By sixth grade, Lake Zurich's Michael Savio was in love -- with the sport of boys volleyball.
And there was more good news coming from Lake Zurich High School. The Bears were opening a boys volleyball program.
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Be careful what you wish for. This budding volleyball star was so good by his freshman year that head coach Lesly Ravenscraft invited him to play varsity ball from the start.
"The team needed a libero,'' Savio recalled. "She liked what she saw. My first game, I was so unbelievably nervous on the bus. I was playing at the highest level of volleyball. I was going against 18-year-olds."
And now four years later, Savio is the 18-year-old in the Lake Zurich lineup. The four-year starter helped Lake Zurich have its best season ever. And for his most excellent season, Savio captains the Daily Herald all-area team for Lake County.
Even opposing coaches found much to like about Savio's game.
"Savio is a tremendous player,'' said Vernon Hills coach Chris Curry. "He's versatile enough to be the best defender in the area, hands down, and an effective hitter when they needed him to be. We game-planned around him every time, no matter where he played."
Ravenscraft knew what a budding star she had four years ago.
"He has been captain for 3 years, as well as a 3 year MVP,'' Ravenscraft said. "Michael is a player who any coach would want on his/her team. He expects the best from his team, but more importantly, he expects the best from himself. He is willing to do whatever it takes to win a point, win a set, and win a match. He works extremely hard in practice, always trying to improve and to challenge himself and his teammates."
Now, it wasn't a feel-good story all the way through for Savio. There were some hard times at Lake Zurich. Simply put, the Bears didn't win much those first three years.
"Up until this year, we had only one .500 season,'' Savio said.
Ravenscraft is glad her top defensive star, stuck with the team through the tough times.
"Because our program was still developing, Michael has had to endure many ups and downs with our teams,'' she said. "Even so, Michael continued to push himself and his teammates to strive for success, and by his senior year, our varsity team finally did see that success."
Did anyone see the Bears making a run this year in the tough North Suburban Conference race?
"The turning point is when we played Warren,'' Savio said. "At the Bison Tourney (Buffalo Grove), we had not shown our best. But we beat Warren in three and that was a game-changer for us."
The Bears won 24 matches this season, which was a school record. Savio did his part on defense with 389 digs. He also had 284 serve-receive passes at a 2.3 rating.
"And that is going along with having to play outside hitter for several weeks due to injuries on our team, Ravenscraft added. "That is the kind of player Michael is. He will play wherever he is needed, and he will play any position at a high level. He leads by example -- working hard in practice and fighting for every point on the court in a match. Michael is a volleyball coach's ideal player: one who works hard, plays hard, and loves the game of volleyball."
Sure, Savio got his chance to hit this year. However, as the team's libero, it was his first job to play defense.
"It's all defense,'' he said. "You have to know how to serve receive and pass. I jump served this year. It depended on what the team needed. I felt our team did better when when I was at libero."
Savio is heading West to college. He's found another love: The state of California. He'll attend the University of Southern California.
"We have some family out there and we would go every year,'' Savio said. "Plus, I would go to Anaheim with the Adversity volleyball team."
Another passion in his life is screen writing. And USC should help him out in that department.
"I love cinema,'' he said. "Writing screenplays is huge for me. I love watching 'The Dark Knight.' I can see it on TV and I'll stop what I'm doing and finish it."
Savio graduated Lake Zurich with a gaudy 4.82 grade point average. He earned Summa Cum Laude honors. Yes, it's been a pretty good spring for Mr. Savio.