A Warrior’s path to Wake Forest
Class of 2020’s Ally Butler talks journey to D1 commitment
CHESTERFIELD The first time they had an indoor tournament, coach Deborah Wallace remembered Ally Butler telling her: “Wallace, I’m gonna fly.”
“Fly where?” Wallace asked.
“I fly in indoor,” Wallace recalled Ally saying.
“You’re gonna run out?” Wallace replied.
“Yeah, watch me!” was Ally’s response.
The Matoaca High School keeper was protecting the goal, and she was gearing up to defend against a penalty corner on the indoor turf field.
“‘Oh, this is gonna be good!’” Wallace thought with a laugh.
Annie Grace Louthan, Ally’s teammate and friend over the years, said to Wallace: “Why are you worried?”
“I’m like, ‘Do what you wanna do anyways,’” Wallace conceded.
And Ally did. Ally flew out there sideways, surprising the opponent at the top of the circle who was taking the shot.
“Most of the time you’re used to a [nongoalie] player coming out, and here comes Ally in pads yelling and diving,” Wallace recalled, praising Ally’s tenacity, aggressiveness, field hockey IQ and vast playing experience.
It all began for the Class of 2020 standout in second grade. Annie Grace - her teammate on both the Panthers club team and Matoaca Warriors varsity high school team - was the one who got her to play field hockey.
“I spent the night at her house and her mom was like, ‘Hey, we have practice! You wanna come?’ I was like, ‘Sure!’ So I went with them and then I just started playing.
“And I didn’t want to run, so I became goalie,” Ally added smiling.
Now, she’s a Division I level goalkeeper.
Ally Butler on Oct. 4 announced her commitment to Wake Forest University to play for a Women’s Field Hockey program that as of Oct. 26 was ranked No. 19 in the NFHCA Coaches Top 25.
“It means a lot - all the hard work has finally paid off,” Butler said of committing. “I’m so excited to go play under Coach [Jennifer] Averill.”
Ally sees Averill as being “pretty straightforward on coaching” and the Wake Forest team as family.
“They all know each other, they know when they can count on someone being there,” Ally said of her future team. “They’ve played together so much, they just know: ‘Hey, she’s gonna be there at that time and I know I can get [the ball] to her.”
Ally loves the family atmosphere of field hockey - it’s always been a welcoming sport to her.
“Everyone that was there just made you feel like you wanted to be there,” she said. “Even if you messed up...they’re like, ‘Hey it’s okay. You’re gonna be okay. Just get your head back in the game and it’ll be fine.”
Ally likes the physical side of playing in the goal. And working hard at the position, she noted, has made her accomplish what she’s wanted to do.
Outside of high school field hockey, Ally plays on the Panthers United club team and competes in tournaments and Top Recruit Showcases ranging from Shooting Star over Thanksgiving to Winter Escape in Florida to Spring Fling. She’s also gone to NITs for indoor competitions.
Ally’s honors include being selected to the USA Field Hockey National Futures Championship and six appearances in the VHSL record book (most saves in a single season: 176 in 2017 (third most), 152 in 2016 (fourth most); and most saves in a single game: 33 vs Douglas Freeman 2017 (second most), 32 vs Prince George 2016 (third most), 31 vs Prince George 2017 (fourth most) and 22 vs Deep Run 2016 (seventh most)) so far. Ally has helped her Warriors reach three consecutive regional tournaments from her freshman to junior seasons with a school-record 14 wins in 2017 and a 9-4 mark in rainy 2018. She allowed seven goals all season and recorded seven shutouts.
Through playing with Matoaca and against extremely talented teams in the region, Ally gets a lot of shots.
“It’s definitely: Practice makes you better,” she said, “and having a wide variety of shots has helped me as a keeper, because there’s a lot of slow balls I’d get on grass that make it easy for me to get on turf [at the college level], because I know when they’re coming in and how fast they’re coming in.”
Ally praised Wallace, head coach of Matoaca Field Hockey, for making her and her teammates better, whether it’s through teaching stick skills, emphasizing drilling and conditioning at practice or bringing creative ideas to playing corners.
It was actually through Ally and Annie Grace that Wallace found out about the coaching position at Matoaca. They were the ones who reached out to her and wanted her to be the head coach. Wallace, who before coaching Matoaca had reffed field hockey for years, has seen Ally play throughout that time. She also taught her in sixth grade math.
“It’s been a lot of fun coaching her,” Wallace said of Ally, adding: “The more she can play, the better she’s gonna be.”
As Ally looks ahead to her senior field hockey season prior to embracing the college level, Wallace’s big push for her is to understand the physical demands - the workouts, the intensity - of playing Division I, which Wallace knows from having played for Radford.
“I want her to be as prepared as she can be,” Wallace said. “I want her to have as much success as she can possibly have when you start. If you have that under your belt, it’s so much easier to transition.”
Ally likes Wake Forest for the small classes - there’s about 30 students each class, and that’s for freshmen classes, Ally noted - and also for the coaches.
“The coaching staff is phenomenal,” she said. “Love all of them.”
Ally’s looking forward to the competitiveness of playing Division I - and also to playing on turf.
Nick Vandeloecht may be reached at nvandeloecht@progress-index. com, 804-722-5151 or @ NickVanDelPI on Twitter.
Matoaca Field Hockey Class of 2020 standout and Wake Forest commit Ally Butler.