Whether the need was hitting, fielding or even dancing, Oak Park and River Forest High School softball team senior co-captains Taylor Arends and Nina Steele stressed unity.
“I think Nina and I did a really good job as team captains of keeping the team positive and also making everyone happy with what they’re doing,” Arends said. “It’s hard to keep fighting when you know the rest of your team can probably do it for you, but it was nice to have everybody contributing.”
There was plenty for the Huskies (33-4) to be happy about. They finished third in Class 4A Saturday in East Peoria with their first 30-win season since the last downstate trip in 2007.
Three seniors started in the 3-2 victory over Barrington — shortstop Arends, third baseman Steele and left fielder Mackenzie Powell.
“Leadership was the biggest thing,” sophomore pitcher Chardonnay Harris said. “(Arends and Steele) knew when to be a teammate and when to be a friend. They weren’t overly pushy. They knew how to comfort you well.”
Arends enjoyed success in softball and tennis and will continue playing softball at Washington University (St. Louis).
Arends and 2014 graduate Tess Trinka finished second in doubles at the 2013 state tennis meet and sixth in 2012. Arends returned to state in singles as a senior and placed among the top 24.
“I do miss tennis. I’m teaching tennis this summer. I’m happy with my decision, though,” Arends said. “(State tennis) is such a weird atmosphere. You play seven, eight matches in a day and here it’s just one game, one game. It’s a little more relaxed.”
Steele contributed greatly in maintaining a relaxed atmosphere. She led the dancing with several teammates that became a ritual prior to games.
“Or during. We didn’t bring our speakers today, but usually we do,” Steele said.
“We always just dance. Last year, we would dance, too, but Chardonnay dances in the middle of a circle. We’re all just really, really good in dancing for some reason. We could all win state in dancing.”
As the Huskies left the field Saturday following several minutes of post-game celebrating, they broke into dance near the first-base line one last time.
With 12 non-seniors, this very well won’t be the group’s last dance at the state finals.
“It’s been a really good experience for me. We got better each year,” Arends said. “It was really good to be part of the building process and also to get to know some of the girls really well. I’ve had a great time learning about softball but also just developing as a person, too.”