Rayna Christianson (4), a 6-foot-1 freshman, dominated at the net in Lakeville North's three-set victory at Burnsville. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
The signs are right there in the Burnsville gym.
The words "Build the Foundation" and "Blaze New Trails" adorn the north wall, and a team flag carted courtside by enthusiastic students during pregame introductions Thursday against Lakeville North included the phrase "In Josh We Trust," a nod to fourth-year Blaze coach Josh Wastvedt.
There is a growing confidence in the school's volleyball program, which has been climbing out of a decade-long slump and is looking at a very realistic possibility of making the team's first state tournament appearance since 2009. A three-set loss – 25-17, 25-20, 26-24 – to the perennial state power and conference rival Panthers (11-2, 4-0) on Thursday night was, of course, disappointing Wastvedt said, but also full of good omens.
Senior Kiylah Franke (13) led Burnsville with 11 kills despite playing a back injury that limited her playing time. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
Lakeville North setter Ava Blascziek has plenty of options to turn to when her team needs a point or two. And the senior found the right players at the right times as Lakeville North held off Burnsville 25-17, 25-20, 26-24 in a South Suburban Conference match on Thursday night.
Blascziek found 6-foot-1 freshman Rayna Christianson in the middle or Emily Ramsay and Annika Swenson on the edges when Burnsville tightened up the game on the Panthers (11-2, 4-0), ranked third in the Sept. 19 Class 4A poll by the Minnesota Coaches Association. It was just enough to hold off a resurgent Burnsville team that has not beaten Lakeville North since Sept. 20, 2012.
The Blaze (10-8, 0-3) were playing both hurt and short-handed. Senior Kihlah Franke, who led Burnsville with 11 kills on Tuesday, has been playing with a sore back that keeps her out of the full rotation and sophomore Mesaiya Bettis (nine kills) has been playing on a sore left Achilles tendon that put her on the bench for the last part of the game. And Julia Perrine, who leads Burnsville in blocks, missed the game with an illness.
Burnsville sophomore wore her personal mantra – "UR Worthy" – on her forearm. It is a theme that also applies to the Blaze, who are working to change their team culture after several losing seasons. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine