There will be eight teams playing in the NCAA Division II men’s and women’s National Semifinals on Thursday — with the winners advancing to Saturday’s National Championship games at Highmark Stadium.
Of all the teams, and all the players that helped their schools make it to Pittsburgh — there’s one player who will have a pretty special homecoming.
West Chester’s fifth year senior goalkeeper Will Marshall spent a lot of time at Highmark Stadium in recent years.
First attending goalkeeper training academy -learning from the likes of former Riverhounds goalkeeper and Riverhounds Developmental Academy’s Hunter Gilstrap and others. Then the North Versailles native spent a good part of the past four years as a coach and instructor with the Academy while attending the University of Pittsburgh.
Now, Marshall returns to his hometown trying to help his new school win a National Championship.
“Wild,” Marshall said after the Golden Rams advanced to the NCAA DIvision II Final Four for the first time in school history. “It’s absolutely insane that I’m going to be playing on a field I trained on and coached on for the past four plus years.”
Marshall decided to leave Pittsburgh for West Chester University, after earning his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Pittsburgh — where he spent the previous four years using up three seasons of his eligibility mostly as a back-up or third-string keeper for Pitt.
“I wanted to see what was out there. I want to become a teacher, so I looked at PSAC schools that had education majors, and West Chester turned out to be a great fit,” Marshall said. “It all happened so fast. I got my release from Pitt. It was all mutual. I would not be the player and person I am today without having an incredible experience at Pitt.”
It turned out that Marshall’s only college game experience prior to this season was in getting 15 minutes of action in the second half of Pitt’s 7-0 win against ‘Backyard Brawl’ rival West Virginia in 2017.
Marshall was there during Pitt’s transition from long-time coach Joe Luxbaucher to Jay Vidovich, having played under both coaches.
“I thought I was really good player, then at Pitt, being part of a such a high-caliber program you really can see how good everyone is. When coach Vidovich came in, the level of professionalism that he instilled in the program was remarkable,” Marshall said. “To be a small part in the beginning of turning that program around was very special. Those were two really good seasons for Pitt.”
Marshall is very proud of his Western PA roots.
From North Versailles and having attended East Allegheny High School, Marshall literally wears his hometown pride for everyone to see –as he can be seen walking around the West Chester campus regularly wearing ‘412’ shirts and he has a tattoo emblazoned with the nickname of his hometown ‘The ‘Sailles”.
Marshall starred on some pretty good East Allegheny teams that also included Vinny Barone, who would go on to play Division I soccer at American University. They each contributed to teams that earned co-section championships and made the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs during his high school years.
“It’s not a hotbed for soccer by any means, so I loved to be able to help put East Allegheny on the map whenever I can,” Marshall said of his experiences playing for East Allegheny, with club Allegheny Force and in PA West. “We learned how to grind. How to body up, play hard-nosed soccer.”
Ask Marshall’s boss, and former goalkeeper coach Hunter Gilstrap about his attributes, and you’ll hear rave reviews about the 5-foot-8 keeper.
“He has unbelievable technical ability,” Gilstrap said. “Because he’s well undersized, it was hard for him when competing with 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 keepers at Pitt to get enough playing time, but I am so glad that he’s had this opportunity (at West Chester). He’s really making the most of it.”
Gilstrap said that both Marshall, and recent Riverhounds goalkeeper Dan Lynd were in the same category as key contributors and mainstays as part of the RDA’s goalkeeper academy, each bringing a similar work ethic and have maximized their talents.
With the Golden Rams, Marshall has been a steadying force in goal — setting the school record for most wins in a season by a goalkeeper. In a college game now filled with many rosters that have an influx of internationals, West Chester has been an exception. Marshall is the lone Western PA rep on a roster filled with talented players from Philadelphia and its surrounding areas.
Now, after his West Chester teammates have shown him the ropes and helped him get acquainted to being in Eastern PA, he gets to show off his hometown. The Golden Rams, and all of the DII teams (in all sports as a part of the NCAA Division II Championships Festival) this week have been treated to an opening ceremony — and various activities.
Marshall and his teammates visited UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on Wednesday, hanging out with patients in the outpatient waiting areas — playing games and doing various arts and crafts.
“It was a great experience, so glad we had this opportunity to do this,” Marshall said.
— WCU Athletics (@WCUAthletics) November 28, 2018
In the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, West Chester faced a rigorous road, but with a strong defense in front of him, Marshall posted three clean sheets including two wins against No. 1 seeds to get to Highmark Stadium.
“The guys in front of me, and our back line have been solid,” Marshall said. “In the past few games I’ve been ready to make saves — but haven’t been as busy because they’ve done an excellent job in limiting some really good teams’ chances.”
After defeating Notre Dame (OH) in their first NCAA tournament game, the Golden Rams ended Charleston (WV)’s title defense in a 1-0 shutout. Then, the Golden Rams blanked Adelphi 2-0 in the Sweet 16.
With upset wins over Charleston and Notre Dame behind them, West Chester are a confident group and believe they can take the NCAA title at Highmark Stadium this coming weekend.
“For us, the fear is gone,” Marshall said. “Beating Notre Dame, beating Charleston, there’s nobody right now left that we can’t beat. We are going to do what got us here. We’ll be highly organized. We’ll battle for 90 minutes for more – and I’m already prepping the guys on what’s it’s going to be like playing at Highmark.”
Marshall will have plenty of supporters at Highmark on Thursday — and he hopes on Saturday.
“We’ll be there rooting him on,” Gilstrap said. “It’s really a testament hard work that paid off. Everyone here with Riverhounds organization is really proud of him. It’s a great story — to see him come back to his hometown with a chance to win a National Championship.”
NCAA Final Four Schedule (all games played at Highmark Stadium)
November 30, 2018
Fort Hays State vs Barry – 11 a..m.
West Chester vs Cal Poly Pumona – 2 p.m.
UC San Diego vs Bridgeport – 5 p.m.
Grand Valley St. vs Lee – 8 p.m.
December 1, 2018
Men’s final – Noon
Women’s final – 3 p.m.
The @WCUMensSoccer team trained at @highmarkstadium this morning in preparation for tomorrow’s #D2Festival National Semifinal against Cal Poly Pomona at 2:00pm. #MakeItYours pic.twitter.com/q6l9R0ouRZ
— WCU Athletics (@WCUAthletics) November 28, 2018