A War­rior’s path to Wake For­est

Class of 2020’s Ally But­ler talks jour­ney to D1 com­mit­ment

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - By Nick Vandeloecht Sports Edi­tor

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.

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