HUNTINGTON - A Monday walk through the hallway of the Marshall University softball offices presented a snapshot of the Thundering Herd season.
Head coach Megan Smith sat with her entire staff - all equipped with laptops - while going over needs for this week's National Invitational Softball Championship (NISC) that starts at 1 p.m. Thursday with regional play against George Washington University (42-16) at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
There was game film of this week's regional opponents. There was film of their own contests in the Conference USA Tournament to analyze. There was logistical data for the trip.
All of those things signaled a commitment to the fine details, which is what turned Marshall from a 25-win squad in 2018 to a 39-win (39-20 and counting) team in Smith's first season.
When Louisiana Tech defeated Marshall, 3-1, in the Conference USA Tournament finals Saturday, many Herd players thought the season - and, for some their careers - had ended.
As Smith said Monday, however, the NISC provides a big opportunity for exiting seniors and young players who make up the nucleus of the roster.
"I think this tournament is big," Smith said. "It's been around three years and it's similar to the NIT in basketball. We're excited for it for a couple reasons. One, we've had a great season and we have some seniors who have done some unbelievable things and didn't have an opportunity to play a lot before this year, so it gives them some postseason opportunities to play. And again, we're so young, so we feel getting this bid was huge for our future - for those underclassmen to get postseason experience in that atmosphere."
Marshall was on the tournament radar from the midway point of the season, and the Herd closed with wins in 12 of its last 14 games, including an eight-game C-USA winning streak, to end the season.
The team rode that momentum into the C-USA tournament where it earned a pair of wins over No. 1 seed North Texas before falling in the championship to Louisiana Tech.
While the NCAA Tournament was the goal, Smith was appreciative of Marshall's administration for recognizing the Herd success and submitting the paperwork for the NISC, which announced its field at 10 p.m. Sunday following the completion of the NCAA Selection Show.
"I think the administration being open to us doing this is really important," Smith said. "Some schools, their administrations don't allow it. We were lucky enough that they saw how we finished and they felt we were deserving to keep playing. We're thankful that Mike (athletic director Mike Hamrick) and the rest of the administration support us."
Marshall is one of six teams in the Liberty Regional. In addition to George Washington and the host Flames (37-20), Marshall's competition will include Appalachian State (31-23), Kent State (27-24) and Rutgers (28-24).
Smith said that while the tournament is a well-deserved honor for the seniors, the biggest benefit is for those underclassmen who will return as she looks to build the program into a perennial postseason team.
"We were looking at George Washington, whom we open up with, and they are hitting .350 as a team and they have a pitcher with 260 strikeouts," Smith said. "We're going to be playing some really tough competition and that's great for our underclassmen to be able to go to postseason, play great competition and get a feel for it as we move forward next year."
The NISC includes 19 teams and is broken down into four regions: Liberty, Nevada, Iowa State and Stephen F. Austin. The winners of those four double-elimination regionals will travel to Fort Collins, Colorado, to the NISC Championship rounds, which take place May 24-26.