At the end of the girls soccer season this spring, Jessa Burling will play in her final competitive high school athletic event.
But what a four-year ride it will have been for the Burlington High School senior.
From the first day of her freshman year, Burling has competed at a high level in cross country, basketball and soccer for the Demons. She is on track to win 12 letters.
But the 18-year-old Burling is so much more than a sensational athlete — she also excels in the classroom. Ask her coaches and they are genuinely effusive about her and what she has meant to the Burlington athletic program and the school.
“If Jessa can finish this season the way she has started it, she could go down as the best player in the history of the program,” girls basketball coach Mary Parker said. “As a person I have been equally, if not more impressed with Jessa. She is such a personable young lady.
“Coaching Jessa and interacting with her these past four years has helped me to improve as a coach and person. That is the kind of effect Jessa has on those who are lucky enough to be around her.”
Making her mark
Basketball has been Burling’s best sport — she has earned first-team All-Southern Lakes Conference and first-team All-Racine County honors each of the past two years, and is on target to do so again this season.
In the second game of the season, a 48-29 nonconference victory over Horlick Nov. 21, Burling passed Catie Grandi to become Burlington’s all-time leading girls scorer. In Burlington’s seventh game, a 42-29 SLC victory over Waterford Dec. 12, she passed the 1,000-point career mark. Through 10 games, she is at 1,062 points.
Not only is she the scoring leader, she also broke Grandi’s record for career steals and is at 382. Burling also is closing in on records for assists (second with 195, 11 away) and rebounds (fourth with 595, 42 away).
Runs in the family
Burling began playing basketball and soccer when she was five years old. The rest of her family — her father, Eric, mother, Ellen, and older brothers Ben and Brad — were all involved in sports.
Eric, the principal of Burlington High School, was the school’s athletic director for many years, and Ellen is a former Demons athlete. Ben played football and basketball and Brad was the All-Racine County Football Player of the Year in 2014.
“I have an athletically inclined family and a tradition of playing sports,” Burling said. “We did other things, but sports stood out to me. I always looked to stay in shape and go to practice.”
Coming into high school, Burling intended to play soccer and basketball, but decided she needed a sport for the fall as well. She chose cross country after talking with Ashlyn Barry, a basketball and soccer teammate whose father helped coach both girls prior to high school. In cross country, Burling was a two-time All-County second-team selection.
Not playing favorites
Burling has also been a starting midfielder for the soccer team since her freshman year. Last season, she helped the Demons win their fifth straight Southern Lakes Conference title and reach a WIAA Division 2 sectional championship match for the first time in school history.
No matter which sport she is in, Burling is quick to credit her coaches and teammates for contributing to her success.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have coaches and players around me that made me a better person,” Burling said. “I’ve had the same coaches for soccer and basketball for four years and I’ve had countless teammates who have helped me.
“You can’t do it without a team around you.”
Burling excels in the classroom as well. She is a member of the National Honor Society and has a weighted grade-point average of 4.35. She also is a member of the DRIVEN leadership program at BHS and is involved in student government.
One of the service projects Burling did through the DRIVEN program was organizing a local Special Olympics basketball tournament last year.
“Jessa is very kind-hearted and unselfish,” said senior Holly Johnson, Burling’s best friend since they were both 4. “She often puts others before herself and is always looking for an opportunity to help others.”
Focusing on studies
This fall, Burling will attend the University of Wisconsin — she was accepted to UW, her first choice, the same week she passed the 1,000-point career mark — and said she probably will play only intramural sports.
“I’ve always wanted to go a bigger school and all the schools I applied to were (NCAA) Division I,” Burling said. “I wasn’t going to a school based on athletics.”
She plans to major in neurobiology and minor in Spanish, and would like to be a psychologist or neurobiologist.
“I really like psychology, but I didn’t want to just go with psychology,” Burling said. “I really like biology and neurobiology combines the study of the brain (and biology).”
Her soccer coach, Joel Molitor, has no doubt that whatever career path Burling chooses, she will be successful.
“I think the most enduring legacy Jessa will leave at Burlington, other than her remarkable athletic achievements, is her ability to speak her mind and make decisions for herself,” Molitor said. “As long as I have known her, she has had a clear picture of what she wants to do after high school and she has worked hard toward that goal.”