KHS multi-sport athlete signs with Lakeland University

Lady Ranger Sammi Butler signs a letter of intent to play volleyball at Lakeland University in Wisconsin. She’s also pictured at right in action during a home game. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Sammi Butler’s high school resume reads like a brochure of extracurricular activities — a letterwinner in four sports, member of the band and choir, active in student council and a member of the National Honor Society — clearly a student not used to down time.

Now, with graduation just a few short weeks away, the Kemmerer High School senior has her sights set on collegiate athletics — Butler recently signed to play volleyball for Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wisconsin. An NCAA DIII program, the Lady Muskies compiled a 19-15 record last season (10-2 in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference), and finished in a tie for first in the NACC.

“Coach Ryan [Lakeland head volleyball coach Ryan Schopf] found me on the NCSA recruiting website — I had signed up for the site since I’m in a small town, and not a lot of recruiters come to Wyoming,” Butler explained. “He talked to me about Lakeland, and the team travels to Europe every other year — I really want to see Europe, so that was a big factor in my decision. That, and just wanting to see the world outside Wyoming.”

For his part, Schoph said Butler has a very high ceiling, with potential that “jumps off the charts.”

“She’ll have some work to do, but the athletic ability, the track and field background — we’re very excited to get her in the gym,” he said. “We feel like once she works with our coaches, she’s going to blossom. That’s what did it for us as coaches — seeing the potential she has.”

Butler began playing volleyball in elementary school, participating in camps put on by the rec center and run by the volleyball teams at the high school. She played all through middle school and three years at KHS, earning 2A Southwest All-Conference honors following her junior season. Citing personal reasons, Butler chose to forgo her senior season of volleyball, and instead joined the Lady Rangers’ swim team, qualifying for the state meet in the 100 backstroke. She said the decision not to play volleyball was one of the toughest she’s had to make.

“It took me three weeks to decide, and I talked with a lot of trusted friends and family members,” she said. “I missed volleyball every day.”

Butler also shined on the hardwood, helping lead the Lady Rangers hoops team this season to its first appearance at the state tournament in five years. KHS head girls’ basketball coach Tim Fagnant said Butler was a player that other teams paid attention to.

“In our mid-winter meetings, Sammi was brought up by the Wind River coach as someone who hurt them,” Fagnant said. “She constantly got better, and hit some key buckets for us down the stretch. She’s been a huge part of our success.”

For Butler, beating Wind River in the 2A West Regional Tournament to advance to state is a memory she’ll always cherish.

“That was a really exciting time,” she said of the 47-45 win. “We were all jumping up and down and so excited. I’ll definitely take that feeling with me.”

Despite standout seasons as a volleyball and basketball player, however, Butler may have found her greatest success as a member of the KHS track and field team. The distance runner won a pair of 2A state championships her junior season as a member of the 4x800 relay team (with Sydnie Julander, Sophie Failoni and Jillian Tibbetts) and 1600 sprint medley relay (with Laurel Clarke, Marisa Orcutt and Kenley Plowman) — she also placed fourth individually in the 1600 meters and 3200 meters.

“Last year was the first year where I wasn’t injured, so I was quite excited to see how well I did,” she said. “Our medley relay team broke the regional and state record, so that was very exciting.”

As the only upperclassman on both relay teams, Butler was poised to defend her titles — as well as make a run at a couple of individual championships — before the COVID-19 pandemic denied her the opportunity of a senior season.

“I was really upset about track, because when I started my freshman year, I wanted to break the mile record,” she explained. “I broke it in middle school, but then I got injured as a freshman. I finally got healthy my junior year, and this year I was planning on working really hard to break the record. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

Not one to dwell on the past, Butler will now turn her attention to her first year of college, and everything that comes with that milestone. She’s even had a chance to get to know a few of her new teammates, via group chats and texts.

“I’m excited to meet new people — there are players from New Mexico and California and quite a few people from Wisconsin who are on the volleyball team,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone.”

Coach Schopf said the team is looking forward to getting to know Butler as well, with an eye toward accomplishing something special. Recruiting in the COVID-19 era has proven to be difficult, but with his players reaching out to Butler on different online platforms, the table for a successful transition to the college game is being set.

“We’re right on the fringe of being a team that can get into the national tournament and win a few matches,” he said. “We’re hoping Sammi will be a part of that. She’s a diamond in the rough that we think will be able to just take off...we’ve had a lot of success at developing talent. We’re very excited to have Sammi in this class, and my girls are excited to get her in and welcome her to Wisconsin.”

As for what she’ll miss the most about KHS, Butler said Ranger Pride tops the list.

“I’ll miss the teachers and students that we have, because everyone is so into being a Ranger,” she said. “All the sports and other activities — I’m really going to miss that small-town feel, even though I’m ready to get away from it, at the same time.”

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