College softball: VU’s Joylyn Ichiyama is juggling family, studies and excelling on field
By Michael Osipoff email@example.com/@MichaelOsipoff April 5, 2013 11:38PM
Valparaiso thirdbaseman Joylyn Ichiyama looks to throw to first after fielding a bunt during the Crusaders game against Wright State at VU Tuesday April 2, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 7, 2013 6:16AM
VALPARAISO — When she was pregnant during her junior year, redshirting, Joylyn Ichiyama talked with Jordan Stevens about the possibility of returning for a fifth year of eligibility.
When she returned to the field last season, they had several discussions about that possibility.
When the Valparaiso softball team held its 2012 senior day, a sort of point of no return, she decided to participate, after careful consideration following another conversation with her coach.
When the Crusaders got back from their NCAA tournament trip to Louisville, Ichiyama and Stevens again talked about the possibility, seemingly for a final time.
Every time the topic of Ichiyama pursuing a fifth year was broached, her response was the same. No.
Especially with her son, Jayden Drewry, it was time for her to begin her “real” life.
“I didn’t think I was going to come back at all; there was no chance, because I was going to graduate on time, so there was no use in me coming back and using a fifth year,” Ichiyama recalled.
Still, the door was left open if anything changed.
And a little more than a week before the start of this fall semester, Ichiyama walked through it. She called Stevens to see about that fifth year, after all.
“At first, I thought she was messing with me,” Stevens said. “It was like, ‘Are you joking? Really?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, I really want to do this.’ I said, ‘Are you positive?’ It was just a surprise, a great surprise.”
Stevens and the Crusaders still had the means to make a roster spot available. The more pressing matter was the mad scramble to register Ichiyama, who graduated last May with a degree in exercise science, as full-time graduate student for the first day of class, in a two-year master’s program in health administration. But all of the moving parts meshed relatively quickly.
And for professional, personal and athletic reasons, Ichiyama was thankful.
“It was mostly I didn’t want to leave it out there that I could have the possibility to play again, when some people never get a chance to play at all,” she said, adding that Jordan Rutkowski — the former Crusaders standout who is Ichiyama’s best friend and Jayden’s godmother — aided in her decision-making. “It was more I really wanted to leave everything out on the field. This is really my last go-around, and I didn’t want to have any regrets leaving the game.
“This is the best thing for us (she and husband Donald Drewry) to provide for Jayden in the future.”
Ichiyama has been remarkably adept at juggling her various family, academic and softball responsibilities. Jayden, who turns 2 on April 14, recently started going to day care at Hilltop, but there’s still plenty of “mommy time.” She has an internship at Porter Regional Hospital (her mother, Jodi Ichiyama, works at a hospital in California, and also is studying for her master’s in health administration, which inspired Joylyn). She’s a graduate assistant in the kinesiology department. Most of her classes are at night. And, oh, by the way, she’s having the finest season of her already outstanding Crusaders career.
“Personally, I don’t know how she does it,” Stevens said. “I have a ton of respect for that young lady, what she’s gone through, and still being able to play at the level that she’s been playing at. I tell her all the time, I’m a huge fan of hers, for what she’s done in this program and what she’s done in her life. I just give her a ton of credit. I have the utmost respect for what she’s doing.”
The Torrance, Calif., native does have help, particularly from her grandmother, Marian Ichiyama, who moved to Valparaiso in February when the season started. When the Crusaders have gone on the road, including their spring trip for more than two weeks, she has taken care of Jayden. She also has taken him on the road, staying at the same hotel as the team. And she generally has done whatever has been needed.
“She’s been everything with how I get by with my son, how I get through all this,” Joylyn said. “My grandma, I feel like she’s the one who really makes us run.”
Joylyn Ichiyama refers to her teammates as Jayden’s “aunts.” In the fall, when she went to class at night, one of them typically would babysit.
“Him and the girls, they take to him like he’s their own,” she said.
And she describes Jayden and Stevens as “best buds.”
“At first, he didn’t want to touch him or anything. Now, it’s hilarious to watch,” she said, herself laughing.
Indeed, Jayden has become at fixture at home games over the last two seasons, including the recent development of riding around on his tricycle, and has become fairly well-known around the university community. His birthday falls on the same day as the Crusaders’ final game of a key series against UIC.
“We’re hoping he’ll get the opportunity to throw out the first pitch that game,” Ichiyama said with a smile. “I don’t know how it’s going to go. We have gloves — I bought a glove for each hand, because he doesn’t know which hand he throws with yet, so we’ll figure it out.
“Just the softball family has helped out so much. And the Valpo family in general has been so supportive, which has helped especially being so far from home.”
Ichiyama spent the summer in Kansas at Fort Riley, the base where Donald Drewry, a cavalry scout in the Army, is stationed. Drewry was sent to Afghanistan the February before Jayden was born, and met his son two weeks after the birth, returning to the United States the same day Jayden was released from the hospital after he had been in the neonatal intensive care unit. Drewry has been stateside since suffering a foot injury — obviously, it could have been so much worse — stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) around Thanksgiving in 2011.
“It’s tough for Jayden being away from him, but we’re trying to make the best of it,” Ichiyama said.
Ichiyama has made the best of her — for sure — final season at Valparaiso.
After redshirting that 2011 season, she didn’t seem to miss a beat last season, hitting .302 with eight home runs, 46 RBI (third in the Horizon League and on the team) and 24 runs scored; she also set the program’s single-season record and led the league with 188 assists as the team’s third baseman, having been primarily a middle infielder (including 50 starts at second base in 2010) her first two seasons. She made the all-league first team, playing a major role in the Crusaders’ watershed season in which they went a school-record 42-19, won their first regular-season league title (going 19-5) and won their first league tournament title (with Ichiyama being named the Defensive Player of the event) to reach their first NCAA Tournament.
And Ichiyama seemingly has elevated her play this season — as Valparaiso’s No. 3 hitter, after hitting mostly sixth in the lineup last season — batting .373 (third in the league and second on the team) with a league-leading 38 hits, four homers (tied for third in the league and tied for the team lead), 21 RBI (third in the league and second on the team) and a league-leading 21 runs. She has started every game this season as the Crusaders are 20-12, riding a seven-game win streak, and stand in first place at 5-1 in the league heading into Saturday’s opener of an important three-games series at preseason favorite Loyola.
Even more than her numbers, Ichiyama has been vital to a team with eight newcomers, including six freshmen, among its 20 players.
“She’s such a great leader for us on and off the field,” Stevens said. “She’s just an anchor for us, somebody that’s been through a lot. Her softball IQ is unbelievable; she knows the game inside and out. She’s really able to help the rest of our team, especially with all of our new people, with how to work through situations, and what to look for in certain situations.
“You just know she’s going to be a leader somewhere in the world. She just carries herself and has that presence about her; when she says something or she’s doing something, everybody’s listening to her or watching what she’s doing. She’s trying to get these younger people to realize what it takes, this is the commitment it takes at this level. She tries to embody that every day in practice and every day that we play, just to show them the way of how you’re supposed to be. So her coming back, it gave our younger people somebody to look up to right away. Not that we didn’t have upperclassmen who have been there and done that, but she’s someone who gave instant credibility to what we’re trying to do here.”
Ichiyama — who ranks in the top nine in program history in at least 10 major statistical categories, including second in RBI (115), tied for third in hits (182), fourth in homers (21), and second in assists (383, and will set the record) — has embraced her status as an elder statesmen.
“I want to contribute everything I can physically for our team, but it’s more about helping the younger kids,” she said. “With this young team, it’s getting them to understand where our team has come from, and the kids that have put this program on the map and what they’ve gone through. In order for them to really understand and cherish when they put on the jersey, they need to take it even more for the kids that are going put the jersey on in the future.
“I’m just so happy to be here, just coming back to a family that welcomes you with open arms, girls that you’ve been with for so long. This is basically where my family is. I have family back home in California, but over the years, these girls have been through a day-in, day-out process with me. It’s rewarding, because they’ve been there since my son has been born. And Coach, he was very open in welcoming me back, and I really appreciate it more than he’ll ever know, not only the fact that I get to play this game that I love, but more so that I’m furthering my education to help my family.”