Line up the limos, break out the red carpet, play some moving instrumental music and cue the unnecessarily long acceptance speeches, it’s that time of the year when Wednesday Journal Sports honors its Team, Male Athlete, Female Athlete, Coach and Volunteer of the Year recipients.

Envelopes please, and the winners are …

For the second year in a row, the Oak Park and River Forest High School wrestling team has earned the Wednesday Journal Team of the Year.

OPRF obliterated the competition en route to a 28-0 record and its second straight Class 4A state title and third state championship in six years. The Huskies cruised past Sandburg 39-16 with 10 wins in 14 matches in the final of the IHSA Dual Team Tournament finals at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington in late February.

“I’m very happy, proud, and quite honestly, relieved we won the state championship,” OPRF head coach Paul Collins said after winning the team title. “We came into the season as the top-ranked team in the state and ranked No. 1 or 2 in the country in every poll. Obviously, that’s in the back of guys’ minds, but we just focused on working hard and getting better each day.

“We have a blueprint for success. If the kids follow it, we get where we need to be. No season is ever perfect, but when it was crunch time, our guys came together. There’s a reason why we call ourselves a family. The wrestlers and coaches did a phenomenal job.”

The Huskies excelled individually as well, highlighted by state champions Isaiah White at 152 pounds and Matt Rundell (36-3) at 160 pounds, respectively. Larry Early (145), Jason Renteria (113) and Alex Madrigal (120) each finished second in the state, while Gabe Townsell (126) placed third and Jamie Hernandez (132) was fourth at the individual state tournament.

Isaiah White, this year’s Wednesday Journal Male Athlete of the Year, was particularly dominant with a 38-0 record (including 24 falls) and championships at the prestigious Walsh Ironman tournament in Ohio, as well as regional and sectional titles. For his prep career, the two-time defending state champion is 127-7 with a 95 percent winning percentage.

In girls track and field, OPRF junior Norma Abdur-Rafia and Trinity senior Anna Sloan earn a share of the Wednesday Journal Female Athlete of the Year award.

Abdur-Rafia became the first OPRF athlete to earn the maximum four all-state medals at one meet and now shares the career lead of six with 2009 graduate Brittany Smith. Along with a trio of other top-four finishes (1,600 relay, 400 relay, 200-meter dash), Abdur-Rafia joined senior Komiyah Martin, junior Chisom Nwoko and senior Myia Jones to win the 800-meter relay at the Class 3A girls track and field state finals at Eastern Illinois University in a school-record 1 minute, 39.39 seconds.

Sloan, meanwhile, powered the Trinity track and field team to seventh in the team standings with 29 points. The Blazers recorded their best finish in school history at the Class 2A state finals this spring.

Sloan finished third in the 100-meter dash (12.08) and the 200 (24.95). She also anchored the Blazers’ 400 relay team, which included Kenzie Hunt, Alexis Gay and Sierra Brown, to second in the state with a school-record time 48.56.

The Texas Tech-bound Sloan finished her career with seven all-state medals.

“I’m just really excited. I feel like I left a mark on my school and the juniors look up to me. I hope I helped them do better next year,” she said. “Definitely coming to state two years in a row with my team [was the highlight]. It was such a fun time.”

In the category of Wednesday Journal Coach of the Year, four recipients have been selected. While the number of winners is unusually high, consider the credentials of honorees Ed Stritzel, Kyle Perry, Mel Kolbusz and Chris Ledbetter.

Stritzel guided the Trinity basketball team to a 28-4 record, including conference, regional and sectional championships and a supersectional appearance. Five days prior to their 72-68 overtime loss to Homewood-Flossmoor in the Mother McAuley Supersectional, the Blazers pulled off the biggest win in program history with a 37-36 victory over defending state champion Whitney Young in a sectional final. The Dolphins rolled into the showdown with a 127-game winning streak at home. Led by star guard Annie McKenna, the Blazers ended the Dolphins’ dominance on their home court, commonly called, “the pool.”

Stritzel manipulated the roster beautifully, featuring upperclassman stars like McKenna, Kaitlin Aylward and his own daughter, Patricia, while incorporating talented freshmen Alisa Fallon, Lauren Lee, Daliyah Brown, Alex Fanning and Alyssa Geary.

Although Fenwick didn’t win any state titles this year, Perry and the boys water polo team came awfully close. The Friars fell to state finals host Stevenson 8-7 in a semifinal thriller. Fenwick finished 34-2 and third in the state. The team’s two losses were by a combined three goals. The boys water polo program has won 20 state championships.

“Overall, it was a good season for us even though we didn’t get the end result we were looking for,” Perry said. “I’m glad we won the last game [third-place game against St. Ignatius] because we wanted to send our seniors off the way they deserve, which is a great final game. They have all worked hard and had great careers at Fenwick.”

As for the other Coach of the Year Award winners, OPRF coaches Kolbusz and Ledbetter each garnered a third-place showing in the softball and baseball state playoffs, respectively, on Saturday.

Finishing just two wins shy of a state title, Kolbusz led the softball team to a 33-4 record. With the bulk of the lineup returning next spring, the Huskies will be state contenders again.

“It’s a great group of kids, so most of all I’m happy for them. We wanted to be champs. They were all close games. Anybody could win it,” Kolbusz said. “Only eight teams in the state get to finish on a victory (first and third 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A). We’re one of those eight teams and that’s kind of a little feather in our cap. The victory gives us something to push off and build on for next year.”

This spring marked the fifth state finals trip for Ledbetter as the head coach of OPRF baseball. Although the Huskies (32-8-1) tied Jacobs for third in the state due to a called game because of inclement weather, the veteran skipper embraced his team’s approach on the field.

“There’s just something about this team that I want a lot for these guys,” Ledbetter said. “This is their group and they have made their own mark. Whether they win the state championship or not, I will celebrate this group, too, because they do things the right way.”

Finally, OPRF parent Jonna Borgdorff and Fenwick parent Jim Krecek are recognized as the Wednesday Journal Volunteers of the Year. Borgdorff’s sons, Andrew and Ryan, are also proud Huskies. Andrew graduated this year from OPRF and will attend the U.S. Naval Academy in the fall. He was the long snapper on the football team in the fall and wrestled for the Huskies this spring. Ryan will be a senior at OPRF next year. Both are outstanding students.

Michael Krecek, Jim’s son, graduated from Fenwick this spring after turning in all-conference performances in football and baseball and excelling academically during the school year. He will attend Notre Dame in the fall. Michael’s older brother, Jimmy, graduated from Fenwick in 2013 as an accomplished student-athlete while sister Kate currently plays volleyball for the Friars.

Borgdorff and Krecek provided photos of multiple sporting events of their respective schools for the Wednesday Journal. Additionally, Borgdorff and several other OPRF parents often provided food for the athletes, coaches, friends and media at football games and wrestling matches

Most importantly, Borgdorff and Krecek showed a passion for supporting local high school athletes and teams the entire sports year.

Congratulations to this year’s award winners, the Best of the best. To see our list of Wednesday Journal All-Stars, go to page 56.

The award winners and all-stars will be celebrated with a sports awards party on Wednesday, June 17 at the Wednesday Journal offices. Special thanks to Winberie’s and Bua Hana, who are providing food for the party.

-Matt Le Cren, Bill Stone contributed to this story

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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...