The OPRF soccer team was supposed to be mediocre at best this season. But the young Huskies, under their fourth different head coach in as many years, bumped mediocrity out of the way and ignored the description of average all together on their way to an impressive 15-5-5 overall record.
The stellar run, which had its share of bumps along the way due to multiple injuries at untimely moments, ended early last week when OPRF fell 2-1 to Morton in the semifinal of the LaGrange Sectional. First-year head coach Paul Wright went with a different strategy against the Mustangs, who the Huskies tied 1-1 earlier in the year.
"For the last week we had been working on playing a 4-5-1 [set] to clog up the middle and use some of our outside [midfielders]. It worked real well in the second half," said Wright.
Mark Rosenberg scored OPRF's lone goal. The junior midfielder headed in the goal on a cross from Jared Rifis. Goalkeeper Jim Gullo (13 shutouts this season) had eight saves, but the Huskies were unable to muster up a comeback.
A victory over Morton would have put the Huskies up against West Suburban (Silver) Conference foe Lyons Township in the sectional championship. OPRF finished third in the WSC with a record of 4-2, while the highly-ranked Lions, who edged the Huskies 1-0 earlier in the year, finished first with a perfect 6-0 mark.
Revenge will have to wait until next season when the Huskies look to be favorites in the conference and beyond. Leading scorer Drew Golz should return to lead OPRF's offense. Golz scored a total of 13 goals as a sophomore this season. Also expected to return is the dishing duo of Pat Maldre and Aaron Press. The juniors combined to rack up 18 assists this season.
What will be missed is the bulk of OPRF's defense in Brad Clarke, Joe Kelly, Gullo and Jared Rifis, all seniors. Wright said he was impressed not only with Rifis's play during the season, but also his devotion to the team.
"I wish I had more time to get to know Jared Rifis. He is a quality athlete that deserves a lot more recognition than he has been getting. Jared is a true attackman, [who] sacrificed for the team and became our defensive leader and never questioned my judgment at all during the season," he said. "He is one of the many reasons why we had such a successful season."
The Huskies were forced to battle against such ranked teams as Leyden, Wheaton Warrenville South, and Downers Grove North this season, despite several key injuries. Wright said the challenge brought the team together.
"We had a lot of injuries this season, more than I can remember from my years of coaching. But these men really came together as a group and believed in themselves when others were counting us out. It's amazing what can happen when you trust one another and help each other out," he said. "Skill and tactics are important, but heart and pride keeps you in it."