Staff Picks: Our Favorite Penn State Athletes
Although the sports world has come to an abrupt halt and many seasons came to an unexpected end, nothing can take away from the amazing performances Penn State’s student-athletes gave day in and day out this year.
Whether it was a high-flying dunk from Lamar Stevens, a deep touchdown from Sean Clifford to KJ Hamler, or an electric pin by Mark Hall, many student-athletes made their marks on Happy Valley over the last eight months.
Here are some of our staffers’ favorite student-athletes from the 2019-20 academic year:
Matt DiSanto: Kendall White
There’s no athlete I’d rather watch compete than Penn State women’s volleyball’s Kendall White. She’s dominated on the court since emerging as the Nittany Lions’ starter at libero and worked her way to becoming the program’s most decorated player at the position. White was the first Penn Stater to win back-to-back Big Ten defensive player of the year awards, became a three-time All-American, and capped off her senior season by breaking Penn State’s all-time digs record. Sheesh.
Stats aside, White brings contagious energy whenever she steps onto the court. She’s an extremely vocal leader and celebrates every point and breathtaking play with her trademark smirk. I’ll miss seeing her take over Rec Hall next fall.
Will Pegler: Jordan Stout
There’s a reason Jordan Stout always finds himself mentioned in posts on our website: The dude is a stud. Not only did Stout consistently hit bombs through the back of the end zone and go jumbotron hunting at AT&T Stadium, but he also managed to do it with the best flow on the team.
With Blake Gillikin’s graduation, Stout has a chance to take over the punting duties for Penn State next season. While he was already my favorite Nittany Lion athlete this past year, he’s only going to improve in 2020.
Ryan Parsons: Micah Parsons
Micah Parsons was one of the most fun football players to watch this year, and he worked his way into my heart play after play of defensive disruption. Parsons seemed to be involved around the ball on nearly every snap, which is why he led the Nittany Lions in tackles for the second straight year. You can always count on the All-American to step up and make a big play when the team needed it the most.
He’s also hilarious, a decent Spikeball player, and a rising bowling star. 2020 is shaping up to be a big year for the linebacker, and I’m waiting on what he can bring to the team next.
Owen Abbey: Bailey Parshall
The sophomore pitcher for softball was, quite simply, electric. Parshall had five complete games and two others where she was the only pitcher in a mercy-rule victory for the Nittany Lions. She totaled a season-high 14 strikeouts and struck out 10 or more batters in her last four starts.
All of this happened before the season came to an abrupt end due to the coronavirus. Imagine what she could have done in a full season! Whenever Parshall entered the circle, electricity surrounded her and made her so much fun to watch.
Mikey Mandarino: Cole Hults
Penn State hockey was cruelly robbed of an NCAA tournament bid, but the team still brought home a trophy as the Big Ten’s regular-season champion. Junior defenseman Cole Hults was a huge part of why the team had so much success this year. Hults was named a finalist for the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year and overall player of the year awards after scoring 30 points (eight goals, 22 assists) in 34 games played.
More importantly, however, Hults was at the forefront of Penn State’s drastic improvement on the defensive side of the puck. Penn State allowed 2.58 goals per game in 2019-20 — nearly a full goal per game fewer than last year’s. Though others might’ve scored more goals and made flashier plays than the Los Angeles Kings draft pick, Hults was undoubtedly the Nittany Lions’ most consistent player this season.
Jim Davidson: Ally Schlegel
Penn State women’s soccer continued its winning tradition last season with a Big Ten Tournament win. But one of the highlights of the team’s 2019 campaign was the emergence of rising redshirt sophomore forward Ally Schlegel.
Schlegel missed her true freshman season due to injury, but returned in style last fall, leading the team with 13 goals and 7 assists in 25 appearances. A true striker who is good in the air and can finish from anywhere, Schlegel co-lead the Big Ten in goals alongside Wisconsin’s Dani Rhodes. Schlegel steps up in big games. Scoring an overtime winner in the second round of the NCAA tournament and a crucial goal against Purdue that helped send Penn State to the Big Ten Tournament final.
Schlegel is ushering in a new era of attacking brilliance for Penn State women’s soccer alongside Frankie Tagliaferri, Payton Linnehan, Kerry Abello, and Sam Coffey. If she continues the form of her breakout first season, she’ll be the center of Penn State’s offense for three more seasons.
Otis Lyons: Aaron Molloy
The superstar known as the “Irish Messi” was a rock in central midfield last fall for the Nittany Lions. While the well-chronicled climb of Penn State hoops was definitely impressive, it’s hard to argue against Penn State men’s soccer being the most improved team in Happy Valley from 2018-19 to 2019-20.
Molloy was at the helm of the second-place finish in the Big Ten and rightly earned himself a spot in the Portland Timbers’ organization. His steadiness and stability in the middle of the park were crucial to Jeff Cook’s tactical set-up.
Hope Damato: Kamaria McDaniel
Kamaria McDaniel is easily one of the best players Penn State has had in a while. She averaged around 20 points per game this year as a key starter on Carolyn Kieger’s young squad. During a game against Pitt, she scored 40 points, which only happened two other times in Lady Lions history.
She’s a skilled player on offense and defense and arguably carried the team all season long. This year, she earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. Although she is only a junior, McDaniel was someone the rest of the team could look up to, as her leadership was present on and off the court.
Andy Mollenauer: Chantal Burke
Chantal Burke emerged as a force to be reckoned with between the pipes for Penn State women’s hockey this season coming off the bench in relief for the team’s starter, who had a season-ending injury. She led the CHA conference in both goals-against average and save percentage, and she ranked seventh in the nation in both categories. Burke also broke the program’s shutout record this year by blanking her opponents on seven different occasions.
Sam Brungo: Jamari Wheeler
Jamari Wheeler’s season could easily be overlooked. He shot below 47% from the field and averaged a mere 3.8 points per game.
Although he may not have been one of the team’s premier shooters, Wheeler worked his way to being a familiar face in the starting lineup thanks to his selfless play and impact on defense. He may not be the obvious choice for fan-favorite, but Wheeler was a crucial part of the team’s breakthrough season thanks to his ability to change a game’s tempo on a dime.
What stuck out to me about him was witnessing him on the floor at THON. He was playing with Four Diamonds kids and encouraging dancers with his upbeat attitude and his perennial smile. Being more than an athlete and using his platform to better the community and help others? That’s what Penn State is all about.
Frankie Marzano: Lamar Stevens
Lamar Stevens Penn State hoops’ ubiquitous leader and brought the team to a new level this season. He is the true definition of an all-around leader. You can see by the way he acted that he truly cares about the program and his teammates.
He should’ve broken Penn State’s all-time scoring record if it wasn’t for the cancellation of the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, but accolades were never his priority. He was truly a team-first guy who wanted what was best for his team.
Matt Noah: Mark Hall
Upon arriving in Happy Valley, Mark Hall was a six-time state champion out of Apple Valley, Minnesota. The 174-pounder has a career 113-6 record as well as an NCAA title as a freshman. He’s a true leader who mentors teammates and sticks around after matches for the fans.
As soon as Hall’s name is announced ahead of a dual, Rec Hall’s crowd explodes. Without NCAA Championships to look forward to, we won’t see if he was destined to be a 2020 national champion. However, his legacy will still be felt for years to come.
Gabe Angieri: Sean Clifford
Who doesn’t love a starting quarterback? Clifford took over this year as signal-caller and certainly did not disappoint. He tossed 23 touchdown passes and threw for 2,654 yards, led the Nittany Lions to a 53-39 Cotton Bowl Classic victory, and won 10 games with a team that didn’t have lofty expectations.
The fire and desire he shows on the field make you want to run right through a brick wall. We get another season of watching dimes like this:
What he did this year was impressive, and I can only imagine what he has in store for us next season when he has more experience under his belt. Let’s also not forget when he showed up at THON, spoke during the pep rally, and tossed some t-shirts into the crowd. Yeah, that was pretty cool.
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About the Author
Freiermuth may call Pittsburgh his home now, but he still hasn’t forgotten his roots.
Freiermuth may call Pittsburgh his home now, but he still hasn’t forgotten his roots.
Penn State is finally and officially joining the iconic clothing line with a 15-piece collection.
Oeuf Boeuf et Bacon — which is French for “egg, beef, and bacon” — will tentatively open in September.