By Marty Farmer
The Fenwick High School girls volleyball team has loftier goals than neighborhood bragging rights, but the Friars still happily claimed a 25-23, 25-19 win against crosstown rival OPRF on Thursday, Sept. 7.
Fenwick seniors Margaret Planek (15 kills, 10 digs) and McKenzie Moorman (17 kills, 15 digs) dominated the action against OPRF.
"I was really pleased with the performance and leadership of Margaret Planek and McKenzie Moorman," Fenwick coach Kathleen O'Laughlin said. "They both made big plays in big moments Quite honestly, that is what they'll have to do at the next level."
O'Laughlin also praised the Fenwick fans for ample support.
"The OPRF game was great. Our student body came out for us and provided a playoff-like atmosphere," O'Laughlin said. "I think the kids really enjoy this match because of the crosstown rivalry. So many of them were in grade school together, played club together or just know each know each other from around town. There always seems to be some added intensity for this match."
That hard-fought victory runs the Friars' record to 4-0 with upcoming matches against Regina, Trinity (another rival), and then the St. Viator tourney in mid-September.
The team's auspicious start shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the recent pattern of success under O'Laughlin. Last season, Fenwick finished 23-9 with a 4-2 conference record and a 25-22, 25-23 sectional semifinals loss to Rosary. In 2015, the Friars went 24-11 and advanced to a supersectional after pulling off postseason upsets against Glenbard South, Rosary and Trinity.
Fenwick lost some key players to graduation last year, notably four-year varsity starter Mary Marzo (now playing at Gonzaga) and libero Katie McCallister.
However, experienced left side hitters like Planek and Moorman ensure continuity at the top of the lineup. Both will play college volleyball next year as Planek (323 kills in 2016) has committed to Penn and Moorman (273 kills last season) to South Carolina.
"Margaret is a very powerful hitter and versatile enough to be a threat anywhere along the net or backcourt," O'Laughlin said. "McKenzie has the ability to elevate above the block. She also has the ability to power through a block, making her very difficult to stop on the left side."
Senior middle blocker Mary Hester is another key returner for the Friars. Zaria Glover, Vanessa Ceilo and Millie Sheean are other contributing players in the lineup.
While Planek and Moorman deservedly draw plenty of attention from opponents, media and fans alike, O'Laughlin loves the makeup of the entire team.
"One of my favorite things about this group for the last couple of years has been the bench," she said. "We have the greatest bench in the state. They compete for their jobs in practice every day and not everyone gets to play. This group is special because they are so unselfish."
Aside from OPRF, the Friars notched wins against Nazareth, Lane Tech and Payton. Moorman had 16 kills and Planek 13 to power the Friars past the Roadrunners 18-25, 25-23, 25-22. Glover (5 blocks) and Ceilo (15 digs) also contributed for the victors. Fenwick swept Lane Tech and Payton in four games as Moorman had 28 kills and Planek 23, collectively, against the Chicago schools. Sheean (17 digs) led Fenwick defensively against Lane Tech.
While there is room for improvement, the Friars have shown good signs of progress.
"We have three new setters who are all capable of getting the job done," O'Laughlin said. "They just need time and reps. They are learning on every play of the game.
"Our biggest strength is our ability to terminate the ball at the pin. We will struggle at times with our young setting, but they are improving every day in practice."
Huskies remain positive
As for OPRF, the team continues to build its foundations under second-year coach Kelly Collins. Sophomore Natalie Chizzo (4 kills, 2 digs, ace), senior Ale Sleuwen (3 kills), senior Megan Krikau (2 aces, dig) and junior Zora Barnett (2 kills) led the Huskies against Fenwick.
"We are competing well; however, we are still waiting for that one game where everything clicks," Collins said. "We passed very well [against Fenwick] which allowed us to go first ball side out most of the game and keep it close. I also thought we served aggressively to try to take them out of their system.
"It was disappointing to see us struggle with blocking, which is normally a strong weapon for us. Their outsides proved to be too quick for us."
The Huskies are also adjusting to life without top player Mireya Garcia. The DePaul-bound outside hitter suffered a high ankle sprain a few weeks ago against Morton.
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