Last week's match against powerhouse New Trier was a "bloody" affair, but OPRF field hockey's 5-4 victory in overtime may be the catalyst for the program's sixth Illinois High School Field Hockey Association (IHSFHA) State championship come late October.
The Huskies (5-1-1) received scoring from five different players, including returning seniors Alyssa Pullos, Anna Brady, and three-year varsity player Tori Karsten, all of which are expected to lead the team back to the State title game being held at OPRF on Oct. 29. The Huskies lost to Lake Forest 2-1 in the title game at OPRF last season. The bulk of the team returns with the goal of revisiting 2003's glory when the Huskies last took home the title.
Along with Pullos (forward), Brady (midfield/forward) and Karsten (forward), OPRF returns seniors Alana Breen (midfielder), Amanda Burns (backfield), Katie Todd (midfield) and Alison Vogle (forward).
"Against New Trier it was a bloody game for lack of a better word. It was rough and physical and I saw the team rise to the occasion," said OPRF head coach Barb Liles, who has been coaching field hockey at the school for 27 years. "I was impressed with the play."
Liles stopped short of praising the all around play of her team this early in the season.
"I see a glimmer of greatness in this team," she said. "I've seen them play physical and extremely well. But I think that right now we're not the team we want to be. In six weeks or so we will be. We just need to keep taking steps to grow. But I do see some brightness now."
Liles said she's been impressed with the play of newcomers Mattie Prodanovic, (centerback), Alison Colucci (backfield), and goalkeeper Kelsey Rosenquist, a junior playing on varsity for the first time.
The Huskies traveled to St. Louis recently and played some of Missouri's top field hockey teams. The club went 1-1-1, but, according to Liles, gained some extensive experience in taking on good teams.
"The competition was by no means weak, and that was great," said Liles of the trip that lasted a weekend two weeks ago. "We probably should have won another game, but they were good teams. I think the overall experience really brought the players together as a team, and hopefully that will pay off later in the season."
The Huskies will host a monster of a tournament at the end of the month when 16 teams from seven different states arrive for the Oak Park Invitational. Some of the teams competing in the pool play tournament include Institute Country Day, Collegiate, and Nerinx Hall, the three teams the Huskies faced in St. Louis.
The tournament used to be held every year at Northwestern, but Liles said she asked some officials to have OPRF host it. "They said that would work fine."
The tournament, to be held Sept. 23, will do doubt be a precursor to the IHSFA State finals to be held at the same location a little over a month later. It will even feature a tournament title game, something new this season.
"We're looking forward to it," said Liles. "The competition in high school field hockey is getting stronger and stronger. Other teams are emerging, so it's nice to showcase the talent and prep the kids for State competition with a tournament of this magnitude."
The Huskies host Glenbard West on Thursday (4:30 p.m.) before traveling to Antioch on Saturday (10 a.m.).