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Freshman Athletes Leading The Way For Penn State’s Winter Sports

In a Big Ten powerhouse school such as Penn State, incoming freshman athletes are very rarely guaranteed playing time. If they are, it’s probably not much.

This fall, we saw the emergence of running back Saquon Barkley after he took over for Akeel Lynch and dazzled fans and coaches with his abilities. This winter, we’ve seen much of the same in the sense that freshmen are emerging as stars in their respective sports.

Not only is this a good thing for the team, but when incoming recruits see how much playing time and success true and redshirt freshmen are having, it may make for more successful future recruiting classes. The possibility of significant playing time is a large incentive for recruits to come to Penn State. Any coach can try to sell the school and the team to any recruit, but with the freshmen emerging as stars for some of the teams this winter, they are doing all of the talking on the courts, mats, and ice.

Men’s And Women’s Basketball

josh reaves basketball
Josh Reaves’ block with six seconds left helped Penn State seal a victory against Louisiana-Monroe. Photo by Alex Robinson.

On the men’s side of the ball, one of the most hyped prospects the program has ever seen entered the picture for the Nittany Lions this season. Even though he still has a lot to learn, Josh Reaves has shown us how he will be able to be a leader of the team in the very near future. Let’s face it, he hasn’t exactly been the savior of this basketball program like he was unfairly expected to be…yet. He has, however, been a big asset to the team. In the preseason, head coach Pat Chambers named him to the team’s leadership committee, and although he may not be the leader Shep Garner is, he’s still a big part of why there is hope for this team again.

His stats don’t speak too much to the sparks of brilliance occasionally seen from Reaves throughout the season. He only averages 6.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, but here have been many times in many games where you can’t help but applaud the kid for his talent and effort. He’s been especially productive this year on defense. He’s second on the team in blocks with 17 (only trailing the seven-foot-tall Jordan Dickerson) and second on the team in steals with 22. This kid’s special, and with time, he will only build upon that.

For head coach Coquese Washington’s squad, freshman guard Teniya Page leads the Lady Lions in almost every statistical category. She averages 15.6 points per game, and her 265 total points this season lead the team. Although her 38 turnovers also lead the team, she has been the star for the Lady Lions in a below-average season. Still a freshman and ready to lead the team for the remainder of this season and for upcoming seasons, she is a big reason to believe in the Lady Lions for the future.

Wrestling

Wrestling Lock Haven 2015
Redshirt freshman Bo Nickal wrestles in his debut against Lock Haven. Photo by Alex Bauer.

Redshirt freshman Bo Nickal is 20-1 this season and is ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 174-pound weight class. He was hyped all year for his sheer strength and ability on the mat, and he has already exceeded almost every expectation set for him this season. After a loss earlier in the season, Nickal has rebounded and continued his dominance in the B1G and the nation. He beat ranked opponents all year, and is a big reason the top-ranked Nittany Lions are a major competitor for a B1G and national title.

Jason Nolf is another ranked redshirt freshman who has pleasantly surprised many this season. Ranked No. 3 in the 157-pound weight class, he has a team-high nine pins in only 20 matches. He is unbeaten this year, and he has even looked better than Nickal at times. Hidden behind the loud success of Nickal, Nolf has quietly been one of the most dominant forces in the B1G.

Another redshirt freshman making noise for Penn State is Shakur Rasheed. He is ranked No. 16 in InterMat’s Division I Rankings in the 165-pound weight class. He’s pulled off impressive upsets against No. 13 Adam Fierro by decision and No. 15 Conor Brennan by pin. Although he hasn’t started as many matches as Nolf and Nickal this season, he still has proven his ability on the mat with a few quality wins.

Hockey

Men's Hockey Wisconsin 2016
Andrew Sturtz celebrates a goal against Wisconsin. Photo by Alex Bauer.

Guy Gadowsky has skyrocketed the Penn State men’s hockey team to No. 14 in the USCHO rankings, and that has a lot to do with the fact that this team has great chemistry, a humble leader in captain David Glen, and talented play makers who love to live by Gadowsky’s “shoot first” logic. It also has a lot to do with the play of a couple of talented freshmen who have seen a lot of action in Hockey Valley this year.

Forward Andrew Sturtz has a team-high 11 goals to go along with his five assists this season. His statistics speak for themselves, but what the stats don’t say is how clutch he has been this year. With a team-leading three game-winning goals, he has consistently come through for Penn State when it has mattered most. Going along with Gadowsky’s logic of getting pucks to the net, Sturtz has not disappointed the coach, as he has tallied 59 shots. His .186 shooting percentage is the best on the team.

Chase Berger has also taken Hockey Valley by storm this season as he has come up big in some tough times. Berger has the second-most goals on the team with ten, along with seven assists. His nice total of 69 shots and .145 shooting percentage on the season are good enough for third-most on the team. These two freshmen have surprised Hockey Valley this year and are another big reason Penn State is having so much success.

Taken collectively, the freshmen in Penn State athletics might be the most impressive the university has seen in a while. It’s not very often you see one freshman put up the numbers that these seven have, let alone all of them. As the Nittany Lions pursue their quest for B1G and national titles in the upcoming months, these freshmen will play key parts in helping the Nittany Lions have success.

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About the Author

Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman is a writer for Onward State. His hometown is North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a little under an hour from Pittsburgh. He is a sophomore majoring in Natural Resource Engineering in Biological Engineering. Please e-mail questions and comments to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @cole_man2.

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