Butler Grizzlies win their 15th straight match by beating Sewards for the first time since 2014

Lionel Tipton
Butler volleyball celebrates a set point in their win over No. 10 Seward County on Saturday, Sept. 25.

EL DORADO – Last February, Seward brought a No. 7 ranking into the Power Plant and essentially had its way with Butler, dispatching the Grizzlies in straight sets.

But Saturday, Butler carried the No. 7 ranking and exacted some revenge by holding off the No. 10 Saints in five sets, 25-14, 25-22, 25-20, 25-16, and 15-6. The Grizzlies won their 15th straight match and improved to 19-2 and 5-0 in the Jayhawk Conference. Butler also notched its first victory over Seward (11-4, 4-2) since 2014.

Afterward, coach Lisa Lechtenberg was relieved – not just to close out the match but also to record the first-ever victory over Seward – the only league opponent she had yet to beat in her four years at Butler. She said it was easier for her players – primarily the freshmen – to feel less pressure because the matchup was a new one for them.

“They’re a really good group, and they work well together,” she said.

Lechtenberg said one of the keys to this team is its overall balance.

“We are a pretty solid team,” she said. “We don’t need someone to have 24, 25 kills a match; we need 10, 10, 12, 9.”

That kind of steadiness has produced much of the success of this season, Lechtenberg said.

“They work hard, they work well together,” she said. “They’re not really up and they’re not really down; they’re really even-keeled. They’re smart volleyball players. They’re disciplined. That makes my job easy.”

It seemed from the outset that this would be vastly different from last season’s matchup. Butler came out aggressively, jumping to a lead that was as large as 18-6 before the Saints mounted a brief comeback at the end of the set.

In the second set, the Saints stayed stride for stride with Butler before the Grizzlies inched ahead at the end.

Seward managed to get back in the match by winning the third and fourth sets, setting up the deciding fifth set.

Butler managed to regain its first-set form, jumping to a 10-3 lead and withstanding any type of Saints rally.

“We need to play ‘Buco ball,’” she said. “We need to play ‘Buco ball” so that any time the ball is on our side of the net, we’re taking care of it.”

Lechtenberg said she was aware that Seward could erase its deficit and get back into the match.

“Seward’s a really good team,” she said. “We knew they weren’t going to give us anything. We talked after that third set that we can’t take our foot off the gas. We have to keep going all the time.”

There is another significant difference over last year’s team, Lechtenberg said.

“We have a bench,” she said. “That’s something we haven’t had in the past. There are girls who can come in and take care of the job.”

One of those was outside hitter Carrie Roe, a 5-foot-10 freshman from Class 2A Herington. Upon entering the game in the fourth set, she contributed a kill and immediately made her presence known.

Since knocking off then-No. 1-ranked Iowa Western on Sept. 17, the Grizzlies have dispatched No. 9 Missouri State-West Plains in addition to No. 10 Seward. The triumph over Iowa Western played a major role in Butler getting to the No. 7 spot, and the Grizzlies are eager to prove that they belong there.

In the February matchup, sophomore Jaryn Benning led the Grizzlies with eight kills. Given an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, Benning doubled her kill total with 16 – again, a team-high – and had 11 digs as well. Circle High product Kayli Duncan had 13 kills, and Sydney Morrow had 12.

“They really do a great job,” Lechtenberg said. “Jaryn decided to come back for the extra year because of COVID. I can’t say enough about her on the volleyball court. She’s really learned the game.”

When they came in the first time, the Saints boasted a very tall front line. But not all of those players returned, and Butler might have had a little bit easier time getting its kills over Seward this time.

The improvement in the Grizzlies was not lost on the opposing coach, either.

Seward's second-year coach Geno Frugoli was highly complimentary of Butler afterward.

“Lisa’s done a really good job of keeping those kids another year and really polishing them up,” Frugoli said. “It was a tough evening for us. We couldn’t quite adjust the first two games the way we wanted to, then in the fifth game anything could happen.”

A key had to be the Grizzlies’ fast start, Frugoli said.

“I don’t know why (Butler had such a fast beginning); we’ve got to figure that out,” he said. “We’ve got to start stronger. Our team has been starting slow, and we’ve got to go back to the drawing board on that.

“But you’ve got to give credit to Lisa and the whole team here at Butler. I think they’re playing really hot and have a lot of confidence right now.”

Seward will have a shot at a return match at home on Oct. 28 – the first of back-to-back road matches for the Grizzlies, who will face Garden City the next night to close league play.

Frugoli said he looks for Butler to be in the thick of things the entire way.

“I think it’s going to come down to us, Barton and (Butler),” he said. “I think we’re going to be fighting, and I think it’s going to be a fun tournament.”

The Grizzlies’ next match is Monday at Dodge City before returning home to face Garden City on Wednesday night.