Ward breathing easier after whirlwind summer vacation
The only thing that stopped Naperville North girls volleyball player Colleen Ward this summer wasn't a tall blocker at the net or an acrobatic libero in the back row. It was what was in a pocket-sized device she carries.
Ward has asthma and, although she's largely outgrown the condition as she's matured into a 17-year-old, 6-foot-2 outside hitter, the condition is occasionally triggered by physical exertion. That's when she needs to take a hit off her inhaler to breathe easier.
In a case of bad timing and communication, Ward's inhaler forced her to the sidelines while she played on the U.S. Women's Junior National Team at the 2007 FIVB U-20 Junior World Championship last month in Thailand. She had used her inhaler only to learn afterward that the medicine in it was on a list of banned substances by the FIVB. After starting in the team's first match, Ward sat out the rest of the competition so a possible drug test wouldn't disqualify the team.
"I was kind of upset that I couldn't play, but it was still a lot of fun to be there and watch my team play because I know a lot of the girls from the year before," said Ward, who in the summer of 2006 helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the NORCECA Continental Women's Junior Championship in Mexico. "It was still a good experience."
And still quite a summer for her. Ward helped the Sports Performance Volleyball Club's 18-and-under Elite team win the top division at the USA Junior Olympic Girls' Volleyball Championships in Minneapolis. Then she flew to Colorado Springs to train with the junior national team before the Thailand trip. All total, she practiced with the U.S. team about 20 times.
Naperville North coach Jennifer Urban has seen how Ward has benefited from her elite experience.
"She's just playing at a much quicker level," Urban said. "She's a lot stronger and faster, and she's a huge physical presence at the net."
Ward is reason No. 1 why the Huskies should be one of the best teams in volleyball-rich DuPage County and maybe even contend for the Class 4A state title.
"She has come into our preseason and just been an immediate leader on the team," Urban said. "Her and (libero) Christine Wu are our only two seniors. Although there's only two of them, they're tremendous leaders on and off the court. She has certainly taken ownership of the team."
Of course, in volleyball, one big bopper can't do it alone. Ward will need help if the Huskies are to beat some of their fellow rated teams.
"Teams obviously know that she is our go-to hitter," Urban said. "We'll only be successful if we can distribute the ball to other hitters as well. We can't count on her to get all the kills for our team."
Last season Ward blasted 431 kills. But when asked about her goals for this year, the senior didn't talk personal numbers but about the team. She wants to teach what she's learned and leave a winning tradition in her final season as a Huskie.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Ward said. "It's my last high school season, and I think this is probably going to be one of the best teams that's been at Naperville North. I think if we keep working hard in practice that we can make it downstate this year for sure. It's going to be hard because we have really good teams in our sectional and everything, but I think we can still do it."
Along the way, Ward has to decide where she's going to play in college. Her list is down to Florida, Michigan, Texas, Nebraska and Kentucky. She's hoping to squeeze in official visits to each before deciding by early November.
"I think I'm going to take all of my officials first and then choose one," she said.
As for her asthma, it hasn't given her trouble lately. That should cause Ward's opponents to breathe a little less easily.