Toward the end of the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls lacrosse team's matchup against visiting New Trier last week, the Huskies' Cori Conley put an impressive backhanded flip shot, under heavy duress, into the Trevians' net.
"That goal epitomized Cori Conley," OPRF senior center Emma Dunne said. "When she decides to score a goal, there's no stopping her."
Although New Trier defeated OPRF 11-6, Conley's end-to-end goal is exactly the type of determined play new head coach Alana Breen wants to see from her players.
"Cori is a great player and one of the leaders of our team," Breen said. "She and Emma [Dunne] set the tone for us. Obviously, everybody wants to win but if we don't [win] some games, it's important that we make the other team earn it. I think we made New Trier earn its victory. Win or lose, I can leave the field happy if our team played a strong, hard-fought match."
From that perspective, the Huskies took away several positives from their season opener. In fact, New Trier held a slim 6-5 halftime advantage before scoring five of the six second-half goals to pull away from the scrappy Huskies.
"We came out with high intensity and played very well," said Conley, who will play field hockey at Penn State next year. "We played good defense, especially in the first half. I thought we moved the ball well without too many turnovers and stayed composed the entire game."
After finishing 11-9 last season, the Huskies return seven starters and 13 players with varsity experience, along with a coaching staff of Breen and assistants Nicole Cordero and Meaghan Kelly (all three played lacrosse at OPRF).
In fact, Breen's involvement with the lacrosse program started at its inception. She played for the Huskies her freshman year when the program began in 2003. Over the past 11 years, she has been on board as either a player or coach.
Her greatest coaching influence? That's easy, according to Breen.
"A great inspiration for me from a coaching perspective is [former OPRF field hockey coach] Barb Liles," said Breen, who played for Liles in high school. "She instilled in me a lot of beliefs that I've carried into coaching, such as an emphasis on athleticism, speed and motivating these girls to give their absolute best."
While Breen is a long way from matching Liles' career record of 454-136-34 over 29 years, her first game as a head coach went well. Much of Breen's optimism regarding the season stems from inheriting an extremely athletic roster.
Dunne, attack player Caitlin Wheeler, and Conley provide leadership, scoring and explosiveness. Each player scored two goals against New Trier. Dunne is also an accomplished passer, setting the school record for most assists (35) in a single season last year. Kit Hamilton previously held the record with 32 assists in 2006.
Dunne scored the first goal of the game against New Trier.
"One of my favorite things is scoring the first goal of a game just to pump up my teammates," Dunne said. "It's just as much fun though to give an assist as to score a goal. I think we're a tight-knit bunch, on and off the field. Our camaraderie translates well to the field because we trust each other and have each other's backs."
Junior midfielder Sophie Smith, another scoring threat blessed with excellent speed and big play capability, is already enjoying the Breen coaching experience.
"It's been fun and challenging," Smith said. "She is pretty strict and pushes us, which is what we need. I hope we play New Trier again in the playoffs because I think we'll do even better next time."
Defensively, Kathryn Thiese anchored OPRF with three key ground balls against New Trier. Junior goalie Presley Cone also performed well against the Trevians' precision-passing, high-powered offense.
"Presley has been very aggressive and grown so much already as a goalie," Breen said. "She held her own against a very good New Trier team."
Isabel Amaya, Maeve Bowling, Natalie Conti, Anne Claire Cronin, Caroline Cronin, Mary Grace Detmer, Catie Houle, Charlotte Jenkins, Moira Malley, Sinead McDonald, Abby Merhar, Moya Roarty, Mary Catherine Smith and Nora Spillane round out a deep, junior-laden roster.
"We have so many excellent athletes on this team," Breen said. "Compared to when I played [at OPRF], there's a huge difference. I really have high expectations for this team. I believe these girls are capable of great things; it's my job to push them to reach their full potential."