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MU wins inaugural match

Aug. 24, 2013 @ 12:56 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Not even two minutes into the first official soccer game at Marshall University's brand new, $8 million Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex, the crowd was on its feet.

Erin Simmons, a sophomore and the Thundering Herd women's highest returning scorer, pounded a shot past Campbell University keeper Alexis Connors 1 minute and 35 seconds into the start of the first half. The shot came off a pass from Senior Casey Walsh.

It was an early affirmation for the team, and for Simmons, who didn't participate in spring practice because of a torn ACL.

"It was a huge adrenaline rush," Simmons said. "It was a shock, but the opportunity was there and I capitalized on it."

"Erin getting out of the gate as fast as she did, re-establishing herself not only for us, but in her own mind, knowing that she is back and she is going to contribute, I think she played great," said head coach Kevin Long.

The Thundering Herd defeated the Camels, 3-0, in front of an official attendance of 1,433. The new stadium is built for 1,006, but offers standing room for crowd overflow.

"When you think of all of the distractions tonight with a big crowd and a new stadium, not that it's a negative, because we want that excitement, the team was able to focus on the 90 minutes they had to play and the job they had to get done," Long said.

One of those distractions involved the Huntington Fire Department sending two trucks with lights blazing to the field to help remove a tarp on the scoreboard that was covering a sign that read "Hoops Family Field." Jeff Hoops, the same man who the Cabell Huntington Children's Hospital is named for, was a large financial contributor to the soccer complex. The game went on without a hitch and a Bronx cheer went up from the crowd when the tarp was finally removed.

The Herd struck again in the 31st minute when freshman Beth Dine got her foot on the end of a volley from outside the box, and put it into the right corner of the net past Connors, who was diving left.

Another freshman, Kayla Byrnside, would get the final goal of the match in the 85th minute, after fellow freshman Sydney Arnold sent in a cross from the end line on the left side of the goal. Connors got a piece of the shot, but not enough to keep it out.

"We're working hard, certainly the players are, and we're proud of that recruiting class," Long said. "We should be contending. We think we can play."

Long said the team "won't break our arms patting ourselves on the back," as the Herd has to turn around and get ready to host Kent State on Sunday.

"We're still pretty young, and last year we had a lot of inconsistency," he said. "We have to build consistent performances back to back so that is the level we're expecting of ourselves."

A dedication ceremony preceded the game, during which Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick and university President Stephen Kopp addressed fans and alumni in attendance about the completion of the facility and the school's continued dedication to the Vision Campaign, a $30 million athletic facilities project.

Former Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District president Ken Wolfe, who initiated the move to give the dilapidated Veterans Memorial Field House to the university to make way for the new facility, also spoke, along with Hoops.

The evening started with a match between the 2013 Thundering Herd men's soccer team and a team comprised of several dozen Herd soccer alumni.

The current team won, 2-0, on a 25-yard blast from junior Jahvon Allison, followed by a tap-in in the final minutes of the match from freshman Felipe Thompson, who helped lead Hurricane High to a Class AAA state title in 2012.

Allison was drenched in sweat and had a few of the rubber pellets that make up the base of synthetic turf sticking to his face after the contest ended.

"The surface is kind of new, so I'm kind of getting used to it day by day," Allison said. "This is one of the nicest complexes I've ever seen in my life. I'm from Jamaica, so to play in a place like this, I feel blessed to be a part of it."

Men's head coach Bob Gray said there wasn't much to take away from the game as far as the 2013 team is concerned, though the match did allow him to play four different goalkeepers. The Herd is trying to replace all-time saves leader Daniel Withrow, who graduated after the 2012 season and was drafted by Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew.

"It was a good contest, and we knew it would be," Gray said. "Some of these guys who have come through here are pretty good, and they're still active in the game. The bottom line tonight is that everybody wins. The guys who have played here, they're happy for us to get to play in this new stadium, and maybe a little envious, but in the end they're proud to be Marshall alumni and proud that we have this new place to play."

CAMPBELL 0 0 -- 0

MARSHALL 2 1 -- 3

M -- Simmons (Walsh) 1:35.

M -- Dine 31:15.

M -- Byrnside (Arnold) 85:35.

Shots: C 5 (3 on goal); M 18 (10 on goal). Corners: C 2; M 9. Saves: C 7 (Connors); M 3 (Lizzie Kish).

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