IOWA CITY — Byron Butler is only six years removed from a decorated swimming career at the University of Iowa.
Watching him work on the deck with his Iowa City West swimmers, however, he has the look of a veteran coach.
“He is mature beyond his years,” said Linn-Mar boys’ swimming Coach Tom Belin. “Swimming is a passion for him and he brings high intensity. However, Byron understands where swimming fits into a kid’s life. There’s a balance and it’s good to hear him counsel his swimmers on the bigger life lessons that can be learned.”
Pretty high praise for a guy who got his first coaching job sitting in a lifeguard’s chair.
This week, Butler, 28, begins his fourth season as the boys’ head coach at West. He served two years as an assistant to Rob Miecznikowski, who led the Trojans to state titles in 2014 and 2015. Butler just finished his fifth season as West’s girls’ coach, leading the Women of Troy to a fourth-place state finish.
At Iowa, Butler was an NCAA qualifier and held school records in several events. He knew once his college days were over, a teaching career was next.
“I also wanted to stay a part of a sport that has given me so much,” said the New Berlin, Wis., native. “I had always enjoyed helping my teammates with technique. That started on my high school team. Rob offered me a job (at West) while I was sitting in a lifeguard chair at the (UI’s Campus Recreation and Wellness Center).”
Butler, who also teaches science at West, said he “could write a novel” on what he has learned over the years from his former coaches and colleagues. That said, he credits Miecznikowski for helping him develop as a coach at the high school level.
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“As I got into coaching, Rob had a huge impact on me,” Butler said. “His ability to come in and be his absolute best for the kids every single day, even when he was not up for it, is unrivaled.
“He taught me the most important thing coming out a D-I program and into coaching — swimming is a game, don’t take coaching too seriously, have fun, but most importantly, build relationships.”
That balance has served Butler well. His teams consistently are big on number of swimmers and results.
“Byron is a deeply caring and committed coach who has his athletes’ best interests in mind,” said Iowa City High Coach Zane Hugo, who was a teammate of Butler’s at Iowa. “With his background and knowledge of the sport it’s no surprise that athletes under Byron’s guidance see success so often.”
Not surprisingly, Butler demands as much from himself as he does from his swimmers.
“I ask my swimmers to fall in love with the daily grind,” he said. “I can hardly ask them that without doing it myself.”
Belin said West swimmers embrace Butler’s methods.
“It’s great to watch him interact with his swimmers,” said the Linn-Mar coach. “You see these kids want to do their best for him.”
With the boys’ season beginning, Butler has the ingredients for another strong team at West. Seniors Izaak Hajek and James Pinter are the leaders of a team that returns all of its point scorers from a seventh-place state finisher and adds some promising newcomers.
“It should be a solid year for this team,” Butler said. “We have some big goals and hopefully, we can make them happen.”
Boys’ swimming teams to watch
Iowa City High — Coach Zane Hugo’s Little Hawks return one of the state’s best swimmers in senior Forrest Frazier. He is a three-time state champion and a California commit. Hugo said, as was the case last year, Frazier will be preparing for a December USA Swimming event in Seattle and won’t swim for the Little Hawks until after the Christmas break. City High was 10th at state last season. Junior Isaac Weigel, who placed in the top five in two events at state, is the other returning standout for the Little Hawks. State qualifier Caleb Coons also is back.
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Iowa City West — The Trojans are primed for a move up the state standings after finishing seventh last season. Senior Izaak Hajek won the state title in the 100 butterfly. Fellow senior James Pinter took runner-up honors in the 100 and 200 freestyles. Fourth-year Coach Byron Butler returns all his state scorers from last year and will welcome back sophomore Jordan Christensen, who missed last season due to injury. Freshman Diggory Oesting has the potential to be a top-five state finisher in the freestyle events. “James and Izaak are both seniors and leaders on the team,” Butler said. “We should have a very good team this year. Incoming guys and Jordan returning should be huge boosts to the team.”
Linn-Mar — Coach Tom Belin’s Lions finished sixth at state last year and could end up higher this season. “Our top three swimmers (senior Nick Cavanah, along with sophomores Cooper Callahan and Aiden Carstensen) have shown tremendous improvement during the club season,” Belin said. “We also have many returning swimmers hungry to take it to the next level. Our team is capable of breaking every team record this year. It’ll depend on how much they want it.” Other top returns for the Lions include senior Alex Cochrane, junior Luke Richard and sophomore Connor Olson.
Boys’ swimmers to watch
Cooper Callahan, Linn-Mar, soph., — Finished seventh in the 500 freestyle (4:43.18) at state.
Aiden Carstensen, Linn-Mar, soph., — Finished eighth in the 200 individual medley (1:58.15) at state.
Nick Cavanah, Linn-Mar, sr., — Finished fifth in the 100 backstroke (51.13) and seventh in 200 freestyle (1:43.59) at state.
Forrest Frazier, Iowa City High, sr., — Won the 100 breaststroke (55.17) at state.
Izaak Hajek, Iowa City West, sr., — Won the 100 butterfly (49.45) and finished fifth in the 200 IM (1:55.52) at state.
James Pinter, Iowa City West, sr., — Finished second in the 100 (45.74) and 200 freestyle (1:41.23) at state.
Isaac Weigel, Iowa City High, Jr, — Finished fourth in the 400 freestyle (4:38.40) and fifth in the 200 freestyle (1:43.38) at state.