HUNTINGTON — The smile of Marshall men’s soccer coach Chris Grassie said it all on Wednesday.
Grassie just had finished a training session with his team and was getting ready to go speak at a Marshall University function.
The next time Grassie returns to Hoops Family Field, however, there will be two teams ranked No. 1 nationally in the preseason polls in front of him.
And both call the state of West Virginia home.
It brought plenty of excitement for Grassie as his Thundering Herd gets set to take on the University of Charleston at 11 a.m. Thursday at Hoops Family Field.
“It’s great to see for the state and I feel like everybody has embraced it,” Grassie said. “We hear about it all the time, so hearing about us with Marshall, now you can hear about how good it is at Charleston. It’s just fantastic to see and it makes me extremely proud.”
Grassie watched his team earn the NCAA College Cup title last season after running through some of the nation’s top programs, including Indiana in a 1-0 overtime win that gave the school its first national championship at the highest level.
The pride for Grassie in Thursday’s exhibition match does not end with his team, however.
On the opposing side, he will face a Charleston program that he helped build into a national contender during his six seasons there from 2011-16.
Over his final three seasons, Charleston went 61-7-3 while finishing as Division II national runner-up twice.
Five years later, Charleston has two national championships — the first in 2017 and the second in 2019 — to its credit and comes into 2021 under second-year coach Dan Smee as the preseason No. 1 team in Division II.
There was no Division II national championship in Smee’s first season in 2020-21, but the team did go 10-0, using a similar formula that has made the Golden Eagles a power over the last decade.
“My proudest achievement with Charleston was that it was built to last and they did the right thing — kept promoting the systems because it was working well,” Grassie said. “The whole recruiting strategies and networks obviously expanded, but they didn’t throw away everything that we’d been doing.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to see Strats [former UC coach and current WVU coach Dan Stratford] and Dan Smee do so well. I’m just very, very proud of those guys.”
The pride doesn’t just stop at the college level, either.
Grassie and his staff are also heavily involved with youth soccer within the state, and the surge of success among the state’s Division I and Division II teams has helped spur interest at the younger levels.
“Hopefully we’ve been able to contribute some to the spark of young kids — 7, 8 or 9 [years old], they see that they can be successful. ‘These guys are successful in our community’ and they can do that. At that end, it’s helped with the youth.”
While there is plenty of pride for Thursday’s match, there is also a fun aspect to Grassie taking on his former program.
Always one for a challenge, Grassie upped the ante a bit when speaking of the match against his former team.
“Obviously, we want to crush them tomorrow,” Grassie said, tongue-in-cheek. “You know, just to help them and show them where they can improve for the future and give our guys some confidence.
“It’s the defending national champions in Division I and Division II, and I think it will be a really tough game and battle.”