Butler Grizzlies' Soccer reflects embraces ninth trip to NJCAA national tournament

Brett Esch
Special to Butler County Times-Gazette
The Grizzlies celebrate with goal keeper Kyrah Klumpp (0) after winning the Region VI Championship on Saturday, Nov. 6 at Stryker Soccer Complex in Wichita, Kansas.

EL DORADO – In his 15th season leading the Butler Grizzlies' soccer program, head coach Adam Hunter is no stranger to these press conferences. He's leading Butler to their ninth, and second consecutive, appearance in the big dance in Dayton Beach, Florida.

However, he knows there’s something different about this group, acknowledging that he felt this season had a ‘national tournament or bust’ sense to it.

“I never said that to the team,” Hunter admitted, prompting laughter from his players.

But his confidence was warranted.

“I knew I already had a team coming back that knew how to get [to the tournament] when no one else thought they could,” Hunter said. 

“And then we put together one of our most talented in-state recruiting classes in my time here. I felt like we had the perfect storm to return to the national tournament.”

The Grizzlies recently capped off a 17-4-1 campaign with a thrilling penalty kick shootout win over Cowley. It was just one of the numerous tests for Hunter’s squad, which played one of the toughest schedules in the Jayhawk Conference.

“It’s something we set out to do as a staff,” Hunter said. “At one point, as I looked at the national rankings, we had 10 of our 19 games against nationally ranked opponents. That's more than half of the schedule playing the top 15 or 20 teams in the country.”

Now, they turn their attention to Iowa Western and Salt Lake — a team that handed Hunter’s crew a 4-0 loss in the opening round of last spring’s national tournament in Evans, Georgia.

“They’re a tough opponent,” sophomore defender Laryn Murray said of Salt Lake. “It was a struggle [last spring] because we only had five subs and two of them were goalies. Now, we have a full bench.

“I think we’ll prove to Salt Lake who should be the champion.”

To do that, Butler will get plenty of help from Kim McAlpine, a 5-foot-8 forward from Scotland, who leads the team’s scoring with 20 goals. 

“Coach is really allowing me to attack this year,” McAlpine said. “Our formations, plays, and midfielders, I feel like that's why I'm scoring as many goals as I am.”

That chemistry from coach-to-player and player-to-player that McAlpine alludes to has been a driving force behind the Grizzlies’ success thus far. 

“[Coach Hunter] made it clear that we put our body on the line, put everything we have out there, and go up for those headers [on set pieces] to win games,” sophomore midfielder Morgan Houston said.

“We got this group through the valleys, and now we're on the peak together,” Hunter said. “And this year is no different in that journey. You could see it … in the regional championship game — that everybody got on the same page at the right time.”

The Butler Women’s Soccer team will start tournament play on Nov. 15 against Iowa Western. Kick-off is set for 4 p.m. It’ll return to the pitch the following day for a rematch with Salt Lake, with kick-off scheduled for 4 p.m. as well.