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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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
Matt Herman (Men's Swimming & Diving) March 12, 2011
Christine Merrill (Women's Track & Field) June 14, 2010