MU soccer begins new era
HUNTINGTON -- It's not only a new era for Marshall University soccer, but for Thundering Herd athletics as a whole when the Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex officially opens Friday evening.
"There's a tremendous buzz around everything in Marshall athletics right now," said Marshall men's soccer coach Bob Gray, who has headed up the program for 19 years. "There's a lot of excitement for the football team this year, and everything that was accomplished in track and softball last season, it's just a good time to be a part of the athletics department.
"Everyone is on the same page and we're just thrilled with the direction things are taking."
The $8 million soccer complex -- the first facility to be completed as part of a $33 million Vision Campaign for athletics -- will host an MU men's alumni game at 5 p.m., followed by a dedication ceremony about an hour later.
It's at that ceremony that Herd athletic director Mike Hamrick is expected to announce the name of the field, which will be that of an as-of-yet unidentified private donor to the project. The actual stadium will keep the name of Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex, paying homage to the Veterans Memorial Field House, which had to be demolished to make way for the new facility.
At 7:30 p.m., the field will officially be christened as the MU women open their season against Campbell University.
"It's fantastic. It's a facility we can be proud to play in and they've cut no corners in getting this done," said Kevin Long, who is entering his sixth season as head coach of the women's soccer team.
Both the women and men have spent the past seasons playing at Sam Hood Field, Joan C. Edwards Stadium and the soccer complex at Hurricane High School in Putnam County.
While having a place to finally call home for soccer alone is nice, Long said it starts with the basics.
He mentioned the size of the field, 120 by 75 yards, as an example.
"Take out all the bells and whistles, take out everything that's new and exciting, the first thing we noticed is it's a regulation-size field," Long said. "We get the immediate bonus of training on a field that we're going to play on, and I think that's a big bonus."
The turf field is up to the best standard under FIFA regulations, and the soccer squads and staff finally have locker rooms, training facilities and offices all at one site. The men's and women's teams both have their own locker rooms and lounge facilities, while a third locker room was built for visiting teams. The stadium also has a walk-in reception area at the corner of 5th Avenue and 26th Street where the sidewalk paving and landscaping is designed to look like the patches of a soccer ball.
Standing tall next to the main entrance is the veterans' memorial that was saved from the old Field House. Also, there are plaques honoring the U.S. military services and the old basketball arena. There is also a brick-paver project with former Herd soccer players donating $1,000 apiece to have their names inscribed on a brick near the main entrance.
Fans will have close access to restroom and concession areas under the stands.
An added feature is a public park with a children's playground adjacent to the stadium off Fourth Avenue.
"Like many programs, we've been kind of scattered," Long said. "To have one place where you can do everything, it makes things easier. It adds an ease to our day to have a place we can call home, and not many programs across the country can say that."
Both Gray and Long said the facility will improve recruiting. Long said it already has to some extent because players who committed to Marshall knew the stadium was in the works.
"We've been able to talk about it for a couple of years," Long said. "We can't really measure it, but when we talk to players and recruits, they say yes, it plays in. Will it match the level of education they're looking at, is it the first thing they look at, is it scholarship dollars? No. But it's nice to know you'll be playing in front of an intimate crowd, in a packed house, on a state-of-the-art facility surface-wise, and you can just get all of the excuses out of the way and see if you can go out and execute."
The stadium seats 1,006, with standing room available and the option for the school to bring in additional seating.
The facility also features a 1,200 square foot press box.
Gray doesn't get to see his team play in the new stadium until Sept. 13, when the Marshall men host Oakland. Gray will be at the opening Friday.
"It's really like a dream come true," he said. "It changes everything. We can develop a much more professional attitude in how we approach practices and scheduling. It will definitely change the way we'll be able to recruit.
"Sometimes I have to pinch myself just to make sure that it's really happening.
"We've come a long way from my first year here playing in the football stadium."
The Herald-Dispatch welcomes your comments on this article, but please be civil. Avoid profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, accusations of criminal activity, name-calling or insults to the other posters. Herald-dispatch.com does not control or monitor comments as they are posted, but if you find a comment offensive or uncivil, hover your mouse over the comment and click the X that appears in the upper right of the comment. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal Facebook page, uncheck the box below the comment.