St. Ignatius Prep has produced many great athletes in its history, but the latest comes from water polo — a sport that’s seldom talked about in the sporting world.
Junior John Butler has been one of the key players in the University of California San Diego’s advancement to this weekend’s water polo NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championships.
The St. Ignatius alum scored two goals in the Western Water Polo Association Championship to help the Tritons defeat UC Davis 8-7. It was San Diego’s first conference title since 2006.
“Winning the conference championship first was our biggest goal,” Butler said. “Now we’re going to the NCAA [championships], and hopefully we can go up to Berkeley and steal a game or two.”
Growing up just outside San Francisco in Hillsborough, Butler has been playing water polo since the sixth grade and shortly after he became a member of the Stanford water polo club team.
Although he played a sport that’s not nearly as popular as football, baseball and basketball, Butler fell in love with aquatic sport and never looked back.
“Growing up, I played every sport, but water polo just seemed like the right mix for me,” Butler said. “The physicality intrigued me and it’s a thinking man’s game, a chess match. It was something new that very few people did.”
He played with the Stanford water polo club team for seven seasons before attending St. Ignatius, where he became a starter on the water polo team as a freshman.
“Being at Stanford exposed me to a lot of great coaches in the area,” Butler said. “It’s been a great experience, and having played in a competitive high school league and compete at St. Ignatius has been amazing.”
Water polo has taken Butler across the country and overseas, having traveled through eastern Europe where he played against professionals as a teen.
“The travels I’ve had in Europe have proven to be invaluable,” Butler said. “The amount of knowledge I picked up from playing against fully grown men and their livelihood being water polo players. What I learned from, them not only from water polo, but as a young man growing up has been an amazing experience.”
Having earned a bronze medal in 2009 on the United States Junior Olympic team, Butler has been a huge contributor for San Diego.
After a sophomore season in which he led the Tritons with 29 assists while scoring 19 goals, his junior season has been nothing short of special. Butler scored 33 goals to go along with a team leading 43 assists, while also being named to the All-WWPA First Team.
“Coming down to a storied program like UC San Diego was a great opportunity for me,” Butler said. “Playing for a historic coach like Denny Harper, I’ve been able to blossom under his leadership. I just go to practice every day and get better every day.”
NCAA Water Polo Championships
WHERE: Spieker Aquatics Complex, Berkeley
– Southern Cal vs. Princeton, 1 p.m.
– UCLA vs. UC San Diego, 3 p.m.
Semifinals winners, 3 p.m.