Pensacola Catholic volleyball standout Amiah Butler couldn’t make the usual college visits or camp invites associated with the beginning of a student-athlete’s official recruitment as a rising junior.
Nonetheless, a host of NCAA Division I programs are already inquiring for the talents of the reigning PNJ Volleyball Player of the Year.
With most local travel volleyball programs shut down for the summer, Butler took time to rest and recover from some nagging injuries picked up during the high school season. In lieu of AAU or travel competition, Butler competed in beach volleyball tournaments with partner Gina Cagle from Tate High.
It was an “up and down” offseason dealing with pandemic uncertainty, Butler said.
Instead of traveling the region and practicing with her club team, much of her training came at her mother Meka’s gym as she worked to improve a well-rounded game, which produced 258 kills, 408 digs and 70 blocks last season.
Her kill total was the most of any player from Escambia or Santa Rosa county last season, while she ranked in the area Top 5 in digs and blocks.
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While Butler said she’s received plenty of contact from collegiate programs, she said doesn’t want to indicate any front-runners so early in the process. As her mother and head coach Giulio Simonelli remind her, she still has plenty of time.
“It’s just a long process because everybody can’t have official visits,” Butler said. “So everyone is just taking their time and getting to know one another before they throw offers out.
“We’re all just really determined and hoping for a (high school) season. We’re still practicing hard, even though we’ve practiced for months in ‘summer training.’ We still take everything really serious and I’m just waiting for the season to start in two weeks.”
Volleyball was mostly off its typical circuits in Pensacola this summer.
Simonelli’s West Florida Waves program shut down because of facility closure at the University of West Florida but also, he said, because he didn’t feel they knew the best protocols for the sport at that time.
In the months since, Simonelli said his staff and school administrators have learned and developed methods to help limit exposure. This summer, conditioning drills were completed in small, class-divided groups that never exceeded nine student-athletes.
“We started practicing like that so if someone started to get sick, we didn’t have to quarantine the whole volleyball program,” Simonelli said. “That’s been really successful and we slowly increased the number of players (in groups), but we haven’t had the possibility to have a whole team as a group.”
It will be a new challenge once the program completes tryouts and finalizes its varsity roster as the Crusaders look to come together as a new team.
Several key players, such as Hannah Meyers, Margaret Richardson and Leah Hayes, graduated from last season’s playoff team, leaving replacements needed at right-side and middle blocker.
Rising junior libero Maddie Galloway returns after two impressive varsity seasons. Simonelli said Galloway also started receiving significant recruiting interest during the offseason.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced a travel and attendance-restricted season for the Crusaders and other local volleyball programs. With so much out of the control of players and coaches, Butler said she hopes she and her teammates will focus on simply enjoying the game should the season open as expected in mid-September.
“Honestly, for this season, it won’t be as long as it usually is or in the normal way it goes,” Butler said. “So this season should be focused on having fun while playing hard and working hard.”
Eric J. Wallace can be reached at [email protected] or 850-525-5087.