VALPARAISO | Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry lived and breathed sports for as long as she could remember until competing for victory on the field took a backseat to life as a wife and mother-to-be.
Ichiyama-Drewry, who helped the Crusaders softball team earn its first trip to the NCAA tournament Saturday, spent her first two years at Valparaiso University as a slick-hitting middle infielder. She helped lead the team to record-setting seasons in 2009 and 2010.
The California native put those plans on hold last season when she and her husband, Donnie, learned she was pregnant.
It wasn't easy for her to be away from softball. To make matters worse, Donnie, a U.S. Army specialist, was fighting overseas during the pregnancy.
"That was really hard," Ichiyama-Drewry said. "I'm worrying about (Donnie), I'm pregnant, I'm worried about my studies and worrying about my teammates. Being an Army wife, when (soldiers) are over there, all they have is each other and the support you can give from back home. It was taxing a little bit."
Her son, Jayden, was born April 14, 2011, and Donnie was able to get leave to be with his family for a short time. By August, he was back overseas, and Ichiyama-Drewry was settling in for a final year of college with no shortage of eager softball baby sitters for Jayden.
"I don't know where I'd be without my teammates," Ichiyama-Drewry said. "Even when Donnie went off to basic training, we were on a spring trip, and we couldn't have our phones. For me not to be able to talk to him during the toughest part of his career, it was my teammates who were there for me."
Donnie suffered a foot injury in November and returned to the U.S., allowing the family to spend the holiday together before he took up residence at Fort Riley in Kansas. With Jayden still living with her in Valparaiso, Ichiyama-Drewry set forth to play in her final year of competitive sports.
Ichiyama-Drewry was a star basketball player in California and was the only member of the starting five in her high school to not play Division I basketball. Instead she chose softball and decided on VU.
"I had never pulled a tarp until I got to Indiana," Ichiyama-Drewry said, referring to the Midwestern weather. "My freshman year I was really homesick, and my teammates got me through that. We created such a strong bond that year."
Now a senior, Ichiyama-Drewry hasn't missed a beat on the field. After she worried about her husband's safety for two years and became a mother, the wins aren't as sweet and the losses aren't as depressing, but the game still matters.
The Crusaders earned their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a pair of Saturday victories over Loyola University. Ichiyama-Drewry was named Defensive Player of the Horizon League tournament for her defense at third base, a position she started playing at VU this season. She was named First Team All-Conference last week after ending the regular season with a .323 batting average and 42 RBIs.
Despite her accomplishments, Ichiyama-Drewry said one of her greatest joys is looking into the stands and seeing her son. As the players celebrated their victory Saturday, the team photo wasn't complete until Jayden got into the picture with his Horizon League Champions hat on.
"I'm not sure he really knows what is going on. He mostly just likes to chase the ball around," Ichiyama-Drewry said. "It's very exciting for me to have him there, so maybe one day someone can tell him that his mom was a decent softball player."