Certainly, the big Penn State news of the week is the departure of men's basketball coach, Ed DeChellis. However, it is also a time to celebrate a significant step for another blue and white program.
The Penn State softball season came to a bittersweet end over the weekend, as the Nittany Lions lost a 3-1 heartbreaker to No. 12 Oregon in the NCAA regionals. Just missing an appearance in Super Regionals on the way to the Women's College World Series, the Penn State squad still has plenty to be proud of as they close the book on their 2011 campaign.
The Nittany Lions not only advanced to the tournament for the first time since 2007, Robin Petrini's squad earned the opportunity to host NCAA action for the first time in nearly three decades.
Certainly, home field advantage is just that - a great benefit for a championship-seeking team. But this year, it was also the chance for Penn State to show off its brand new Nittany Lion Softball Park and Beard Field.
The new complex features a long list of amenities that rival some of the best facilities in the country. Coach Petrini has called it "facility worthy of the program," and this year the program performed as a national contender.
The future is bright for the young squad, whose coaching staff now has a world-class facility to use as a recruiting tool, not to mention a solid nucleus returning. Penn State finished NCAA Regionals with a 2-2 record; they took to the field for their final game with five sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup. While the Nittany Lions lose Jackie Hill, one of the best pitchers in program history to graduation, they undoubtedly finish 2011 with a hunger to return to the NCAA tournament in the future, and the talent to reach that goal.
The new softball complex will be the home of the PIAA championships this season, giving the state's best high school squads a fitting venue for their pursuit of gold. Central Pennsylvania has been a hotbed for high school softball for years, and the resurgence of the Penn State program, combined with the new facility and talented scholastic and traveling softball programs in our region only serves to elevate the prestige of the sport even further.
East coast college softball will always have to contend with a difficult climate; most northeastern teams spend more time practicing indoors than outside throughout the year, and can have only a limited number of home games once the weather finally breaks.
Still, the commitment that Penn State has shown to the softball program, as well as the Nittany Lions' success this season will undoubtedly reap rewards in coming years, not only for PSU, but for all of Pennsylvania softball.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org.