Sports Person of the Week
Burwell Leading North Branford on the Court
Mackenzie Burwell has progressed from a novice in the sport of volleyball to a senior captain and starting middle blocker with the Thunderbirds. (Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Burwell )
Mackenzie Burwell is capping off her career with the North Branford girls’ volleyball team as a consummate leader in the senior captain’s role.
After dancing since the age of two and competing since age six, Mackenzie tried her hand at volleyball when she joined the Thunderbirds as a freshman. Four years later, Mackenzie has made huge improvements in the sport, while also making plenty of memories along the way.
Mackenzie was encouraged to join the North Branford volleyball program by her mother Sabrina Paradis. Mackenzie was looking to play a high school sport and, with her mom having played volleyball while growing up, Mackenzie decided to try it out. Paradis’s support of MacKenzie continues as the two still practice together and work on various skills.
“She would teach me some things, and we would pass outside. She has always been a big inspiration in my life,” says Mackenzie of her mom. “I always kind of follow in her footsteps.”
Initially, Mackenzie didn’t see that much playing time for North Branford’s varsity squad. However, Mackenzie looks back at those early days as an eye-opening experience that helped her realize why the T-Birds have a special team.
“It was great. I loved the team, I loved the support,” Mackenzie says. “Even though I never played volleyball before, the coaches helped me, and the girls helped me out as well. I didn’t feel left out. It was just such a great experience. I’m very grateful for it.”
With plenty of J.V. experience under her belt from her first two years, Mackenzie was given an opportunity to step up and earn a spot on the varsity floor as a junior last fall. In a late-season matchup against Northwestern, Mackenzie got her shot to start at the middle hitter position.
Head Coach Tori Ramada says that Mackenzie went “above and beyond” with her performance and played phenomenally in that match. Mackenzie and the T-Birds went on to get a 3-1 victory.
“It was a great opportunity. I was so nervous. I wanted to make the team proud. I wanted to make the coaches proud,” says Mackenzie. “I just played the best I could, and I showed what my capabilities were. I’m very grateful I had that opportunity. It definitely pushed me into my senior year.”
Mackenzie is once again starting at middle blocker for North Branford this season. She’s also leading the T-Birds alongside fellow senior captains Emily Olson and Marissa Ricardo.
Mackenzie knew that she was ready to take on a leadership role as a senior. While the captains are voted on by the players, Coach Ramada says that Mackenzie is a perfect fit in the captain’s chair and feels that she couldn’t have made a better choice herself.
“Mackenzie is awesome. She is so easy to coach and so passionate about volleyball. If we want her to work on something, she works on something. She absorbs it and works on it,” says Ramada. “She’s very driven and passionate about the game. On the court, she is a great leader and really pushes the girls to work together. She is also very aggressive.”
Mackenzie has been dancing at Dance Connection in East Haven for the past 15 years. She feels that her background in dance has proved a huge help in developing some of the footwork that’s a part of volleyball. On the flipside, Mackenzie believes that playing volleyball has helped her just as much on the dance floor.
“Some of the dance techniques, I have used in volleyball to help me jump, but volleyball has also helped me with my stamina and power in dance. They both help each other out,” Mackenzie says. “It was also a huge adjustment to time management. I would go from volleyball to dance and come home and do homework on competitions. I was constantly busy.”
After finishing her senior season at North Branford, Mackenzie is planning to go to college and major in nursing. She has been looking at schools such as Southern Connecticut State University, Sacred Heart University, Quinnipiac University, and UConn. Mackenzie wants to stay local, so she can continue to support the Thunderbirds and many of the teammates that have made such a big impact in her life.
“It was amazing. I have such a special bond with these girls. They’re like my sisters—the memories we shared, the bus rides,” says Mackenzie. “Even when the seniors graduate, I still talk to them. Some of those seniors even came to my Senior Night. It’s just such a sister-family bond that I’m so glad to have. I will never give it up.”
When Mackenzie plays her last set with North Branford, it will mark her final time competing on the volleyball court. During the past four years, Mackenzie not only found a sport she that loves, but one that has helped her make connections and memories that will last a lifetime.
“It’s everything to me. I am so glad to have this experience and know what it’s like to work as a team,” Mackenzie says. “We help each other, not only with volleyball, but with life. Just to represent North Branford is everything to me. I will take that with me forever.”