A team dedicated in the face of tragedy

Sea-Hawks vow to play just as Erin Bursey would have expected

Kenn Oliver koliver@thetelegram.com
Published on June 28, 2012
The Memorial University women’s volleyball team is mourning the loss of captain Erin Bursey, shown in this file photo. Bursey died Tuesday night, three days after being struck by a vehicle and four days after her 21st birthday. — MUN Athletics photo/Mardon Erbland

When Chantel Jones and Erin Bursey found out Memorial University would host the 2013 Atlantic University Sport women’s volleyball championship, the two Sea-Hawks— both entering their fifth and final year of varsity eligibility — had one goal in mind.

“We decided this year was going to be our year, this banner was ours,” Jones told the Telegram Wednesday.

But if MUN does take the conference title in February, any celebration will be bittersweet, because Jones won’t have her best friend there to help raise the banner to the Field House rafters.

Bursey died Tuesday night from injuries suffered in a Saturday night vehicle-pedestrian accident on Thorburn Road in St. John’s. The day before the accident, Bursey celebrated her 21st birthday and found out she made the dean’s list after graduating from MUN with honours from the bachelor of psychology program.

“There’s no way I’m going to give up on that dream because of this,” says Jones.

“If anything, it’s going to make me push harder because she wanted it so badly, probably more than anyone else on the team.

“I’m going to get that banner for her.”

Bill Thistle says Bursey was one of the reasons he decided to sign on as the Sea-Hawks women’s volleyball coach two years ago, and while his players still expect to win the AUS crown, he admits it will be harder without the team’s captain and emotional leader.

“Somehow, we’ve got to dig down and find the fortitude and intensity to win this one in her memory,” he said. “She would want that, she would expect that. She wouldn’t be happy if we didn’t give her a full effort.”

Thistle says Bursey was just that type of player, an intense competitor who was never pleased with her performance unless it was perfect.

“If you talk to anybody, she was a pain in the ass to play with at times because she is so competitive,” says Thistle. “She pushed herself hard and she pushed her teammates hard. She was one tough kid.”

For much of the last two seasons, the five-foot five-inch Bursey played on left side for Thistle’s Sea-Hawks, a position normally filled by girls six-feet or taller.

“To do what she did at her height is unheard of,” says Thistle adding Bursey was one of the smallest hitter in the country at her position, but still one of the best. “People told her she couldn’t do it, that she was too small to play this sport, but she proved them wrong.”

This summer, Bursey was training to take over the team’s libero position and Thistle is confident she would have been the best defensive player in the AUS this upcoming season.

Off the court, Thistle says Bursey approached life the same way she did off it; always striving for excellence. This summer, for instance, Bursey organized all the Sea-Hawks volleyball camps. When she was held off the court with an injury early this past season, Bursey turned her attention to helping Thistle run the team.

“She would have been a brilliant coach in years to come as she matured.”

Originally from Weybridge on Random Island, Bursey came to St. John’s when her parents, Glenn and Jackie, along with brothers Andrew and Colin moved there 2006. She began attending Bishop’s College, where she befriended Jones and Beth Forsey, another Sea-Hawks teammate who wrapped up her AUS career this past season. They first met when Bursey was competing for Random Island Academy.

“We competed in all the same tournaments, so that’s how I got to know her. When she came to Bishop’s, that’s when we became really close friends,” says Forsey.

“I don’t think about losing a teammate, I look at is as losing one of my best friends.”

It goes without saying the season ahead will be a tough one for the friends and teammates Bursey left behind.

“We’ve got a lot of firsts coming up,” explains Thistle. “Our first practice without her next week, our first travel without her, our first matches without her. It’s all going to be difficult.”

Bursey, Forsey and Jones and other Sea-Hawks such as Julia Watts, Angela Peddle, Sarah Strickland, Nicole Joliffe, and Sasha Wilkins are part of an elite group of volleyballers who have competed against one another and with each other on provincial age group teams.

“First and foremost, she was a friend to these girls. They were extremely close.”

Funeral services Saturday at the Field House

Many of those girls will serve as pallbearers during a memorial service to celebrate Bursey’s life, which will take place noon Saturday at the MUN Field House, where a volleyball court will be set up for the occasion. A private interment will follow at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

“It’ll be her last time on the court,” says Thistle.

Bursey will be resting at Barrett’s Funeral Home on Hamilton Avenue Friday from 1 to 9 p.m. In lieu of flower, donations may be made to the Erin Bursey Leadership Award.