Huskies' depth will help carry OPRF tennis team

? First place in the Huskie Invitational is encouraging, but coach says the team will face tougher competition in the future.

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The Huskies opened their season the way they wanted to by winning the Huskie Invitational, which Oak Park and River Forest High School hosted on April 2. The Huskies finished with 48 points overall, ahead of Catholic League powerhouse Loyola, who finished second with 36 points.

The Huskies had first-place finishes at second singles and second and third doubles. Nakul Kapoor won second singles by wining his final match decisively, 6-2, 6-1. Andy Mertz and Jake Walsh beat Loyola 6-0, 6-1 in the finals for second doubles. For third doubles, Joe Gadek and James Kutil beat Brother Rice 6-3, 6-0 in the finals.

The Huskies also placed well in the other two events. At first singles, Jake Cappel advanced to the final, but lost 6-1, 6-4 to a Loyola player to finish second in his bracket. At first doubles, Jared Connolly and Aaron Press beat Evanston 6-2, 6-0 in the consolation final and finished third.

"I was really happy with how the team played together," said OPRF head coach John Morlidge about his team's performance. The Huskies won all of their opening round matches, something that Morlidge was pleased with. However, he was still quick to emphasize that this was one of the easier invitationals the Huskies will play all year, and that they need to continue to work hard in order to succeed.

"This tournament really showed how deep our team is this year," said Cappel. "We got to the final match in every event except one." The Huskies have more depth this year, especially at doubles, where they have multiple teams that will be competitive in Sectionals and State, as opposed to last year, when they were a top-heavy team.

For leadership, the Huskies will look to returning seniors Mertz and Gadek and returning juniors Cappel and Kapoor. OPRF has a fairly young team, as Connoly, Kutil, Press, and Walsh are all new to varsity this year. Still, they are rich in talent and believe that if they're able to play at their best for the whole season, especially down the stretch at Sectionals, they could finish in the top five at State.

The Huskies will find their toughest competition this year coming from Hinsdale Central in conference and New Trier and Glenbrook South in tournaments and at State. The Huskies have a dual meet against Glenbrook South on April 12, which will be their first real test of the season.

"That is going to be a killer," said Morlidge. The Huskies know that they will have to play some of their best tennis to win, because Glenbrook South is ranked first in the state right now.

"We know they're a better team," said Cappel, "but we are just going to play well and try to hold our own. Mertz echoed that sentiment, saying he just wants to win as many matches as possible and beat some of their better players.

For the season, the Huskies are looking to repeat their wins at conference and Sectionals from last year, and they want to go farther at State than they did last year, which should be doable. "We want to be first in Sectionals and conference again," said Mertz, "and we want to take out some of our rivals, like Hinsdale Central."

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