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A Wish Come True

NCAA Championships Festival builds winners on and off court

2018 volleyball team

From The Ichabod - Winter 2019

Three-year-old Madison, a child with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, was sitting on a couch with her family waiting to meet a team of strangers who would soon become her best friends. Like most kids in that situation, she was shy. When members of the Washburn University volleyball team handed her an Ichabod shirt and a volleyball, things quickly changed.

“Her eyes lit up and instantly she warmed to us,” freshman Kelsey Gordon said. “She thought we were the coolest thing ever.”

It’s no surprise a kid battling pediatric multiple sclerosis meshed so easily with this team.

“We have love for each individual on the team as people, not just players,” freshman Emma Palasak said. “I think that’s really valuable.”

The Ichabods had just won the NCAA Central Region tournament in a region packed with five teams that finished in the top 10 in the nation.

"No one in their right mind would want that road to travel to win a regional, and that was what we were presented," Coach Chris Herron said. "I don't think I could be any more proud of us for that championship."

They were playing in the national tournament at the NCAA Championships Festival in Pittsburgh where multiple sports crowned their champions (Washburn cross country runner Jacob Klemz finished as an All-American in his race). At the festival, the Ichabods met Madison, taught volleyball to elementary school kids and were presented the team academic award for having the highest grade-point-average of all teams participating.

“Besides making it there and going to the final four, meeting Madison was by far the most rewarding part of the whole thing,” Herron said. “She became part of the group instantly.”

The student-athletes were just as affected by the experience.

“She is just a spunky little kid,” Palasak said. “She added to our team’s personality. Not only did we impact her, she impacted us.”

Madison got to take part in the festival's opening ceremony. She joined the team in the quarterfinal on Nov. 29 when Washburn beat Wingate University, and she even attended the post-match press conference. Asked about the tournament, Gordon doesn’t talk about volleyball. She talks about Madison.

“I think that's honestly what pulled it all together for me,” she said. “I’m just fortunate to be a part of that child’s life. She will remember that moment forever, and I will remember that moment forever.”

The Ichabods came up short the next day, finishing one match away from playing for the national title. Gordon and Palasak are excited about the future and a chance to get back to that position.

“I am so thankful for the seniors and their leadership,” Palasak said. “But we also had an emphasis on leadership coming from younger kids too.”

Herron knew he had something special in his team that finished ranked third in the nation.

“This team had unbelievable chemistry,” he said. “They care about each other. They play for each other.”

From academics, community service and championship volleyball, they want to carry on the experience.

“You can’t describe it and put words to it," Gordon said. "But deep down, you know this is the beginning of something much larger."

Spring 2020 Alumni Mag

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2019-20 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

View past editions


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