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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The Penn State community is an atmosphere that prides itself in honor, family and commitment. For senior forward Sarah Nielsen, that is a philosophy she is successfully upholding.
Over the summer, Nielsen spent time at a Young Life camp in her home state of Minnesota. She was paired with Lauren, a child with a disability, and accompanied her around for a week doing various fun activities. Nielsen was deeply inspired by Lauren, and really learned to appreciate the experience.
"There's beauty in everything, and everyone," Nielsen said. "We just need to open our eyes to see that."
Neilsen's head coach, Josh Brandwene, knows about the camp and what Nielsen does in the community, and he took note of how that has shaped her on the ice.
"I think it fits who she is as a person perfectly," Brandwene said. "She is just such a giving leader. She'll do anything for her teammates, she'll do anything for those around her. It's just the cloth that she's cut from and it comes very naturally to her. That opportunity this summer was honestly a great fit for her."
Freshman forward/defenseman Kate Rydland sees Nielsen as a role model especially now that they are on the ice together more frequently.
"Sarah is one of the nicest, greatest people I've met," Rydland said. "I've been able to look up to her ever since I stepped on campus and she's really helped me. We got put on the line together last weekend and she was really helpful with me. Always cheering me on and stuff. I've loved playing with her."
Brandwene has seen that side of Nielsen for four years and he heaped praise on her for her attitude both as a player and a person.
"Sarah Nielsen is one of the most positive human beings I have ever met," Brandwene said. "She is an amazing teammate, great student, great person, great representative for this program and one of the best, most responsible two-way forwards you will ever meet."
Her accomplishments in the classroom have earned her several accolades as well. She has been named to the All-Big Ten Academic Team twice as well as earning a spot on the All-CHA Academic Team in all three years here.
"If you want someone to represent Penn State, she's probably one of them," Rydland said. "Great in the classroom, great person, great hockey player. Always smiling, always happy, always has something good to say."
"To me, as an alum, the notion of being a Penn Stater is everything," Brandwene said. "It's very difficult to define, but she's a Penn Stater because she wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself and that's what this community is all about."
On the ice, Nielsen has been productive ever since her freshman season, seeing playing time in at least 36 games in each of her first three seasons and continues to see significant minutes.
The Nittany Lions are coming off their first sweep of the season at RIT, but they've had the same mindset throughout the early portion of the season.
"I think that just shows what we're capable of and that we can play with anyone," Nielsen said. "We just have to learn from last week. Yeah, we swept, but keep moving on."
"It's a good start, but we got to keep working," Rydland said. "We've got a good conference so every game is going to be a really hard-fought battle."
Back when she wasn't going to class and practice, Nielsen put together a blog about her summer experience with Lauren (read the entire blog here). Here are some of the highlights:
"Many of the activities are thrilling, and I have to admit on things like the zip-line and swings, I was scared! However, Lauren is brave and wanted to do everything - her bravery and courage was inspiring and gave me the strength to do those things with her."
"Even though I was not a camper, it was one of the best weeks of my life."
"Words and pictures cannot fully describe my experiences, but they can help capture the essence of our time there. I am thankful for the people I met, the opportunity I was given, and the way each camper touched me. The greatest thing I learned from this week is that all people are beautiful and beauty looks differently on everyone."
Well said, Sarah.