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Chuck Landon: Women's athletics shining for Herd

May. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

When did Marshall become a Title IX school?

That has become a relevant question as such women's sports as softball and track have flourished recently, while the notable men's sports of football and basketball have struggled.

The answer?

Actually, it occurred right around the new millennium.

As Marshall began its decline from being the winningest football program of the '90s and the men's basketball program advanced to only one relevant post-season tournament, several MU women's sports began finding success.

The quintessential measure is qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

That's what the Marshall women's tennis program did for four consecutive seasons during 2001-05. The unfortunate part is the Herd never advanced past the first round.

In 2001-02, Marshall lost to Tennessee, 4-0. Next, the Herd fell to South Alabama, 4-2. Then, in 2003-04, MU lost to Florida State, 4-2. The run ended in 2004-05 with a loss to Kentucky, 4-0.

But, then, volleyball stepped up. Marshall won its first Conference USA championship in 2005 when volleyball won both the regular-season crown and tournament championship. The Herd faltered in the NCAAs, however, losing, 3-0, to Ohio State.

Marshall's volleyball team again won the C-USA regular-season title in 2007, but was upset in the semifinals of the league tournament and didn't receive an NCAA at-large bid.

That set the stage for Marshall's softball program this season. First, the Herd became just the second Marshall athletic program to win a C-USA championship when it captured the league tournament.

Next, the Andi Williamson-led Herd became the first Marshall sports program since 1978 to actually win an NCAA Tournament game. After losing in the NCAA Regional to home-standing Kentucky, 2-1, in eight innings, the Herd defeated Notre Dame, 3-1.

Marshall eventually was eliminated by Virginia Tech in a nail-biting 3-2 loss that lasted 13 innings, but the niche in Herd history had already been established.

Besides becoming the first Marshall women's program ever to win an NCAA Tournament game, Herd softball notched Marshall's first NCAA victory in any sport in 35 years.

Not since Marshall's baseball team was only one win away from the College World Series in 1978 has an MU team claimed an NCAA victory. In '78, the Herd beat Florida State, 4-0, and Clemson, 9-3, before losing to host Miami, 6-0 and 5-1, in the finals of the Atlantic Regional.

After that, it was a long dry spell until the softball victory.

The Marshall men's basketball program is 0-5 in NCAA Tournament play, losing to Morehead State, 107-92, in 1956; Southwestern Louisiana, 112-101, in 1972; Villanova, 84-72, in 1984; VCU, 81-65, in '85; and TCU, 76-60 in 1987.

MU baseball also qualified for the 1973 NCAAs, but lost a first-round game to Southern Illinois, 5-2.

A similar outcome befell the Marshall's women's basketball program in 1997, as it lost a first-round matchup to Colorado, 69-49, in the NCAA Midwest Regional.

Collectively, Marshall is a dismal 3-15 in NCAA Tournament play, but at least the Herd's softball program broke the 35-year drought.

And, no, I'm not forgetting Marshall's success in I-AA football. But that was at a lower level against the likes of Youngstown State, Montana and Delaware State.

The point is with Vanessa Jules ranked No. 2 in the nation in the heptathlon, it seems Marshall's women athletes are stealing the thunder from the men.

Your move, guys.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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