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Back bona fide: Butland leads defense of Fauquier girls lacrosse team after injury

Thursday, May. 15 | By Jeff Malmgren
Fauqiuer senior Kaitlyn Butland was a first team all-Evergreen District and all-Northern Section performer as a junior in 2013 and she's leading the Falcons defense again this season. --Fauquier Times Staff Photos/Randy Litzinger
“Tough sledding” is just a cliché.

Until you break your back doing it.

Kaitlyn Butland is a cringe-worthy case in point.

The Fauquier High senior fractured her second lumbar vertebrae while sledding down a snow-covered hill in late January. She feared that injury would end her high school lacrosse career without a senior season.

Butland, however, made it back to the lacrosse field by early April after eight weeks of rehabilitation. Since her return, the Fauquier Falcons seem poised to produce one of their best seasons in program history. They lead the Battlefield Group standings with a 6-0 record and have a 6-4 mark overall.

A defensive midfielder, Butland didn’t play early in the season due to her injury, and the Falcons went 0-3 without her. Since then, Fauquier has won six of seven games.

Granted, the Falcons’ initial three opponents were the toughest on their entire schedule, but Butland’s return has helped rejuvenate Fauquier, too.

“She’s there just to take change of the defense,” Fauquier coach Zach Tamburello said. “She knows where to put girls on the field. She's a good leader, someone you can definitely depend on.”

Back at it

Lying in the snow, Kaitlyn Butland’s mind raced for 10 minutes.

She tried to convince herself that the pain in her torso stemmed from having the wind knocked out of her.

“She was in denial,” Butland’s mother, Rhonda, said.

The injury happened during the last sled run of the day. Kaitlyn climbed onto a sled and vaulted herself down a hill outside of the WARF, where she had enjoyed a snow day off from school with a group of friends.

Her sled hit a bump at the bottom of the hill and she landed awkwardly. The resulting pain didn’t pass while she lay in the snow, or after her friends helped her get into a car.

So about 40 minutes after that sled ride, Butland finally accepted the severity of the injury and called her mother. They went to the hospital and got a diagnosis: fractured vertebrae.

“The first thing she thought of was, ‘This is my last year to play lacrosse and I’m not going to be able to,” Rhonda Butland said. “It was a very crushing blow.”

Kaitlyn Butland also knew she couldn’t complete the winter track or cheerleading seasons.

“It was heartbreaking,” the Warrenton resident said. “Senior year, I really wanted to finish out the season with my teammates.”

Butland made it her mission, though, to recover in time to play lacrosse during the spring. So for six weeks she wore a hard brace every day and a soft brace every night. She also limited her physical activity, even relying on other people to transport her textbooks.

“Rather than sit there and wallow … her major goal was to get back on the field,” Rhonda Butland said. “That’s always what kept her going.”

After shedding the back braces, Kaitlyn Butland took a few more weeks to rebuild her strength before a doctor cleared her for contact.

Once she made it back on the field, Butland crashed through the proverbial mental hurdles that injured athletes often encounter.

“There wasn’t any hesitation,” Tamburello said. “It’s like it never happened. She’d take a couple hits and be fine with it.”

Butland returned eager to build on a 2013 season in which she broke out as a defensive star for Fauquier. She made the all-Evergreen District and all-Northern Section first teams.

“I've gone so much further with the sport than I think I ever imagined,” Butland said. It’s great “just to see the amount of growth that I've personally experienced.”

Butland didn’t begin playing lacrosse until seventh grade. After growing up as a gymnast, swimmer and tennis player, her mother encouraged a switch to a team sport.

Rhonda Butland first suggested soccer, softball, volleyball and basketball, but her daughter wasn’t interested. Then Butland saw a flyer for the Fauquier Youth Lacrosse League and pitched the idea of playing that sport to her daughter.

“We stumbled on it. It wasn’t something she knew about,” Butland said. “Now she lives for lacrosse season.”

Sweet Carolina

Kaitlyn Butland spent the first three years of her life in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Lacrosse never crossed her path at that young age, but she developed a love for the University of North Carolina’s sports teams. Tangentially, that interest improved her lacrosse skills years later.

During the summer following her freshman year at Fauquier, Butland decided to attend a lacrosse camp at UNC. She returned to it the next two summers and now credits the experience for helping her develop as a player.

“I was being trained and coached by some of the best players in the nation,” she said. “The camps here in [Fauquier County] weren't all that progressive – just kind of basic skills. I wanted to try something a little more challenging.”

Tamburello has seen a clear progression in her skills over the past three seasons.

“She definitely improved working on her defensive positioning and footwork,” he said. “And being more aggressive and not being pushed around as much. She’ll take on bigger girls.”

Butland takes most pride in her field awareness. She often quickly identifies an opposing offense’s intentions and adjusts Fauquier’s defense accordingly.

“She’s able to dissect plays very well,” Tamburello said. “She knows what’s coming – whether it’s an isolation or a cluster of girls.”

As of Thursday, Fauquier’s opponents averaged only 8.1 goals per game over the Falcons’ past seven contests.

Butland not only anchors that defense, she also helps Fauquier transition to offense. She’s become adept at controlling the ball and running it up field on clears.

“Her stick handling has improved incredibly,” Tamburello said. “We can rely on her when the game’s tight, or when we have a lead and need to hold the ball for two minutes.”

Butland has accumulated 37 ground balls and has 10 caused turnovers and five interceptions. She has even scored four goals, a skill she’s worked on over the past year.

With teammates such as Juliette Ruland (38 goals) and Morgan Ryan (27 goals), however, Butland knows she can rely on others to score.

“She can take a defender one-on-one,” Tamburello said Butland, “but she benefits us best on the defensive side.”

Perhaps she will dabble in goal-scoring more in college.

Butland won’t play for a college program, but she hopes to participate in club lacrosse at James Madison University.

“It breaks her heart that she won’t be playing in college,” Rhonda Butland said. “There’s no future for girls in lacrosse right now, other than coaching.”

Butland could explore coaching in the future. For now, she plans to study nursing at JMU.

“I’m interested in how the body works and have a passion for helping people,” she said. “But my [lacrosse] stick will definitely be coming to college with me.”

Perhaps she’ll pack a sled, too.

“I'm going to have to think about that one some more,” she said.

- - - - -

The Butland File

Nickname: K-But. "All of my friends, I guess they got sick of calling me Kaitlyn. They wanted something a little bit more fun and unique."

Family: Father, Steven, is an IT manager at an international law firm and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Mother, Rhonda, is a dental hygienist.

Favorite athlete: The Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly. “I just really like the spirit he has for the game. … I am a hardcore Carolina Panthers fan and any UNC sports team. For the first four years of my life I knew nothing but Carolina” while living there.

Favorite place: "Either in Carolina or at Lake Anna. I've always grown up at the beach or the lake. We've had a boat since before I was born. I grew up on the water.”

Favorite TV shows: "Gossip Girl," "Glee" and "Friday Night Lights.” “It's comedy and drama, plus romance – like your typical teenage girl TV show.”

Favorite music: "I will listen to just about any type. If it's on the iTunes top 100 charts, I've probably downloaded it.”

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