Clarion Area alum Ellie Burns living a volleyball life
This article is part of a continuing series on athletes who graduated from high schools in Clarion County.
By Nate Steis
For the CLARION NEWS
Clarion Area High School volleyball is one of the best programs in all sports across entire state of Pennsylvania and one of the players who helped make the program great 2013 graduate Ellie Burns.
Burns played a pivotal role in the program's PIAA Class A championship in 2012 as libero and team captain. Burns was also a starter on the 2010 and 2011 squads which finished as PIAA Class A runners-up.
Burns comes from a family that is all about the sport of volleyball. Her mother Jodi is a former college player at Clarion University, where she is also a member of the Golden Eagles Hall of Fame. Burns also followed in the footsteps of her older sister Karly who went on to play for Mercyhurst University in Erie. The Burns family has always been around the sport, and Ellie is no exception.
She began her time around the game as a toddler. Her mom became a college coach at Clarion, and Ellie fell in love with the game from a young age. In terms of organized volleyball, she began playing in elementary school, and her love for the sport only grew from there. Ellie participated in some clinics at Clarion High School led by coach Shari Campbell. The work Campbell has put in to volleyball throughout the town of Clarion has truly been unmatched. From elementary, to middle, to high schoolers; Campbell has made a huge difference in the lives of many area youth, including Burns.
Burns began playing travel volleyball with several Clarion area teams, but it was not long before Burns decided to take another leap and play for some club teams in the Pittsburgh area. This meant driving to Pittsburgh a few evenings a week and tournaments on the weekends in order to get the extra reps, games, and practice she was looking for in order to reach the highest stage. Though Burns played a great amount of travel volleyball, Burns also made sure high school season was her main focus.
The result of the added focus on the high school season helped lead the Bobcats to four KSAC titles, four regional titles, four district titles, two first team All-State selections, three appearances in the PIAA title game, and one PIAA state title.
The success of a town with a population between 3,000 and 4,000 to have so much success in girls' high school volleyball is quite incredible, but Burns success in the sport did not end after high school as can be expected. She knew a career in speech and language pathology was something she could see herself in for many years to come. With her interest in speech pathology in consideration, Burns opened up her recruiting to many schools, but only focused on those with reputable programs in communication disorders or closely related fields. Among those was Division I University of Pittsburgh. The school has one of the best programs in communication disorders in the country, it offered Power 5 conference volleyball, and she was able to stay close to home.
"I was looking to go as big as possible." Burns said. Going to the absolute highest level was exactly what she did.
Burns began her career with the Panthers in the summer of 2013 and she admits it was quite a wake-up call, initially.
"I went from the big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond pretty quickly," Burns said. "I can recall first moving in and seeing so much new culture and so many different people. It was a wake-up call."
As a college freshman, Burns played in twelve matches and twenty-two overall sets for the Panthers, and primarily served as a serving specialist. It was a role she had to adjust to, but she made the most of it.
It was during her sophomore season where life became a little more difficult for Burns. School began to ramp up, and as a sophomore college athlete, there began to be a larger expectation of her as a leader. Though Burns completed her sophomore season with the Panthers, she knew a change was best for her future. After her sophomore season, Burns made one of the more difficult decisions she has ever faced in her life; she decided to give up volleyball in order to focus on her academics and getting into a reputable graduate school. The move helped Burns raise her already impressive 3.2 grade point average to a 3.69 and also allowed her to pick up a linguistics minor and a certificate in sign language. The move proved to be a great one as Ellie Burns was accepted into IUP's speech and language pathology master's program. While the move to IUP was solely based off academics, Burns was also welcomed with open arms to play a third college season as a graduate student.
Heading to IUP allowed Ellie to play with younger sister Liv and cousin Madi, an experience she never had before. She was able to play with her older sister Karly in high school, but Liv is four grades below. The only chance Ellie would have to play on the same team as Liv was in a fifth year for Ellie or if Liv reclassified to the class of 2016. Ellie and Liv's cousin Madi heading to IUP helped the trio become college teammates for one season, and they helped lead IUP to one of its best seasons of volleyball in recent memory; advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
After two years at IUP, Burns graduated with a Master's in speech and language pathology, and began her job search. She shadowed and worked for the Western Pennsylvania School of the Deaf, and it is a school she was blessed enough to not have to leave post graduating from IUP. Burns interviewed for a position right around the time of graduation, and she started the full-time role there not long after in August of 2019.
Staying in Pittsburgh allowed her to begin her coaching career at Moon Area High School and continue to coach Pittsburgh Elite volleyball club where she is currently coaching her youngest sister Korrin who is a high school player at Clarion Area presently. In her first year as Moon's head coach, Burns helped lead Moon to a winning record at 11-3. To put it into perspective; Moon was 3-11 last year in junior varsity volleyball and improved by eight wins in just one year's time.
It is evident that Burns is a great teacher and role model for a group of young women who care about the sport and platooning their skills and potential in the sport. Volleyball still takes up a good amount of time even when she is not coaching as her and her fianc former Thiel great Evan Proksell play together in some recreation leagues together as well.
Volleyball is in Ellie Burns DNA, and she had many people to thank for her success and knowledge she is now able to share with the next generation of volleyball players. She listed mentors Jen Flynn-Oldenburg who is the newly named Ohio State women's volleyball coach, legendary Clarion Area volleyball coach Shari Campbell, her head coach at Pitt Dan Fisher, and her mother as her biggest role models in the sport. However, her inspiration belongs to her older sister Karly who battled incredibly serious ankle injuries for several years in high school and college.
"The reason I play is for Karly." Burns admitted. "Karly had a great high school career, but she missed so much time because of complications with her ankles. She still got to play college volleyball, but she did not get the chance to live up to the true potential she had. I wanted to go to the highest level for her and reach my full potential as a player because of her. I think that is something I forget to mention sometimes, but she is truly my biggest inspiration."
Burns also made mention of how thankful she is for her parents Jodi and Joe for sacrificing so much time to take her to tournaments, practices, and for allowing her to follow her dreams and passions.
Volleyball is the sport that brings the Burns family together, but it is not the only activity that the family is competitive over, Burns admitted. Burns and her fianc Evan Proksell were engaged late in 2019, and the couple plans to marry in 2021. Though Ellie Burns' college career may not have been one that was textbook or typical, she made decisions that helped her grow closer to the game of volleyball over time, pick up a Master's degree, and play alongside her family members in college. The last few years have been incredibly exciting for Ellie and the rest of the Burns family, and the future is sure to be filled with even more fireworks.