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On Monday, Marshall’s men’s soccer coach Chris Grassie gave a glimpse of why his team has been successful in 2019.

Fresh off the program’s first Conference USA championship, Grassie joined his team as the NCAA selection show revealed that the Thundering Herd received a No. 11 national seed, guaranteeing Marshall a bye for the first round of the NCAA tournament.

While many were celebrating the feat — and especially the announcement that the Herd would host the winner of Thursday’s West Virginia-Butler match on Sunday at Hoops Family Field in Huntington — Grassie’s focus remained bigger.

“We’re trying to be national champs,” Grassie said. “It’s the only way. No one wants to muddle along and be middle of the table. We want to be national champs and we’re trying to do that.”

No matter who the opponent is for Sunday’s matchup, which will be at a time to be announced later, there will be plenty of emotion for Grassie as he takes the Herd into its first NCAA match. Grassie coached with many members of Butler’s staff, which is why the teams set up a non-conference matchup earlier this season — a match the Herd won 2-1.

The good feelings of a potential matchup with Butler are countered by a possible match with West Virginia in Huntington that feels like there is no love lost between the sides.

“Obviously beating WVU would be a very nice event here and I think we’re very capable of doing that, but you know, my heart’s really for Butler because of those guys over there,” Grassie said. “Whoever we play, I know these guys will give it their best and I think we’ll be favorites going into that game.”

Grassie said the NCAA “must have a sense of humor” after the matchups were released.

The Mountaineers (9-8-2) enter the Butler match just one game over .500, but cemented an NCAA tournament berth by winning the Mid-American Conference tournament. It is WVU’s second straight berth and the 14th in program history. The Mountaineers and Bulldogs will square off at 6 p.m. Thursday.

“[I’ve said along the way that] we weren’t far off,” WVU coach Marlon LeBlanc said. “We were playing well, but just kept scoring on ourselves and getting assists for opponents and missing some key players. We never really felt like we were far off.

“So, there wasn’t a whole lot of panic, ever. Usually, when you go on streaks in the negative direction, you can very quickly lose your team. That never happened in our locker room.”

WVU’s MAC title was its first as a member of the conference and its first overall conference championship since 1992. The Mountaineers scored three victories in six days, including a 1-0 win over Bowling Green in the championship match.

In addition to the ties with Butler, the potential of a Marshall-West Virginia matchup offers a juicy opportunity that Grassie candidly discussed because of its impact for the state.

“We should play WVU every year,” Grassie said. “They should not be too scared to play us, which they are. They should come and play us every year because it’s great for the state and we owe it to the state.

“It’s the most-played sport in the state with the youth. Let’s just give the state’s soccer a boost and play every year. Hopefully, this is kind of the beginning of that.”

Marshall’s confidence coming into the match is like its ranking — at an all-time high — after the Herd took home its first-ever Conference USA tournament championship on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Charlotte in double overtime. That match gave Marshall (15-2-3) its fourth consecutive victory over ranked competition to end the season.

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