It has been 12 years since Burnsville last appeared in a state tournament game, but the Blaze find themselves in the mix of hopefuls in a wide-open Class 4A, Section 6 field this fall.
Following a six-game win streak to start the season, Burnsville (10-6, 0-1) begins the most difficult portion of its schedule against a most formidable opponent, No. 3-4A Lakeville North (9-2, 2-0).
The Blaze, at 16-13 and falling to Bloomington Jefferson in the Section 6 semifinals, turned in their first winning record since 2013 last fall. The team lost 20 games the next three seasons before beginning its upward turn.
Section 6 is in a bit of disarray at the moment. Last season's champion, Bloomington Jefferson, is 1-9. Minneapolis Southwest (7-3), St. Louis Park (7-6) and Edina (3-5) are top contenders this season along with Burnsville.
But Burnsville has not fared well against South Suburban Conference competition and that will be its biggest test this season. The Blaze opened conference play with a five-set loss at Eastview and now faces the perennially strong Panthers.
Mesaiya Bettis, a 6-foot sophomore, is Burnsville's statistical leader. She has 150 kills, 64 digs and 20 service aces for the Blaze. She is surrounded by seniors Kiylah Franke (85 kills, 51 assists, 65 digs), Julia Valois (203 assists, 31 service aces, 48 digs) and Corrina Benson (62 digs, 16 service aces).
The Panthers' two losses have been at No. 5-4A Champlin Park and last week to No. 1-4A Northfield. A 6-foot freshman, Rayna Christianson, and senior setter Ava Blascziek, lead the way for the Panthers, who have reached three of the past four Class 4A state tournaments as Section 1 champs.