The Late Show: Mendelson Named Second Team All-ACHA Tournament

Nobody would argue that missing the public address announcement of the ACHA's all-tournament teams generally made following the title game is the worst part about having to leave the championships before that point. But nevertheless, it is a (very) mild downside to elimination following the group stage, a fate the Lady Ice Lions suffered back in March.

The silver lining came in the form of a pleasant surprise on Wednesday, when a plaque arrived in the mail recognizing newly-graduated forward Cara Mendelson as an all-tournament second team selection.

In just three games at the ACHA finals - two fewer than the number played by championship game participants Liberty and Miami, whose players accordingly dominated the scoring charts - Mendelson notched four points. Of the top 14 scorers in York, PA, only she, linemate Darby Kern (six points, tied for third best) and Minnesota's Laura Gengler came from teams other than the national champion Flames and second-place RedHawks.

The Pittsburgh native's biggest tournament moment came on March 5th against ECWHL rival Massachusetts. There, she opened the scoring late in the first period by receiving a pass in transition near the blue line, dangling around a defenseman, then following her own rebound. Mendelson added a second in the second, on a wraparound try during a delayed penalty to the Minutewomen. Devon Fisk made the score 3-1 on the ensuing power play, although Penn State was not able to hold the lead and settled for a 3-3 draw.

Mendelson collected assists in each of her other tournament games, against Liberty and Grand Valley State. After PSU narrowly qualified for the final eight, she was instrumental in the Lady Ice Lions proving they belonged with an overtime loss to the eventual champs and a tie with semifinalist GVSU.

Over the whole season, her 15 goals, 18 assists and 33 points were second on the squad in each instance, The first of those numbers includes three winners, highlighted by an overtime marker against UMass on January 10th.

Like the first team All-American nod for Kern announced two months ago, there's a fair bit of new history in Mendelson's honor. Until now, former Lady Icers Ellen Zajko and Andrea Lavelle were the only Penn Staters to ever make the first or second tournament team at the ACHA Division 1 level. Zajko got a first-team nod at the ACHA's first women's tournament in 2001, while Lavelle was the most valuable player the following season. Four other Lady Icers were named honorable mentions a total of five times, although none more recently than 2004.

In the Lady Ice Lions era, Fisk (first team in both 2013 and 2014), Katie Vaughan (second team in 2013, first team in 2014) and Tara Soukup (first team in 2014) have all been recognized at the ACHA Division 2 level as the team burst on to the scene with D2 runner-up finishes in its first two seasons.

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Penn State Club Sports Honors Reception Caps 2014-15 School Year

Officers Ashton Schaffer, Mary Kate Tonetti, and Jackie Saideh (not pictured) represented the team at the reception

The Lady Ice Lions received a pair of award nominations at the Penn State Club Sports Program honors reception, held Thursday evening in Beaver Stadium's Mount Nittany Club, but did not take home a prize for the first time in the team's three-year history.

The nominations, given to just three of the club sports program's 80 organizations in each category, still reflected recognition of the squad's ongoing commitment to a superior standard both on and off the ice: Athletic Excellence in an Indoor Non-Martial Arts Activity and Outstanding Women's Club for Organizational Excellence. The awards ultimately went to women's basketball and softball, respectively.

On the athletic side, 2014-15 needs little review: after back to back second place finishes in ACHA Division 2, the Lady Ice Lions moved up to Division 1. The team's ability to compete at that level was initially questioned by many, but the answers were definitive: a 17-8-2 overall record, Penn State's first appearance at the D1 national tournament since 2010 (and just the third since 2004), as well as several signature wins against teams ranked fifth, fourth and first at the time of the contest. The last of those came against then-defending national champion Miami and snapped a 31-game unbeaten streak by the RedHawks that spanned an entire calendar year. Along the way, junior Darby Kern led the nation in scoring and became the second Penn Stater to ever receive ACHA First Team All-American recognition and the first since 2001-02.

Off the ice, the accomplishments were equally impressive, as officers Mary Kate Tonetti, Jackie Saideh and Ashton Schaffer oversaw an organization that was the envy of most across the ACHA. The squad posted a 3.21 team grade point average in the fall semester, led by the perfect 4.0 of junior Devon Fisk and the matching 3.92s of freshman Claire Gauthier and sophomore Lucy Yeatman. In January, the Lady Ice Lions were given the ACHA's Gongshow Stars in the Community award for their work in support of Penn State's famed IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

In previous years, the team has received awards for Most Improved Club (2012-13) and Outstanding Women's Club for Organizational Excellence (2013-14).

Other notable groups among those recognized include the swimming club, which took home Club of the Year. The Lady Ice Lions' men's hockey counterparts, the Ice Lions, saw sophomore Josh Singley recognized with the Supervisor's Choice award.

Here is a complete list of Thursday's winners:

Athletic Excellence Awards
Aquatics Activities
Indoor Non-Martial Arts Activities
Women's Basketball
Martial Arts Activites
Outdoor Field Activities
Men's Lacrosse
Outdoor Non-Field Activities
Cross Country

Organizational Excellence Awards
Outstanding Community Service
Indoor Winter Guard
Outstanding THON Involvement
Field Hockey
When It Rains, It Pours
Outstanding Men's Club
Outstanding Women's Club
Outstanding Co-Ed Club
Most Improved Club

Individual and Officer Awards
Non-Traditional Officer of the Year
Nick DeCarlo - Taekwondo
Secretary of the Year
Timothy Appman - Cross Country
Treasurer of the Year
Casey Norris - English Equestrian
Vice President of the Year
Ashlynn Rice - Western Equestrian
President of the Year
Dan Markosky - Wrestling
Nittany Lion Award
Chris Kutsubos - Paintball
Supervisor's Choice
Josh Singley - Men's Ice Hockey
Male Athlete of the Year
Andrew Smiddy - Swimming
Female Athlete of the Year
Bria Edwards - Triathlon

Club of the Year 

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"Last-Day MK" Registers Game-High Four Kills to Win Lady Ice Lions Assassin

Mary Kate Tonetti (right) killed Elizabeth Denis in Assassin's final showdown

Mary Kate Tonetti only registered kills on the first day and the last day of the Lady Ice Lions' two-week-long game of Assassin, but that was all she needed to come out on top of 16 other players in inaugural version of the team-building contest.

After Tonetti made waves by taking out Hannah Dier and Tarika Embar on April 10th, things ramped up the following day with party attendees Cassie Dunne, Jackie Saideh and Nina Elia falling at the hands of Saideh, Claire Gauthier and Lucy Yeatman, respectively.

On the first Monday of the game, Elizabeth Denis sniped heavy favorite Devon Fisk outside of class to blow the things wide open. Gauthier followed by matching Tonetti with a second kill, of Kelly Watson, and Allyssa Long eliminated fellow goalie Aimee Little. Another significant event came on April 17th, when Emma Embar, Riley O'Connor, Darian Dempsey and Anna Marcus (one of the few survivors of the Bloody Daylong) were eliminated by rule after failing to register a kill in the first week.

That pared the field to five: Tonetti, Gauthier, Denis, Yeatman and Long. And as the cream rose to the top, strategy seemed to win out, as things were mostly quiet for the next four days.

Finally, Long broke the stalemate by getting Yeatman on April 21st to set up an interesting situation, as Tonetti, Denis and Gauthier suddenly fell under the pressure of the weekly kill rule that would have handed Long the win at 7:00 a.m. on April 24th. However, less than 24 hours before that was set to occur, things ramped back up, ultimately ending the game in short order.

Denis tagged Long last Thursday morning, while Tonetti finally got back on the board around 5:30 that evening by bumping out Gauthier. The subsequent final showdown between the last two players was a bit anticlimactic though, as the outgoing senior club president needed less than an hour after besting Gauthier to push a similar fate on to the geosciences scholar.

Tonetti took the time to answer a few questions about the game and her winning strategy.

Who was the hardest to kill of your four conquests? I would've thought Z (Denis) because she's always doing schoolwork, but you got her pretty quickly after Claire.

Claire was probably my most challenging kill because she was so difficult to find. As a senior, I don’t spend any of my free time near the freshman dorms or dining commons, so that was a major inconvenience. In the end, I had to hang out in her dorm lobby for almost an hour to find her. Thankfully, as a philosophy minor I had plenty of reading to pass the time.

One school of thought said that a lot would come down to friend groups, and that sort of played out especially on the second day when a bunch of players at the same daylong killed each other. So how big was it for you that Taylor (Nyman) didn't play, or would you have gotten her eventually anyway?

Taylor actually accompanied me for my first two kills - Tarika and Hannah. I knew the pathway that T usually walked in between classes, so Taylor came with me to sneak attack her from behind. Taylor then accompanied me to my next class to kill Hannah. Throughout the game she was the perfect sidekick and I am glad we never had to compete against one another. After all, it would’ve been very stressful to fear my own roommate shooting me with water in my sleep.

Other than the four you took out yourself, what was the biggest moment that helped you win? The Bloody Daylong? Z taking out Fisk, who everyone thought would win going in? The cutoff getting four players after the first week? Something else?

Any player that had me as a target was obviously a threat to my success, so I can’t help but thank all of the people who took them out. Lucy in particular scared me the most since she was able to track me down in my own apartment.

Did you have a specific strategy coming in? You came out firing on the first day and were the only player with two kills for quite a while. But then you were quiet after that, and actually came within hours of being cut on the time limit before finishing strong. Was any of that deliberate? As the game went on, did you have eliminated or non-participating players spying on people for you?

I was extremely lucky with my first two kills. It just so happened that I knew exactly where and when to find both T and Hannah on that first Friday. As for strategy, I didn’t have a specific plan, but did ask a few teammates to help me find some of my targets. For example, if Ashton (Schaffer) didn’t tip me off on Z’s whereabouts, I’m not sure I would have ever been able to find her.

Talk a little bit about your choice of weapon, the water bottle. Portable, not as obvious as a gun, good range, is there anything I'm missing?

Believe it or not, I went into the game with two water guns as my weapons. Unfortunately, after a few days of carrying them around in my backpack, almost all of my notebooks and folders were soaked with water from the guns leaking. As a result, I decided to put the guns aside and use my water bottle for the last two kills.

Where does this rank in terms of your career achievements?

Although I’m proud of my ability to water down my teammates, I would not have made it very far in the game without their help - as odd as that may sound. Assassin is an excellent team-building game and I had a lot of fun participating and working with my teammates to kill my targets.

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Lady Ice Lions Issue Awards, Celebrate 2014-15 at Postseason Banquet

The Penn State Lady Ice Lions formally closed a historic and memorable 2014-15 campaign with its annual postseason team banquet on Saturday afternoon at The Ramada State College Hotel and Conference Center.

The festivities included a buffet lunch, addresses from head coach Patrick Fung and veteran players Mary Kate Tonetti, Ashton Schaffer and Elizabeth Denis, as well as an off-ice highlight video overflowing with locker room dancing and produced by junior forward Nina Elia. The team's paper plate award tradition continued too, with each player being honored for a wide range of reasons, from awkward dance moves, to looking like characters from the movie Avatar and being the first back on the bus after road trip rest stops.

More formal team awards were also part of the festivities, including junior forward Darby Kern, who was named the Lady Ice Lions' Maurice H. Stroemel Most Valuable Player.

There's little left to say about Kern's 2014-15 season, in which the former NCAA team player became Penn State's second-ever ACHA Division 1 First-Team All-American (with the other honoree, Andrea Lavelle, coming thirteen years ago). Her 32 goals and 55 points during the regular season were second and first, respectively, among all division players. Despite PSU's failure to advance out of the pool stage at the ACHA National Tournament, she ranked third in tournament scoring with six points in three games - notably, Kern and linemate Cara Mendelson were the only players not from eventual national champion Liberty to crack the top seven on that list. The product of the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite program and Peters Township High School was also the ACHA's January 2015 Harrow Player of the Month after beasting her way to 10 goals and 16 points in just six games during the 31 days.

The Kyle Rossi Rookie of the Year Award went to forward Riley O'Connor.

Like Kern, O'Connor also won an ACHA monthly award, the Sher-Wood Freshman Spotlight for November 2014. That honor underscored a meteoric rise for the one-time lightly-regarded recruit (who had actually been playing defense for her Princeton Tiger Lilies 19U team) to PSU's top-line center. O'Connor, despite her size, added healthy doses of grit and net-front presence whenever she was on the ice, to go along with her noted speed, with an end result of nine goals. One third of those came against long-time ECWHL power Rhode Island, including the winner on November 9, 2014 as a Penn State team defeated the then-fourth-ranked Rams for just the third time since 2002. Another big goal came from Kern's centering feed to the front of the crease late in the second period on January 18, 2015 to give the Lady Ice Lions a 3-2 lead in an eventual upset of eventual national champion Miami.

Like O'Connor, Billie S. Willits Player's Player Award winner Jackie Saideh potted against Miami (and six other times), but was honored just as heavily based on her leadership, work ethic and unscored on-ice contributions. The junior alternate captain and club vice president - who will assume the presidency next year as a senior - is a highly-adaptable player who plays where needed and effectively. Sometimes that's been as a goal-scoring winger, and sometimes, as in her freshman year, it's been as a defenseman. Primarily, though, it's been as the prototypical checking line player, one who plays outstanding defensively and on the penalty kill, while seemingly always getting a stick in a passing lane or win a key puck battle at a vital moment.

Although a graduating class of six key seniors is no small loss, the Lady Ice Lions will return all three award winners in 2015-16, in addition to up to 16 others with remaining eligibility, while adding a large and talented recruiting class. That collection of players will attempt to Penn State's highly-successful return to ACHA Division 1 (including a 17-8-2 record, a final ranking of seventh, and the school's first D1 tournament appearance since 2010) with PSU's first-ever national championship in women's hockey.

Previous Lady Ice Lions Team Award Winners
Maurice H. Stroemel
Most Valuable Player
Kyle Rossi
Rookie of the Year
Billie S. Willits
Player's Player
Katie Vaughan
Devon Fisk
Mandy Mortach
Carly Szyszko
Katie Vaughan
Devon Fisk
Geneva Wagoner
Carly Szyszko
Darby Kern
Riley O'Connor
Jackie Saideh

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