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HUNTINGTON - The drive to Marshall University includes roads that Abbie Tolbert has grown accustomed to since she was a little kid growing up in Barboursville.

Tolbert's road during her career at Marshall, however? Well, it's been a bit more of a winding path than the 20-minute trek down I-64 and into Huntington.

After pitching in only one game during her first two seasons with Marshall, Tolbert became a fixture in the circle in 2018.

When new coach Megan Smith arrived, however, Tolbert became not only a leader in the circle, but also a pivotal leader in the clubhouse for a virtually-young team.

Part of the reason was because of the path Tolbert had taken to achieve success on the field - one of overcoming adversity and continued belief in her abilities.

All it takes is asking Tolbert about her thoughts on her entire career path to see why Smith made the decision that she was a top-shelf leader for the Herd.

"Obviously, I wouldn't have envisioned sitting the bench for two years," Tolbert said. "I always say it was God's time and not mine. I think going through that has given me the character, work ethic and the determination that I have, which makes me the player I am. In the beginning, I hated (sitting out), but looking back, I wouldn't have asked for anything different and I wouldn't change it at all."

That ability to deal with adversity served her well in the circle as she consistently pitched around danger to avert issues. Perhaps the best example of this came recently in the Conference USA Tournament when Tolbert earned a pair of 1-0 wins over top-seed North Texas to knock the Mean Green out of the tournament.

Marshall (39-20) was slated to make its postseason debut on Thursday when the Herd played George Washington as part of the Liberty Regional of the National Invitational Softball Championships (NISC) in Lynchburg, Virginia.

There, Tolbert will match up with some of the nation's better teams in an effort to continue to do what she loves - represent Marshall University.

"I get to rep the Herd for a little bit longer and that's obviously what I love to do," Tolbert said. "Based on my reactions with strikeouts and plays, I think it's very clear I love the Herd. And what better way? It's such a sweet moment to do it a little longer."

Smith did not mince words when discussing why that Marshall chose to put in its bid for the NISC. Simply put, it was for players like Tolbert and catcher Hayden Ellis, who waited patiently for their turns to emerge as leaders.

Their leadership helped the Herd from a 25-win season in 2018 to a 39-win season in 2019 as they head into the postseason tournament.

The first-year coach especially lauded Tolbert, who was on the team that went to the NCAA tournament in 2017, but did not get a chance to see action.

This time around, the action will hinge on Tolbert's abilities.

"For her to come two years from that to now, being a 26-game winner and leading her team, that's one of the reasons that we wanted this opportunity - for players like her," Smith said. "She has worked extremely hard and had a lot of adversity, but stuck with it. She led our team this season and we did some really great things and she deserves to play in the postseason."

Tolbert said that Smith's attention to detail in the process of building a program is what helped her and her teammates grow throughout the year.

As Marshall heads into the NISC, the Herd has won 11 of its last 14 games which helped them reach the Conference USA Championship game.

"Being able to see the process is a lot different from last year," Tolbert said. "I think it enables us to see where we are growing and where we need to keep working. That's super-important to be so organized and lay out the process to where we can see it."

For the season, Tolbert is 26-16 with a 2.72 earned run average. In 234 innings, she has 172 strikeouts with 87 walks.

To put it in perspective, Tolbert's 26 wins in the circle this season are more wins than the entire Herd output of 2018, signaling the growth of the team.

Now, she gets to put her talents to the test in a postseason event, which Smith is eager to see.

"We're excited to see her compete," Smith said. "She's fun to watch and we're excited to see her for another week - hopefully, more than that."

Marshall joins five other teams in the Liberty Regional. In addition to George Washington, other teams within the region include Appalachian State, Rutgers, Liberty and Kent State.

There are four regions in the NISC, and the winners of each region meet May 24-26 in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the championship rounds.

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