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Herd Future Brighter After 2013-14 Success

Mike Hamrick

June 4, 2014

(This column, from Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick, also appears in this week’s issue of the Herd Insider, the final issue of the 2013-14 year.)

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – We’ve come to the end of another athletic year here at Marshall, and I wanted to take the opportunity not only to review 2013-14, but also to look ahead to a very promising future for the Thundering Herd.

In my five years back on our campus as athletic director, I’ve tried to provide a leadership and a vision for where we needed to go. And make no mistake, kind of like Neil Armstrong once said on the moon, we’ve taken some giant leaps.

And we’ll continue to do that, because in the next year or so, we’ll open our grand Indoor Athletic Facility and its adjacent components that not only will benefit our student-athletes, coaches and staff, but make all in Herd Nation proud.

Within the next couple of months, we’ll wrap up the MU Vision Campaign for Athletics through which many of you have helped make those facilities possible. And I’m really looking forward to that day, when I’ll have Chad Pennington and Mike D’Antoni – our great co-chairs of the campaign – on my left and right to make an announcement about achieving what some naysayers didn’t think possible.

I’d certainly like to thank our MU President, Dr. Stephen Kopp, for all of his support in this major endeavor.

But I don’t want to let 2013-14 get away without reviewing some proud moments.

For the first time in 11 seasons, our football team reached 10 wins, but there was more. Coach Doc Holliday’s team not only reached a Conference USA championship game for the first time, but then went to Annapolis, Md., and played a strong Military Bowl, getting an impressive win over Big Ten-bound Maryland in an ESPN telecast that brought the Herd big-time exposure.

Our softball program went to the C-USA Tournament championship game for a third straight season. Only one other school has strung together at least that many consecutive appearances in the title game.

We talked above about facilities. Coach Shonda Stanton’s softball program has displayed a consistency, in my opinion, because of Dot Hicks Field. Look what a facility can do for a program. That’s the point.

In Dan D’Antoni, we have a new men’s basketball coach who knows the Herd well because he’s a Son of Marshall. I was very proud to bring Dan home to help us get our program where he and all of us want to go – the NCAA Tournament. He brings great energy and knowledge of the game to the job, not to mention his passion for his alma mater.

Our new Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex and Hoops Family Field … I’m so excited about what it has been doing and will continue to do for our two programs.

Every day we’re getting more and more events in that facility and it has started to do what we thought it would do, not just for Marshall but for the community and local soccer. Again, I want to thank the veterans and Jeff Hoops and his family for helping make the facility possible.

Our women’s soccer team got a win in the 2013 C-USA Tournament, too. I don’t think it’s an accident that it happened at the end of the first season in the new complex.

We had a good year in golf. We had four student-athletes win individual titles and the men won a single-season school record three team titles. There’s more, too.

We renamed the four-decades-old Marshall Invitational in honor of our retired coach, Joe Feaganes. He’s been another loyal Son of Marshall for about 800 years – only kidding, Joe!

And we helped inaugurate the new Greenbrier Collegiate Invitational in April. That would not have been possible without the support of one of our former golfers and biggest benefactors, Jim Justice, The Greenbrier owner and chairman.

We’re really looking forward to the return of the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic next month. Please come to White Sulphur Springs on Marshall Day -- Thursday, July 3 -- and wear your green!

It’s a real treat to walk into and out of the Shewey Building every day now and see the new bright green Astroturf surface and goalposts on the Edwards Stadium field. Coach Holliday’s program is itching to get out there.

When you add that to our wonderful suites that opened last season, it has really made the stadium sparkle and give us a big-time atmosphere just in time for a football season accompanied by great   anticipation.

Our student-athletes are doing the job in the classroom, as usual. I was really proud this year when we learned that nine of our programs had attained perfect 1000 single-year scores in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR). I’ve been in this business for a long time, and that’s unheard of, amazing.

Six of our programs had APR gains of more than 20 points, and in the 2013-14 year, we had 67 student-athletes graduate. Nine of our programs had term GPAs of 3.0 or greater this past semester, too.

Our academic performance is a real credit to our student-athletes, coaches and the hard-working advisors in the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program.

If I can give you one example of those hard-working MU student-athletes … How about swimmer Katie Kramer?

She is one of MU’s prestigious Yeager Scholars, and she graduated in three years, and with a 3.91 GPA. She becomes the first to attend graduate school while still a Yeager Scholar.

Last month, Katie took on another challenge and swam the Strait of Gibraltar in 4 hours, 28 minutes, the youngest American woman in history to accomplish that crossing. Then, she spent three weeks in Europe taking a graduate course in business to start work on her master’s.

This also will tell you what kind of lady she is. Katie took on Gibraltar to help raise funds for the YMCA in Naples, Fla., her hometown, after the facility was struck by lightning last summer and suffered major fire damage.

Now, she will return to the Herd swim team for her senior season in 2014-15.

In track and field, Jasia Richardson’s triple jump of 13.56 meters (44 feet, 6 inches) was the longest in the nation by a collegiate woman for a while this season. She qualified for the upcoming NCAA nationals at the East Prelims last weekend … and she became the latest to have that kind of success without the benefit of a track and field facility – a situation that will be rectified when the Indoor Facility opens.

Our five-year commitment brought about a renovation of the diamond at the Kennedy Center YMCA, aiding our baseball program and giving us a handful of home games and a much-needed practice site in Huntington.

Even though this is not a long-term solution, it is a stopgap plus for Herd baseball, and it has been great to work with George Smailes of the YMCA to give us a quality place to play, while not leaving Charleston for conference games until we get a long-term answer for a facility here.

Looking just ahead, the Indoor Athletic Facility and its pieces will open through January 2015. Imagine what this will do for our program.

Imagine bringing a recruiting prospect and his or her parents into our translational sports medicine center, where there are orthopedic surgeons on site all day, physical therapists, where there is state-of-the-art rehab equipment, MRI and X-ray machines, and one of the best hydrotherapy areas in the country.

Walk them upstairs, and they’ll see a large, state-of-the-art academic center, and then into the Indoor Facility and you have a place for football, track, baseball, softball, golf, tennis, you name it. Every sport can use that facility either to practice or train or condition.

I’m really looking forward to the next year, opening the facility in phases, the Indoor in late August, our Hall of Fame in October, the academic center this coming January, and next summer the sports medicine center.

I’m looking forward to our 2014 football season. Isn’t great to read all of the pundits, and the predictors, and Marshall is listed as playing in a Peach Bowl or going undefeated, winning the conference?

Now, those are high expectations, but I’d rather have high expectations than just hoping to have a winning season and get to a bowl. I hope our fans will see and understand what’s happening and support us financially. We really need you to buy season tickets. It’s very important to us as we move forward.

I look forward to the new dynamics of our conference, and how being more regional will benefit the Herd, make it much better for our traveling fans and our teams. The future is bright for us and our league.

If you think about it, all of the facilities we talked about three to four years ago are now coming to fruition. We put in a new basketball floor in the Henderson Center last summer. Let’s not forget that.

Look what we’re doing … it’s a lot, and we’re doing it together. I want to thank you. Take a minute to look where we have been and where we’re going.

Enjoy your summer, but let’s all come back this fall and be ready to boost the Herd to greater heights!