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Washburn’s winningest women’s basketball coach retiring after 22 years

Ron McHenry cutting down the nets after a national championship

Ron McHenry, ba ’85, cuts down the net after his team won the 2012-13 MIAA championship. McHenry retired after 22 years as head coach. He won eight MIAA regular-season titles and a national championship. Photo by Gene Cassell

From The Ichabod - Spring 2022
By Chris Marshall

Ron McHenry, ba ’85, has been a mainstay in the Washburn University athletic department for most of the past 40 years, first as a basketball player, then as men’s golf head coach, men’s basketball assistant coach and for the past two-plus decades, the leader of a winning women’s basketball program. Now, he’s moving into an unfamiliar role with the Ichabods: a fan.

Washburn’s all-time women’s basketball wins leader announced his retirement soon after the season ended in March, capping a 22-year coaching tenure that included an NCAA Division II national championship and 15 MIAA conference championships. While this isn’t goodbye from Lee Arena – he and his wife, Mischa, bs ’82, bba ’85, mba ’91, already purchased season tickets for next year – he is looking forward to life outside of basketball.

“I’ve been doing something at Washburn for more than half my life,” McHenry said. “I haven’t done anything away from here. It’s been a great place to go to school, to play at and to work at. I didn’t move all that time because I can’t see anyplace being better than what Washburn had to offer.”

McHenry delivered Washburn its first and only NCAA national championship in any sport in 2005, and the following year, led the team to a perfect 27-0 regular season.

“To have a championship team, then keep it going the next year to win 51 straight is pretty special,” he said. “But I still think back to those teams in year two or three that got us to the Elite Eight and got it all started. That was a group where I inherited some players, recruited some of them, and we just came together. It was early in my head coaching career, and it was special because then we knew we could do it.”

McHenry won an unprecedented 490 games in his career, but takes more pride in his development of true student-athletes. Ichabods were frequently named to MIAA all-academic teams, and when their playing days ended, entered their careers with valuable lessons.

“It’s a great degree from Washburn, and probably their most important accomplishment,” he said. “They all quit playing basketball at some point, but they become employees, CEOs, doctors and nurses. That continues on, and I’m really proud about that. Whatever part in that I had means a lot.”

Dr. Alison (Garrett) Blevins, bs ’05, who came to Washburn in McHenry’s second year and played from 2001-05, is still the most accurate 3-point shooter in school history (41.4%) with 120 career 3-pointers made. Now, her focus is on a more important three: raising her trio of children with her husband, Eric Blevins, bs ’01, mcj ’03, jd ’06.

As an OB-GYN, balancing family life with an unpredictable work schedule can be difficult, but while playing for McHenry, she learned how to perform at her best, even when the responsibilities feel overwhelming.

“My job as an OB-GYN is very stressful but also rewarding,” said Blevins, a doctor at the Women’s Clinic of Johnson County. “Playing basketball at Washburn was very similar. We had great success, but worked extremely hard to achieve it. I learned a lot in my four years at Washburn, and not all of it came from the classroom.”

Perhaps no former player received more career guidance from McHenry than Brette (Ulsaker) Herber, ba ’11, a guard from McPherson, Kansas, who transferred from the University of Utah after her freshman year. She played for Washburn from 2007-10 and ranks in the top 50 in career assists, steals and offensive rebounds.

Herber was a student assistant for one year, then spent two years as an assistant coach at Iowa Western Community College before returning to McHenry’s staff in 2013.

“Washburn is home for me,” said Herber, whose brother, Christian Ulsaker, ba ’19, played for the men’s basketball team, and sister, Ally Ulsaker, ba ’19, worked in the athletic department. “I appreciate the opportunity he gave me when he brought me here from Utah. It’s been fun to go from a player-coach relationship, then to a student assistant learning the ropes, then going into a role as co-workers, friends and getting closer to each other’s families.”

Like Herber, McHenry’s family became entrenched in Washburn Athletics. His daughters, Dani (McHenry) Schmidt, bba ’05, and Sami (McHenry) Kearney, b ed ’14, played on his basketball teams, in addition to volleyball. His son, Ronnie, played for the Ichabod golf team and was named its head coach last summer.

Like so many of the student-athletes he coached, Ron McHenry’s children now apply his wisdom in careers and families of their own. As the number of grandchildren grows, he’s eager to spend more time with family, while still regularly attending Saturday afternoon basketball games.

“I’ll be chasing grandkids and playing a lot of golf,” he said. “I get to watch them all year round now, and still be great fan of Washburn Athletics and especially women’s basketball. Even if it might not be right on the court, I’ll continue to follow them and look forward to just being a fan of it.”

The Ichabod Magazine Winter 2022 cover - Memorial Union with snow, pine needles in the foreground

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