Butler aims for state title

Published 11:27 am Monday, October 15, 2012

When she steps on the blocks for her favorite event, the 50-yard freestyle, a hundred thoughts race through Blaine Butler’s mind.

Her plunge into the water. When to breathe. The perfect way to hit the wall and turn.

Then, the starter’s gun goes off. Her mind clears and all the thoughts are boiled down to one impulse — swim really, really fast.

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It’s a process Butler has repeated hundreds of times in the past eight years and one she’s coming close to perfecting. The St. Aloysius sophomore is among the best high school swimmers in Mississippi and will begin her quest for a state championship at the MHSAA South State meet Saturday in Biloxi. The State meet is Nov. 3 in Cleveland.

Butler’s best time in the 50 freestyle is around 28 seconds, a bit slower than what’s expected to be a winning time at the state meet. Even so, she has won several races at other high school meets this fall and is one of the fastest in her age group on the club circuit.

“There’s one or two girls that go 26 (seconds). They’re very fast and have been swimming way longer than me,” said Butler, who also competes in the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke. “My goal in the 50 free would be top five or higher. In any other event it would be top five as well.”

Butler joined the Vicksburg Swim Association’s youth program when she was 7 years old and has been swimming year-round ever since. It wasn’t until fairly recently that she found the speed to excel in sprints, however.

She said hard work, rather than natural ability, finally paid off.

“Probably 11⁄2, two years ago, everything clicked. I felt faster and cleaner in my stroke. I’ve been getting faster and faster ever since,” Butler said. “I have to work at everything I do. I didn’t just start off fast. I had to work hard and come to practice every day.”

Butler finished second in the 100-yard backstroke at last year’s Class I meet, which is for schools in Class 1A through 4A. She’s built on that strong performance this fall.

At the Jones County Invitational on Sept. 22, Butler clocked a time of 59.72 seconds in the 100 freestyle to finish first out of 82 swimmers. She also won the 100 backstroke in a time of 1 minute, 10.47 seconds.

Two days later, in a dual meet with Brandon and Warren Central at City Pool, Butler won the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 28 seconds flat and was second in the 100 free in 1:01.10.

Butler also won both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle in a five-team meet at City Pool on Oct. 4. She won the 50 in 28.10 seconds, and the 100 in 59.54 seconds.

“She’s just a natural racer,” said Matthew Mixon, who coaches Butler for the VSA team. “She doesn’t like to lose. She’s a gamer. She steps up to whatever is called upon. That’s something you can’t coach, is racing spirit.”

Butler credited some of that spirit to her teammates.

“They really do play a major role,” she said. “They stand behind me before my race and have faith in me. It reassures me I can do my best, no matter what.”

Butler has met the qualifying times for the State meet in all three of her primary events, as well as the 200-yard freestyle and 200 individual medley. Swimmers can swim up to three individual events plus one relay, or two individual events and two relays, at the State meet.

St. Al coach Bruce Ebersole said what events Butler actually swims there will depend on matchups and where she can most help the Lady Flashes in the team standings. No matter what she swims, or where she finishes, Butler said she’ll keep working hard to reach her goals.

“Some people have it, or don’t. Some might work harder,” she said. “Hard work and staying in shape are what keep you going. But we all work hard to get where we are.”