Corrina Benson

Junior Corrina Benson is back for her fourth varsity season for Burnsville as the team’s defensive specialist.

Can the Burnsville volleyball team end their 11-year state drought this fall?

That’s the hope for the Blaze. The team expects to be contenders in Section 6AAAA where one team was ranked in the preseason Class 4A poll. That would be No. 8 Bloomington Jefferson.

There are only seven teams in the section field. The Minnesota State High School League reclassified sections for all sports last spring and volleyball went to four classes.

Along with Jefferson and Burnsville, the five other teams in the section include Edina, Minneapolis Southwest, Minneapolis South, Minneapolis Washburn and St. Louis Park.

“The only really big change (in our sections) is it takes away from the first-round matches, and the (top-seeded) team gets a bye all the way to the semifinals,” Blaze Coach Josh Wastvedt said. “We’re excited for these changes and really feel we have a strong ability to go far in our section.

“Our goal is to make it to our section championship this year,” Wastvedt added. “This team has great potential, so we’re excited to unwrap that potential and compete hard with top teams.”

Burnsville’s last state appearance was in 2009 when they finished third in Class 3A.

The bigger challenge for the Blaze this fall will be competing in the always tough, highly competitive South Suburban Conference. Five SSC teams opened the season ranked — No. 2 Eagan, No. 4 Lakeville North, No. 5 Lakeville South, No. 6 Shakopee and No. 10 Prior Lake.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Burnsville played only four SSC matches last year going 1-3. The team finished 3-6 overall. There were no playoffs last year either.

The Blaze have struggled in league play since 2014 with a 4-54 record in that span. The team’s first SSC competition this fall is Sept. 14 at home versus Farmington.

Burnsville opened the season splitting their first two matches, beating Mahtomedi at home Aug. 26 (25-21, 25-7, 25-13), before losing to Chanhassen Aug. 28 (25-16, 25-21, 23-25, 25-17) in Hopkins.

In the win over Mahtomedi, junior Kiylah Franke led the Blaze with 12 kills, while ninth-grader Mesaiya Bettis had 10. Senior Caitlyn Procko chipped in six kills, while juniors Evelynn Shero and Eleri Deaven each had four.

Junior Julia Valois paced the offense with 23 setting assists, while senior Cassie Santelman had six.

Junior Corrina Benson led in ace serves with four, while Bettis had two and Valois and senior Lejla Durgutovic each had one.

Franke led in digs with 12, followed by Benson with 10, Valois and junior Abby Briese with seven apiece and Bettis and senior Morgan Phyle both with five.

Procko finished with three blocks to lead the Blaze, while Deaven had two.

In the loss to Chanhassen, Bettis had 15 kills to lead Burnsville, while Franke had 12. Valois had 19 assists and three ace serves.

Benson led in digs with 19, while Briese had 10. Procko led in blocks with two.

“This team has such great team chemistry, which will be hard to break for other teams,” Wastvedt said. “They play very well together because they’ve worked so hard to build our program over the past couple years. We also have a strong defensive base that we’re able to work with and get us further into our postseason tournament.

“Another strength is the versatility these girls bring to the table,” Wastvedt added. “We are able to play with a few lineups and try some new things. With this, normally there can be jealousy and such, but not with this group. These girls truly care for one another and are there for a common goal.”

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.