Butler Girls at the Threshold of Becoming a Dynasty

Jaelynn Penn. Photo courtesy of Samantha Stallings.

Jaelynn Penn. Photo courtesy of Samantha Stallings.

It’s not too often the word dynasty is mentioned in the same breath as sports teams. But when it does, it means players are in the process of accomplishing something special. When it comes to women’s basketball, a dynasty hasn’t been too far-fetched. In fact, the basketball world tagged the word dynasty to the Minnesota Lynx, led by Maya Moore, as she led her team to three championships in five years (2011, 2013, 2015).

Well, Butler High School girls’ basketball team, being in the same company as the Lynx, haven’t been shy about flirting with the idea of a dynasty in their locker room. In fact, it may be something they embrace.

“It is something that comes natural,” says senior Tasia Jeffries. “It is hard enough to win one state championship, so when you have the chance to win three out of four years, I feel like that along with the success that we have had, it is natural to talk about a dynasty so to speak because of the success and everything we’ve had.”

The defending state champions are on the brink of making history in the state of Kentucky. Coach Larry Just and Butler won the state title in the 2013-14 season and are looking to defend their 2015-16 title this year, which would give them three championships in four years.

No surprise, there’s a lot of hype surrounding the Bearettes, and Coach Just knows that things like a preseason No. 21 ranking in America by USA Today High School Sports is something nice and honorable. But the play on the court is what matters at the end of the day.

“We think it’s a great honor to have been recognized at the national level at this time. We also recognize a lot of that is based on last year and the summer these kids had,” Just says. “What we have ahead of us is the main thing we have to take care of. If we continue to do things we are supposed to do, we hope at the end of the year, we can still be recognized at some point.”

Butler has five seniors who have already committed to playing college at the next level. For a group of girls who have played together for a long time, having already won two championships, the only thing that could stop Butler this year may be themselves.

Of the season following the 2013-14 championship, Coach Just says his girls “didn’t seem to handle our thoughts, minds or work ethic as much as we should have,” as they fell short of defending their championship.

His current senior class were sophomores at the time, and Jeffries believes they’ve learned from the past and are anticipating what’s to come in the future.

“I think a lot of it was inexperience,” Jeffries adds. “The first time around, a lot of us were freshman and sophomores, so we didn’t really know how to handle it. But now, I feel like we will be able to focus in more. We’ve all grown and we are all real mature now.”

Leadership will be key, and Jaelynn Penn, who is considered the top candidate for Kentucky’s Miss Basketball Award, will certainly be a go-to leader on the floor in terms of her play. This season, she expects the target on their backs to get bigger night in and night out.

“It is something I think most of us embrace as a team,” she says. “Especially since most of us have been through it before, so we kind of have experience and we learned from that experience two years ago. I don’t think it is something that scares us or puts any pressure on us – we just invite the competition.”

Beyond the championships and being a dynasty in the making, it is the sisterhood that makes this Butler team so special. Their chemistry on the court is a reflection of the time they spend together outside the gym, the life lessons they learn from Coach Just and the key ingredient of having fun, all of which come together to be the recipe for success for this program.

So the defending champs will be a tough out this season. I’m no gambler, but I doubt anyone in Vegas would bet against this team. To Coach Just, he wants his team to have a high level of focus as they get ready for another championship campaign.

“For us, our whole focus has been trying to get ourselves ready for this year with the kids that we got,” he says. “Just try to take care of ourselves and not worry about what else is out there. Not worrying about the expectations that are out there but taking care of our business and trying to get better.” VT