It’s a new year and a fresh start for the Oak Park and River Forest boys volleyball team.

After struggling last year with a 13-23 overall record and going 2-4 in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference, coach Don August is determined to turn things around.

“We were a young team last year and I was very disappointed with our record,” said August. “But, I think this season will be very different. We have experience in the right areas and we have one of the most athletic teams I’ve ever seen, so I really think we will surprise some people.”

Indeed, the Huskies boast two returning starters-twin tower seniors, 6-foot-5-inch Charlie Kahn and 6-6 Blake Austin, who will both occupy the middle. August readily admits the importance of his two seniors and will need them both to lead the way in practice and in games.

Also crucial to the Huskies success this season will be sophomore setter and team co-captain Tim Schmidt. August knows his sophomore setter is relatively inexperienced, but his athleticism will make him a quick study at the position. The balance of the team shapes up with Mark Brady starting as an outside hitter, playing primarily on the right side, while Ben Rains will also play outside hitter. Senior co-captain Ian Squires will star in the back row and senior Drew Sumner, Ben Keller, Elijah Easty, Ben Marchi, Peter Kovic and Sam Hines will round out the team.

“Charlie and Blake will definitely need to lead us for us to be successful,” August said. “They both have displayed great work ethic and I couldn’t be happier with their attitudes. Jim may be young, but has the potential to be a great volleyball player and Mark, Ben and Peter all have shown they have great ability. We will really need everyone to play at high level to make an impact.”

August said that the youth of the Huskies may work against them initially, especially early in the season but he thinks last season’s hard lessons will keep the learning curve small. August added that he’ll need to strategize quickly in order for his team to have any chance in the conference. Downer Grove North is expected to be the team to beat, while Lyons Township and York should also be strong. Still, August said his team’s goals are to win the conference and then make a statement in the state tournament.

“They are an enthusiastic bunch and I don’t have to ask them to work very hard, so that is essential to improving,” he said. “Still, the most important thing for us is to work on ball control. Without good ball control, you are just scrambling. We will also need to get our blocks situated and work on our serving. If we get these fundamentals down, I think we will do well.”

The Huskies travel to Hoffman Estates for a tournament beginning Friday.

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