By Brad Spencer
Playing against last year's best in the same conference is certainly going to help the OPRF boys water polo team have an upper hand come playoff time.
The Huskies are among four teams ranked in the top 25 by illpolo.com that reside in the West Suburban Conference, which includes defending state champ Lyons Township. Eleventh-ranked OPRF hits the pool with returning starters Nathan Pimental, Mark Hallman, Dmitry Baycharov and goalkeeper Sean Obrecht. The Huskies are determined to improve on last season's 16-14 overall record even without the services of four-year starter Troy Williams, who graduated last year.
Second-year head coach John Rapp said he likes what he sees in the general make-up of this squad.
"What's exciting about this year is after our returning starters we have about 12 players pretty much all around the same skill level vying for playing time, which should make practices a lot more fun," he said.
Also back in the mix this season are Alex Darnall, Grant Krueger, Lee Werner and Chris Brandt.
"If this team plays with a tough defensive mentality and compliments that with their speed on the counter I think we'll be a difficult team to beat," said Rapp, who added that this is the fastest team he's seen at OPRF since he began coaching in the program as an assistant in 2008. "We are going to have to work hard on fine tuning our basic water polo skills such as passing, individual defense, and positioning to have success this year, but I believe we have the right guys to cause some trouble in our conference and sectional tournaments."
The Huskies should also get a boost from a familiar face in Kyle Patnode, who rejoins the team after taking a year off from water polo. The University of Iowa-bound senior is coming off an impressive swimming season where he placed fourth overall in the 100 backstroke (50.31) at the IHSA State Meet.
OPRF will need all the help it can get to navigate the steep competition in the West Suburban Conference. Top ranked Lyons Township returns Joe Shannon, who scored 167 goals last season. Josh Hirt is also expected back. As a junior last season, Hirt scored 72 goals in 33 games.
"Obviously, everyone in our conference is looking up to the state champs, Lyons Township, but this should be a very competitive year in the WSC with Hinsdale Central and York both being quality teams with great coaches," said Rapp. "I'm looking forward to getting this season rolling and seeing how things turn out."
OPRF girls water polo
Depth should play a key role for the OPRF girls water team this season as the Huskies try to improve on last year's 13-18 overall record.
The team returns Samantha Robbins, Hannah Legatzke, Zoe Erickson, Jordin Hale, Elizabeth Williams and last season's main scoring threat Katie Appell. Head coach Elizabeth Perez said she's also excited about newcomers Claire Rolfes and Anna Vogel.
The Huskies host Waubonsie Valley in the season opener on Thursday (6 p.m.) before traveling to Northside Prep for an invitational on Saturday.