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By Brad Spencer
For J.P. Coughlin, the first-year head coach of the OPRF girls basketball team, the next couple of weeks will be spent savoring every moment with his five seniors.
Coughlin, who spent six years as an assistant on varsity before taking over the head coaching role from Bob Biggins, has seen his veteran players develop on the court over the years, making it that much more difficult to say goodbye come season's end.
"I don't even want to begin to think about next season without them," he said. "I'm just planning on cherishing and celebrating every game, practice, weight room session, and film session I have left with them. I get emotional even thinking about it."
The Huskies (10-16, 4-8) celebrated Senior Night at the field house on Friday night, but had to settle for a grueling 93-91 loss to Proviso West that went four overtimes. Caroline Kelty put on a thrilling show in her final game in OPRF's fieldhouse. The 5-foot-8 forward was clutch, sending the game into overtime with two free throws, then into double overtime on a driving floater, and then into triple overtime with a long-distance three-pointer. But the Huskies were unable to hold on in the fourth extra period as Proviso West's Taylor Pate finished the marathon game with 30 points.
OPRF has had its share of near misses this season, including a 59-54 loss to Lyons Township earlier last week that came down to the final few possessions. The Lions went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 45 seconds to secure the win.
Seniors Kelty, Maeve Connelly, Cuyla Hall, Emily Vachon and Jessi Dixon wrap up the final regular season of their high school basketball careers at St. Joseph on Friday, Feb. 8, and then begin what is sure to be an arduous task of extending their time together in the Class 4A State playoffs. After a match-up against Jaurez on Feb. 11, the Huskies are likely to face West Suburban (Silver) foe Hinsdale Central in the semifinal of the Hinsdale Regional on Feb. 14 (8 p.m.). In their two match-ups this season, OPRF lost to the Red Devils 75-68 and 63-55, though both were close until the final two minutes of action.
A third meeting would have to entail the Huskies keeping better tabs on sophomore Gabby Rush, who scored 30 in the first meeting and 36 points in the second meeting. Coughlin said the task won't be easy.
"We absolutely have to do a better job of containing her, but her range is pretty ridiculous," he said of Rush. "That being said, she is going to get her points, we just have to be disciplined enough to not give her an inch and really make her work for those points while keeping her away from the free-throw line."
Kelty, a varsity player since near the end of her freshman season, has been OPRF's warrior throughout this campaign. The senior is averaging 19 points per game despite a nagging leg injury that has plagued her for the last few months. She scored 22 points in the loss to Lyons and finished with 34 points and 18 rebounds in the quadruple OT loss to Proviso West. Coughlin, who is frequently asked by recruiters and other coaches about the "redhead with the unlimited energy," said Kelty is still mulling over several potential colleges, including a Division-I preferred walk-on possibility.
"She will play for sure next year; it's just a matter of where," said Coughlin, who added that other OPRF hoopsters looking to keep active on the hardwood after high school include Hall and Vachon, whose first foray into basketball came her freshman year.
A win over Hinsdale Central in the playoffs could pit OPRF against fourth-seeded Bogan in the regional title game on Feb. 15. Back in December, the Huskies lost a nail-biter to Bogan 49-44 at the Marist Holiday Tournament.
"[It's] a very competitive regional, but one we think we can win," said Coughlin.