In order to be one of the elite high school water polo teams, a squad needs as many players as possible to pursue the sport year-round.
That is the main reason the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls team hasn't been able to win a sectional since 2003, the second year of the state series. That was also the last time the Huskies have beaten local rival Fenwick, which has since won seven state titles.
But now there is reason for hope. OPRF graduated just three players from last year's 23-7 squad and has nine seniors back, several of whom played club ball in the off-season.
"Some of them are students of the game," OPRF coach Beth Perez said. "They want to know the little details, which is good, and they're starting to take it more seriously."
The Huskies have two top standouts in senior hole set Katie Appell, who led the team with 126 goals last season and will continue her career at Mercyhurst College. She and junior goalie Jordin Hale both have played in club tournaments nationwide with the Lions Juniors team, including a Junior Olympics tournament in California last August. They will participate in a regional championship tournament next week in Salt Lake City.
Another member of that club team is returning starter Maura Dahl, a left-handed senior who along with Appell and junior Mia Andreoli will give the Huskies three quality hole sets.
OPRF also has added two talented sophomores to the lineup in Jilly Cronin and Genevieve Curry. Cronin, who was the MVP of the JV team last season, scored five goals in the Huskies' 21-5 season-opening win over Waubonsie Valley on March 13, while Curry is a transfer from Fenwick. Junior Maddie Wolfe is another newcomer who played in the off-season.
"[Cronin] energizes us in the pool," Perez said. "I expect her to be a big threat.
"I expect great things from [Curry]. She's a very heady player."
OPRF was upset 8-7 by York in the opening round of the playoffs last year and also dropped a one-goal decision to conference rival Lyons Township. Those losses are fueling the Huskies' desire to improve this spring.
"The girls have been really excited about the season," Perez said. "We played our best match against Lyons [Township] and lost by one. And with York we have a little vendetta."
Appell led the way against Waubonsie by scoring seven goals and two assists. Curry had three goals and two assists and junior Grace Martin added two goals. Hale made 14 saves and also contributed six assists and six steals. OPRF (5-0) also swept its four matches at the Northside Prep tournament on Saturday.