We Are Marshall Dominates MU's Top 2006 Story

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," wrote Charles Dickens in "Tale of Two Cities" and that might describe the Marshall University Athletic Year in Sports in 2006. From the excitment of the "We Are Marshall" movie, filming and premiere to the near-misses in softball, volleyball, football and other sports, it was a roller coaster ride for fans of the Thundering Herd.

Here are the Herd Insider Top Marshall Thundering Herd stories we covered in 2006, as chosen by publisher Greg Perry and senior editor Woody Woodrum:

Jean Francois Bro Grebe rejected this shot by Cal's Ryan Anderson in the first half. Bro Grebe had four blocks in the 72-70 loss, another in a series of Herd losses despite great play against the nation's best teams.. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

No. 10: Men's Basketball Searches for Consistancy - Ron Jirsa's Herd is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. While getting up to play the top teams in the nation (see No. 5 on our list), they seem to let up on the teams fans expect them to run roughshod over. The Herd started 2006 with a hard-fought win over Appalachian State, a team they had lost to at home to start the '05-'06 season, then played NCAA Tournament teams off their collective feet. An overtime loss to George Washington, another win over WVU, sweeping UCF and playing toe-to-toe with Memphis were balanced against head-scratching losses at Tulane (36-61, the lowest point total for a Herd team in 40 years) and home losses to UTEP by two, Rice in overtime, Southern Miss by five and Tulane by six. It's been much the same to start the '06-'07 year, with blowing a 15-point lead to Robert Morris, then going to Alaska and playing toe-to-toe with NCAA Tournament teams Cal (a 70-72 loss) and Hofstra (70-73). The Herd can finish 2006 with a smile if they knock off the ACC's Virginia Tech Hokies this Saturday.

No. 9: Baseball surprises - Marshall entered Conference USA play in baseball in 2006 and played its home games in Charleston. This was a good surprise, as Appalachian Power Park was the site of some great baseball by the Herd, winning six of 18 games against the league most thought the Herd had no chance to win any. MU just missed pulling an upset on highly-ranked Rice in front of the biggest home crowd in modern baseball history. With the season done, coach Dave Piepenbrink (with more MU baseball wins than anyone except Jack Cook) surprised all by resigning to enter private business. The Herd welcomed Jeff Waggoner as its new head coach, after two years at N.C. State with the Wolfpack as an assistant and also two years at Kent State as an assistant, and enters 2007 with DH/1st Baseman Brandon Murphy on the Wallace Award Watch List for the nation's most outstanding player. The award was won by Brad Lincoln of Houston last year, the player Murphy finished behind in the All-C-USA voting for the best utility player in the league in 2006. Murphy is already named as a second team Pre-season All-American and was second team All-Conference USA and All-Midwest last season with 15 home runs and a league-leading 71 runs batted in in '06.

MU senior forward KaShawna Curry collided with Maryland's Shay Doron in the first half of the Terps' 68-49 win over Marshall as the Herd hosted the No. 1 team in the nation for the first time in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

No. 8: Women's Basketball Faces No. 1 - Maryland is the reigning NCAA Champions and signed to play a game at MU when they had a player from the area. But even when that player did not return for 2006, coach Brenda Freese still brought her No. 1-ranked Terrapins to the Henderson Center to face the Herd. Maryland is still top-ranked and 13-0 and beat the Thundering Herd of coach Royce Chadwick by a score of 68-49. However, Marshall played tough throughout the game but hurt its effort with an 11-of-25 effort at the free-throw line. 4,135 made their way to the Henderson Center in the best crowd ever for women's basketball without a promotion or free tickets to fuel attendance. "Today, people woke up and were excited about going to see women's basketball tonight at Marshall," said Chadwick of the game. The Herd finished last season 15-14, 9-7 in C-USA, and have started this year 7-5, but 1-0 with a early league win over Houston, as All-Conference and All-American candidate Modupe Ishola has four double-doubles already on the year.

No. 7: Volleyball Falls In First Round of C-USA Tourney - Marshall had shocked Conference USA by winning the league in its first go-around in 2005. The Herd came into 2006 as one of the favorites, and finished second in the league in the regular season behind Kelly-Anne Billingy leading the nation in kills at 6.2 per contest (see No. 4 for more on KAB). But Mitch Jacob's Herd team was shocked in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament in Houston, Texas by No. 7-seeded Houston, who was a pre-season favorite to win C-USA along with Marshall. The Herd fell at UH's Hofheinz Arena, despite Billingy setting a C-USA record with 44 kills in the match. The Herd did once again win 20 games, but failed to draw an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament and Billingy was once again an All-Midwest Region selection, her third time on that squad.

No. 6: Softball Loses In The Bottom Of The Last - Coach Shonda Stanton and her Thundering Herd softball team picked right up from the success the team had in the Mid-American Conference by advancing to the finals of the Conference USA tournament in Marshall's first season in the league. Behind All-American and Conference Player of the Year Rachel Folden, the Herd marched into first place until late in the season in the league. The Herd beat Southern Miss and Tulsa, at Tulsa's home field, but the tournament was double elimination...except for the finals on CSTV to a nation-wide audience. It appeared the teams were headed to extra-innings when Tulsa's Brook Smart hit a two-out, nobody on home run to win the game and the title for the Golden Hurricane in the bottom of the seven and final inning. Marshall also placed Folden and Amanda Williams on the All-Mideast Region team and had one of the nation's best grade point averages, placing nine student-athletes on that list.

Senior forward, and Marshall's only in-state player, No. 33 Mark Patton held up two fingers signifying Marshall's second-consecutive win over West Virginia. Chris Ross (right, No. 1 for MU) also celebrated the Herd's first back-to-back wins over WVU since 1981 and 1982.photo by Matt Riley for Herd Insider

No. 5: Basketball Beats Ranked WVU...Again! - While Ron Jirsa's teams seem hard-pressed for success against many teams, the Herd and Jirsa seem to have the plan for success against the West Virginia Mountaineers. For the second-consecutive season in what is now the final Toyota Capital City Classic (a new sponsor will take the title sponsorship over in 2007), Marshall solved the puzzle that so many teams could not against WVU with a 58-52 win in front of a sold-out crowd of 12,500 (with at least two-thirds in blue and gold) in the Charleston Civic Center. Senior Mark Patton, now playing professionally in Europe, had 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Herd past the No. 9-ranked (AP) Mountaineers for MU's only second-win ever over a top-10 team. Tre Whitted hit three long threes in the game and chipped in 11 points while Joe Miles added 13 for the Herd over a WVU team that advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second-consecutive season in the NCAA Tournament behind Kevin Pittsnogle (20 points on 7-of-18 shooting, 2-for-8 from three) and Mike Gansey (10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, 1-for-8 from three).

No. 4: It's An All-American Kind of Year - Marshall may have had more All-Americans across more sports than at any time in school history. Cody Slate was named first team on two Freshman All-American teams (cfn.scout.com and The Sporting News) and second team on a third for his league-leading year at tight end for the Herd. Zearrick Mathews was an honorable mention selection on TSN's team as a freshman corner. Albert McClellan was named the defensive player of the year in C-USA by the media and collegefootballnews.com, as well as a Sophomore All-American by that web site. In volleyball, Kelly-Anne Billingy was named for the third-consecutive year as an honorable mention All-American, although coach Mitch Jacobs privately mused if there were really 36 players in the nation better than the one who led the nation in kills, setting C-USA and MU records in her junior year. Rachel Folden was once again a second team selection on the Louisville Slugger Fastpitch Coaches Associtation's All-American team, and she, Amanda Williams and Billingy were all named to their respective All-Midwest Region teams by various organizations. Brandon Murphy was named to the Wallace Watch List for the outstanding player of the year in 2007, based on 2006 when he was All-Midwest Region and named as one of the Top 10 Pro Prospects by Baseball American in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball Summer League. In soccer, Marshall men's soccer players Karim Boukhemis and Clayton Cochrane have earned honorable mention honors on the 2006 National Soccer Coaches Association of America/adidas Scholar All-East Region Team, as was Thundering Herd women's soccer forward Kassie Hollman. She earned honorable mention honors on the 2006 National Soccer Coaches Association of America/adidas College Women's Scholar All-East Regional Team. Kellie Schmitt and Lynzee Kever in tennis were recently ranked No. 3 in the nation and were C-USA top doubles teams, advancing to the NCAA Tournament and the ITA All-American Tournament. They were 34th in the nation last season.

No. 3: Tennis Player, Duo Ranked No. 3 - Kellie Schmitt and Lynzee Kever won Conference USA last year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 34th-ranked team in the nation. This fall, the pair have advanced to No. 3 in the nation, based on some more great tennis in the fall pre-season, Schmitt was ranked No. 110 in singles and No. 34 in doubles going into this year, but the sophomore defeated eight different ranked players with wins over the No. 7, 32, 37, 54, 55, 65, 69 and 78 ranked players while having a 17-5 singles record, Schmitt advanced farther than any player in Marshall history at the ITA All-American, advancing from the Pre-qualifier to the Main Draw. Schmitt advanced to the Semifinals of the ITA East Regional, another first by a Herd singles competitor. She also won the Wake Forest Fall Invite and won the William and Mary's Flight A backdraw. In doubles she along with partner Kever defeated two ranked opponents (No. 35 Maryland and 54 Sacramento State) while boasting a 10-3 record. In doubles play Schmitt with partner Lynzee Kever also were ranked third in the East Region. The duo's No. 3 ranking in doubles makes the eight straight season with at least one Marshall doubles team ranking in the top 10 of region. Schmitt's No. 3 East Region ranking is the highest ever by any Marshall singles player.

Albert McClellan, shown against K-State in 2004, was the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 (HI file photo by Greg Perry).

No. 2: Football Improves - In Mark Snyder's second season as Marshall head coach (and first full year), the Herd program took a step forward despite facing the toughest schedule in Marshall history. Opening the season at 1-5 with games at bowl teams like West Virginia, Tennessee and Kansas State as well as opening Conference USA play with the defending East Champs in Central Florida, the Herd rebounded to play 4-2 down the stretch. Ahmad Bradshaw led the league in rushing (127 yards per game), scoring (21 tds) and was second in the nation in points per game (10.5)and eight players in all were named to Conference USA All-League teams, including Bradshaw, freshman tight end Cody Slate, junior center Doug Legursky, sophomore receiver/returner Emanuel Spann, sophomore linebacker Josh Johnson and sophomore defensive end Albert McClellan, who was the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year on two of three post-season lists. McClellan led the league in sacks and tackles for loss and was 14th overall in tackles, while Slate led all tight ends in C-USA in receiving and was on the All-C-USA Freshman team and three Frosh All-Am teams. Only senior db Curtis Keyes and senior lb Matt Couch will not return in 2007, when the Herd will open at a rebuilding Miami, Florida; host WVU for the first time in Huntington since 1915; and after a I-AA game with New Hampshire, start a series just two and one-half hours away in Cincinnati with the Bearcats. Snyder has signed one junior college tackle and will have a punter walk-on from Hargrave, and is hoping receiver Darius Passmore, corner Aaron Johnson and linebackers Antwan Booker and Mario Harvey also join the Herd after taking a "gray" shirt and working on academics in the fall of 2006. Herd fans will get their first look at the new MU in March of 2007 with spring football, including a not-yet named new defensive coordinator in the wake of Jim Collins resignation at the end of 2006.

"We Are Marshall" movie director McG kicked field goals at halftime of the Green-White game, donating money with each successful kick. McG ended up donating $20,000 to Marshall as the result of his kicking.

No. 1: "We Are Marshall" - A story that nearly demanded a top ten of its own, including:
10,000 people downtown in Huntington for The Dawg, 93.7 FM's block party to kickoff six weeks of filming in the town. Stars Matthew McConaughey and David Strathairn, producer Basil Iwanyk and director McG all appeared at a press conference at the Keith-Albee Theatre, then led "WAM" cheers to the throng on Fourth Avenue;
A record attendance of 17,346 at the spring's Green-White football game, as McConaughey, Kate Mara and McG joined with the crew, who shot film of the fans for use in the movie, and the 1996 National Championship Thundering Herd football team to make for an amazing day. NFL quarterback Chad Pennington of the New York Jets and receiver Randy Moss of the Oakland Raiders were joined by teammates of the 15-0 Herd like Billy Lyon, Brian Reed, John Wade, Doug Chapman, Erik Thomas, Jermaine Swafford, Tim Martin, Jeff Openlander and many others for the game;
McConaughey and McG return for the Herd match-up with UCF on ESPN to open Conference USA play and promotion of the movie, doing the "Thunder Walk" with the team through a huge crowd in the parking lot of the Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Herd falls on a UCF field goal with six second to play;
College Football Hall of Fame opens a "WAM" exhibit on the 36th anniversary of the Marshall plane crash on Nov. 14, 1970, that killed 75 persons and nearly wiped out MU football. A special screening of the movie is shown to MU officials like AD Bob Marcum, former "Young" Thundering Herd coach Jack Lengyel, former "YTH" QB Reggie Oliver, former sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch Ernie Salvatore, members of the National Football Foundation and McG, Iwanyk and Mara as the "Insider Sportsline/Insider Statewide" show comes live from the HOF on WRVC 930 AM;

Jack Lengyel and Matthew McConaughey talk on the Marshall intramural outside court about a scene in the "We Are Marshall movie.Photo from College Football Hall of Fame and Warner Bros.

Finally, after many special showing around the Tri-State (including a sold-out showing at the Cinemark 10 in Ashland, held by Kindred Communications-home of The Dawg, 93.7 FM; The Planet, 92.7 FM; WRVC 930 AM; and the Herd Insider) and nation through Warner Bros. deal with Wal Mart and Sam's Clubs to distribute the DVD of "WAM", it it world-premiere night in Huntington. Persons paying up to $1,000 per ticket are joined by over 70 members of the "Young" Thundering Herd and 2,000 others to see "We Are Marshall" at the historic Keith-Albee Theatre, while over 2,800 see the movie that same night on all 16 screens at the Marquee Cinemas at Pullman Square on Third Avenue in Huntington. Again, nearly 10,000 Marshall fans and supporters turnout downtown for the "Green" carpet event, as The Dawg, 93.7 FM broadcasts live all day at the carpet, then treats listeners to interviews with Matthew Fox and Red Dawson, the MU assistant Fox protrays in the movie, as well as Mara, Iwanyk, McG, McConaughey, Coach Mark Snyder and many others throughout the walk down the carpet. The "YTH" has a private viewing earlier in the day, with over 240 members of the survivors of victims of the crash, and enjoy a three-day reunion, dinner and other events, including a team picture in front of the Fairfield Stadium scoreboard that is refurbished at Gino's Pub by owner Kenny Grant (who later hosted the team at the Pub), thanks to the Marshall athletic department, the Big Green Scholarship Foundation and the M-Club. It may have been the biggest event since that awful night in 1970, and certainly those players, coaches, fans, parents, boosters and other on that plane were a part, in spirit, of all the events and now will be forever remembered, thanks to "We Are Marshall."

Quite a year! Here's to a better, safe, winning and Thundering 2007 to all Herd fans, from all of us at Herd Insider!

Herd Haven Top Stories