounts for a large chunk of the scoring and rebounding numbers, this group has made an impact in 2013-14. That impact has grown as the season's progressed and head coach Coquese Washington has noticed.

"Our freshmen have certainly improved over the course of the season," said Washington. "They're learning what their roles are and learning how to perform those roles night in and night out. Certainly, I think Peyton Whitted and Kaliyah Mitchell have really embraced being impact players off the bench."

Coming out of high school, all of them were ranked among the top prospects in the country and were the top players on their high school teams, which helped Penn State bring in the No. 6 recruiting class in the country.

Making the transition from the high school standout to the college game is tough enough, but cracking the starting five in a program that was led by a core group of seniors makes it a little tougher.

"Transitioning from high school to college was difficult," said Whitted. "The competition is better and the game is faster. In college, you have to take in a lot more information and learn a new system, but I feel like now we have all made a complete transition and we are starting to really fill our roles and know what we need to do."

Those roles Whitted alluded to have really taken shape over the last 19 games.

Mitchell and Whitted have both been key contributors off the bench for the Lady Lions, appearing in 31 and 30 games, respectively, and their growing confidence has led to more minutes for the duo.

Since Big Ten play started, Mitchell and Whitted have seen an increase in court time and that has helped alleviate some of the minutes that those four seniors had logged earlier in the season.

Mitchell played 16.9 minutes per game in the non-conference schedule and is averaging 17.3 since Big Ten play started, including 21.7 minutes a game in the postseason. For Whitted, it was 9.8 minutes in the non-conference and that grew to 11.6 minutes during the Big Ten slate and 12.3 minutes in the postseason.

"I think getting our confidence level up has been huge," said Mitchell. "As the games have passed, we continue to see that we can [contribute] in a lot of ways. We [the freshmen] have improved on our communication and that has helped us contribute more. Every game we get more comfortable with the game plan and understand what we have to do to help this team win."

Mitchell was big for the Nittany Lions in their second round win over Florida. She logged a season-high 25 minutes and contributed eight points, seven rebounds, two assists and four steals.

It was Whitted that stood out in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament vs. Wichita State. She played 22 minutes - her second highest total of the season - and scored four points on two-of-three shooting and grabbed five rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.

The freshmen are now more assertive and consistent with their game and that has helped them weave into the fabric of a veteran team.

"I think their confidence and aggressiveness have grown tremendously," said assistant coach Fred Chmiel. "They've done a good job of learning the system and they are starting to get more comfortable with what is happening on the court.

"They've also done a great job of learning to play with their teammates. Those four seniors have played together for a long time and now you throw a big group of freshen into mix and it takes time for them to build chemistry, but they've grown into a good cohesive unit now."

With more confidence comes more playing time and that leads to a better understanding of how one another will react on the court. Now this team of experience and youth will take to the court and look to advance to the Elite 8 with a win over the Cardinal.

However it ends up today in Maples Pavilion, this group of freshmen can only benefit from this appearance in the Sweet 16 and it can only help them as they move forward in their careers.

--LADY LIONS--

PHOTO BLOG - Lady Lions Sweet 16 Trip to Stanford

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PALO ALTO, Calif. - Check out some of the sights during Penn State's trip to California for the Sweet 16. The Lady Lions take on Stanford Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Saturday, March 29

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Friday, March 28

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VIDEO: NCAA Tournament Scouting Report - Stanford

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PALO ALTO, Calif. - GoPSUsports.com caught up with assistant coach Fred Chmiel following Saturday's practice at Stanford for a scouting report on the second-seeded Cardinal.  The Lady Lions meet Stanford on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2) in Maples Pavilion.