Washburn University softball player Hailey Neira knows what it's like to win a national championship.

HaileyNeiraWU 1Former national champion Hailey Neira is hoping to help Washburn softball make a strong late-season run. [Photo courtesy of Washburn Athletics]

And the senior outfielder can't think of anything better than to be able to share that feeling with her Ichabod teammates.

"My freshman year I was at West Texas A&M and I started there as a freshman and we ended up winning the whole thing, the national champions,'' Neira said. "So I know what that feeling is and I would love for everyone to experience that because it really is a crazy feeling.

"It feels unreal and to be able to experience that with this team, we would have so much fun.''

After helping the Buffaloes win the 2021 NCAA Division II national championship, the San Antonio native made the decision to enter the transfer portal, ending up with Brenda Holaday's Ichabods for the 2022 season.

"I finished my freshman year on a high and went to WT the fall semester and then entered the transfer portal and had to tranfer at the semester,'' Neira said. "That was kind of scary because who's looking for a player at semester because the season's starting in a couple of weeks. It was stressful but I found Holaday and I flew out here on a visit.

"I was meeting with other coaches but the experience I had here wasn't like what I had at any of the other schools I had went and visited. I'm definitely happy here.''

HaileyNeiraWU 2Senior Hailey Neira is hitting .403 for the No. 24-ranked Ichabods, who are 26-10 on the season. [Photo courtesy of Washburn Athletics]

HaileyNeiraWU 3Washburn senior outfielder Hailey Neira raised her batting average 37 points last weekend with a 7 of 12 performance in MIAA twinbills against Central Missouri and Lincoln. [Photo courtesy of Washburn Athletics]

Now in her third season with the Ichabods, Neira is off to the best start of her Washburn career, hitting .403 in 33 starts while compiling a .468 slugging percentage and an .483 on-base percentage.

And Neira put together what was arguably her best weekend in an Ichabod uniform last weekend, breaking out of a slump with a 7 of 12 performance at the plate to help the Ichabods win three of four MIAA contests.

Neira went 3 for 6 in Washburn's split with Central Missouri and then went 4 of 6 with four runs scored the following day as the Ichabods swept Lincoln to improve to 26-10 on the season.

"I think I started off the season strong and then I kind of hit a downfall,'' Neira said. "It was just getting back to how I felt in those beginning weekends because I was feeling pretty confident in what I was doing and then I kind of hit like a slump where I was trying to figure it out and I was maybe over-thinking it too much.

"It was just going back and calming down and going back to just what was normal for me.''

Neira got back on track with a 2 of 3 first game against Central Missouri and said that was a big boost for her confidence.

"It definitely helps,'' she said. "When you're going through a slump and you finally get that feel-good hit, it's like, 'OK, I didn't forget how to hit. I'm still able to do it.'

"I definitely think I needed that just to get my weekend going and it was nice to have it in the first game.''

Now Neira's focus is on helping the Ichabods finish the regular season with a bang and contend for an MIAA Tournament title while punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Washburn has the fifth-toughest remaining schedule in the country, with opponents having a combined winning percentage of .641 (286-160).

"We go into every weekend with the same mindset but I think we just need to get over that hurdle when we play the really good teams,'' Neira said. "I think it's just finding that bond and trying to feel the same as we do when we're playing all the teams.'' 

Neira and the No. 24-ranked Ichabods return to Gahnstrom Field this weekend, hosting Northwest Missouri on Friday and Missouri Western in MIAA doubleheaders.

The Ichabods' doubleheader with Northwest Missouri (16-16, 5-3 MIAA) will start at 4 p.m. on Friday while Saturday's twinbill with Missouri Western (19-9, 5-3) will start at noon.



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