By RICK PETERSON
Washburn University softball stars Jaycee Ginter and Marrit Mead have a lot in common.
In fact, the pair probably has more in common than not.
Shawnee Heights product Ginter and Santa Fe Trail grad Mead have played club softball together since middle school, are roommates, take most of the same classes at WU as nursing majors and even have the same part-time job.
"I wouldn't say we were as close as ever from the start, but when you start playing sports together and are always on the field together you build a connection,’’ Mead said. “Obviously from eighth grade till now that's a lot of years and that's a lot of time spent together, on the softball field, on the volleyball court and just hanging out.
”All those things you just build so many connections and I think (our closeness) has just built up over time.''
"I think we started playing club softball together in seventh or eighth grade and then we also joined the same volleyball team, so we also played volleyball together and kind of just were always hanging out,’’ Ginter said.
Recently the two added one more element to their unbreakable bond – sharing the title of NCAA Division II All-American as sophomores – after helping lead Brenda Holaday’s Ichabods to the MIAA regular-season championship, an NCAA Tournament berth and a 45-15 overall record.
A pitcher/outfielder, Ginter earned first-team All-America accolades from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and the NCAA Division II Conference Commissioners Association while Mead, a third baseman, earned All-America honors for the second straight season, earning third-team recognition from the NFCA and honorable mention from D2CCA.
Ginter, the MIAA Player of the Year, became the first Ichabod to earn NFCA first-team recognition after posting a 30-7 pitching record with 290 strikeouts in 234 1/3 innings and hitting .385 with 10 home runs, 57 runs batted in and 41 runs scored.
Mead, who hit .404, ranked second in the nation with 23 doubles and sixth in the nation with 84 hits while also leading the Ichabods with 61 runs scored and 22 stolen bases and knocking in 40 runs.
Given the season they had, being named All-Americans wasn’t a big surprise for either Ginter or Mead and Ginter said the two players helped each other reach that level.
"Coming in we knew we were good enough to get to this point, so we obviously just kind of motivated each other to get here,’’ Ginter said. "During the season you're just competing so all you're trying to do is win in the moment and when success happens it just happens for you. So when you've done that all season long you're just expecting some recognition and some respect and I think we've shown that and we got it.''
The fact that Ginter and Mead ended up playing together at Washburn was much more than a coincidence.
"Probably freshman year (of high school) is when we kind of started talking about college, where we thought it would be cool to go,’’ Ginter said.
And Washburn was always in that conversation.
"It was definitely talked about,’’ Ginter said. "It's good playing with someone that you already knew prior. I feel like knowing her prior just made me feel more comfortable in the whole program.''
Added Mead: "Especially knowing how good the other one is, you want to surround yourself with good players and I already knew she was good so why wouldn't you want to play with someone who is good?''
Both players agree that Washburn has been a great fit.
"I've loved it here,’’ Ginter said. “I feel like I automatically fit in with everybody, with the whole campus. I just felt like it was home.''
"I came from a small town in Overbrook and you think every college is big, but Washburn is really bearable,’’ she said. “The classes are small, everything is doable and not too overpowering, so just having a sense of having something that's normal to me being like in a little small community, I like that.''
Softball is obviously a huge part of the bond between Ginter and Mead, but not the only bond between the duo, which has been roommates since arriving at Washburn.
"Even our first two years of school we literally had every class together, so even from like a school aspect it was like, 'You're going to study so can I study with you?’ '' Mead said. “It’s just that, 'Well, I'm going to do this, you're going to help,' that type of thing.''
"I think we're good at holding each other accountable, for schoolwork, softball stuff, anything,’’ Ginter said.
Ginter and Mead also co-manage the snack shack at Topeka Country Club and while spending as much time together as they do could get to be a grind, Mead said it works for her and her BFF.
"There's times when it can be hard but it's not like, 'Oh my God, you're driving me absolutely nuts,' ‘’ Mead said with a chuckle. “I think we have a lot of fun together. The softball world is different. We don't always take softball stuff home with us, so when we get home it's just hanging out. We're not doing softball stuff, so I think that's what makes it easier to not be like, 'Oh, let's not hang out,' because you don't bring home the stuff that's draining.''
Ginter said she and Mead are good about being able to have fun together no matter what they’re doing.
"I say life is short, why not have fun with it?’’ Ginter said.
Holaday said Ginter and Mead’s personalities have a lot to do with their softball success.
"Not only are they talented and hard workers and push each other and hold each other accountable, but I also think a big part of it is just their demeanor,’’ Holaday said. “They don't get too high and they don't get too low and they have an internal belief in themselves. It's not cocky, it's a belief and in the game of softball, because it is a game of failure in a lot of ways, the athletes who really excel are the ones who don't allow themselves to feel (the pressure) at that level.
"If it's Jaycee pitching and she goes out and has a rough inning she literally does not carry that with her to the next inning. That's really easy to say, but really hard to do and really hard to coach. Kids either do that or they don't. If Marrit has two or three games where she doesn't hit very well you go to talk to her about her hitting and the first thing that you notice as a coach is that her confidence level is the same as if she were hitting. She's like, 'Yeah, I've got to figure this out.' She understands what's going on, but she's not deterred by it.’’
The great news for Holaday and her Ichabods is that her All-Americans have two seasons remaining, and Holaday thinks even better days are ahead.
"They both just have this internal kind of barometer that tells them they're good and they can get better,’’ Holaday said. “I think that keeps them working hard and they now know what else they want to achieve.
“They didn't come to Washburn just to be an All-American. They came to Washburn to be a national champion so we've still got steps to take, but they just have this part inside of them that always moves in a positive and forward direction. They know their hard work is going to pay off and they believe in themselves. They would bet on themselves and if you can find kids who will bet on themselves, they're going to be great.’’