By: Madison Feldhahn

Let’s dance.

That’s the theme of the 2024 season for Brenda Holaday and Washburn University.

“You want to get to the dance – postseason – but also let’s find reasons every day to dance, to celebrate what we’re doing. One of the things we do after every practice is the kids get to pick who they thought had an outstanding practice. Then they get in a circle and do their little dance move. Some days it’s one kid and some days it’s two or three kids,” Holaday told Top Gun Events. “We do something at the end of every game – who’s dancing, who’s dancing? The kids have just taken it on their own and it’s created a togetherness of them.”

The Ichabods have a lot to dance for after starting their season 7-2, including a win over #12 Southern Arkansas University in nine innings. Their only losses have come in a 1-3 game against Wingate University and a 0-1 game against #8 UT-Tyler.

“We fared well against top 15 teams in the nation right out of the gate, which I think is always a good sign. We’re playing as tough a schedule as we’ve played since I’ve been here. I feel like that’s what we need to do to build ourselves for an opportunity for the postseason,” said Holaday.

Building their résumé for postseason is a priority for Holaday after the heartbreaking end to the 2023 season. The Ichabods finished fifth in the MIAAA regular season and finished 1-2 in the MIAA Championship Tournament with losses to the University of Central Missouri and Missouri Southern. Holaday and her Ichabods were looking forward to the NCAA Tournament, but after an upset in the Great American Conference, the team was not selected.

“I would say it ended kind of disappointing and sad for us because I felt like we were a team that could compete at that level. At the same time, we also had some pretty significant injuries to some really important players in our lineup,” said Holaday. “All in all, it was a great season. Our kids battled, but we sure would’ve liked to be a little healthier at the end and been able to get into the postseason.”

Another focus for Washburn this year was to create more depth on their roster. The Icahbods carry a roster of 22 this season, featuring six freshman and four transfers.

“I think one of the weaknesses in our squad that last couple years is we’ve always carried a small roster, 17 or 18 kids. So, when we got to the end of the season, if we had some injuries, if kids are tired and worn down, we didn’t have the depth that we needed to finish strong. I feel like we really have that this year, and we definitely started that way,” Holaday said.

Her seasoned team includes 12 juniors and seniors. Three of her seniors – Marrit Mead, Auty Schreiner and Jaycee Ginter – have played all four years for her. Altogether, the four seniors have played a combined 537 games for Washburn.

“When you have those three kids [Mead, Schreiner and Ginter] at the center of what you’re trying to do and they’ve been on the field for us since they were freshmen, it’s a really good core group to build around,” said Holaday.

Of course, the Ichabods’ ultimate goal is to make the NCAA tournament, but Holaday wants her team to enjoy the journey. She’s made changes in her coaching style to make sure she does the same. After spending her entire coaching career coaching third base, she’s now in the dugout and in tune with her athlete’s emotions. It’s helping Holaday and her team to find reasons to dance every day.

“Our kids have their eyes on the goal. But I think we’re in a little better place emotionally with that. We’re not driven by that every day,” Holaday said. “We’re driven by giving our best, encouraging each other, supporting each other. We’re not really spending so much time talking about an ultimate prize. Let’s make each day count and enjoy each day and trust that that process will get us where we want to go.”

The Ichabods return home to Topeka for the Washburn Invite from February 23 to 25. MIAA conference play will begin on March 8 with a doubleheader at the University of Central Oklahoma. Their regular season concludes on April 27. The MIAA Championship Tournament starts May 1.

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