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Marshall players celebrate after the Herd’s win over Indiana in the NCAA College Cup championship game Monday night in Cary, North Carolina.

As a WVU beat writer, I don’t want to step on the toes of my Huntington-based co-workers, but I’d be negligent if I didn’t dedicate at least a few paragraphs to the Marshall men’s soccer team today.

How ironic … a team in a minor sport featuring 23 international players (according to the official roster found on Marshall’s athletic site) helped unite a state with a reputation for being backward in terms of both racial acceptance and athletics outside of football and basketball.

Those reputations are largely unfair, as those of us that live here know, but there is yet another level of positivity to be found in state natives putting aside differences to largely support a team playing a sport that several of them had never watched.

That’s what I took away from social media during the Thundering Herd’s 1-0 win over Indiana in the national championship game Monday night, when the vast majority of Mountaineer fans were putting aside any sort of rivalrous sentiments to support Marshall. Some of it was quite humorous and, naturally, the game was a scoreless tie after 90 minutes, but all of it that I saw lacked any hostility, which was refreshing.

That included myself. When I was a kid, we watched Major Harris in the fall and Tracy Shelton in the winter. I never even knew Marshall existed until I was a preteen. As a teenager and college student in Morgantown, I probably said a lot of things about the Herd and Marshall fans that I’d like to take back.

But Monday night, I let out an audible yell when that overtime goal went in. Imagine, the team coached by Chris Grassie, a man I used to interview when he was the head man at the University of Charleston bringing a national title back to Huntington after marching through No. 1 Clemson, defending champion Georgetown, host team North Carolina and the most decorated program in the sport’s history, Indiana, to get there.

Unbelievable.

So, congratulations to all involved and all who are fans, who represented themselves and this state tremendously on TV. And congrats to Grassie, who — along with WVU women’s coach Nikki Izzo-Brown and men’s coach Dan Stratford, a Grassie disciple — continues to transform the Mountain State into the unlikely headquarters of amateur soccer.

•••

On Saturday, I divef back into prep softball mode to cover the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship at Little Creek Park in South Charleston.

I wondered why the league had gone to a 10-team field and full-blown quarterfinals, and got my answer on Saturday.

It was a test run, not for the league, but for the venue.

Little Creek is now the home of the state softball tournament and would’ve been last year if spring sports had not been wiped out in 2020 by the pandemic.

With side-by-side turf fields and a third a short distance away, Friday and Saturday was used as a trial run of sorts, with multiple games being held right next to each other. Those involved took it as an opportunity to learn as well.

In the end, the event went off largely without a hitch. The one exception was determining that some additional netting between Fields A and B is likely required, something City of South Charleston Public Works Director Gerald Burgy told me is already in the works.

But what we can expect at the state tournament at Little Creek in June seems like quite an upgrade from Vienna, where tarps sit idly by on rain-soaked fields and where competition would sometimes last as long as 15 hours in one day because of field problems. That won’t happen at Little Creek, where everything is on turf, but that’s hardly all the city is offering.

Digital tickets were used for the MSAC tournament, and that should be something that carries over to the state tournament as well, according to Burgy. Also, a city bus will run between parking sites and the third field, WiFi is available at Fields A and B, a new playground was built adjacent to those fields for parents with small children and discounts will be given to players and their families around South Charleston, including at the ice arena, Little Creek Golf Course and Little Creek pool and at the Community Center.

Since the start of trying to put together a proposal, there’s been a lot of excitement from the city’s brass about the event and what can be done to make the event nicer.

Just in caring, and putting together a package that seems like someone cares, it already is.

Contact Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.