By Marty Farmer
Note: The OPRF girls track team won the St. Ignatius Sectional in impressive fashion. We'll have a full recap of sectional action plus a look ahead to the state meet this weekend where several OPRF relays and individuals will compete at O'Brien Stadium on the Eastern Illinois University campus in Charleston. Full story coming soon......
The Oak Park and River Forest High School girls track and field team closed out a successful regular season by garnering a second-place finish at the West Suburban Conference Silver Division meet, hosted by Downers Grove North last week. The Huskies, who won five events en route to scoring 98 points, finished runner-up behind perennial power Lyons Township (118 points). LTHS junior Emma Haugen claimed titles in the 100 hurdles (15.60 seconds), high jump (5 feet, 5 inches) and triple jump (36-2.5), powering the Lions to their third straight conference championship.
OPRF coach Tom Tarrant has a roster full of athletes who have been enjoyable to watch. The Huskies' array of talent was on full display at the conference meet. Precocious freshman Mary Blankemeier won the 1,600-meter run (5:01.59) to finish ahead of runner-up Hinsdale Central senior Anne Zaher (5:02.68) and Glenbard West senior Madeline Perez (5:04.19), the Class 3A reigning state champion in the 3,200 and 1,600. The conference meet marked the Georgetown-bound Perez's first competition this spring as she was recovering from a leg injury.
Blankemeier, who finished fifth at the cross-country state meet in the fall of 2013, headlines a group of promising OPRF underclassmen, including sophomore sprinter Norma Abdur-Rafia and sophomore hurdler/pole vaulter/triple jumper Chena Underhill.
On Saturday, Abdur-Rafia won the 100 (12.95) and 200 (25.59) races, while Underhill captured the 300 hurdles title with a time of 47.31, edging out senior teammate Amari Wilkerson (47.43).
Not only is Abdur-Rafia a promising individual performer, she's also an integral member of multiple relays for OPRF. The versatile Underhill has scored over 30 points on her own at several meets. She set the frosh-soph school pole vault record with a jump of 10-6 (previously held by Olivia Lenzo, 10-0 in 2013) at the Wheaton-Warrenville South Tiger Invite this spring. Lenzo, Kathleen Leiner and Theresa Wilkie have also performed well in the pole vault for the Huskies this year.
In Saturday's relays, the Huskies' quartet of Myia Jones, Chisom Nwoko, K. Martin and Wilkerson took first place in the 400 with a time of 48.65.
"Several of the [West Suburban Silver] coaches commented that this is the best OPRF team they have seen," Tarrant said. "Our team record has really improved the last three years."
Freshmen Hallie Voss and Ella Rossa, sophomore Shaina Harris and senior Jenn Smith provide depth and versatility to the lineup.
OPRF flourished in several events at Saturday's frosh/soph level. Rossa won the long jump (17-5) and triple jump (34-8), while Voss took top honors in the 800 (2:27.69) and the 1,600 (5:29.34). Other frosh/soph champions included Lashauni Lashley in the 100 (13.66) and Leiner in the pole vault (8-6).
Amid so much young talent, Smith has been a steadying force as a senior leader.
"Jenn has really guided these girls to success," Tarrant said. "She provides a solid example of what it takes to compete in the West Suburban Conference."
The Huskies have racked up excellent results all season. OPRF won the Hinsdale Invite for the first time in 16 years, placed third (out of 19 teams) at the loaded WW South Tiger Invite, and has won the majority of its dual meets. A testament to the program's outstanding depth, OPRF also finished third at the Hinsdale South Invite racing its JV squad in most events.
"The most pertinent item that will never show up on a stat sheet is that myself and the [OPRF] coaching staff are not worried about winning," Tarrant said. "We are building a team that has character. If you have athletes of good character, the winning will come. I feel the character of this team has been the foundation and building blocks of success."
The Huskies will compete in Thursday's St. Ignatius Sectional, hosted by Concordia University in River Forest. The track opens at 1:30 p.m. with field events/prelims starting at 2:30 p.m. The sectional field comprises 13 Chicago schools, along with Proviso East and OPRF.
"The sectional will be tough and we have difficult decisions to make concerning what events we are going after," Tarrant said. "I think we will qualify a big number downstate with Norma [Abdur-Rafia] and Mary [Blankemeier] having the best shot at going All-State."