CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Football season was agonizing and basketball season was simply painful, but Marshall does have NCAA tournament representation this weekend. In two sports, even.
Thundering Herd golfer Nathan Kerns tees off this morning in one of six NCAA regionals, contested at Ohio State's renowned Scarlet Course. On Friday, the MU softball team begins play in a four-team, double-elimination regional, taking on host Kentucky.
It's not a bad way for the Herd's athletic department to close out its eighth academic year in Conference USA.
Kerns becomes the second MU golfer to make the NCAA tournament in three years, and 12th all-time, a list that includes Harold Payne (1975, 1977), Sleepy Hollow Country Club general manager Jonathan Clark (1996) and current mini-tour player Christian Brand (2011). The Herd has qualified as a team five times, the last being 1993.
The 54-hole regional is the latest in a year of milestones for Kerns, a senior from nearby Ironton, Ohio. Last summer, he won the Ohio Amateur and the Mid-Ohio Golf Association Championship. In the college season, he was runner-up in the fall Marshall Invitational and finished third in the recent C-USA championships.
That was a climb from his 13th-place finish of a year ago. First-year coach Matt Grobe said Kerns has improved the most from the tee up to the green.
"He's always had a pretty good short game," Grobe said. "I think he started hitting the ball a little better this year. When you can chip and putt like Nathan Kerns can, when the ball striking comes into play he's a really tough player.
The national finals take place May 28-June 2 at the Capital City Club's Crabapple Course in Atlanta. The low five teams from each regional will advance.
For Kerns to keep his career alive, he must defeat all golfers from the teams that finished outside of the five best, as well as the other nine individual entrants. If he doesn't beat those odds, it will be time to consider his post-college options.
He is on track to receive his business degree this fall, after defending his titles in Ohio this summer. After that, who knows?
Back in 2011, Brand went to work at The Arnold Agency and the West Virginia Golf Association after his NCAA appearance. Then he won the West Virginia Amateur, played in the Greenbrier Classic and turned pro in the summer of 2012.
On the other hand, Bosten Miller went straight to medical school.
"Almost all kids in that realm, where they're playing good college golf, have [a pro career] in their mind," Grobe said. "I think he'll try to defend [his titles in Ohio], then he has to make a decision.
"You've got to be all in; you can't do it halfway."