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By: Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Adjusting to the normal college life presents a challenge all its own. Trying to balance that with preparing to play Division I hockey is a huge commitment for Penn State's incoming freshman class.
Eight new Nittany Lions will be joining the roster this upcoming season, and each one understands the hard work and dedication needed to succeed both on and off the ice.
"Being able to become a family right away with my teammates was huge," said forward Abby Welch on how she was able to adjust to college. "Right when I got on campus in the summer, all the upperclassmen were so welcoming and we felt part of a team."
Welch comes from a hockey family, with her three older sisters all playing in college. Two of her sisters played in Penn State's conference, the CHA, at Mercyhurst and Syracuse, and all three had a large impact on Welch's development.
"I've always grown up playing hockey. As soon as I could walk I was on skates," said Welch. "My three older sisters are probably the most influential to me. Every time I skated with them, I would always have to prove myself to them. Having them around definitely got me to where I am today."
Welch already has connections with the Nittany Lions, as she played with senior Kelly Seward for the Nichols Vikings during the 2012-13 season.
For defenseman Caileah Forrest, the transition from Canada to the United States has been as smooth as she could have expected.
"The people are so nice and so welcoming," said Forrest. "Even though I'm away from home, it still feels like a home away from home."
Katie McMillan, Brooke Madsen and Kate Rydland all made the trek from Minnesota to Happy Valley this summer, bumping the total number of players from the North Star State to 10. McMillan is one of five players from the same school in Minnetonka, a school that has won three state championships in the last six years.
Pittsburgh's Olivia Villani is the lone freshman from Pennsylvania, citing the outstanding alumni network and women's hockey program as a whole as reason to commit to Penn State. Villani spent four years with the Pittsburgh Pens Elite program and a year with the East Coast Wizards of the NEWHJL before joining the Nittany Lions.
In the classroom, the freshmen are just getting started with the bulk of their coursework about a month into the semester. They understand that there are big shoes to fill, as the team posted a 3.40 GPA and 17 Dean's List members in 2015-16.
"The new Morgan Academic Center has definitely helped a lot," said Welch. "We have so many opportunities to succeed here, and there's no reason we shouldn't. "Our coaches want us to succeed and our teammates will help us with anything. I know Caileah [Forrest] helped some girls with French since it's her second language."
"It's been a little hard with the 6 a.m. conditioning, practice every day, lifting and everything, but our teachers are mostly all understanding," said Forrest. "Our coaches are really good with that and getting those study hours in really helped a lot."
Penn State has a scrimmage against Guelph on Saturday at 4 p.m. before opening up the regular season at Clarkson on Sept. 30.