BHS senior will study neurobiology at UW-Madison

Jessa Burling demonstrates her passion on the court, whether she’s muscling through defenders for a layup or giving her teammate a tip on how to break full-court pressure. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Tim Wester

Sports Correspondent

When it comes to girls basketball, the Burlington High School basketball record book might as well be renamed the Book of Burling.

Burlington senior Jessa Burling recently concluded her high school basketball career as the school record holder for points, rebounding, assists and steals.

The four-year varsity starter also helped build the program from an 11-12 record her freshman season to a 15-8 mark in 2018.

It was the Demons’ best record in at least 15 years.

When Burling wasn’t breaking records in basketball, she was playing an important role as a midfielder on the six-time defending Southern Lakes Conference soccer team in the spring. And during the fall, Burling was running with the cross country team.

Burling excels even more in the classroom as a member of the National Honors Society with a 4.35 weighted grade-point average.

Because of her excellence in the classroom and on the basketball court, Burling was the ideal choice for the Southern Lakes Newspapers Girls Basketball Player of the Year

“It’s a great honor to be named player of the year,” Burling said. “It’s been such a fun journey playing basketball.”


Brotherly love

Burling’s journey began at the age of 5 when she started playing sports.

“I was very active as a young child, so my parents got me into sports,” she said. “And I’ve been playing ever since.”

Burling also credits her older brothers, Ben and Brad, as integral in her love for sports.

“I always said it was weird not having a sister, but it was nice having two older brothers,” Burling said. “I wasn’t a little girl to them because they’d play sports with me, and through them, I realized I enjoyed sports. The competition with them made me better at sports.”

Burling and her brothers played just about every sport together, which is a big reason why she played three sports instead of focusing on one.

If you ask Burling what her favorite sport is, she’ll say whatever sport is next.

“I’ve really enjoyed going from season to season in high school sports,” Burling said. “You regain friendships from season to season as people in cross country are different than the people in soccer and also basketball.”

Friendships have been an integral part of Burling’s life. One of Burling’s closest friends for her first three years of high school was Ashlyn Barry, who is now a freshman at Wisconsin. The duo formed a strong bond while playing sports together.

“We grew up playing on the same teams together for virtually every sport,” Barry said. “Even though she played a year up, she was always a silent leader and a great friend to all of us, and I can’t wait to meet up again in college and play intramurals together.”


A coach on the floor

Despite being known as a silent leader, Burling became a vocal leader on the basketball team this past winter.

“Her leadership level has always been great during the four years I coached her,” Burlington girls basketball coach Mary Parker said. “You could really see a different style with how she led vocally with her teammates this year, and she would often times during drills pull kids aside and talk to them about certain reads to make and what to look for.”

Improved leadership along with Burling’s versatility on the court helped lead Burlington to a 15-8 record and birth in the regional semifinals.

Burling averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 7 steals, and one block per game this season.

“Jessa has an unbelievable length to her, which makes her very deceptive on defense. She is very strong down low and finishes unbelievably well through contact and that really helps her offensive game,” Parker said. “She really has made some very good improvement throughout the four years here growing from a confidence standpoint where she didn’t want the ball early in her career to wanting the ball in her hands when she got older.”

Burling’s improvement was evident in the Demons’ 51-45 victory over 4-time Southern Lakes Conference champion Union Grove last January. The senior attacked the Broncos’ vaunted 1-3-1 pressure defense with precision and finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists to help cement her place as the top player in the Lakes this season.

“We took it upon ourselves to prove that we were as good as Union Grove,” Burling said. “We did not handle their pressure well the first time we played them, but this time we had a week to prepare and just refused to lose again.”


A learning experience

Despite improving their standing in the Lakes this season, the Demons were upended by a surging Waterford team in the WIAA regional semifinals.

“It was no excuse for us to have an off night against Waterford,” Burling said. “It hurts a little to look back at that game and our playoff loss to Milton the year before, but you learn more from losses than wins.”

Burling has certainly done a lot more winning throughout her time at Burlington. After finishing her high school career this spring, Burling will join her brother Brad and Barry at Wisconsin this fall with the intention to major in neurobiology.

“It’s kind of weird knowing when soccer is done this spring, there is no more high school sports for me,” Burling said. “The three-sport cycle has worked well for me for four years.”

Despite her reservations about leaving high school, Burling is excited to start her college experience in Madison.

Burling already has a plan to attend football and basketball games at Camp Randall and the Kohl Center.

“I’m excited for Saturdays,” Burling said. “My brother Brad manages for the football team, so he’s told me that tickets are hard to get because they sell out quickly. I’ll have to be one of the first in line to get tickets when they go on sale.”

If her successes in high school are any indication, Burling will find a way to make college just as memorable.