(Left to right) OPRF senior badminton players Annika Holkeboer, Val Miller, Casey Purcell, Eliza Halverson, Maggie Stapleton, Serena McDonald and Mills Selkregg have contributed to the team's success this season. (Courtesy Paul Wright)

The Oak Park and River Forest High School badminton team has shown significant progress this season. Much of the Huskies’ success can be attributed to the work the players put in during the offseason.

“[OPRF senior] Casey Purcell really started the trend of participating in badminton clinics and clubs during the offseason,” OPRF coach Paul Wright said. “Now roughly half of our girls on varsity are participating in badminton during the offseason. Like anything, time on task is going to make you better.”

Purcell added: “Off-season training has definitely been a key. [OPRF senior] Annika [Holkeboer] and I have been training under coaches Matt Wrobel and Ben Hussey during the offseason for three years now, and it’s really paid off.  Just getting your body comfortable on the court and your arm comfortable with your racket is necessary. It may sound silly, but some people lose that comfort in the offseason and have a rough start to the regular season if they don’t play for months. 

“In the future, I’d like to see every member of varsity doing some sort of off-season training. We have athletic, hard-working and passionate players. With more dedication to improvement during the offseason, I think OPRF can become a powerhouse in the area.”

Junior Maya Trinka, the team’s most improved player according to Wright, is the team’s top singles player. She finished in second place at both the Hersey and T.F. South Invites. Joey Oldach plays No. 2 singles.

“Our team is a lot stronger this year than in the past,” Trinka said. “It’s exciting to be winning more matches. I think our team is capable of finishing inside the top four teams in conference. Hopefully, we can qualify both our two singles and two doubles teams for state.”

Holkeboer and Purcell play at No. 1 doubles, while Jen Eisner and promising sophomore Maria Kruenic make up another solid doubles team for OPRF.

“This has been a big year for us,” Wright said. “We defeated Lyons Township, took second at the TF South Invite and missed first place at the Hersey Invite by a point.

“We were a young team the last few years. A lot of these girls were sophomores when they were first on varsity. We used to lose matches by 5-7 points but now are right in the mix with some of the best teams and players clearly shown by our upset of Lyons and close matches against Downers Grove North and York.”

In addition to their signature win against Lyons Township and stellar play at invitationals, the Huskies have played well in multiple dual matches with victories against Morton, Riverside-Brookfield, Glenbard West and Maine West.

OPRF has several players who have a legitimate shot to qualify for the state finals.

“Unlike in years past, I think we have the chance to qualify more than one seed to state,” Holkeboer said. “We need to continue to work hard and pinpoint our weaknesses.”

 Last season, the Huskies finished third at the York Sectional with 7.5 points, behind the champion/host Dukes (16.9) and Elk Grove Village (9). Luisa Vasquez and Dominique Walker, who both graduated from OPRF last spring, qualified for state by winning four of five matches at York. Trinka and Purcell also gained valuable sectional experience in the singles competition.

OPRF will compete at the Conant Invite on Saturday (10 a.m.). The Huskies travel to Hinsdale Central on May 1 for the West Suburban Conference Silver Division meet. Sectionals begin on May 8 and the state finals are May 15-16.

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...