MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Two years ago, WVU men’s soccer TV color analyst Adam Zundell made a remark before WVU’s upset of No. 3 Pitt that foreshadowed the future state of college soccer in West Virginia.
“Well it’s the center of the college soccer universe,” Zundell said. “I think everybody thinks that West Virginia is that way.”
At the time, it would’ve been a stretch. Now, that statement is nearly irrefutable. Both WVU (No. 2) and Marshall (No. 1) – the only other DI school in the state – are ranked as the top two men’s soccer teams in the nation.
“I texted [Marshall head coach] Chris Grassie on Monday night and just sort of said, ‘Let’s have a momentary appreciation for one another,'” WVU head coach Dan Stratford said.
Without Grassie, there is no Dan Stratford as we know it, and the same is likely true for the reverse. The two coaches won three conference championships and reached two DII national championship games together at the University of Charleston from 2014-16 with Grassi as head coach and Stratford an assistant.
“We’re great friends,” Stratford said. “We worked together for a long time. We have a history together and a shared affinity [for] the University of Charleston, which is, again, another West Virginia school and a powerhouse in Division II. So yeah, it’s kind of cool when you look in that moment.”
In 2017, Grassie left Charleston to take the post of head coach at Marshall. While Stratford went on to win two DII national championships in three years as the head coach at Charleston, Grassie won a College Cup National Championship with the Thundering Herd in 2021.
“There’s not a lot that has surprised me about what he’s done at Marshall, and where the program is elevated right now,” Stratford said. “And I honestly believe in myself and what we can do here at West Virginia. Not to say we expected it, but we’re ambitious, and we are ambitious to sustain it. They’ve got one over us, in terms of national championships, so we’ve got some work to do here as well.”
It will be a while until the teams meet this season. WVU (6-0-1, 0-0-1 Sun Belt) and Marshall (7-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) don’t meet until Oct. 18 when the Thundering Herd comes to Morgantown for a match at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
The expectation for Stratford is that WVU will be as highly-recognized come mid-October, but the team will have to sustain its momentum as it reaches the heart of conference play.
“We’re not going to spend too much time enjoying [the ranking],” Stratford said. “I think the objective for both of us is to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season as well.”