Buffalo Grove senior Jon Ward has been patiently waiting for his time to come.
That time is now -- and the Bison and their fans couldn't be happier.
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The dynamic outside hitter has been on varsity since his sophomore year and has a wealth of talent, but he hasn't gotten much playing time the last two seasons as BG's star-studded teams have advanced to the state finals both years.
This season, he's is getting a lot of valuable court time -- and is making the most of it.
Ward, who coach Matt Aiello calls "our emotional leader," was instrumental in Thursday's 25-20, 25-17 Mid-Suburban League East Division win over visiting Elk Grove.
The senior's 9 kills helped the Bison (21-4, 7-0) win their 37th consecutive regular-season conference match and clinch at least a tie for the East title with three contests to play.
"He's worked extremely hard and he's not done developing yet," Aiello said. "Jon is very intense on the court, and he's proving not only to us but also to himself what he can do."
Ward has formed a close bond with his teammates on BG's senior-laden squad, as most of the Bison players have been competing together since at least freshman year.
"We've got great chemistry on our team this year," Ward said. "We come with a chip on our shoulder every time out. When you've known the guys on this team as long as I have, it's easy to make a connection."
Another BG senior hitter, Chris Shanahan, swatted 12 kills and served 2 aces.
Elk Grove's Michal Kawa, Aaron Kraus and Don Gardner led a balanced effort with 4 kills apiece for the Grens (12-8, 4-3).
"When you play a team like Buffalo Grove you've basically got to be perfect, and we're not there yet," said Grens coach Dan Windholz. "Tonight was a little disappointing because we played so well at the beginning of the match, but we're getting where we need to be, and that's the most important thing."
The Grens did lead by 2 points late in the first game, but Shanahan's service effort helped turn the momentum around. The Bison took control and weren't headed thereafter.
Junior middle Sam Wacker led an extremely effective Bison attack at the net with 5 blocks, while senior Jamie Schnittker added 10 kills and libero Camryn Castle added 15 digs for a team that hopes to make another run at its first state crown.
"I really feel that we've got seven starters on this team including our libero who could be all-conference players and probably a couple players on the bench who could be as well," Aiello said.
"What impresses me most about these guys is how they're willing to sacrifice for each other and for the good of the team. They know the ultimate goal is to win the last seven matches of the season."
Barrington d. Conant: Behind 8 kills from Matt Logue and 7 by T.J. Shanahan, host Barrington beat Conant 25-12, 25-16 in MSL West action. Taylor Ganzer contributed 18 assists and Austin Czarnecki had a dozen digs for the Broncos. Yusuf Oner led Conant (5-15, 2-5) with 3 kills.
Schaumburg d. Palatine: Visiting Schaumburg handed Palatine an MSL West defeat in two games by scores of 25-15, 25-22. Andrew Stetter led Schaumburg (12-10, 4-3) with 6 kills and 3 aces, while Sean Duminie had 4 kills and Matt Jarosz drilled 3 aces. Kevin O'Shea had 3 kills for Palatine (11-12, 3-3)
Fremd d. Hoffman Estates: Junior John Vandercar recorded 8 kills to help host Fremd defeat Hoffman Estates 25-20, 25-20 in MSL West action. John Mirrison chipped in 4 kills for the Vikings (4-20, 1-6), while Jim Kowalczyk recorded 14 assists.
Wheeling d. Rolling Meadows: Visiting Wheeling lost the first game 25-23, then roared back to beat Rolling Meadows 25-20, 27-25 in MSL East action. For Meadows, Scott Shewmon had a dozen kills and Steve Kay added 8, while setter Brett Frey had 30 asssists.
Prospect d. Hersey: Dan Hoffman pounded 11 kills and Pat McIlwee added 8 to help host Prospect rally to beat Hersey in three games. The Knights (8-16, 3-4) dropped Game 1 by a 25-14 margin, then beat the Huskies 25-23, 25-20.