In addition to being a talented volleyball player, Brionne Butler is one tough customer.
Houston Juniors 17 Elite coach Jeff Ham recalls a match in the Tour of Texas semifinals against TAV 17 Black where Butler got hurt.
“She dislocated her finger in the middle of the set and ran with my assistant coach to the trainer,” Ham said. “She had them pop it back in and tape it and then came back to the bench in the middle of the next set and begged me to put her back in because she wanted to play that match so badly.”
The 6-foot-4 middle blocker, the No. 2 ranked recruit in the 2017 VolleyballMag.com/Triple Crown Sports Girls’ Fab 50, helped Houston Juniors finish second in the country last year in 17 Open at the USA Volleyball girls’ junior national championships and has since taken her talents to the University of Texas where she is an early enrollee and is participating in spring workouts.
It’s been quite a journey to stardom for Butler, who was anything but a polished player when she first started playing.
“I definitely had to work at it,” she said. “I was so bad. I was just bad. I don’t even know how to describe it, but I kept with it.”
And she liked it, starting to take the sport more seriously in eighth grade and freshman year in high school. Butler is from Kendleton, Texas.
“If you blink you will pass it,” she says of the town that Wikipedia lists as having a population of 380 as of 2010. She attended Boling High School, about an hour southwest of Houston.
“I realized this is what I wanted to do hopefully past high school,” Butler said.
Butler started playing with Houston Juniors last year after playing for TEXSTAR out of Weimer, Texas.
“Brionne worked to fit in with a brand-new team where she knew no one,” Ham said. “She immediately made friends and jumped into the group. She is a little bit shy so that isn’t always easy for her, but she knew it was important. I’m sure everybody says it about every kid, but she really is a good kid who is willing to work and has a great personality. Add all that to her physical gifts and it’s a deadly combination.”
And there are those physical talents Ham speaks of. Butler has been recorded touching as high as 10 feet, 11 inches.
“Obviously Brionne’s physicality separates her,” Ham said. “She literally jumped over almost everyone she played last season in 17 Open.”
Butler says she never felt like her jumping skills were anything out of the ordinary.
“I always felt normal,” said Butler, whose mother, Javonne Grant, played volleyball at the University of New Orleans. “I didn’t notice until about two years ago when people would come up to me and tell me that I can jump so high. What is a jump touch? At the time I didn’t know what it was.”
Butler has nothing but high praise for what she learned at Houston Juniors.
“People believed in me and kept pushing me,” she said. “Club volleyball definitely helped me, especially last year with Houston Juniors. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
As was her time with the U.S. women’s junior national team this past year. Butler helped Team USA win a silver medal at the NORCECA U20 championships where she was named best blocker.
“That was a really big experience for me,” she said. “It was the first time I had been around other top recruits. I was able to experience international play and saw a faster-paced game and played against some great players.”
At the time his class of 2017 was announced, Texas coach Jerritt Elliott had high praise for Butler’s rapid development.
“For how few years she has played, her improvement and growth rate has been one of the fastest I’ve seen as a coach,” he told the school’s athletic website. “She touches 10-11 and a half and she will be physically able to dominate the college game in ways where teams will not have an answer.
“She is so fun to watch because she is so dynamic and so fast,” he added. “She is going to be the most physical middle blocker we have had at Texas. She has an explosive arm and has great balance while in the air. She will be one of the most physical attackers in the country from day one and will be able to control the net with her blocking.”
And now Butler is settling into the next phase of her career in Austin. She’s one of three incoming freshmen that made this year’s Fab 50 list (Lexi Sun and Ashley Shook are the others). To say the least, Butler is happy it’s time to get down to business at the college level.
“The recruiting process was very stressful,” she sadmitted. “It was the worst time having to call coaches and then call another one. It was crazy. Going through it I never felt like I was one of the top recruits. I felt like any other girl. I didn’t feel special.”
Butler admits she had some reservations about making the transition from club to college.
“Of course I was nervous about the workouts, but I wanted to start early,” she said. “It’s made things so much easier. I know the campus so I’m not just getting into that aspect when the season starts. It’s amazing here. I love the campus and the facilities and the coaches have been great. Everything here in Austin is close to campus. There is always something going on in Austin.”