OPRF soccer eyes breakout this season

Huskies boast seasoned offense, youthful defense, dedicated coach

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By LARRY ROGOWIN

Paul Wright is not only back. He's here to stay.

Returning after a season-long absence from the Oak Park and River Forest soccer program, Wright begins the 2005 campaign as the fourth varsity boys' head coach in as many years. And in his opinion, there's no need to continue that trend.

"I love it here; I don't see myself leaving," said the third-year OPRF math teacher who debuted in 2003 as a varsity assistant and girls' freshman coach, and chose to focus the following year on completing his master's degree.

Wright wants to inject a vision and a sense of stability into a program that's been slightly lacking those qualities as of late.

"My main goal is to make these kids feel like they're a part of something," the coach added.

After finishing with a record just below the .500 mark the previous two seasons, the Huskies went 9-9-5 in 2004, placing near the middle in the seven-school West Suburban (Silver) Conference. They turned heads with a 3-0 upset of perennial WSC power Lyons Township Sept. 21 at home.

But, explained senior goalkeeper Jim Gullo, "Several games, we had leads going into the final five minutes, final minute of the game, which we would end up giving up."

Junior midfielder Mark Rosenberg added: "We lacked concentration last year. We really didn't focus on where we were going with the team."

The focus seems to be improving as the 2005 Huskies continue their first week of practice (tryouts ran last week) in preparation for Friday's season-opener at Fenwick (4:30 p.m.).

"We've got kids who are much more focused on soccer," said Gullo. "We've got a lot of kids who play soccer year-round."

Plus, added senior defender Jared Rifis, many of the players stuck together through various off-season ventures (on a variety of club teams as well as an OPRF summer squad).

Among six players returning with varsity experience, Gullo, Rosenberg and Rifis join a crop of newcomers who bring a more skilled style of play to what was a strength-oriented team last season.

"I strongly feel that this is going to be the breakout year for the program," said Wright. "We're going to see a lot of players step up and take charge."

Defense stands as the biggest question mark. The Huskies will feature four new starters on the back line, which was anchored last year by blue-chip sweeper Ramon Durazo.

But this defense is equipped with a great heart in Gullo, whom Wright regards as one of the state's premiere keepers.

The offense is armed with more experience, led by Rosenberg and senior forward Robin Hargadon, who led the team in scoring last season (25-plus goals) and has emerged as a Division I college prospect. "They both read the game with a similar vision, which enables them to work off of one another," observed Wright.

The Huskies face another competitive schedule. Highlights include a conference opener Sept. 6 at home against defending WSC champion Hinsdale Central, a rematch with Lyons (Sept. 29 at home), home dates with Leyden (Sept. 12) and Morton (Oct. 12)?#34;both of whom shared the 2004 West Suburban Gold crown with Downers Grove South?#34;and a non-conference match at DuPage Valley Conference power Wheaton-Warrenville South (Oct. 5).

Although he is still relatively new to coaching, Wright has already garnered a reputation as a builder. Prior to coming to OPRF, he spent two years at Chicago's Taft High School, transforming a lower-tier soccer program into a competitive force within the rugged Chicago Public League.

And he's at it again. "I wake up every morning dying to get out here."

 

OPRF

Wednesday, Aug. 24

Golf at Leyden, 4:30 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 26

Golf at Champaign Central (at U of I), 2:30 p.m.

Soccer at Fenwick (Priory), 4:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 27

Football vs. Larkin, 1:30 p.m.

Field hockey at Deerfield, TBA

Tennis at New Trier, 8 a.m.

Monday, Aug. 29

Golf at Lyons, ASAP

Soccer at Maine East tourney, TBD

Tuesday, Aug. 30

Field hockey vs. Latin, 4:30 p.m.

Tennis vs. Downers South, 4:30 p.m.

Fenwick

Thursday, Aug. 25

Girls golf vs. Mother McAuley, TBA
Friday, Aug. 26

Soccer vs. OPRF, 4:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 27

Football vs. Hubbard (at Soldier Field), 7 p.m.

Tennis vs. Quad, 8:30 a.m.

Monday, Aug. 29

Boys golf vs. Bishop McNamara (at The Elks), 4 p.m.

Girls golf vs. St. Ignatius (at Meadowlark), 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 30

Boys x-country at St. Patrick (Schiller Woods), 4:30 p.m.

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