Happy Valley had plenty to smile about in 2014-15, as the Nittany Lions of Penn State University made off with numerous big wins.
The Penn State Women’s Volleyball team claimed the NCAA Division I National Championship, PSU’s men’s gymnastics and women’s soccer squads claimed the Big Ten regular-season titles, and the Nittany Lions’ women’s lacrosse team earned a Big Ten tournament title. But perhaps the most heart-warming moment for the blue and white wasn’t even a title win, as James Franklin guided Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions football team to a Pinstripe Bowl victory after the NCAA lifted Penn State’s postseason ban.
We ran the Value Add Sports calculations on all returning athletes in the state and emailed sports writers and other experts in the state to help rank the 25 state players to watch on a list we will update here.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hackenberg tops our list as the top student-athlete to watch this season in the Keystone State. While the six-foot-four, 234-pound passer experienced a sophomore slump in 2014, Hackenburg ended the year on a high note with a 371-yard, four-score outing that earned him Pinstripe Bowl MVP honors. If he’s able to carry that momentum over into 2015, then the Nittany Lions could emerge as a dark horse in the Big Ten.
Hackenberg comes into 2015 with the highest expectations of all the athletes in-state, hoops power Pitt relies on frontcourt duo Michael Young and Jamel Artis as they attempt to navigate through the always-tough ACC slate. With Young and Artis in the fold, expect the Panthers to once again have a say in who reigns supreme in arguably the best basketball conference in the nation. Keep an eye on Villanova marksman Josh Hart (.464 three-point percentage in 2014-15). As the top returning guard on a team known for top-tier play at the position, Hart is primed to breakout for Jay Wright’s Wildcats as they try to put an end to early-tournament exits come March
Pennsylvania produces quarterbacks. It boasts perhaps the most flamboyant quarterback ever in Joe Namath, and maybe the best ever in Joe Montana despite the conclusion that Dan Marino is the greatest player EVER from the state according to a December 23, 2012 article posted on Bleacher Report. The top 20 athletes to watch in Pennsylvania are:
- Christian Hackenberg, Penn State, Football, QB
- Michael Young, Pittsburgh, Basketball, C
- Josh Hart, Villanova, Basketball, G
- Jamel Artis, Pittsburgh, Basketball, SF
- Megan Courtney, Penn State, Volleyball
- Daniel Ochefu, Villanova, Basketball, C
- Emily Ogle, Penn State, Soccer, Midfielder
- Frannie Crouse, Penn State, Soccer, Forward
- Maddie Elliston, Penn State, Soccer, Midfielder
- DeAndre Bembry, St. Joseph’s, Basketball, SG
- Aivana Whitney, Penn State, Volleyball
- Sophia Nnadi, Bucknell, Track/Field, Shot Put
- Glen Burkhardt, Penn State, Track/Field, 5,000m Run
- Rodney Pryor, Robert Morris, Basketball, SG
- Tony Carr, Roman Catholic (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Basketball, G
- Miles Sanders, Woodland Hills (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Football, RB
- Lexi Masterson, Penn State, Track/Field, Pole Vault
- Naseir Upshur, Imhotep Inst Charter School (Philadelphia, Pa.), Football, TE
- Ali Frantii, Penn State, Volleyball
- Shep Garner, Penn State, Basketball, PG
Others Receiving Votes
Michal Menet, Exeter Township Senior (Reading, Pa.), football, OL
Lamar Stevens, Roman Catholic (Philadelphia, Pa.), Basketball, F
Micah Mason, Duquesne, Basketball, SF