Butler volleyball: A complicated picture

Elizabeth LaBue prepares for a play this season. LaBue and the Bulldogs are looking to turn their season around and make the Big East Tournament. Jimmy Lafakis/Collegian file photo.

JIMMY LAFAKIS | STAFF REPORTER | jlafakis@butler.edu

Former NFL head coach Bill Parcells once quipped, “You are what your record says you are.”

At first glance, the Butler University volleyball team’s record doesn’t exactly pop off the page. The Bulldogs stand 8-17 overall and 5-8 in the Big East. Their record has netted the conference’s seventh spot.

For a team that was picked third in the annual preseason poll, it might be easy to write this season off as a disappointment. It’s simple to say, “Well, there’s always next year.”

But that perspective only works if you subscribe to Bill Parcells’ line of thinking.

Challenges are on the horizon, but the Bulldogs still have time to repeat last year’s feat and earn a Big East Tournament berth.

Obstacles to overcome:

The odds are stacked against the Bulldogs.

Three of Butler’s final five matches — Nov. 2 at. Xavier University, Nov. 16 at Villanova University, and Nov. 17 at Georgetown University — are away from the friendly confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse. The road has proved to be unkind to Butler this season, as they are 2-6 in true road games and 0-4 at neutral sites.

Butler’s two remaining home matches come against No. 18 Marquette University on Nov. 9 and DePaul University on Nov. 11, both of whom defeated the Bulldogs in prior meetings.

“I’ve never questioned their desire,” assistant coach Sofia Sanchez said. “As a coach, you have to put faith and belief in kids.”

Butler is winless in all five of their five-set matches.

That DePaul loss came in Chicago on Oct. 3. It was the most recent in a group of five-set setbacks. The other losses came against the University of Buffalo, Cleveland State University, St. John’s University and No. 10 Creighton University. Against Cleveland State and Creighton, the Bulldogs squandered 2-1 leads at home.

Compared to the rest of the conference, Butler struggles to dig balls.

Butler is last in the Big East in digs per set, averaging just over 14. By comparison, Providence College owns the ninth spot with almost 15 digs per set. Villanova leads the pack with an average of around 18 per set.

The Bulldogs are also missing a two-time All-Big East-caliber talent, as outside hitter Anna Logan is out for the season rehabilitating from back surgery.

But those stats still don’t tell the whole story. For the Bulldogs to make the Big East Tournament, they will need to continue to play to their strengths.

“We’ve had to redefine our success,” head coach Sharon Clark said. “But we are still in the chase for that coveted conference tournament spot.”

Why Butler still has a chance:

The Bulldogs know how to block.

Blocking is this team’s bread and butter. Butler has notched 459 assisted blocks this season. The Bulldogs have posted 263.5 total blocks, good for close to three blocks per set. All of those figures lead the Big East.

Two particular players lead the blocking charge.

Senior middle blocker Bri Lilly leads the conference in blocks, posting 132 total. Redshirt freshman middle blocker Melody Davidson is not far behind, adding 114 total blocks. Davidson holds the conference’s No. 2 block spot.

Senior leadership is present.

Lilly, a senior, is Butler’s all-time block leader. She and defensive specialist Taylor Takeda are the only two seniors on Butler’s roster. Both Bulldogs have played all 90 sets this year. They are vocal in matches, always help younger teammates and offer their voices as leaders.

“I enjoy talking with the younger players and trying to be a mentor,” Takeda said. “We have come so far this season and it’s awesome to see growth. Things haven’t always gone our way, but to see us fighting and growing has been extremely rewarding.”

The players’ chemistry permeates throughout the entire program.

“This is one of those years where I just smile all the time,” Sanchez said. “They’re good kids, and that makes your job easier. It’s exciting to see where they can go.”

This year’s campaign came with several bumps in the road. However, Clark said the Bulldogs have always kept their season in perspective.

“It’s been an interesting journey for this team,” Clark said. “Every day in practice, they have stayed upbeat. I wholeheartedly applaud this group.”

On the horizon:

Next, Butler will head to Cincinnati face off against Xavier. The Musketeers stand at 6-7 in the conference, the Bulldogs at 5-8. Butler has a chance to disrupt the Big East’s pecking order, just as the team has tried to do all season.

“We’ve had that Butler mindset to keep digging,” Sanchez said. “Just keep going. No matter what the odds are, just keep going like every team here at Butler does.”

The Bulldogs are on a mission to defy the rest of the conference — and Bill Parcells.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JJLII30

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