Butler Grizzlies VB sweeps Snow, Wallace State to head into NJCAA semifinals

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette

HUTCHINSON, Kansas — Two down, two to go. 

The Butler Grizzlies (37-2) rolled into the NJCAA national tournament and won their first round and quarterfinal matches in straight sets to advance to the NJCAA national semifinals on Friday against New Mexico Military Institute. 

"You know, these kids don't quit," Butler head coach Lisa Lechtenberg said. "They created early amongst themselves on the team and they've executed from the start."

The wins put Butler's winning streak at 33 consecutive matches. They've won 27 consecutive sets and have not dropped a set since Oct. 18 against Colby. They have not lost since Blinn College beat them 3-1 on Aug. 27, a span of 83 days.

After they beat Wallace State Community College (43-9) in a straight sets (25-18, 25-13, 25-13) sweep to win their first ever NJCAA tournament match. They swept Snow (26-6) in straight sets to reach the semifinals (25-22, 26-24, 25-16). 

Kayli Duncan was dominant at the net in both matches but particularly dominate in her ability to defend anything and everything Wallace State threw her way. She helped Butler take the first set, 25-18 and was instrumental in the second set comeback. 

Don't tell Duncan they didn't look nervous to start the match. 

"I'm glad it didn't show because we had some nerves," Duncan said. "I think it's that's the 'BUCO' ball we're always talking about. We're a composed group."

After a Butler timeout, with the Grizzlies trailing 13-8, Butler came out roaring. They were finally able to figure out the Wallace State defense, and it was like the damn broke for the offense. they outscored Wallace State 10-3 over the next couple of minutes, finding a way to take control. 

After a long rally, Butler eventually took a 23-22 lead and made it 24-22 before Wallace State answered back. The Grizzlies prevailed in the set and went on to dominate in the third set as well, winning, 25-13, to set up a second round battle with Snow College.

That's when things got interesting. 

Butler battled back early in each set to come from behind Snow. Each set had it's own act that felt like a musical being played out on a volleyball court. While Duncan helped out and dominated the first set and helped Butler win, 25-22, it was Caitlin Rexcoat that was the catalyst and protagonist in the second set. The libero was like a blur of black in her different color jersey, keeping the ball alive and helping Butler get out of rallies against the taller Snow team.

In the third set, Carly Clennan, home town player from El Dorado stepped in and made her plays count from her middle position. She roared towards the net after helping Butler win a point, fueling the Grizzlies.

"I've been on the opposite side of that yell," Duncan said. "It can really get to you on the other side. I'm really glad I'm on this side of it."

Duncan and Clennan played at Circle (Duncan) and El Dorado (Clennan) respectfully for four seasons.

"I had no idea I would be playing with her ever in my life," Duncan said.

Clennan laughs at their rivalry in high school and says they're relationship is a great despite the US-254 highway separating their high schools. 

"We joke about it all the time," Clennan said. "Now to come in and have someone that we can kind of feed off of each other. It's really fun thing to have that we can look up to each other in a sense."

Butler, after trailing by five points on multiple occasions and by six points at one point, battled through the adversity and eventually came back on a Jaryn Benning kill that put Butler on top. Then, Rexcoat served out the set for Butler, helping the Grizzlies overcome a set point and eventually won the set, 26-24.

"Last year we had her [Rexcoat] swing for us on the outside and I knew that wasn't her true position," Lechtenberg said. "When we were able to put her into her true position to really has grasped onto that and really taken control.

"I told her even before we got to the tournament that she does more on that floor than what she knows she does with the team."

Duncan agrees. 

"She's just come such a long way," Duncan said of Rexcaot. "She's a stud in the back row."

And when Butler smelled blood in the water, they pounced, putting away the match's final seven points to secure the sweep of seventh-seeded Snow. 

"They're very composed team as a whole," Lechtenberg said. "Nobody gets real rattled. Nobody gets overly worked up and they have done it all year and they come from behind when they needed to."

For Butler, the idea of a national championship crossed their mind when this group of sophomores stepped on campus. Fast forward less than they're two wins away from winning a national championship. 

"You can't think about it too much. You say today was a good day and that's what it was," Clennan said. "Nothing more, nothing less."

Though, if Butler was to make it to the national title game and Blinn was waiting for them them, would that be what they wanted?

"We have not stopped talking about it since they have lost them, that's all we can talk about that we are going to beat them," Clennan said. "That's confidence in ourselves and that's the positive kind of vibes you're putting out there."

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.