The Burnsville volleyball team is looking to make more strides this fall under second-year coach Josh Wastvedt.

The Blaze finished 11-19 overall last season, 0-9 in the highly competitive South Suburban Conference. It was the program’s sixth straight losing season.

There’s some talent back this fall and hope that Burnsville can make more noise in league play.

“We still want to keep competing and improving,” Wastvedt said. “But we want to end our season in the top five in our conference and give us a good opportunity to host as much as we can in our section tournament.

“We really think we’re developing positively and putting ourselves in a solid place to keep progressing our program to being a contender for a section title,” Wastvedt added. “We just need to focus on playing confidently and with energy. These girls have some great talent, but recreating a culture is difficult, especially for a young player, and these girls have responded well.”

Finishing in the upper half of the SSC won’t be easy. The league is loaded again this fall with four teams ranked in the first Class 3A poll — No. 1 Eagan, No. 3 Lakeville North, No. 5 Lakeville South and No. 7 Shakopee.

Heading into this season, Burnsville has a 3-51 conference record since 2014. The SSC has won six of the last 10 state titles.

Eagan has been in the state title match the last seven seasons, winning titles in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Lakeville North has won championships in 2010, 2012 and 2017 and was runner-up in 2012.

Lakeville South was third in both 2016 and 2018, while Prior Lake was runner-up in 2015, fifth in 2016 and third in 2017. Shakopee was fifth at state in 2018 and fourth in 2012, while also winning three straight titles from 2007 to 2009.

The last time Burnsville won a section title was in 2009 when the program was third at state.

The Blaze opened this season with two homes wins, beating Apple Valley Oct. 9 (25-11, 25-19, 20-25, 25-19) and Farmington Oct. 13 (25-20, 25-19, 25-19). Eighth-grader Mesaiya Bettis had a strong varsity debut with a team-best 11 kills against Farmington, while senior Emma Fretheim had 10.

Sophomore Julia Valois had 22 set assists in her first varsity match, while senior Shannon Murray had 16. Senior Kara Klavins had seven ace serves, while senior Anna Phommasengkeo and sophomore Kiylah Franke both had nine digs.

Senior Rilie Kupka and Fretheim each chipped in three blocks.

Against Farmington, Franke had 11 kills, while Fretheim had eight. Murray had 21 set assists and four aces, while Phommasengkeo had nine digs and Franke had eight.

Kupka led in blocks with three.

“Defensively, we finally have a block that can help our back court do their job a little better,” Wastvedt said. “We’re excited to keep improving our defense, so that we can develop an offense this year.

“Last season, we lacked having an offense and that really hurt us,” Wastvedt added. “We finally have some firepower along the net and some solid options to keep us in some bigger matches.”

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the regular season this fall has been shortened to just 14 matches. In a normal season, teams play as many as 26, which includes three to four tournaments, before starting the playoffs.

There will be a postseason this fall. The Section 2AAA tournament will start in the final week of November. But there will be no state tournament.

The Minnesota State High School League originally pushed volleyball back to the spring in a board of directors meeting back in early August due to the pandemic. But the league reversed that decision Sept. 21.

Wastvedt said his team took all the uncertainty in stride.

“We’ve made sure that we have communicated every step together and are finding positives in every moment,” he said. “I’ve been extremely impressed with their positivity and continued motivation to compete.”

Others who will try to help the Blaze earn more SSC wins this fall are sophomore defensive specialist Corrina Benson, sophomore setter Caitlyn Procko, junior hitter Evelynn Shero and senior defender Maribel Monjaras-Rodriguez.

“We have a mixture of experienced players and new players on our varsity roster,” Wastvedt said. “We’ve developed a strong fundamental and defensive base from last season, anchored by Phommasengkeo and Benson. We now have more offensive options for our setters Shannon and Julia.

“We’ll lean on Kiyah’s, Emma’s and Rilie’s experience to establish a solid offense and have Mesaiya, Caitlyn and Evelynn support that,” Wastvedt added.

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.

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