Any team that loses four starters to injury, including two for the season, is going to struggle.
So it has been for the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls basketball team, which lost its seventh straight game Friday night to fall to 2-8. The Huskies snapped their losing skid the following night, however, in convincing fashion with a 72-27 win against Universal to finish third in their pool of the Benet-Naperville North Holiday Tournament.
OPRF plays in the consolation bracket this weekend.
Even before their impressive victory over Universal, the Huskies saw a ray of hope. They acquitted themselves well in a 64-47 loss to unbeaten Benet at the Benet-Naperville North Holiday Tournament, becoming just the third team to hold the Redwings (10-0) to less than a 25-point margin of victory.
“It’s been pretty tough getting through it, but we’re just trying to build the chemistry together with the people we do have on the court,” OPRF senior guard Victoria Waters said. “When people recover we’ll be good to go. We’ll be ready to roll.”
Waters led the Huskies with 10 points against Benet. Usually a starter, she came off the bench this time as OPRF coach J.P. Coughlin tries to get as many players into the lineup as he can. The team has four sophomores and a freshman in the regular rotation.
“We’re definitely adjusting,” Waters said. “We’ve just got to make sure everybody knows their position and knows everybody else’s position just in case somebody else gets injured.
“You always have to be aware of what you’re doing and ready to go. You never know when it is your time to play.”
Waters is one of only four healthy seniors but has done well in a leadership role.
“I feel like my role is just to go as hard as I can and to make sure everybody else goes as hard as they can,” Waters said.
“She’s done a really nice job of that,” Coughlin confirmed. “She’s started basically every game this season. Just matchup-wise today we thought bringing her off the bench [was wise]. She did a nice job with that. She’s a great kid.”
While Benet, which has two Division I players and a Division II recruit, began the game with a 13-2 run and led 37-15 at halftime, the Huskies didn’t fold in the second half and actually outscored the Redwings 32-27 after intermission.
“The first half I feel like we were trying to get our bearings,” Waters said. “In the second half everybody was playing together.
“That’s like our main thing – we just have to make sure we play as a unit and once we do that, we’ve got it. We’ve just got to work harder in practice so it will prepare us for games like this.”
Sophomore Blair Ripley, a 6-2 center, and 5-10 sophomore guard Chardonnay Harris both scored eight points for the Huskies, while 5-6 senior forward Callie Shelton added seven points and five rebounds. Harris made all three of her shots and was 2-for-2 from the free-throw line.
“This group plays their butts off,” Coughlin said. “They play so hard and they really haven’t made excuses or gotten down on anything.
“I was pretty rough on them at halftime because we have to get past the point where we’re just happy that we’re playing well. It’s kind of a given that we’re going to play hard.”
Coughlin called the second half against Benet his team’s best half of the season.
“We started to see Harris start to look like a basketball player and it was nice to get [Maria] Kent and Ripley out there. We just haven’t put a complete game together.”
But Waters thinks it is only a matter of time before the Huskies do. She’s excited with the potential of players like Kent, sophomore point guard Molly Cullinane and 5-10 freshman guard Maeve Nelson. Cullinane and Nelson both started.
“I can pass [Kent] the ball and she will work it and she’s very aware of what she’s doing, so if she can’t figure out how to get a shot up, she will make sure if someone is ready to cut, she is ready to pass them the ball,” Waters said. “She’s always aware.”
Nelson is a gifted all-around athlete best known for her softball skills, which are already drawing interest from college scouts.
“She’s really good,” Waters said. “She’s been driving really hard and she’s actually a really great ball handler. It’s her first year on varsity, so she’s a little nervous, but definitely as the years progress she will get more confident and just be able to take it [to the hoop].”