By Marty Farmer
Oak Park and River Forest High School field hockey senior stars Cori Conley and Emma Baldwin enjoy a mutual admiration society of sorts regarding their respective exploits on the field.
"Emma is awesome," Conley said about her teammate. "She's very fast and a very skilled player who passes the ball well. She's also a really positive player who motivates the rest of our team."
Bouquets are eagerly thrown both ways as evidenced by Baldwin's flattering take on Conley's game. "Cori is a fantastic player. She really helps us stay competitive and she turns things around for us if we're struggling."
OPRF head coach Lauren Blanco is thankful to have both players in the Huskies' field hockey program.
"Cori is a very skilled player who does everything with strength," Blanco said. "She can be intimidating to opponents, which is great. You never know what she's going to do and she can beat anybody with her ability.
"Emma is our high forward and more of a scrappy player. She gets a lot of touches and tips on balls and creates chaos which is equally important. They both know their roles on the team and play them very well."
It's not as if the Huskies are a two-player show. Erin Heilman, Rose Taylor, Annelise Ryan and Ellen Schuler among others have all emerged as vital to the Huskies's hopes this fall.
The team reeled off seven wins in its first eight games but hit a mini-skid with losses to North Shore powerhouse teams Lake Forest and Loyola. OPRF entered its own invite with an 8-4-1 overall record.
They welcomed teams from Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Missouri, Michigan and Texas in a two-day, 16-team competition over the weekend. In their tourney opener, the Huskies tied Arrowhead (Wis.) 2-2 as the Huskies' Jackie Berens scored a goal with 4:22 left in the game to ensure the draw.
"We've had our ups and downs this season, but we make it a point to grow from one game to the next," Blanco said. "There's a big tradition of success [at OPRF]. We're optimistic that we'll play the rest of this season."
Since Blanco took over the field hockey program, the Huskies have advanced to the Final 4 of the state playoffs the past six seasons.
"We're a very determined team," added Baldwin. "I think we can do whatever we want when we set our minds to it."
Conley will play field hockey at Penn State next year, while Baldwin is considering playing two sports in college, field hockey and softball. Baldwin is the top pitcher on the OPRF softball team and leaning toward DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.
"I love playing two sports because honestly it keeps me focused," she said. "I'm thankful to be a part of two great [OPRF] programs with field hockey and softball."