Butler Grizzlies women's basketball uses team effort in season opening blow out win over Bethany College JV

Lionel Tipton
Butler's Cameren Downs

EL DORADO – When this year’s Butler volleyball team roster was announced, sophomore Mallory Cowman’s name was nowhere to be found.

And, even though the Grizzlies have ascended to a No. 3 national ranking and won the Jayhawk Conference, for Cowman there were other things that took precedence.

“I just really missed playing (basketball), so I contacted (Butler women’s coach Mike) Helmer, and he offered me a scholarship, and here I am,” said Cowman, who started Wednesday night against the Bethany junior varsity and had seven points and four rebounds in 18 minutes of the Grizzlies’ 106-39 rout.

But it’s not as if the 6-foot-2 Cowman, who came to Butler from Circle High, joined a team that was struggling. The Grizzlies have won three straight Jayhawk Conference East Division titles and are the preseason favorite this year. They also carry a No. 14 national ranking in one poll and 17th in another.

However, Helmer is quick to point out that the respect that garnered that lofty of a ranking was built by previous players.

“None of these kids would be here if it weren’t for the kids before them,” he said. “These kids can play, and they came here because 1) it’s Butler, and we win. If we were 0-30 every year, they wouldn’t be here, so they’ve got to at least have the respect of realizing it was the people that came before them.”

Cowman still keeps in touch with her former volleyball teammates and was present to cheer them on in Tuesday night’s opening-round Region VI victory over Pratt – Butler’s 29th in a row.

“I’m super-excited for them,” she said. “Kayli Duncan is on that team, and we’ve gone to (the same) school since middle school. And Carly Clennan, she’s one of our (high school) rivals, and it’s awesome to see local girls at Butler.”

Cowman uses words like “awesome” and “amazing” to describe her feelings about being back on the basketball court. She said she’s aware of the demands of the basketball season in the Jayhawk, which this year has reverted to a 13-team league with no divisions and a home-and-home against the other 12 teams.

“Basketball has always been a long season, but I’m ready for it,” she said. 

Cowman said she felt good about Wednesday’s opener, especially being surrounded by her new teammates.

“It was really good, especially with having my girls there,” she said. “They make everything a little bit easier and a little less nerve-racking.”

Helmer, starting his 14th season at Butler, said it wasn’t – if you will – a slam-dunk for Cowman to come over.

“She came to us and said she wanted to move over from volleyball to us,” Helmer said. “We weren’t for sure about (her) sitting out a year. We gave her a tryout, and she looked great. She’s working really hard and getting better and better every single day.”

What might have also played into Cowman’s favor is that Butler lost two 6-2 post players from last season – Tamara Nard and Paris Mullins, now at Houston and Auburn, respectively.

Cowman started Wednesday, but Helmer said he still has yet to figure out his rotation.

“Here’s the honest truth: I don’t know who I’m going to start every night on this team because we’re 12-deep,” he said. “(Cowman) has been one of our hardest workers, and because of that, she earned the right to start. I’m very proud of her for that, and I wanted to reward her in that way.”

Being a local product doesn’t hurt, Helmer said. 

“It’s always fun, especially when they play well,” he said. “She’s got a good fan base, got a lot of people here to support her, so it’s awesome.”

More tune-ups await the Grizzlies in the coming days, with the Tabor JV next Monday and Friends JV on Wednesday at the Power Plant. After a two-game swing against Northern Oklahoma-Enid and Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa, Butler kicks off league play Nov. 17 at Colby. The home conference opener will follow on Nov. 20 against Seward.

“This is the deepest team I’ve ever had,” Helmer said. “So, I’m still trying to figure out starters and how the rotation works. I’m OK with a couple more JV games to get those kinks worked out.”

Just as the men did Monday night, the Grizzlies burst out of the gate against Bethany, taking a 45-18 halftime lead. They outscored the Swedes 33-8 in the third quarter after putting up a 27-point first quarter (holding Bethany to seven points).

Post Ashlei Kirven, a Wichita State transfer and a COVID junior, was the leading scorer with 17 points. Another COVID junior, guard Kamiyah Lyons (a Seminole State (OK) transfer) and returning post Kaylee Nero had 12 points each, and freshman guard Jaila Harding from Wichita Southeast (11 points) and sophomore forward Cymirah Williams (10) also finished in double figures.

The Grizzlies hit 53 percent of their shots and held Bethany to 27.5-percent shooting. They also forced 38 turnovers and outscored the Swedes in points off turnovers, 38-6. Butler also held a whopping 56-4 advantage in points in the paint and got 65 points from bench players.

Butler held a 37-21 rebounding advantage, led by Kirven’s nine, and dished out 23 assists to just three for the Swedes. Returning sophomore guard Cameron Downs had a team-high six.

Helmer said what he liked most was his team’s energy level. 

“We’ve been up and down with our energy in practice, and I’ve been disappointed with that,” he said. “And in this game, we came out with energy and really got the ball spread out and shared among each other.”

Even with the 67-point margin of victory, there is still room for improvement, particularly on defense, Helmer said. 

“We fouled (26) times (and) that can’t happen,” he said. “(If) we foul 26 times in conference, we’re going to lose every time. 

“That’s a little bit my fault. I’ve really been pushing them to be physical, and I think we were just too physical.” 

There is still the matter of settling his lineup, Helmer said.

“The biggest kink to work out is our rotation,” he said. “I’m not for sure what it’s going to be because we’re so balanced.”