Matt Narwold pretty much got the reaction he was expecting. Emotional and straightforward.

The Fairfield Warde girls’ volleyball coach had brought up the question simply because, after everything that had happened to Clare Burns over the past three years, he felt it was necessary.

So he asked … and got his answer.

Burns laughed in his face.

“I had brought up (the question of) not playing and she just laughed at me,” Narwold said. “She said, ‘Are you crazy, coach? You’re going to tell me that in my senior year I’m not going to be able to play?’ ”

The reason the question was even brought up was that Burns’ volleyball career with the Warde Mustangs hasn’t been really a career at all, it’s been more like a series of starts and stops.

In her freshman year, there were knee issues that limited her playing time. Sophomore year, it was back problems. Junior year it was a concussion, one of three she’s suffered since joining the volleyball team, that kept her out of action. No wonder Narwold was questioning whether she should play.

But that thought never entered Burns’ mind.

“Never. The reason I keep coming back is this sport brought me to hell and back but I love it so much I just can’t stay away,” she said. “I love the sport but I also love Warde volleyball. My teammates have helped me through so much, I don’t want to leave them. I have such a great support system. I don’t want to miss that ‘team’ aspect.”

So Burns spent the summer working out, leading the team in open-gym workouts, doing whatever it took to get back into playing shape, both physically and mentally.

“She was determined to get healthy and come back,” Narwold said.

And so far, so good. Through seven matches this season, Warde stands at 5-2 with Burns being a key figure in the squad’s success.

“I’m so excited for this season,” Burns said. “We practice so hard and we work so hard. I see my teammates doing all these great things and I think to myself, ‘This is going to be a great year.’ Each person is bringing something to the team.”

Without question, the Mustangs are feeding off Burns, whose passion and determination have Warde a strong contender to make the FCIAC tournament and earn a place in the Class LL playoffs.

“She’s an incredible student-athlete,” Narwold said of Burns. “I’ve never had the opportunity to coach someone with that kind of determination. Having her out there freshman year, I thinking, ‘This girl is going to do incredible things for our program’ and then coming into her sophomore year you could see she was having some trouble with her knee and it just kind of continued to go (get worse).

“Practices started to become more limited, play started to become more limited and you could see the frustration when I had to take her out of games. I had to have conversations with her about sitting out, but it’s not in her mindset to say ‘stop.’ It’s not who she is, making her a senior captain was a no brainer, she’s a true leader.”

Burns had never played volleyball before trying out as a freshman. She wanted to play soccer but Burns’ mom said that her soccer skills weren’t exactly the greatest and suggested that she try volleyball.

She immediately fell in love with the sport.

Burns went into preseason camp that freshman season and at a clinic in Darien, while running line sprints, felt her knee pop. Opting for physical therapy over surgery, Burns played as best she could with a brace. As a sophomore, she herniated a disc during a practice and once again, played through the pain.

“It was bad. A 6 or 7 (out of 10),” she said. “When you play, it’s just an adrenaline thing. I just played through it. But there were times after matches when I couldn’t walk up the stairs.”

Along with the knee and the back, came concussions, three of them. One happened after getting hit by a ball (“not paying attention”), another came while practicing with the boys’ team and the third came when Burns and one of her teammates bonked head while hanging out, causing her to miss several weeks.

“It’s something you just kind of have to deal with,” Burns said. “People can have symptoms for years after the fact. It can be like a traumatic brain injury, long-lasting effects. You get used to the way your senses are.”

That’s why Narwold asked the question - would you considering being a team manager or assistant coach? - before her senior season.

“All I could think was, ‘What am I doing to her?’ “ Narwold said. “How do I find this happy medium in taking a girl that loves this game so much and try to help her understand that she’s got a life after volleyball but there were times it was like talking to a wall.

“I had to make sure we were on the same page, that everyone was comfortable with how long she was playing. Those concussions, it wasn’t just playing volleyball, it was how she managed school. It took her three times as long as it did anyone else to get through homework assignments and the like.”

So far, Burns is playing well and enjoying her final season with the Mustangs. But knowing that person will be playing her last match in a month or so, is still hard for Narwold to comprehend.

“Her nickname from me is ‘froshy’ because she’s still a freshman to me,” he said. “I was talking to her a few days before school started and I said, ‘It doesn’t feel like four years ago, I wished you a good first day and now it’s your last first day.’ Warde volleyball is a family and when we say goodbye to Clare Burns, a big part of that family is going to be leaving.”