In first ever appearance, Butler Grizzlies Volleyball ready to make noise in NJCAA national tournament

Brett Esch
Special to Butler County Times-Gazette
The Butler Grizzlies volleyball team poses with their trophy after winning their 31st consecutive match on the year with the sweep of Seward County.

EL DORADO – Jaryn Benning said it and she was thinking it.

“We’re going to win conference.”

That’s what third-year outside hitter Jaryn Benning told Butler Community College head volleyball coach Lisa Lechtenberg when she decided to return for one final season with the Grizzlies.

“That was the confidence she had in her team,” Lechtenberg – who is in her fourth year of leading the Butler Volleyball program – said during Friday’s press conference in Butler’s historic Hall of Fame Room.

“It was the confidence she had in our coaches and program.”

While Benning’s statement was nothing short of prophetic as the Grizzlies went on to win their first Jayhawk Conference championship, she actually sold her team short.

That’s because another program-first was achieved: Butler Volleyball is heading to the NJCAA national tournament in Hutchinson – and doing so in dominant fashion.

“They’ve made history this year, in many ways,” Lechtenberg said. “And it's super, super exciting. But they're not done. They won that first round at the regional tournament, and it was like, ‘Alright, let's go. When's our next match? Who do we have?’” 

The Grizzlies have now won 31 games in a row. To put their dominance in perspective, they haven’t dropped a single set since Oct. 18. Their overall record is currently 35-2.

“That comes along with the relationships we've built,” 6-foot middle blocker and El Dorado native Carly Clennan said. “I think that leads to us trusting each other a lot more. We’re all like sisters to each other. … We all know that we can get the job done.”

Clennan is just one of many players that call the Sunflower State home on Butler’s roster. This was a point of emphasis for Lechtenberg when she took over in 2018.

“You've got to go get the best Kansas kids,” Lechtenberg said. “We have some of the best volleyball players in the state right here at Butler. And they're doing it together.”

Benning is one of those ‘Kansas kids’ that has gotten the job done thus far for the Grizzlies. She leads the team with 3.5 points-per-set and 316 kills.

“I think this team has pushed me to be a better player,” Benning said. “We're able to work the ball well and we celebrate each other.”

It also helps that Butler is yet to lose a game in Hutch city limits this season, winning all four of its games played at the Sports Arena.

“Some of these schools traveling thousands of miles have never been in that building,” Lechtenberg noted. “We've been there.”

In fact, the Grizzlies are the only Kansas team in the tournament. However, there’ll still be more than a few familiar faces joining them in Hutch.

Iowa Western, Jefferson, Northeastern, and Missouri State-West Plains are all teams Butler defeated earlier this fall. No. 1 Blinn – which handed Butler one of its two losses this season – will also be in attendance.

“This team is confident in [itself],” Lechtenberg said. “We've competed against those teams and won a lot of those matches. [If] we do what we talked about all year long, one game at a time, one ball at a time, playing ‘BUCO Ball’ … the sky's the limit.”

Tournament play will get underway for the second-seeded Grizzlies on Nov. 18 at 11 a.m. against 15th-seeded Wallace State at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.

If Butler wins, it’ll face the winner of seventh-seeded Snow and 10th-seeded Northeastern.