Head strong: Emily Gullo returns to the OPRF girls soccer team this season. Gullo led the team in goals last season with 12.File 2010/VICTOR GUARINO

Paul Wright hopes to finish his fifth and final season as head coach of the OPRF girls soccer team with another successful run, and he has the personnel to do it.

Wright, who is stepping down after the season to free up his time in order to explore other opportunities, returns nine starters to a team that finished 12-7-1 last year and lost to West Suburban (Silver) Conference foe Lyons Township in overtime in the sectional championship.

Leading scorer Emily Gullo, and fellow seniors Jessica Lutrell (midfielder), Kate McCole (midfielder), Victoria Gullo (midfielder), Dori Franklin (defender) and Rachel Durbin (defender) are back this season. Gullo scored 12 goals last season, including three in OPRF’s 7-0 trouncing of Farragut in the regional championship.

Others returning to the team this season include Renata Voci, Shelby Cozzette and Joy Dennis. The only problem is Lutrell, Cozzette and Dennis are not expected to be available until after April 1 due to injuries. All three players suffered leg stress fractures during the offseason, Cozzette just recently after finishing up the basketball season.

“It hurts having three returning starters not on the pitch, but we have some underclassmen that are eager to help out, and they have the experience and know what it takes,” said Wright. “I bring back the most experienced team I have ever coached. We took some lumps the last few years and have been on the fringe of making it farther than any other girls teams in the past. We just need to get healthy and play together so we can start to gel.”

Wright also has a talented and proven stopper in goal, although she’s new to the team. Darcy Hargadon, a senior at OPRF, joins the squad after playing exclusively on high-profile club teams over the years. The Princeton-bound Hargadon, whose brother, Robin, holds the record for the most goals in a single season at OPRF, has played in several state cups and national tournaments. In 2008, at the age of 15, she was selected to the U.S. Youth Soccer Region II Girls Olympic Development Program Pool Team.

The Huskies, who finished third in the conference last season, are expected to compete for the top spot this year along with Lyons Township.

As for it being his final season coaching the girls, Wright, who is 53-32-5 in four years, said he’ll miss the program’s family-like atmosphere the most.

“I started coaching a Gullo (Jim), a Hargadon (Robin) and a McCole (Chris) and I will leave the girls program by coaching their little sisters,” said Wright, who will stay on as head coach of the OPRF boys program. “[There have been] some great families that have supported us through the years.”

The Huskies, who begin the season with six-straight home games, host area-rival Trinity on Friday (5:30 p.m.).

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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...