Q&A with Junior Utility John Butler


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Courtesy: Jimmy Gekas/Sideline Studios

In each of his three years at UC San Diego, junior John Butler has progressively played an expanded role on the UC San Diego Men's Water Polo team to the point that veteran Head Coach Denny Harper now says, "he has definitely emerged as one of our best all-around players." Third in goals scored and the team leader in assists, the Hillsborough native was named first team All-WWPA and first team All-WWPA Tournament as the Tritons (17-9) won their first conference title since 2006. "Those honors were clearly deserved," noted Harper. "There are a lot of positives to John's game but first and foremost is his intelligence. He's got a really high polo IQ. He's a smart player and has developed into a solid outside scoring threat." With the NCAA Championships and a Saturday semi-final date against second-seeded UCLA fast approaching, Butler took a few moments to talk about this year's squad, winning the WWPA and his growth as a player.

Q-After coming close last year, what was the key to this year's team winning the Western Water Polo Assn. (WWPA) crown?

BUTLER-The team this year had a new look.  Our variety of strengths allowed our team to develop a renewed focus and confidence as opposed to previous seasons. Losing in the title game my freshman year and outside the top three my sophomore season left much to be desired moving into the 2011 season. 

Q-What were your immediate thoughts when the final buzzer went off against UC Davis in the WWPA title game?

BUTLER-I was overwhelmed with so many emotions! I couldn't contain my excitement and sheer joy. It's always great to accomplish your goals and this has been one of mine since I entered the program.

Q-Talk about the ebb & flow of the season and how your thoughts may have wavered in regard to the year's ultimate outcome.

BUTLER-You have to be pleased with the start of our season. We lost only three of our first 14 matches. A loss to LMU at our home opener was tough to swallow. Yet we bounced back strong and dominated LMU at the SoCal Tournament, 9-5. At that point, you could tell the team was playing with a lot of confidence, particularly coming off two big WWPA wins at the SoCal.

The team was cautious to stay diligent and prevent this from being the high point of our season. Dropping six of our next nine games was not what we had in mind but while these loses hurt our record, they helped us grow as a team. This was the stretch of the season where we fully development in to the squad that would win WWPAs.

Q-Your team heads to Berkeley for the NCAA Final Four Thursday. What does that accomplishment mean to you?

BUTLER-This will be a truly amazing experience. I can remember being a senior in high school and choosing UCSD because I had the best opportunity to play there and go to the "big show." I am so thankful for this opportunity. It means so much not only to me but to our team and especially our seniors.

Q-Since the NCAA went to its current four-team format, every year but one, the third and fourth-seeded teams have lost in the first round. Is there anything that makes you feel that result will change this time around?

BUTLER-UCSD is the only team to win a first round game in the current format. Playing for a successful, storied program with a coach who has been in the NCAA championship game before definitely gives the team the sense of poise and belief necessary to win.

Q-In your opinion, what are the strengths of this year's squad? What area has improved the most over the course of the year?

BUTLER-Our team has become multi-faceted offensively. Our strength comes from the options we force the opposing team to defend. Whether we score a goal from the counter, perimeter, two-meter, post-ups or 6-5, you can count on us to get our share of goals-and get them from multiple players.

Our team has improved most on the defensive side of the ball. Senior goalie David Morton played extremely well throughout the season, but when our team played strong defense in front of him we were unbeatable. Holding Santa Clara to only two goals in the WWPA semi-final is a testament to this improvement and David's leadership. 

Q-Was there a particular point in the season when you felt the team may have "turned a corner" or that the conference championship and NCAA berth were more "possibility than dream?"

BUTLER-Beating UC Davis a second time, 10-6, at home, and following that up with a 14-7 victory over Santa Clara was the turning point for me. The goal is always to win the conference and automatic bid to NCAA. The wins over Davis and Santa Clara solidified this goal as a reality.

Q-This year's roster has an interesting mix that includes six seniors, several freshmen playing key roles and just about everything in between. How would you describe the team chemistry and how, if at all, has it affected performance?

BUTLER-Experience is an important part to any team but equally important is execution. Once the game starts your year in school becomes irrelevant and our younger players have taken this to heart. From top to bottom, our team has continued to execute game plans and convert on the opportunities we have.

Q-Statistically, your contributions to the team have increased each year and you finished the 2011 regular season with 33 goals and 43 assists. What do you feel is the biggest difference in your game since you arrived at UCSD and what aspect would you most like to further develop going forward?

BUTLER-When I entered the program Denny told me, "You want to compete in college Butler? Then swim hard and play some bad a** defense." Thus, the focus of my efforts has continued to stay in this area. But my biggest improvement has been my outside shooting. My newly-developed ability to score the ball from the outside is what I'm most proud of individually.

Moving forward, I'd like to continue my development on offense as a driver and add a few more shots to my bag of tricks.

Q-In addition to playing water polo and handling your academic requirements, you're also a member of a fraternity and represent the team on the Triton Athletes' Council. How do you find the time to balance all of those activities and do you find there is the kind of crossover where one positively influences the others?

BUTLER-I have learned to love Giesel Library. Spending time in the library allows me to isolate myself and accomplish my tasks. The most important part to balancing all my activities is using my time effectively.

It's difficult at times to have so many balls in the air. I complicate this for myself because I hate underachieving and will give every task 100%. While the material might not overlap in my various organizations, the skills I've learned with each have proven to be of the utmost importance.

Q-When you're not doing any of those things, how do you like to spend your free time?

BUTLER-I keep myself pretty busy but I try to find time to go home to visit my family in the Bay Area. They have been so supportive of me and I love being with them. Relaxing with my friends at the beach or watching college football helps me clear my head along with some good tunes. When I can, I also pick up a good book.

Q-When you get on the plane to return to San Diego Sunday night, what do you hope to have accomplished?

BUTLER-The flight back to San Diego will bring mixed emotions. We have already accomplished so much this season that I doubt anyone wants it to end. I know we will leave Berkeley knowing we played with the best and fought our hardest to bring home an NCAA Championship. I hope at the very least that we can send our seniors off with a win. They have dedicated their collegiate careers to this program and I want to win this for them.

Previous Q & A Articles

Lauren Demos (Women's Volleyball) November 8, 2011

Cory Wolfrom (Men's Soccer) October 26, 2011

Ellen Wilson (Women's Soccer) October 1, 2011

Brian Donohoe (Men's Water Polo) September 4, 2011

Roxanne Brunsting (Women's Volleyball) August 19, 2011

Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer) August 4, 2011

Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer) August 4, 2011

Vincent Nguyen (Tennis) July 1, 2011

Patti Gerckens (Softball) May 26, 2011

Blake Tagmyer (Baseball) May 11, 2011

Theresa Richards (Women's Track & Field) April 27, 2011

Austin West (Men's Tennis) April 17, 2011

Drew Lawyer (Men's Crew) April 11, 2011

Keith Okasaki (Men's Golf) March 26, 2011

Matt Herman (Men's Swimming & Diving) March 12, 2011

Hanalei Crowell (Women's Water Polo) March 5, 2011

Camille Gaito (Softball) February 23, 2011

Tim Shibuya (Baseball) February 8, 2011

Carl Eberts (Men's Volleyball) January 31, 2011

Neda Nguyen (Women's Swimming & Diving) January 24, 2011

Amy Bianchini (Fencing) January 14, 2011

Lauren Freidenberg (Women's Basketball) January 3, 2011

Christian Hatch (Men's Basketball) December 24, 2010

Blake Langland (Men's Swimming & Diving) November 27, 2010

Sarah McTigue (Women's Soccer) November 8, 2010

Brandon Yee (Men's Soccer) October 11, 2010

Bryce Madsen (Men's Water Polo) September 23, 2010

Annette Ilg (Women's Soccer) September 9, 2010

Ricci Luyties (Women's Volleyball Head Coach) August 24, 2010

Kevin Messey (Head Athletics Trainer) July 7, 2010

Dan O'Brien (Baseball Head Coach) June 18, 2010

Christine Merrill (Women's Track & Field) June 14, 2010

Vance Albitz (Baseball) May 11, 2010

Erik Elliott (Men's Tennis) May 3, 2010

Kelly Fogarty (Women's Track & Field) April 23, 2010

Liz LaPlante (Women's Tennis Head Coach) April 15, 2010

Kirby St. John (Baseball) March 24, 2010

Dan Perdew (Men's Swimming) February 28, 2010

Calvin Ross (Men's Volleyball) February 20, 2010

Nicole Saari (Softball) February 4, 2010

Brad Kreutzkamp (Women's Water Polo Head Coach) January 18, 2010

Tyler Acevedo (Men's Basketball) January 4, 2010

Dr. Cliff Kubiak (UCSD's Faculty Athletic Rep) December 18, 2009

Chelsea Carlisle (Women's Basketball) December 9, 2009

Carianne Cunningham (Women's Swimming) November 23, 2009

Elena Inouye (Cross Country) November 6, 2009

David Morton (Men's Water Polo) October 28, 2009

Juan Pablo Carillo (Men's Swimming) October 19, 2009

Sara Spaventa (Women's Soccer) October 10, 2009

Karen Reis (Women's Volleyball) October 2, 2009

Daniel Pavitt (Men's Soccer) September 23, 2009

Daniel Anderson (Cross Country) September 11, 2009

Peter Gresham (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2009

Alexia Zatarain (Women's Soccer) August 24, 2009

Elaine Chen (Women's Volleyball) August 12, 2009

Jared Kukura (Men's Soccer) July 30, 2009

Dawn Lee (Former Women's Soccer Standout) July 8, 2009

Rob Mamula (Director of Athletic Performance) June 18, 2009

Garrett Imeson (Baseball) June 8, 2009

Leon Baham (Men's Track & Field) May 21, 2009

Kristyn Lesovsky (Softball) May 8, 2009

Kazumi Negishi (Men's Tennis) May 5, 2009

Laiah Blue (Women's Track & Field) April 16, 2009

Ryan Andre (Men's Crew) April 2, 2009

Josh Tanner (Baseball) March 24, 2009

Anju Shimura (Women's Swimming) March 7, 2009

Stephanie Bocian (Women's Water Polo) February 20, 2009

Lauren Chastain (Softball) February 5, 2009

A.J. Maulhardt (Men's Basketball) January 28, 2009

Annette Ilg (Women's Basketball) January 22, 2009

Steven Hardy (Men's Swimming) January 13, 2009

Frank Fritsch (Men's Volleyball) January 5, 2009