The Oak Park and River Forest boys' volleyball team had some minor business to attend to before it travels to Hoffman Estates High School this Friday for its latest State title attempt.
First there was the matter of getting past sectional foes Morton and St. Patrick. There was also the matter of star outside hitter Sean O'Malley claiming Illinois' all-time kills record.
Consider that business finished.
O'Malley racked up the record Friday in a 25-12, 25-17 win against Morton and Saturday he and the Huskies polished off the last team between them and the State tournament with a 25-11, 25-17 win over St. Patrick.
The Huskies also crushed Riverside-Brookfield 25-2, 25-11 in last Wednesday's regional championship match at Holy Trinity.
As OPRF packs its bags for a 5 p.m. match against Sandburg, O'Malley has 1,398 kills for his career, besting the previous mark of 1,376 held by Sam Kim of Glenbrook South (2001-03).
"I'm glad we got the record out of the way," O'Malley said. "Now we can focus on having a balanced offense. That kind of stuff is fun, and it's a goal, but I didn't go into the season shooting for it. Our goal is a state championship. (The record) makes it interesting, but in terms of accomplishment, we want to win state. That's the biggest thing."
The Huskies (31-5) proved they could mount a balanced attack in Saturdays' sectional final win against the Shamrocks (22-8). St. Patrick took an early 4-1 lead, getting bodies in front of the net to stop a pair of big O'Malley spikes early.
But as the game wore on, OPRF's middle would heat up and eventually wear out the Shamrocks. The Huskies would go on a pair of 7-0 runs to close out the first game before trailing only briefly in the second game.
Chris Ernest and Steven Gee combined for 10 kills in the middle. Chris Lewis tallied six, and O'Malley racked up 13 despite St. Patrick's focus on slowing him down.
"We talked a lot about stopping O'Malley, but you can't really stop him," Shamrocks coach Joel Anderson said. "We knew if we could slow him down and shut down (Ernest and Lewis) we had a good shot. Unfortunately we didn't stop all of those players. I think we keyed on O'Malley too much and didn't execute our whole game plan."
"I think where we took care of them big tonight is that we ran our middle very well," O'Malley said. "Our setter (Lawrence Collerd) got the balls in the middle regardless of the fact that we weren't passing especially well. When we get that going, we shouldn't have a problem taking care of a match quickly."
Now all that's left for the Huskies this season is the pursuit of their first State championship. They've made eight trips to the State finals and know the frustration of three second-place and one third-place finish. OPRF lost to Brother Rice last year in the quarterfinals, but the Huskies hope their luck changes this weekend.
While some might be concerned that OPRF didn't come out of its sectional prepared for what's to come, the Huskies are comfortable knowing they've seen plenty of the teams still vying for a title, including Lyons Township, which dealt them a tough loss and took away a West Suburban (Silver) Conference title earlier this season. OPRF went on to beat the Lions two days later in weekend tournament play.
"We've played a lot of solid teams this year," O'Malley said. "I think we know what to do."
Defending champion Wheaton-Warrenville South, Maine South, West Aurora, Barrington and Hersey are the other five teams going to State. Among all eight squads, fifth-seeded Hersey is the only team that wasn't a top-three seed in its sectional.
The Huskies will face the winner between West Aurora and Barrington in a semifinal match at 11 a.m. on Saturday should they advance past Sandburg in the quarterfinals. The third-place game will begin at 4 p.m. with the title match is set to begin at 5:15 p.m.