By Marty Farmer
After his team earned a rousing 60-50 win over cross-town rival Fenwick in its season opener, Oak Park and River Forest High School girls basketball coach JP Coughlin expressed sympathy for the Friars' standout guard Jade Owens, who was injured early during the game.
"I'm hopeful for Fenwick that Jade gets back," he said after the Huskies snapped an 11-season losing skid to the Friars. "She's one of my favorite players to watch in the state."
While it's good news that the Creighton-bound Owens returned to the court on Jan. 21, the soft-spoken Coughlin unfortunately has been forced to transfer any remaining get-well wishes to his own injury-riddled roster. Currently, Erin Orr (torn ACL/out for season), Angel Bradford, Emily Schreck (back) and Chardonnay Harris (sprained ankle) are all out of the lineup due to injury.
Like OPRF, Fenwick has struggled with injuries all season, including the loss of all-East Suburban Conference Catholic performer Deja Cage to a torn ACL. Only Trinity, the third team in our local hotbed version of the "Tobacco Road Rivalry" (Duke/North Carolina/North Carolina State in college hoops) has remained relatively healthy. Not coincidentally, the Blazers are rolling at 18-4, with state playoff aspirations, while the Huskies and Friars are sub-500 squads hoping to catch fire in the postseason.
"It's been difficult with so many players injured," Coughlin said. "The good news is we've had other players step up and we're optimistic that we'll have Emily and Chardonnay back soon."
Schreck is the team's best shooter and Harris is a promising freshman point guard who has already made a considerable impact in her debut campaign.
Reflecting the assorted oddities and overall inconsistency this season, the Huskies turned in a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance during Saturday's 43-35 loss to visiting Hinsdale Central in a West Suburban Conference Silver Division game.
OPRF (10-15, 3-5) went scoreless in the first quarter, missing all 12 of its field goal attempts, while the Red Devils mustered just six points during an unsightly opening eight minutes of basketball. True to their penchant for unpredictability, the Huskies erased their lackluster first quarter by scoring 10 points in a row to open the second quarter. Sophomore guard Katie Mullins, who recently returned to the lineup after missing time with a dislocated finger, scored on a three-pointer and midrange runner off one foot to fuel the Huskies' spurt.
"I've never coached a team that went scoreless for a quarter," Coughlin said. "We had a great week of practice, so I was surprised we started so poorly."
Hinsdale Central (12-9, 5-3), which led 14-12 at halftime, extended its advantage to 28-20 after three quarters. Trailing 29-20 with 7:48 remaining in the game, the Huskies rallied to pull to 29-27 via a three-pointer from the deep right wing by Mullins, a midrange jumper by Alison Carraher and a layup by Callie Shelton. Despite stifling defense by the Huskies' Helen Onyenso, Hinsdale Central forward Gabrielle Rush scored eight of her game-high 18 points the rest of the way to spoil the Huskies' Senior Night. Bradford, Carraher, Orr, Onyenso, Courtney Marshall and Ariel Frandzel make up the OPRF senior class of players.
"Senior Night was really fun even though we didn't get the win," Carraher said. "It's weird to think my time as a Huskie is almost up, but I loved all the hard work the team put in to make us seniors feel special."
Mullins finished with a team-high 13 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Huskies. Shelton (seven points) and Hoye (five points) also contributed offensively.
After Saturday's game, the team celebrated its seniors with a party at Jimmy's Place in Forest Park. Fresh off her solid game performance, Mullins, along with fellow sophomore Demi Philosophos also came up clutch at the postgame festivities.
"Katie and Demi made really awesome cakes for us," Carraher said.
Conference road games at Lyons Township, Proviso West and Hinsdale Central along with a major nonconference test at Trinity remain for OPRF before the postseason kicks in.
"It stinks that we're missing so many great girls, but the rest of us have to keep our heads up and keep pushing," Carraher said. "JP has done a great job keeping us positive through all the adversity that has hit us this season."
The Huskies have shown flashes of excellent basketball, including a strong 4-1 start to the season, dropping 97 points on Hinsdale South at the Naperville North Tournament, and consecutive conference blowout wins over Lyons Township and Glenbard West in early January.
Another positive regarding the present (and future) status of OPRF girls basketball is a plethora of young talent. When healthy and playing together, Hoye and Harris form one of the most dynamic and talented backcourts in the West Suburban Silver. Schreck, Mullins and Victoria Waters are very capable scorers, while juniors like Shelton, Gareth Coalson and Mary Catherine Smith serve as solid role players.
After losing three of four games at the Montini Christmas Tournament, Coughlin went out of his comfort zone a bit, installing different styles of play at both ends of the floor. Typically an up-tempo offensive team that looks to convert turnovers into easy transition buckets, the Huskies now feature a 2-3 zone defense and motion offense. Despite the Huskies' current five-game losing streak, the wholesale changes have been well received by the players.
"I'm happy with the way JP has made changes, particularly on defense," Schreck said. "Having so many injuries this season has prevented him from doing some of the things he wants, but he's done a good job fixing things as best he can. Hopefully, we continue to grow and improve with those who can play, and that the other players heal quickly."
Looking ahead to the Class 4A playoffs, OPRF will compete in the loaded Hinsdale South Sectional, which includes Whitney Young, Fenwick, Trinity, Riverside-Brookfield, Hinsdale Central, Lyons Township and Proviso East.
Hoye views the Huskies' recent adversity as an avenue to better days ahead.
"I like our group of girls," the 5-foot-8-inch junior said earlier this season. "We're focused on getting all our players healthy and hopefully making some noise in the playoffs."