Crystal Burk impacting team’s newfound success


Joclyn Haven

South Dakota State outside hitter Crystal Burk in a Summit League volleyball game against Denver Sept. 22 at Frost Arena. In that game, the Jackrabbits would lose in four sets. Burk is a fifth-year senior from Newman, Georgia. Before becoming an all-Summit League volleyball player, Burk had been in numerous other sports, such as gymnastics and cheerleading.

Brayden Byers, Sports Reporter

If you’ve been to a Jackrabbit volleyball game recently, you’ll see it’s hard to find a play that does not feature Crystal Burk.

Not only is she an animated and vocal leader of the team, but her play on the court is also electrifying. 

“She’s one of our vocal leaders,” coach Dan Georgalas said of Burk. “I would even go to say she is our enforcer.” 

There was a time, however, when volleyball wasn’t in the picture. She started off in gymnastics and later decided that she didn’t like it. Fortunately, the cheer coach at the same gym asked her to try out. 

“I ended up loving it,” Burk said. “I got my two older sisters and my oldest brother into competitive cheerleading, so all of us were in competitive cheerleading.” 

Burk is an exceptional athlete, currently sitting at sixth in the NCAA with 210 kills. She attributes a lot of her athleticism to her time in cheerleading.

“It allowed me to be more aware. I definitely got my coordination from cheerleading,” she said. “I was really young, so being in that for four to five years really helped with where I am today.” 

Taking her skills from cheerleading and transitioning them to the court has produced some impressive statistics. And she ranks 15th in the NCAA in total attacks and 26th in the NCAA in attacks per set. Georgalas thinks that her attacking is the best part of her game.

“I think, this year especially, it (attacking) is kinda the skill that stands out,” Georgalas said. “She’s just an incredible athlete, very strong, very dedicated in the weight room. I just think her physical endurance really allowed her to take a huge step from an attacking perspective.” 

Five years ago, the volleyball program was in a completely different place. After winning only six games in 2018 and 2019, which were Burk’s first two years, the Jacks won eight games in 2021 before opening Summit League play. 

“I wish I had the knowledge I do now back then,” Burk said. “We were all confused because we had great players, and we just couldn’t put it all together. I just thought this is what college volleyball is about.” 

Sydney Andrews, also a fifth-year senior and Burk’s roommate, echoed her sentiment saying it all felt like a job by the end of their first year. 

“We were kinda like, ‘what are we doing this for if we’re not getting the outcome,’” Andrews said. “We’re working so hard in practice it’s like, what’s not clicking.” 

With the coaching change and Georgalas coming in, the culture changed for the better. 

“Even the first week of practice, it just became so much more enjoyable,” Andrews said. “It was faster, a lot more structured, and I was like, this guy really knows what he’s doing.” 

Burk has enjoyed the volleyball team’s newfound success and credits Georgalas for helping change the culture.

“It completely flipped the script for me. I knew this is not what college volleyball was supposed to be about,” Burk said. “(Georgalas) just putting his experience into the program and making it a better college athlete experience for me just really helped.” 

As things started to change, so did Burk. Moving up through the program allowed her to hone her skills on the court, but it allowed her to build into the enforcer she is today. 

“She has the respect, confidence and those things necessary to be able to speak up and call people out,” Georgalas said. “We had our breakout season last year, and now all of our standards and expectations have kinda taken a step up, and Crystal is a huge part of that.” 

Those standards are being held to every girl on the team, including sophomore transfer Raegen Reilly, coming from North Dakota State. Burk already has made a positive impact on Reilly in the short time they have been teammates. 

“She truly cares about each and every person,” Reilly said. “If I am having a bad day, just having her smile and say, hey, how you are doing, it means so much.” 

The Jackrabbits opened up Summit League play last week against two of the top teams in the conference. They lost to Denver in four sets Sept. 22 before rebounding to beat defending champion Omaha in five sets Sept. 24. 

Perhaps the most contagious part of her game is the fun she has playing it. Andrews says she eats, sleeps and breathes volleyball. She lives it.

“We preach that joy is contagious,” Georgalas said. “That if we enjoy the game and those tight moments, they don’t seem so pressure-filled anymore. Making sure I provide a student-athlete experience that makes them happy is a big goal of mine.”

Burk said that she is having the most fun she has ever had playing volleyball, and that’s one reason she opted for her fifth year. Another was the fact that she thinks the team has unfinished business.

“I always knew that I wanted to continue playing volleyball, especially after the season we just had,” she said. “It’s kind of greedy to say, but like, I know we can do better.”