Butler Grizzlies volleyball qualifies for NJCAA national tournament for the first time in school history

Lionel Tipton
Special to the Butler County Times-Gazette
The Butler Grizzlies volleyball team holds their plains district trophy in the air after sweeping the Region VI tournament on Saturday, Nov. 6 in El Dorado, Kansas.

EL DORADO – Saturday’s Region VI volleyball championship shaped up as, as one Butler official put it, “Kansas vs. the World.”

The third-ranked Butler Grizzlies (35-2), with nine Kansas products on their roster, wrapped up the region title, defeating a Seward County team that had 11 international players on its roster. The region title was Butler’s 31ststraight victory. Only second-ranked Blinn (Texas) and No. 8 Utah State Eastern have defeated the Grizzlies this season, both coming in August.

Fourth-year head coach Lisa Lechtenberg took a group of largely small-town Kansas players and molded them into a cohesive unit that will now advance to the NJCAA national tournament just up the road in Hutchinson, starting on Nov. 18. 

Lechtenberg said the team wasn’t exactly thrilled about going to Hutch.

“I told them, ‘You know what? We’re going to make the best of it,’” she said. “We’re going to get a hotel, and you are 4-0 in that gym, and they said, ‘Oh, yeah.’

“We’ve played four matches in that gym, and some of these teams have never played in it.

“We’ll see how it all plays out.”

It just goes to show that a team can be successful with mostly in-state talent, Lechtenberg said.

“I don’t know how other people feel, but when I got the job, they asked me a little bit about my recruiting philosophy,” she said, “and I said we’re a junior college in Kansas, so we’d ideally go after the best Kansas kids we can get. After (Saturday), I think we can attest that we’ve got some pretty darn good Kansas kids on our team.

“They’re so well-deserving. They work hard in the gym, they work hard in the weight room, in the classroom. They’re good people. I’m just thrilled for all the girls. All of them. You have to come to practice and compete with these girls. Every single one here contributes.”

And it isn’t just where they’re from, but there also is diversity in ages, from academic juniors Jaryn Benning and Przuli, to true sophomores Carly Clennan, Kayli Duncan, Rexroat and Sydney Morrow, to freshmen such as Macey Adams, Carrie Roe and Ivy Fink, who has especially supercharged the team with her play of late. She tied Przuli for the team-high in kills (eight) in Friday’s semifinal against Colby.

Any success can be traced to the team’s maturity and understanding for the game, Lechtenberg said.

“They’re all very accepting of each other, whether they’re on the floor, off the floor, in practice, in the weight room,” she said. “I just can’t say enough about all 15 of these young ladies.”

The even temperament came in handy Saturday, as Seward was issued a red card (giving Butler a point, which made it set point in the first set) for an emotional outburst. The Saints later had a yellow warning card as well.

“I’ve been here four seasons, and I’ve only seen two red cards,” Lechtenberg said. “We take care of our side. It doesn’t matter what’s going on for the other side, and that’s exactly what they did (Saturday).”

The Butler Grizzlies volleyball team poses with their trophy after winning their 31st consecutive match on the year with the sweep of Seward County.

After holding off the Saints (23-10) in the first set, 25-18, Butler used an 11-0 serving run by sophomore libero Caitlyn Rexroat for a 25-11 second-set victory.

“Caitlyn has a very solid, flat serve,” Lechtenberg said. “She is a determined, fierce competitor. She controls our backcourt and controls our back row. She does more for this program than she thinks she does.”

Then, the Grizzlies secured the region title with a 25-17 triumph in the third and deciding set. Fittingly, it was Butler’s lone international player, Vanja Przuli, who scored the clinching kill.

The Grizzlies dispatched Pratt and Colby to set up the title matchup with Seward, which had taken Butler to five sets on Sept. 25 at the Power Plant but were swept at Liberal and Saturday as well. In fact, Butler has not dropped a set since Oct. 18 at Colby.

On the gym floor after the plaque presentation, many pictures were snapped, and smiles were in abundant supply.

“It’s one of the best feelings in the world,” said Duncan, a Circle product from Wichita who had a team-high 13 kills. “One of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

She said she wasn’t surprised to see Seward in the region final.

“We just went all-out,” she said. “I think we’re just having fun. We just played ‘Buco Ball.’ We took care of it.” 

Another Butler County product, El Dorado’s Carly Clennan, said the small-town nature of the team is a strength.

“We’re all from relatively small towns, you get that community, you know that feeling,” she said. “That’s one thing that a lot of teams in our conference don’t have.”

Butler’s composure – and Seward’s lack of – was also a key, Clennan said. 

“They get so down on each other and down on themselves, and we don’t,” she said. “And that’s one of our key strengths – we don’t get down on each other.”

She said she’d welcome a rematch should Blinn or Utah State Eastern make the tournament field.

“We’re ready to play them, and we know what we can do, we know the time we have,” Clennan said. “At the beginning of the year, we were just figuring everything out, figuring lineups out, and I think now we’ll go and be really good.”