Experience is Oak Park and River Forest's main advantage this year. The basketball team returns seven players, including Brittany Marshall, to a team that went 18-15 last year and yet again forced opponents to consider the Huskies a formidable threat.
"We're going to be tough on everyone," said Adrian Newell, now entering her fourth year as OPRF's head coach after initially taking over for Linda Carlson on an interim basis in 2001. She quickly decided that being the head girls' basketball coach at OPRF wasn't such a bad gig after all. Newell, formerly Carlson's assistant, coached the Huskies to a 30-3 record in 2002. If it wasn't for pesky area-rival Trinity, who OPRF met and lost to in the playoffs the last two seasons, the program may have celebrated at least one trip downstate.
Although it appears unlikely that a team already nursing key injuries and a significant second scoring threat to still be playing come March, ruling out the Huskies altogether isn't wise.
With Marshall averaging more than her 16 points per game from last year, and Kate Corkle back permanently from a lingering leg injury suffered over a year ago, OPRF has a menacing back court attack. Throw in the 5-foot-11-inch Ashleen Bracey, an All-Conference player last year, at a new position and suddenly things look interesting for the Huskies. Newell has strategically moved Bracey, a post player last year, to the forward position to better utilize the junior's quickness.
"Ashleen is a superb athlete who has greatly improved her shooting ability," said Newell. "She's tall but quick and strong, and her ball handling is smooth. She's a perfect fit for the position. We feel she'll be more accessible at the forward position."
Amber Slaughter (5-10), a junior, is expected to see significant time in the post position.
Jonay Foster and Sarah Bunch also return for the Huskies this season.
Newcomer Tina Frank, a sophomore, Newell said, will have "quite a bit of court time" on varsity this season. Frank is 5-10 and should pair up well with Slaughter in the paint.
It's Marshall Newell is depending on this season. The senior will not only be called upon to do most of the scoring, but to lead a relatively young team.
"Brittany is more focused this year," said Newell. "She knows her responsibilities. I've already seen a drastic change in her leadership abilities from last season."
The Huskies will maintain an up-tempo style offense this season, yet Newell insists, that doesn't mean they will be vulnerable in a set-offense situation.
"I think we have enough talent and skill that we can play both styles aggressively," she said. "We want to run first and foremost, but we're certainly not going to make it a point on every transition. It's a good way to put opponents on their heels."
The Huskies hope to improve on last season's dismal 5-7 mark in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference. With Hinsdale Central again expected to lead the charge this season, winning the conference may be a lofty goal.
"We're just going to play as best we can and see what comes of it," said Newell, who has added former OPRF player Faith Smith as an assistant coach this season. "It's one game at a time."
The Huskies open up against Northside Prep on Friday (7:30 p.m.) at the Willowbrook tournament. They take on Maine East in the tournament on Saturday.