Hard work pays offMid-Prairie’s Butters goes from the B team to the state tournament
WELLMAN — Mid-Prairie’s Jessie Butters didn’t begin playing basketball until seventh grade. In eighth grade, she was buried on the middle school B team. But even then, Marc Pennington saw something in Butters.
“We saw a girl who played really hard,” Pennington, Mid-Prairie’s head coach, said of a young Butters. “That’s a start. If you play hard, good things will happen. Each year she’s gotten better and better.”
Now a senior, Butters is the starting center for a Golden Hawk team that will be playing at the state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines next week. It’s a testament to her work ethic.
“I worked so many hours over the weekend with my dad just on everything,” Butters said. “And [assistant coach Justin] Lutjen made me work really hard on JV and Penny believed in me. It was a dream.”
And even though Butters, the daughter of John and Cindy Butters, is starting for the 13th-ranked Golden Hawks, that doesn’t mean she’s stopped working. The bus to Mid-Prairie’s Class 3A regional final game in Cedar Rapids was scheduled to leave at 4:30 last Saturday afternoon. But Butters was at the high school long before that, shooting jumpers inside Tim Grady Gymnasium.
“She was here at 3:15 shooting,” Pennington said. “That’s just who she is.”
Pennington said that Butters can often be found inside Tim Grady Gymnasium before and after the Golden Hawks’ practices, and at the Parkside Activities Center on the weekends, working on her game.
“She just works at it so hard,” he said. “She works seven days a week. She’s here before practice and after practice. She’s made herself into a good basketball player.”
Through her efforts, Butters has added a new dimension to her game this season — scoring. After averaging just three points per game during her first three seasons of varsity basketball, her scoring has jumped to six points per game this season. She scored a career-high 13 points in her team’s 67-47 win at Wilton on Feb. 1.
“I’m looking to score a little more,” Butters said. “My teammates are passing it to me really well. They’re giving me really good looks.”
In this postseason her scoring has increased even more. She averaged 8.3 points per game during Mid-Prairie’s three regional tournament victories.
“She’s always played hard and has been pretty good defensively, but this year she’s scoring a little bit,” Pennington said. “She’s had four games in double figures. I would say she’s one of the most improved players in our area.”
While Butters has recently picked up her scoring, she’s always been counted on for her rebounding.
“It’s my job on the team,” said Butters, who averages 6.2 rebounds per game this season. “None of us are really the top scorer, but we need a top rebounder. I really think it’s my job, and I feel like I need to get every rebound.”
Despite being undersized as a 5-foot-9 post player, Butters uses her toughness and work ethic to make up for her diminutive size.
“Tough would definitely be a word I would use to describe Jess,” teammate Spenser Becker said. “Not only is she physically tough, but mentally tough as well.”
Becker, who transferred from Keota to Mid-Prairie in the off-season, is a fellow post player who goes head-to-head with Butters in practice. In the locker room, the two often show off their bruises like medals of courage. They talk of their battles in practice like two veterans swapping war stories.
“We always kind of say, ‘Oh, look what bruise you gave me,’ or ‘You did this to me,’” said Becker, who said that Butters has become one of her best friends. “She’s really helped me a lot when it comes to working on post moves. She’s really pushed me a lot.”
Butters’ work ethic has made her a leader by example for the Golden Hawks.
“She’s the one who sets the tone for our kids with how hard she plays,” Pennington said. “I think our team feeds off of her. She’s really turned herself from a role player for us into a real leader for us.”
Butters plays the game with a blue-collar attitude and toughness that have helped the Golden Hawks reach the state tournament for the first time since 2004.
“She plays so hard,” Pennington said. “I keep coming back to that, I know, but she just plays so hard. She’s the hardest-working kid I’ve had. She wants it so bad.”