Marshall County's boys' soccer program is in elite company.
The Marshals picked up win No. 500, becoming the first public school soccer team in Kentucky to accomplish that feat, joining Louisville St. Xavier (691) and Covington Catholic (617) as the only other schools in the state whose soccer teams have reached the half-century mark.
"It's really special for us," Marshals coach Donnie Heath said. "We're the first public school, which is something we're really proud of. The boys really took that on as something they wanted to achieve. We know it took a ton of former players, parents, coaches and volunteers to get to this point. We're just really excited and proud to be a part of a program like this."
Marshall very nearly reached No. 500 last season, coming three games short.
"Towards the middle of the year, I had a parent send me a note and said, 'Hey. We're getting kind of close to this.'
"I had a little bit of an eye on it last year. We didn't make a big deal of it only because I didn't want them to have extra pressure during the postseason. But, we were mindful of it. Coming into this year, we knew we had three games on Monday (3-1 over Paducah Tilghman), Tuesday (2-1 over St. Mary) and Thursday (6-1 over Mayfield), and that we were three short. We knew the games would be tough, but if we could get it done, we could knock it out in the first three games. Our boys really took that on and we were able to get it done. They were excited. They really, really wanted it."
And, early in the year, the milestone provides a boost, Heath said, for the rest of the season.
"It gives us a boost, naturally, and I think it puts things in perspective for the players and makes them realize that it's not about any single player or coach, for that matter, myself included. It's about the program. We're playing for a program that's bigger than all of us and that has a history here. The boost it gives us is, maybe, a realization that we have to play to a certain standard and there's a lot of people who are keeping up with us. We want to make sure we play up to that standard that's been set for so long."
Marshall County's boys' soccer program was started in 1983.
But it wasn't until 1987 that the Marshals found success, finishing the year with their first winning record. In 1988, Marshall won its first regional championship, when what are now the First and Second regions were combined.
Then, in 1989, the Marshals made the state Final Four.
"It took a lot of people working very hard," said Andy Pagel, who played at Marshall from 1987-89, was an assistant from 1995-96 and again from 1998-2006, before becoming the coach from 2011-16. "A lot of people whose names will never be mentioned. It's a proud family. You run into alumni and catch back up. Everyone wants to know how the team is doing. There's a lot of pride in the program. We haven't won a state championship. We're not Mayfield football. But, we're very proud of what we've been able to accomplish.
"I think that (the Final Four trip) really ignited soccer not just in our local community, but in the western Kentucky community with the success we had at state that year."
And, as its success would indicate, quite the coaching tree has developed in Draffenville from teams' past.
One of those coaches is former Marshal Blaine Skeen, who graduated in 2014 and went on to play for four seasons at Georgetown College.
"The program at Marshall is one that instills a winning tradition and culture in its players, coaches and all those involved with the program," said Skeen, now the coach at St. Mary. "It makes me proud as an alum for the program to reach such a milestone and I was happy to be a part of it for six years."
Skeen replaced another former Marshal, Doug Shelton, as the Vikings' skipper. Shelton is now the principal at St. Mary. Murray coach Jared Rosa is also an ex-Marshal soccer player. Another, Tanner Reeves, is in his first season coaching at Caldwell County.
"We've got a lot of those in the area," said Pagel, who is now an assistant coach on Marshall's girls' soccer team, where his daughter, Jeanne is a freshman. "We've got guys all over the place. We're really proud of that, too. We have quite a coaching tree. That's a big thing. People do recognize the brand and respect what we've built."