Summer games help Butler in Longhorns’ national championship chase

Clark Dalton

Brionne Butler has had a superb year. The sophomore middle blocker has built on a shining freshman campaign by leading the Longhorns in blocks with 130 and earning All-Big 12 honors. The framework for her sophomore season started this summer when she chased a Pan-American Cup in Peru with Team USA.

“Playing at the Pan-American Cup was an amazing experience,” Butler said. “It was so much fun to play with the top level. It was an experience I don’t think anything can compare to.”

Aside from taking part in the Pan-American festivities, the games provided an opportunity for growth. Butler took full advantage, starting in the championship match against the Dominican Republic.

“It was so nerve-wracking, I was shaking before the first point,” Butler said. “I think it took my game to a new level, just seeing how fast everything was. It elevated my game playing with the best of the best.”

Butler’s enthusiasm resulted in a clutch performance during the championship match. She tallied four kills and two blocks, helping the United States sweep the Dominican Republic to win the Pan-Am Cup. She looked forward to using everything she learned in Peru to bolster the Longhorns upon returning to the Forty Acres in the fall.

However, before Butler could display her fortified skill set, she experienced an early season setback. During the preseason, Butler suffered what head coach Jerritt Elliott called a lower extremity injury, which caused her to miss the first eight matches of the season.

“Not being able to gel with the team for the first eight matches was really difficult,” Butler said. “I’m just trying to get back in the groove and get the connections right with everybody. I’ve slowly been coming back.”

Even with the setback, Butler feels that she can continue to make strides, and the Texas coaching staff has been pleased with her recovery thus far.

“When she’s good, she’s really good,” Elliott said. “Obviously, she brings a high kill percentage, but her blocking is a big part of this. She can control the math on that and make some big key plays, so we’re happy with where she’s at.”

The quick recovery comes as no surprise to Butler’s club coach Jeff Ham, who saw Butler’s unique talent when she arrived to his Houston Juniors team.

“I started working with Brionne when she was 16 years old before her junior year of high school,” Ham said. “She could almost touch 11 feet when she jumped and had great length. She was everything a coach wanted.”

Under Ham’s tutelage, Butler enhanced her potential even further. She was a part of a team that was second in the country over the course of the 17 Open at the 2016 USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships. That same year, she helped Team USA win a silver medal at the NORCECA U20 championships, and was named best blocker of the tournament.

“She’s an awesome kid,” Ham said. “She still continues to add to our program. She comes in practicing with her old teammates regularly during the offseason. She also helps younger players. I remember this summer, she spent an hour with a young prospect on FaceTime. They just talked about their passion for volleyball.”

Butler has made several trips throughout the volleyball world, having a positive effect everywhere she goes. The effect awarded Texas with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament this season.

The Longhorns hope that the strong play will help steer the team to their first national championship since 2012. As for Butler, she has her eyes set on that goal and much more.

“After I graduate here, I want to go pro, whether it be Italy or anywhere really,” Butler said. “Then hopefully one day make the Olympic team. I definitely see myself trying for another Team USA (appearance).”