Last season, the OPRF boys soccer team lost 4-0 to Morton in the Class 3A Hinsdale Central Sectional. Despite the Huskies' disappointing performance against the eventual state champ Mustangs — which head coach Paul Wright termed their worst game of the season — OPRF enjoyed a banner 2011 campaign.
"Our team had a special year, winning 20 games and making it the sectional final," said Wright about the Huskies' first sectional title game appearance in over 15 years. "The returning players this season know the expectations of the work ethic and commitment that's needed to be successful. We're looking for some senior leadership."
Considering the Huskies (20-4-1 last season) graduated 14 players, most notably 6-foot-5, All-state forward Stephen Golz, Dan Pasternak, Zack Weigel, Ryan Huettel and Granger Sheppard, a new batch of seniors will be relied upon to guide this season's relatively young team. Marcus Machado, who came on as a starting sophomore forward last season, moved to Seattle.
Senior sweeper Max Menzies, who was injured the last few games of 2011, is the Huskies' lone returning starter. Midfielders Gian Luca Lo Casto and Okker Verhagen, defender Ryan Ebersole, forward Noe Espinoza, and goalkeeper Andrew Galo are the other key returners.
Menzies and Lo Casto, slowed by injuries last fall (back issue and quad tear, respectively) are poised for stellar senior seasons.
"Gian Luca can play soccer at the next level," Wright said. "His movement is excellent and he's effective on or off the ball. Max really anchors our defense."
Galo also assumes a vital role as the Huskies' starting keeper, replacing the solid Sheppard in net.
"Andrew is a taller, bigger kid than Sam Euler [former All-American OPRF goalie]," Wright said. "Andrew definitely has a presence in the net. He communicates well with our defense, especially Max."
Wright noted the remainder of the varsity roster is comprised mostly of promising sophomores and juniors.
"This team reminds me of my first team [at OPRF]," said Wright, who has coached at OPRF for 10 years. "We have a lot of young talent. Last season, we had a very tall, big and physical team. This year, I think we will change some formations and principles around to be more effective. We have a lot of possession-oriented players. It's going to be exciting."
Wright believes the Huskies can push for a West Suburban (Silver) Conference championship, currently held by defending league co-champions Lyons Township and Glenbard West. Hinsdale Central is another team with legitimate conference title aspirations. OPRF defeated the host Red Devils 2-0 in the Hinsdale Central Sectional semifinals last season.
"We have to win a conference championship," Wright said. "That's our goal to start, especially since we have been runner-up the last few years. I think the conference championship will be between us, LT and Hinsdale Central."
In addition to a challenging league slate, the Huskies will play several excellent teams in either nonconference or tournament matches. On Friday, Sept. 7 (7 p.m.), OPRF welcomes Fenwick to Oak Park Stadium for their annual fundraiser Pink Out game.
"It's always a great atmosphere when we play Fenwick," Wright said. "We get a huge turnout of fans. All the cards are off the table because the players are so pumped and ready to run around for 80 minutes."