LeBlanc Has Built A Winner

Marlon LeBlanc was hired at West Virginia the day before preseason practiced started in 2006, and the Mountaineers' men's soccer coach quickly found that his program wasn't like his alma maters Penn State.

At his first game, there were 428 fans at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.

"When I got here, I said my job was to win a national championship and put West Virginia soccer on the map," LeBlanc recalled. "You have to have a complete package as a program."

That meant building a fan base, something this program hadn't had. Never had the Mountaineers averaged more than 1,000 fans in a season, and in the year before LeBlanc took over – a team that went to the NCAA tournament – WVU averaged less than 500 fans.

LeBlanc started his first year with a 12-1-2 record – upsetting No. 19 Cal State Northridge in his fourth game and later, when the team was boosted into the top 10, defeated Penn State and Connecticut on the road.

After jumping to No. 4 in the polls, the Mountaineers' had a program-changing game against No. 6 Notre Dame. LeBlanc went to media outlets across the area and marketed his team and his program for the first time.

"I wish my job was just being a soccer coach. A lot times I end up doing a lot of things that I don't necessarily want to do, but I feel like I have to do it," LeBlanc said. That game – a 2-1 victory over the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish in front of record 2,153 fans – might've changed his program.

"If we can put 2,000 plus in this stadium every time we play, this place will become a fortress for us," said LeBlanc after the win against Notre Dame. Fans – well – they've listened.

After averaging 694 fans in 2006, the team has averaged more than 1,000 fans in all but one of the next four seasons.

Since that Notre Dame game, only once has the Mountaineers' had a lower attendance than then 428 at his first match.

The last two seasons, the Mountaineers have been in the top 25 in attendance. But, that's not good enough to LeBlanc.

"I don't want to be top 25, I want to be No. 1," he said. "When we go to Maryland, they're on risers back behind both goals, and there's 4,000 strong minimum at every game. I want that culture here at WVU."

To try to create the atmosphere, LeBlanc has spent a significant amount of time teaching the fan base about the sport of soccer and recruiting new fans to games. And, as the coach admits, winning helps.

LeBlanc has a .604 winning percentage, the best mark for a coach since 1968. It's also the best record of any coach of the men's soccer program that stayed for more than two years.

Now, there are national championship aspirations around the program. And, it seems that there's a legitimate thought within that it could happen this year.

"We've got a lot of talent, and we can go far – really far – if we're all on the same page," said WVU's starting goalkeeper Pat Eavenson.

Fans will have the opportunity to tell how talented the Mountaineers are in 2011 for the first time when they open their home season Friday against Binghamton at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. The game starts at 7:30 p.m.

In addition to the game, the Mountaineer Maniacs will have a tailgate starting at 5 p.m. by the stadium, and there will be pregame fireworks and a celebration for the 50th-anniversary of the program. The team will also wear throwback uniforms made by Nike.

"We haven't necessarily had the most successful tradition here, but there is a tradition of teams that have won championships in this program," LeBlanc said. "It's important that our guys go out in what is an important weekend for our program to try to make it special, perform, get a result and really show how far we've come.

"Opening weekend is a big weekend, because it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the year, so I'm hoping our performance will be the draw for everybody to keep coming back."

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