HUNTINGTON — Marshall’s men’s soccer team pulled one of the biggest wins in the history of Thundering Herd athletics on Thursday when the Herd topped No. 1 Clemson in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
And Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick was right there to congratulate Herd head coach Chris Grassie as he walked off the field in Cary, North Carolina.
“It means a great deal to our university when one of our athletics teams is, first of all, in the NCAA tournament and when they’re ranked in the top-10, competing well,” Hamrick said. “They are certainly doing that under Coach Grassie.”
It is the second straight season that Grassie has led Marshall to the NCAA Tournament, which was the goal when he was hired in 2017.
Hamrick said the path for Marshall’s soccer programs were set into motion well before Grassie’s hire when Bob Gray led the program.
“Bobby Gray did a great job for many years and the program was neglected, but he hung in there and kept it going,” Hamrick said. “The turning point in our soccer program came when we decided to build a facility.”
When Marshall announced its Vision Campaign in 2011, it included a new indoor practice facility, a sports medicine translational research facility, a new weight room and a new soccer complex.
At the time, Marshall soccer played at Sam Hood Field, which was a grass field located where Marshall’s indoor practice facility now sits.
The new project brought a state-of-the-art facility to Marshall athletics and opened new opportunities for the Herd in the sport of soccer.
“We weren’t going to build a field,” Hamrick said. “We were going to build a soccer complex and a top-rate facility. Then, you bring in a top-notch coach like Chris Grassie to follow Bobby Gray and support him, and look what’s happened.
“We went from two dozen soccer fans at a match to, now at times, there’s 1,000 to 1,500 at a match. That does great things for your community and university.”
As Marshall’s facilities improved, so too did the quality of athlete that the Herd was able to bring to Huntington.
“Facilities draw athletes, and that can only be good for your university and its programs,” Hamrick said.
Now, Marshall is in the mentions with some of the top universities in the nation. In looking at the final eight teams alive in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament, Marshall joins Georgetown, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Indiana, Seton Hall, Washington and Pittsburgh.
Of those schools, four of them are public universities with athletics revenues that triple that of Marshall’s $32.9 million: Washington ($133.7 million), Indiana ($127.8 million), North Carolina ($98.9 million) and Pittsburgh ($98.9 million).
The other three programs — Wake Forest, Georgetown and Seton Hall — are private universities.
“You look at those prestigious universities — North Carolina, Georgetown — and then you see Marshall right there,” Hamrick said. “That means a great deal and gives everyone a lot of pride in your university.”
The great equalizer, according to Hamrick, has been the investment into facilities, which has helped with recruiting on a national and international level.
Hamrick said the trend can be seen among several sports, citing softball, football and women’s track as those who have seen an increase in success since investing in the facilities upgrades.
Softball became an annual Conference USA power following the construction of the new Dot Hicks Field, making the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and 2017 following the C-USA Tournament title (2013) and a C-USA Championship (2017).
The finalization of the indoor practice facility helped both football and women’s track by giving them a multi-purpose facility to showcase for recruits while also hosting practice and events for training purposes.
Football won a Conference USA Championship in 2014 — just after the facility opened — and the women’s track program has built over the last few years, setting multiple program records.
Hamrick — whose future is still uncertain due to a contract that is set to expire at the end of June — said that, as the soccer program continues to show what can be done with an emphasis on facilities, the focus is still forward.
As Hamrick gets set to watch Marshall take on Georgetown on Monday, his new vision is on baseball, which he thinks could go on a similar path as the soccer program.
“The next one has to be the baseball stadium,” Hamrick said. “I honestly believe if we build a quality baseball stadium, that our baseball can take off to the level that soccer has.
“No one ever dreamed Marshall soccer would be playing in the Elite Eight. Build a facility, get the right players, support the coach and it can happen.”