By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On her Christmas vacation in Disney World, then-West Virginia recruit Keeton Holcomb received a call that changed everything.
The West Virginia coaches that she had formed a strong relationship with were leaving the university to coach at TCU. After going through the tough recruiting process and feeling the relief of knowing she would play volleyball in college, she had to go through the process once again.
Going with the coaches to play at TCU was out of the question. She visited the university, but the Bellville, Texas native was determined to get out of Texas. So she reopened her recruiting process in hopes that another college would come her way. And another college did. But it wasn't just any college; it was Penn State, the seven-time national champions, that wanted her on the team.
When it felt like everything was falling apart, in reality, it was only the beginning of things coming together.
"I have always wanted to play [at Penn State]," Holcomb said. "Salima [Rockwell] came and watched me and liked me, then everything just happened so fast."
Fast, indeed. She committed to Penn State and became the starting libero during week one of her freshman year. Many student athletes spend their freshman year watching from the sidelines, but not Holcomb. And she wouldn't have it any other way.
"This is one of the best things ever and I'm so happy it happened. I wouldn't change anything," Holcomb said.
Being the starting libero for Penn State is no easy feat. She is following in the footsteps of national champion and former libero Dominique Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been on campus the past few weeks and has been able to give Holcomb advice.
"Dom's been helping me a lot. I talk to her all of the time and she's really helpful to me," Holcomb said. "She gives me tips and she'll serve balls at me just to help me out and get more touches."
The more touches and the more practice, the more confidence. Holcomb has come a long way since week one.
"I have gained a lot of confidence [since week one], having been in that spot now for a while," Holcomb said. "The first game I was shaking, but it's not as nerve-wracking for me anymore. I just go out there, play and have fun. It's awesome."
Her boost in confidence has not gone unnoticed amongst head coach Russ Rose and her teammates.
"She's gaining more confidence. She's resilient and pretty tough," Rose said. "She's battling and trying to do the best she can to help the team."
"She's been phenomenal and she holds her own for being a freshman. I love playing next to her," senior Megan Courtney said. "You can train skills and you can improve skills but those come with time. Her confidence also came over time but it came quicker than most things and that enhanced her play astronomically."
Holcomb is averaging 3.44 digs per set and receiving serves at a .957 percentage. Rose said he is fortunate to have Holcomb on the team.
"She's played really hard, she's played well, her numbers are really good and she's filling a really big void that we have," Rose said.
Being 1,500 miles from home has been tough, though. She could have taken the easy route; stayed in Texas, where all of her friends attend college, where the coaches she built relationships with are. But Holcomb challenged herself. She was determined to get out of Texas, out of her comfort zone, and be successful wherever she went. And with her Penn State family by her side, the transition has been smooth.
"I'm surrounded by great people here too, so it's not that difficult," Holcomb said.
Holcomb has been acclimating well to being away from home and to being a freshman student athlete. But one thing she hasn't gotten used to just yet is the State College weather.
"It's cold. I texted my dad today and said, 'look, the leaves are all different colors.' And he said that it was still 90 degrees in Texas," Holcomb said. "I am kind of scared for the winter [here]. I've been around snow before but I've never been there for a long period of time (laughter)."
Holcomb and the fifth-ranked Penn State Women's Volleyball team will take on Indiana on Friday at 7 p.m. and No. 18 Purdue on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Recently in Women's Volleyball Category
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com caught up with senior Aiyana
Whitney as the Nittany Lions prepare for weekend matches against Indiana and
Purdue. The Nittany Lions will host Indiana on Friday (7 p.m.) and Purdue on
Saturday (7 p.m.).
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There is more to Haleigh Washington than meets the eye.
On match day, she is the fired up middle hitter that's leading the NCAA in hitting percentage. But when she's not on the court, you can find her with her nose in a book and a cup of tea in hand.
Poetry, philosophy, history. No genre is out of the question for Washington. She's currently reading Road of a Thousand Wonders by Jeffrey Joe Nelson, a compilation of contemporary poetry. Not many college students, not to mention student-athletes, are reading poetry in the little spare time that they have. But that's what makes Washington different from the rest.
"She's not a typical athlete. She is so smart," roommate Ali Frantti said. "Haleigh will be successful in whatever she does because she's got that want and that knowledge. She's so witty and smart that it's going to carry her anywhere."
Head coach Russ Rose said Washington always has a book in her hand. When the team travels for matches, Washington is reading.
Rose said when he saw Washington reading on the bus, he asked if it was for a class. Her response? It was an assigned book for later in the semester because she had already read the introductory book. Rose said, "that's just Haleigh."
"She's incredibly bright, always reading, very inquisitive and a really happy human being," Rose said.
Washington, a sophomore from Colorado, spent her days as a kid playing outside by the river with her siblings. When she arrived at Penn State in 2014, she found that she didn't have much time outside of her academic and athletic obligations. But reading books gave her a similar satisfaction that playing outside as a kid did.
"I've always been an 'out there' kind of person. In college, when I didn't have a lot of free time, I would still go 'out there', but I would use books," Washington said.
Frantti has seen Washington's love for reading since the first time they met.
"Her face is always in a book. Even after doing homework, I remember her just pulling out books. And she's one of those people that will take a highlighter and just start highlighting things [in books that weren't even assigned for a class]."
In many of the books that Washington reads, she can apply them to her own life, to relationships, friendships and everything in between.
"This book last year that I was reading for a class was about existing on the planet and living harmoniously," Washington said. "It was all about balancing your time, which I thought was really good as a freshmen coming into college. How to balance all of your time and not spread yourself too thin, but just enough that you can figure everything out."
This love for reading runs in the family for Washington. She said her mother and brother finish books in two days, a day or even hours. But Washington is not the type to breeze through a book. She likes to take her time to truly understand the book she's reading.
"I don't devour books like [my mom and brother]," Washington said. "I'll sit down and devour a book, but usually I like to sit down and enjoy it, so I'll read a little, I'll understand it, I'll go over it, I'll annotate it, I'll look things up."
Washington's favorite spot to read is Webster's Bookstore and Café, located on Beaver Avenue. There, she will sit down with a good book and a London Fog, her favorite kind of tea.
Walk into any library or bookstore on campus and you will find many people drinking coffee to fight off the tiredness that comes with being a college student. But Washington, to no surprise, is different from most college students.
"I'm a tea person. I'll have a [cup of] black coffee every once in a while, but I'm a sucker for a good cup of tea," Washington said.
In addition to her literary brilliance, Frantti said Washington is the "queen of crazy, unknown facts".
"I just listen to all of the [facts] and I'm amazed at how she knows all of this stuff," Frantti said.
When Washington isn't doing homework, playing volleyball or reading, like most college students, she is usually hanging out with friends and teammates.
"I just like chilling with friends, talking and listening to music. Hanging out with [my friends] is awesome," Washington said.
Frantti, one of Washington's closest friends, cherishes her friendship with Washington. She said Washington is a great roommate, a trustworthy friend and that positive, energetic, happy-go-lucky attitude that fans see on the court, is the same Washington off the court.
"But she's a simple girl when it comes down to it," Frantti said. "It's books, tea, and volleyball."
Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Although top-ranked Penn State fell just short in a five-set thriller against No. 4 Nebraska on Friday evening, the Blue and White bounced back to defeat Iowa in three straight sets in the eighth annual 'Dig Pink' match on Saturday in Rec Hall.
"Iowa is very competitive, and they do the things they do very well and they play with great energy," said head coach Russ Rose. "...As I told the players earlier [on Saturday], losing or your statistics don't really define you. They're just an indication of how you played. How you bounce back from defeat or challenges is how people will define you and how you can define yourself."
The crowd of 5,331 attendees provided a sea of pink throughout Rec Hall on Saturday evening. Rec Hall was filled with pink shirts and shakers, and the wRECking Crew and Pep Band all wore pink construction hats. Every member of the team dressed in pink warmup T-shirts and added light-pink bows to their hair to support the Side-Out Foundation and to raise awareness for breast cancer.
"I think it's really special [to have the 'Dig Pink' match]," said senior Kendall Pierce. "Playing as women, it's really important for us. It's the big picture of 'What are we playing for? What are we representing?'. Even if it's wearing a ribbon in our hair for one night, it means a lot."
In addition to hosting the 'Dig Pink' match on Saturday evening, senior Megan Courtney reached the 1,000 career kills milestone. She notched 12 kills for the night to record 1,004 career kills. Courtney also had 13 digs to make her just four digs shy of the 1,000 career digs record.
"Megan has had a great career to date," said coach Rose. "She's been a real fixture and support of our program and progress. She's a good leader and I'm proud of her performance that she has and how she conducts herself."
Redshirt freshman Bryanna Weiskircher was another key player on Saturday evening. She led the team with 34 assists, a season-high of three aces and 10 digs.
"Coach has always been on me [about my serves]," said Weiskircher. "I have one of the toughest serves, so I know that I have to go back there and just let it rip sometimes, and have my team help me and defend my serve. Sometimes, I come up with aces, and sometimes, I don't, but I think it just got the team rolling a little bit, so it was nice."
Coming off their first loss of the season on Friday evening, the Nittany Lions knew that they had to rebound the following night.
"You're up 2-0 against the No. 4 team in the country, you've got to feel pretty confident, but [Nebraska] came out in the third game and outplayed us. Period," said Courtney. "We can't let that happen. It's the same thing that happened against Minnesota. We got outplayed, outhustled and outworked, and that's not what happens at Penn State, so that's on [me and Aiyana] as seniors and as captains to not let a team, no less at home, be able to come in here and beat us at our house, especially in front of a crowd that was incredible [on Friday evening]."
It's a long and competitive season in not only the Big Ten conference, but also nationally. There are times when teams fall, but it's about how they rise up, and Penn State showed that this weekend. Overall, it was a phenomenal weekend for women's volleyball and in raising awareness for breast cancer.
"It was a great weekend," said coach Rose. "I've been here for a long time and to have over 10,000 people to come in on back-to-back nights to watch a women's volleyball team, it's great. I think the promotions people have really done a great job, and the booster club and the student wRECking Crew, they've all really made a big difference. I'm just really proud to be a part of it."
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the top-ranked Penn State women's volleyball team continues its Big Ten conference battle over the weekend against No. 4 Nebraska and Iowa, the matchup against Iowa on Saturday evening will embody and represent something bigger than a regular match.
On Saturday, Penn State and the Side-Out Foundation will host its annual "Dig Pink" match for the eighth consecutive year.
"The 'Dig Pink' match is always so important," said junior Taylor Krause. "It's a great cause, and it's awesome that we get to play for such an amazing organization."
In volleyball, 'side-out' means a team is regaining control of the ball. Established in 2004, the Side-Out Foundation is a support and advocacy organization that is dedicated to helping people with breast cancer regain control of their lives. The Side-Out Foundation unites volleyball players and coaches to have them work toward the common goal of furthering breast cancer awareness, education and patient services.
"It's a great cause," said head coach Russ Rose. "The organization that runs it is a national organization, and breast cancer is a challenge that affects a lot of people. It's certainly great that in women sports, we can take the opportunity to try and generate some revenue that goes toward either the research or providing treatment for people that are inflicted with cancer."
The Side-Out Foundation has raised millions of dollars that goes towards high-quality support services for cancer patients and their families, scholarships for young students to encourage them to continue achieving their goals, as well as, funding for the development of treatments for breast cancer patients so they are another day closer to finding a cure.
"It really hits home," said Krause. "It makes you think about how lucky you are to be where you are and how great of a university it is that we can have all this support for such a great cause throughout this entire campus."
Pink shakers will be provided for everyone attending the match, and fans are encouraged to wear pink on Saturday evening. The women's volleyball team will also be hosting a silent auction featuring game-worn pink warmup T-shirts where proceeds will go directly toward Penn State's "Dig Pink" profile. Last year, Penn State generated nearly $4,000, the highest amount raised since the event began. This year's goal is set for $4,500.
"Honesty, I think all of us here, at least the girls, like seeing the pink, in general, but it's cool to see something that people can get behind," said junior Laura Broerman. "It's cool that people get behind us as a team and want to support, but it's cool to see people getting behind something bigger than us."
Last season, Penn State defeated Iowa in straight sets, but the team is aware that last year's performance means nothing for this season.
"The Big Ten season is an incredible test every time, so I'm sure we'll be tested again this weekend with Nebraska and Iowa," said coach Rose. "Iowa is also a very much improved team from last year. There's never an easy match in the conference. I think if you asked any of the coaches in all the other sports, they're all going to say the same thing. You might be in favored to win, but that doesn't mean you are susceptible to getting beat by anybody you play."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com caught up with sophomore Simone
Lee as the Nittany Lions prepare for weekend matches against No. 4 Nebraska and
Iowa. The top-ranked Nittany Lions will host the fourth-ranked Huskers on
Friday at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Normally, fans can only see their favorite teams or athletes on game-day, in short interviews or quick game-previews. However, supporters of the Penn State women's volleyball team are in luck for something a little different this week.
The Big Ten Network pointed cameras towards volleyball last week to film a behind-the-scenes look at the Penn State and Wisconsin women's volleyball teams as the two programs prepared for last Wednesday's Big Ten conference opener at Rec Hall.
The second edition of B1G Close Up from BTN Originals, the same group that produces The Journey, will air this Wednesday immediately following the conclusion of the Illinois-Wisconsin volleyball match on the Big Ten Network.
"We are thrilled to debut another episode of B1G Close Up," said Bill Friedman, Coordinating Producer for BTN Originals. "To be able to provide this type of access around two elite volleyball programs will be a treat for our viewers."
"[This will let others] to get to know us a little bit more," said senior Aiyana Whitney. "I think more than anything, it's about us as a team, what goes into game night, all the work we put into practice and all the stuff we do outside the gym. It's an inside look at our personality and who we are as people."
To give the fans the true experience of seeing things behind the scenes, the camera crew followed the team at all times and places possible. The production team arrived at Penn State on Sept. 19, and filmed scenic and the campus atmosphere before catching the Nittany Lions as soon as they got off the plane from their last match at the South Florida Invitational.
BTN also followed several players to classes, spent time with head coach Russ Rose and associate head coach Salima Rockwell and followed players to their extracurricular activities.
"It's about not just getting the volleyball story, but the personal stories of the players," said Stephen Palgon, director and executive producer of Star Crossed Pictures, who is partnering with BTN on this project. "Ideally, when you're watching the show, the match will have already happened, but our version of the show will be a more personalized version of seeing this match, so that when you see someone setting the ball, that's not just someone setting the ball, that's a character that you've learned about and know their story."
Even with the camera in the team's presence for a lengthy period of time, the players have enjoyed it.
"It's been really cool," said Aiyana Whitney. "It's definitely a different experience. The camera is kind of in your face at all times, but I think it's really cool and exciting, especially for the younger girls to get a feel for how big-time this program is and how big-time this conference is."
For the inaugural episode in April 2015, the camera crew followed the Penn State and Maryland's men's lacrosse teams as the two programs prepared to meet for the first time in the first season of Big Ten Men's lacrosse.
With the history of the Penn State and Wisconsin's volleyball program, it is no surprised that BTN decided to share their story for the second episode.
"Penn State is on top of the mountain in terms of volleyball," said Palgon. "Penn State and Wisconsin is just a great rivalry for us in terms of storytelling because Penn State has knocked Wisconsin out two years in a row, so it provides a good point for us in storytelling. Also, Wisconsin is the defending Big Ten champion and Penn State is the defending national champion, so it gives us good elements for story lines."
Having a chance to show the world what Penn State women's volleyball is all about means a lot to the team, but this episode will also mean a lot for Penn State.
"I think it's awesome for Penn State and I think it's awesome for volleyball fans out here because you see match night, but you don't really see what goes into that and what's kind of behind-the-scenes, so I think it's pretty awesome that [BTN] is able to break it down for the average person or fan or someone that doesn't really know what goes into a program like this," Whitney said.
Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Megan Courtney did every single thing that a captain is supposed to do during a match when the Nittany Lions faced off against Minnesota on Saturday.
In just the first set, Courtney ignited the team's confidence after she used her strong IQ to easily tap the ball over the net for a kill for the opening point.
Throughout the rest of the night, she continued to lead by example, sparking the team on offense and defense. Courtney also provided encouragement to her teammates during timeouts and in the game when Penn State was falling behind in the sets, while never losing focus on the final goal of winning.
Because of Courtney's leadership, the Nittany Lions were able to defeat No. 21 Minnesota in five sets (25-22, 25-16, 19-25, 20-25, 15-12) on Saturday evening in Rec Hall.
Courtney led the team with a season-best and match-high of 22 kills as well as 13 digs, which marked her fifth double-double of the season. This was her third career 20-plus kill match. Courtney also notched five total blocks for the night, including two solo stuffs.
"I thought it was well-played matched by the two seniors," said head coach Russ Rose. "I thought [Minnesota's] Santana and Megan were especially key for their teams with their confidence and their smart shots."
Alongside Courtney, three other Nittany Lions fueled Penn State's offense by recording double digits kills for the second consecutive match. Ali Frantti, Aiyana Whitney and Haleigh Washington all finished out the night with 13 kills each.
"It feels good to win," said junior Taylor Krause. "It's great to have good leadership on the court, like from [Courtney and Weiskircher.]"
Redshirt freshman Bryanna Weiskircher logged a career-high of 54 assists and 12 digs for her second double-double of the season. Weiskircher also led the team along with Washington with two aces.
"I thought Bryanna steadied out. I thought she was good early, got a little complacent in the middle games and provided good direction in the last game," said coach Rose.
It was a battle throughout the night between Penn State and Minnesota, but the Nittany Lions knew that there was going to be tough competition.
"I thought it was a great match," said coach Rose. "One that we had many times with other teams in the conference and we were fortunate to win it based on how we played in the middle of the third and fourth game...[Minnesota] beat tenth-ranked Ohio State a couple of nights ago. They're very strong and I would expect them to continue to do great things."
Penn State hopes to continue its winning streak as the women's volleyball team continues Big Ten conference matchups this weekend against Nebraska and Iowa, but Courtney realizes that there is still a long season ahead of them.
"The Big Ten is a great conference, and if you go undefeated in the Big Ten, that's an incredible accomplishment, but that doesn't mean much," said Courtney. "We lost two games in the Big Ten last year, and unfortunately, didn't win the conference, but we won the national championship, so my focus is winning in December rather than winning in September. It matters that we want to win at home, and we want to be able to win on the road, but a loss isn't going to make your season end, and we did a great job of that last year. Our goal is to win, but we learn from it, and we move forward."
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Haleigh Washington was the complete package against Wisconsin on Wednesday night. She dominated on both offense and defense. Her serving was efficient. And as always, she was fired up through all three sets.
Washington notched 11 kills at a .786 hitting percentage and is currently leading the nation in hitting. She had five blocks and two aces on the night as well. Her serve was tough and strategic.
The slide approach has become Washington's strong suit. The "slide" is when a middle hitter, like Washington, runs a route around the setter to hit the ball from the right side. Against Wisconsin, Washington was virtually unstoppable on the slide.
"I've been working with my setter to work on that run, to see if there is a hole in the block or a hole down the line," Washington said. "So [I'm] finally getting that rhythm with my setter. It has made it a lot easier to put balls away back there."
Washington and three additional Nittany Lions had kills in double digits in their victory against the Badgers, collectively attacking at a .376 clip. Ali Frantti led the offense with 14 kills and both Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney notched 10. Courtney also controlled the court on defense with a team-high of 14 digs.
Head coach Russ Rose said having four players with kills in double digits shows the balance of talent on this team.
"The ability of the outside [hitters] to take good swings [also] gives us a different look for people," Rose said. "[Opponents] have to make some decisions on who they want to block and who they don't want to block."
Rose said it was a great opening match against a strong opponent, but he is surprised any time a team wins 3-0 in the Big Ten because the conference is so competitive.
"Every time you play against a Big Ten team, you're going to be forced to deal with different strengths by the other team," Rose said. "We had some ideas on trying to neutralize Lauren Carlini, who is the setter and does so many things for them. We executed the game plan really well."
This execution led to yet another 3-0 victory for the Nittany Lions. The team has swept 12 teams so far and has yet to drop a set. Frantti said the team is getting better and better with each match.
"I think our chemistry is growing everyday. I feel comfortable around these girls and I trust them. We can build upon this," Frantti said.
Penn State hopes to build and grow each week. Washington said she is looking forward to continuing to get better.
"These past [few] weeks have been great, and it's even better because we get to grind for more," Washington said. "We get to keep going hard and keep getting to represent the program in an even better way."
After the victory over the 16th-ranked Badgers, Washington felt immense pride.
"I was walking down the hallway, I was listening to the band playing, I was looking at Frantti and watching Coach walk down the hall," Washington said. "I was really proud to be a part of this program."
The Nittany Lions hope to continue their success in Big Ten play this Saturday against No. 21 Minnesota at 8 p.m. Catch the match in Rec Hall or the Big Ten Network.
By Sam DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Senior Megan Courtney has been called many things - Big Ten Freshman of the Year, NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player, but what is most important to her, is being called a teammate. It drives her to be the best every time she steps on the court.
[I play] for my teammates. It's not so much if I get accolades or if [anyone does]," Courtney said. "It's about our team winning. Not just winning on the court, winning off the court as well. Being great teammates, being great friends, being great people around each other and that's really what drives me."
Courtney has played with redshirt senior Aiyana Whitney since she stepped on campus in 2012. Whitney has seen Courtney improve her serve, her passing and everything in between. Now as co-captains, they are leading the 2015 team together.
"She's always about what the team needs and what she can give to make us better as a unit. She's always seeing the big picture," Whitney said. "You can't ask for anything more from a teammate."
Making the team better is one of Courtney's specialties. On match days, she said it is her job to make sure the team is ready. Sophomore Haleigh Washington said she never has to worry about what Courtney's doing in the game because she knows she's got it taken care of.
"She takes care of herself and is always there to help you. She's a great leader and a great girl who knows the game," Washington said. "It's a blessing getting to play with her."
Being a great leader comes from years of being led. Courtney said she learned her leadership skills from those who came before her, especially her good friends and last season's seniors, Micha Hancock and Dom Gonzalez.
"Micha and Dom were two of my best friends and we were still able to have that fiery, teammate relationship as well. They taught me how to be a leader, but also how to be a good teammate, friend and person," Courtney said.
Courtney consistently attributes her success to her teammates. Washington, a younger player under Courtney's leadership, said one of her favorite sayings is, "good leaders lead from behind and they never take credit" and said Courtney is exactly that.
"I love that she gives it back to her teammates because Megan does amazing things. She makes amazing plays that we couldn't run without her," Washington said. "So the fact that she gives it back to the team is awesome, but give credit where credit is due. And Megan is a great player."
Head coach Russ Rose agrees that Courtney has what it takes to be a great leader and teammate.
"She's tough, she doesn't have fear. She's a kid that's aggressive and feels confident and comfortable in her skin and in the skills she has," Rose said. "That's reflected in her performance."
Playing well is important to Courtney, but being a part of a team means much more than her personal success on the court. She plays for her teammates and her teammates play for her. Whitney said that's what the Penn State women's volleyball family is all about.
"[The Penn State family] is about the girls who were wearing the jerseys 30 years ago and it's about the girls who are going to be wearing the jerseys when I'm long gone," Whitney said. "I'm playing for the girls that are on the bench, the girls that are around me on the court, I'm playing for the girls who played before me and will play after me. It's such a selfless program to be a part of."
The top-ranked Nittany Lions kick off their Big Ten slate on Wednesday against No. 16 Wisconsin at 7 p.m. Catch the match in Rec Hall or on the Big Ten Network.
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