CCS Sophomore of the Year
JAEL BUTLER, VALLEY CHRISTIAN
At this time last year, Jael Butler was completing her freshman season as a solid contributor on the Valley Christian junior varsity team.
Now, this past season, after being brought up to varsity, Butler emerged as a star on the Prep2Prep CCS No. 5 ranked Warriors.
The result is after an outstanding season that saw the saw the 6-1 post/power forward average a near double-double 11.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, and emerge as not only one of the top big girls in both the West Catholic Athletic League and the CCS, Jael goes from JV standout to budding sophomore star.
Butler now adds a CCS major award to being named First Team All West Catholic Athletic League
“Oh wow. That’s crazy. That’s wild. It’s like surreal to me,” was Butler’s response when told she was being honored. “When I made first team (WCAL) I just broke down, and now this. To come from JV last year it’s just surreal. I just worked so hard and now it’s paying off.”
Valley Christian head coach Chris McSwain knew what potential Butler had for a few years but he chose not to rush process.
“I had the opportunity to coach her sister Jade (a 2018 Valley Christian graduate) a few years back so I’ve known Jael in the sixth-grade. I knew she had potential because of her terrific size,” McSwain remarked. “However, her frosh year when she had a 20-point, 20-rebound game is when I knew she was going to be really good.”
“Last year’s team had two seniors in her position but she definitely could have played varsity as a freshman, however it was more important for her to develop,” continued McSwain. “It sure worked in her favor. Playing every minute on JV compared to spot minutes on varsity really prepared her for this year.”
Not only was Butler coming up from junior varsity, but although she was joining a fairly young team it did have two established senior stars, Fallon Dexheimer and Nina Barry.
Dexheimer (12.3 ppg this season) was the Prep2Prep CCS Junior of the Year and First Team WCAL last season and last year Barry (10.1 ppg this season) was both Prep2Prep CCS and WCAL Honorable Mention. Although the duo was welcoming, they both made things clear to Butler right from the start.
“It was really different because on JV I was able to have a little more fun and joke during practice,” Butler said. “But coming to varsity with Nina and Fallon they let me know that during practice I had to focus and after practice was the time I could have fun.
Nina and Fallon were some of the best leaders for me because they welcomed me and started teaching me how to be a good leader from the very beginning of the season,” continued Jael.
It took a few games but Butler found her stride both as a major contributor and team leader. She had 10 points and eight rebounds and 14 points and seven rebounds in respective lopsided early season wins over Salinas and Fremont-Sunnyvale, respectively, however her production was limited in losses to Menlo-Atherton and Del Oro-Loomis.
The first double-double of the season for Butler came against P2P CCS No. 7 Sacred Heart Prep-Atherton in mid-December when she went for team-highs of 17 points and 10 rebounds in a 70-65 victory in the semifinal of The Kings Academy-Sunnyvale tournament, and 11 points in the Warriors 47-39 victory over P2P CCS No. 14 Aragon-San Mateo in the championship game.
Valley Christian travelled to Covina for the Northview tournament in early January and Butler impressed with 21 points with 13 rebounds in a big win over Chino Hills. In the second game of the tournament Cal-Hi Sports No. 18 ML King-Riverside limited her to seven points in a 61-48 loss but Jael cleaned the glass for 18 rebounds.
One team that couldn’t corral Butler was WCAL rival Sacred Heart Cathedral-San Francisco. After returning from Southern California Jael had 17 points and 15 rebounds in a 61-51 win over the Fighting Irish, and then in an early February 54-46 victory she had 13 points and a season-high 19 rebounds in a 54-47 victory on the road in San Francisco.
From there the Warriors had a dry spell in a five-game losing streak but in three of the games Butler had double-doubles. The Warriors broke the skid in a 76-57 CCS Open Division consolation bracket victory over P2P CCS No. 8 Lynbrook-San Jose with Jael leading the way with a season-high 24 points with 17 rebounds. The season ended for Valley Christian and Butler in the CIF Northern Regional Division I playoffs in a 70-49 loss to Salesian with Butler sharing team-high honors at 12 points with Dexheimer, plus she had eight rebounds.
Along the way Butler was second on the team in scoring to Dexheimer and was the leader by far in rebounding, plus she finished with 11 double-doubles for the 16-11 Warriors, and on top of it all her leadership skills improved as well.
“I wasn’t as vocal to my team in the beginning,” Butler said. “But at one point in the season both Nina and Fallon were injured and when they had to step back I knew I had to be more vocal and I definitely started to lead more halfway through the season.”
“I like to say that this year was preparing me to lead the team next year,” continued Butler. “Because I learned from our leaders this year so I can be the best leader I can be next year.”
McSwain sees Jael as a solid teammate and leader, and that should be a key to the success of Valley Christian next season since only one junior returns that is not a key contributor and Jael will be the top returner on a team that returns nine sophomores and three freshmen.
“The best way I can describe Jael is ‘genuine.’ She cared about each of her teammates and was often the player other players would confide in if they were going through something on or off the court,” McSwain said.
Butler has a lot of obvious attributes but both she and McSwain recognize that there are also areas for improvement.
“On the court her best attributes are she a very efficient score and shot 52-percent from the field, and she’s a hard working kid that really put in a lot of work last spring and summer,” McSwain said. “She gets to the free-throw line a ton but she only shot 41-percent on free throws so that is an area for improvement. Once she improves on this she will be really hard to deal with.”
“Some of my attributes are that I work hard and I’m determined in what I want, and that’s to be the best so I work to be the best,” responded Butler. “I also consider myself coachable because when my coach points something out I try my best to get better at it and fix it. I also like to crack a joke or two to make my teammates smile.”
“On things that need improvement I need to stop over thinking,” continued Butler. “I tend to think about my mistakes and that affects the way I play a lot.”
Basketball and sports are a big part of her family. Besides older sister Jade, a redshirt freshman at Paul Quinn College in Texas, her mother, Leslie Anderson, played high school and college basketball in her home state of Texas, and her father, Imani Butler, starred in football and basketball at Milpitas.
Jael has some lofty short and long-term goals but she has a good start so far.
“I plan on making first team again and then player of the year in my league,” said Butler, who has a 3.7 GPA and says her favorite subjects are American Sign Language and Bible. “Then, I want to continue my basketball career at a Division 1 school and study pre-med, and then go to medical school to become an OB/GYN.”
For now, Butler has a good start to some additional notoriety on the hardwood.
For her efforts this season, we are pleased to recognize Valley Christian’s Jael Butler as the Prep2Prep Central Coast Section Sophomore of the Year.
Other players considered for this award include Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Nya Epps, Santa Cruz’s Bella Stevens, Menlo’s Sharon Nejad, Independence’s Alyssa Nalla and Half Moon Bay’s Abby Kennedy.