By Marty Farmer
Other than a 16-4 setback to Hinsdale Central in early May, the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls lacrosse team hasn't lost a match in the last six weeks. In fact, since a 2-3 start to the season, the red-hot Huskies have ripped off 14 wins in 15 matches. Needless to say, OPRF is responding well to first-year head coach Alana Breen.
There has been adversity along the Huskies' win-filled way, most notably the tragic death of former OPRF lacrosse player Rachel Smylie, who died in a single-car crash in Namibia on April 7 while studying abroad as a junior at the University of Michigan.
The lacrosse program held its "Smylie Classic" tournament on Saturday, May 3, in Rachel's memory. The team also had special armbands made, which were worn during games and has been raising money to donate to the newly created Rachel G. Smylie Memorial Scholarship.
"When Rachel was a senior, I was a freshman," senior attacker Emma Dunne said. "Although Rachel and I were on the same team for only a year, we became very close friends. She had an incredible personality. This entire season we have been playing not only for ourselves and coaches but for Rachel. My heart is broken, but she's in our hearts and minds."
It's been a memorable season for Dunne on several fronts. She broke the all-time career assists record, previously held by current OPRF freshman coach Kit Hamilton. Dunne broke the record with her 57th career assist during the Huskies' 10-5 win over highly-ranked Neuqua Valley this season. Last season, Dunne broke Hamilton's single-season assists record at OPRF.
The Huskies opened the playoffs last week with an 11-9 win over crosstown rival Fenwick. Senior attacker Caitlin Wheeler scored five goals with an assist and Dunne contributed four goals.
"Fenwick is always a very tough and competitive matchup for us, especially since we are local competitors," Breen said. "I thought Fenwick came out with a very strong defense that our attack had trouble getting through. The game was neck-and-neck for most of the time, but we picked up the momentum enough at the end to pull out the win."
Although OPRF goalie Presley Cone gave up nine goals to the Friars, she also tallied 13 saves in the hard-fought battle.
"I think this year I've been able to step up in more of a leadership role," Cone said. "Last year we had a good group of girls, but I think this season everybody on the team is even closer."
OPRF takes on Marian Catholic, May 28 at 7 p.m., in a sectional semifinal at Hinsdale Central. The host Red Devils battle conference rival Lyons Township (5:30 p.m.) in the earlier semifinal of the evening.
"We're going to need to bring everything to the field [against Marian Catholic]," Breen said. "There is no room for error or lack of intensity at this point of the season. With two weeks left in the playoffs, the girls have to give 200 percent every day if they want to win and move forward."
While a state championship is the ultimate goal, the Huskies have flourished under Breen and her coaching staff. Wheeler has scored a team-high 54 goals while Dunne has 43 goals, 20 assists and 35 ground balls. Anne-Claire Cronin leads the Huskies in interceptions (7) and caused turnovers (32), along with senior Cori Conley (52 goals), Mary Grace Detmer (28 goals, 18 assists) and Sophie Smith (14 goals, 22 ground balls) and Isabel Amaya have also played key roles on the team.
"This season has been a blast," said senior Caroline Cronin, one of the Huskies' top defenders. "We have great team chemistry on and off the field. It's great because everybody is willing to accept constructive criticism and work their tail off. It's fun to think about winning a state title, but our focus is very much in the now and getting better with each practice and game."
OPRF meets host Glenbrook South on Friday, May 30 (5 p.m.) in a supersectional game.
The state semifinals are Wednesday, June 4 (5:30/7:30 p.m.) and the state final is Friday, June 6 (7:30 p.m.), with all these matches played at Evanston High School.
The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete Feature, The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete of the Week and weekly sports calendar/scoreboard are sponsored by Midtown Athletic Club in Oak Park.