BOGACZYK: Butler Calms Inner `Jumps,' Reaches NCAA
The Word on the Herd-June 24, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - For Antonique Butler, having big success for Marshall in the triple jump was more than a hop, skip and a jump.
In her first two years at Marshall, Butler admittedly spent much of her time battling herself ... and veteran MU track and field coach Jeff Small agreed with that assessment.
Once she figured out that someone other than the face in the mirror needed to be her opponent, Butler soared to the NCAA Outdoor East Preliminaries to cap her junior season last month.
"I was very proud of Antonique's performances this year," Small said. "She had a very underwhelming freshman year (2013-14), but began turning things around last year. She did not compete well at the Conference USA championships until this outdoor season where she had the six best C-USA jumps of her career at this year's meet at Middle Tennessee."
The diminutive Butler, from Nassau, Bahamas, made her NCAA-qualifying jump on March 25, five days before her 22nd birthday, at the UNF Spring Break Invitational ... the same Jacksonville, Fla., facility where she found herself for the NCAA East Prelims two months later.
Her 12.76 meter jump (41 feet, 10½ inches) ranked fifth in the East region on March 26. By season's end, it ranked No. 32, and the top 48 qualify for NCAA preliminary competition.
"It was my lifetime best," Butler said, "and it did surprise, but it didn't. For the past two years before that, I felt like I was having trouble getting back to where I need to be and sometimes I almost gave up hope. But when I came back (to Marshall) this past year I decided I was going to turn over a new leaf.
"I was going to have a better attitude and train harder and I knew the moment that I kept training hard, I knew that big jump would come. You just have to have patience. When it happened, I guess you could say I was surprised, but I guess I knew I always had it in me."
Butler gave the Herd program its 21st NCAA qualifier (counting multiple events by some competitors) in the last nine outdoor seasons, with 17 individual performers and a 4x400 relay team, in 2013.
"I really wasn't surprised she made the NCAA," Small said. "Antonique came close last year and fell a little bit short, and this year she got that big early jump out there (at North Florida), and I figured she was in then, even though her number slipped from fifth. It still was a really good jump."
Small and Butler had a heart-to-heart sitdown in the fall of her sophomore year. The Herd coach felt Butler's performances to date hadn't matched her potential or ability, and "from that day, she changed as far as her mannerisms, competition, attitude," the Herd coach said.
"Track and field is pretty much 90 percent mental," Butler said. "You can have all the skills to jump high, but if your mind isn't right, things are just not going to work. You start to tense up; you start to freak out, start to choke. You have to have a good state of mind to do track and field.
"For me the first year, it was just a different environment, compared to home, a different lifestyle. It was definitely different training methods; I don't think I ever trained as hard before as I did here. I had to get used to it. And being away from home, I was homesick. I'm fine now but all those things were factors."
At the NCAA East meet, Butler was buoyed with family support, with her father, two sisters and her brother traveling from the Bahamas to watch her compete in her biggest meet. She had a best jump of 12.40 meters (40-8½) - "a good jump," Small said. "The competition is very tough."
Butler placed 38th.
"It's hard, because at the NCAA, you only get three jumps (compared to six in the C-USA Championships), and there's so much pressure. You either make it happen or ... that's it. Just reaching the NCAA, it definitely it was my goal.
"Now, I'm looking forward to a good senior year, and I want to set an example for the freshmen coming in."
In trying to follow in the NCAA-qualifying footsteps of recent Herd jump stars Andrea Jackson, Vanessa Jules, Crystal Walker and Jasia Richardson, Butler said she couldn't afford to think her UNF jump in late March would be good enough to clinch an NCAA East berth. After all, the outdoor regular season still had another six weekends to go, followed by conference championships.
"After my best jump, I really felt like the pressure was still on or even increased," Butler said. "That's because you can't really expect to stay where you are with a big jump and say, `I'm safe.' With jumps, it's so easy to pass you by. With just a few centimeters, you can be knocked off that list.
"You have to keep pushing, you can't get comfortable. At the conference (championships), I was under a lot of pressure, so it helped me prepare myself for nationals, how to work under pressure."
Butler finished sixth in the C-USA meet, with a best jump of 12.38m (40-7¾). And five of her six tries she soared at least 12.21m (40-0¾).
Now, Butler has remained at MU for the summer, interning at the Marshall Sports Medicine Institute. The health sciences major is on schedule to graduate in May and then wants to pursue a master's in occupational therapy at Ohio State. "I'd like to go on for my doctorate after that, but I have to take it one step at a time," she said.
She also has another indoor and outdoor season to jump through in 2016-17. And now that she has figured out how to get where she wants to go, repeating as an NCAA entrant is a realistic goal, among others.
"One goal is I want to try to break 13 meters (42-8)," Butler said. "That's a number I wanted to try to break this year, but I'm happy I came as close as I did. I long jump, too, and I'd like to get 6 meters (19-8¼) there."
Small said Butler is primed for a big finish.
"I look forward to big things from her next year," the Herd coach said. "I think she can have a great senior year."