When Downers Grove North knocked out Lyons Township from the top spot in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference last season the feat gave hope to the Oak Park and River Forest girls volleyball team.

The Lions had reigned supreme above the competition for 16 years, before the Trojans killed the streak. OPRF head coach Don August immediately took notice, putting together a 2007 team that could possibly make its own run at a conference title.

“This team projects to be the strongest in years,” he said. “We just need to make sure we can mesh as a group and as a team. Last year we had great defense, so we need to pick up in that area a bit. But offense-wise, we should be right there. I’m very optimistic; there’s a lot of potential to this year’s team.”

Leading the drive are returning senior starters Kendall Dirkin (5-foot-11-inches), Olivia Wilkes (5-10), and Julia Martens (5-11). Dirkin, who recently accepted a scholarship offer to Fairfield University in Connecticut, will play outside hitter. Wilkes (5-10) will set for the Huskies, while Martens (5-11) resumes her role as middle hitter.

“These three seniors will need to step up and be leaders this season, and they are certainly capable of that,” said August. “We have a relatively young team; however, it’s also a very talented squad.”

Newcomers to the team this year that are expected to make an early and often impact include Sara Shannon, Jillian Briner, and juniors Hannah Decker and Hannah King.

At 6-2, Shannon should make for an imposing figure in the middle. August said Briner’s volleyball skills and athleticism have earned the freshman an early call-up to the varsity level.

“Jillian is handling everything we’re throwing at her,” said August. “She’s an excellent player, and I’m sure going to have a real good high school career in this sport.”

Others August said will see quite a bit of playing time this season include Suzanne Fong (5-10), Taylor Feldman, Tasia Race, and Laura Pope.

The Huskies will try and improve on 2006’s 28-2-13 record and a fourth place finish in the tough West Suburban (Silver) Conference.

“Right now it’s Downers North’s to lose,” said August of the top spot in the conference. “I believe we’ll be vying with York and Lyons to try to knock them out of there.”

The Huskies travel to New Trier on Friday and Saturday for a tournament.

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...