The Oak Park and River Forest High School girls volleyball team was average in every area this season except one.
“I think we were a decent team, not a great team,” OPRF coach Don August said. “We showed up and competed hard during every game.”
That was the case again during last Thursday’s Class 4A St. Ignatius Regional championship game.
The sixth-seeded Huskies battled fiercely but lost to third-seeded St. Ignatius 25-18, 25-14 to end the season with an 18-19 record.
The match was a microcosm of the entire season, in which the Huskies never won more than two consecutive games nor lost more than three in a row.
“There were no long streaks of wins or losses,” August said. “It was a matter of a tough schedule and some inconsistent play. There’s a lot of good teams in our area.”
The Huskies beat some of them, especially early in the season when they knocked off Trinity and St. Ignatius. They also beat Hinsdale Central, Hinsdale South, Downers Grove North and Downers Grove South in the same season for the first time in recent memory.
OPRF nearly knocked off rival Lyons Township Oct. 13, losing a heartbreaker 25-23, 25-27, 26-24.
“It just seemed to take a little out of us,” August said. “I don’t think we were the same team after that. But that was a tremendous game.”
The Huskies still had plenty of fight left in them, rallying for a 21-15, 25-20, 25-18 regional semifinal win over Willowbrook.
That set up the rematch with St. Ignatius, which dropped a 25-20, 25-21 decision to the Huskies on the same court on Sept. 8.
“The big difference (Thursday) was their defense was much better than the first time we played them,” August said. “It was an intense game.
“We were hammering ball after ball and they were digging us. We were hammering it and we couldn’t put it down on the floor.”
Indeed, the Huskies registered 85 attacks but recorded only 16 kills despite making just 13 hitting errors. Leading hitter Ariel Hamby was held to three kills in 24 attempts. Junior Abby Zarosl led OPRF with five kills, while Lily Walsh added four. The rest of the team combined for just four.
Even so, the Huskies were in the match for much of the back-and-forth first set, with neither side able to take more than a one-point lead. The teams were tied at 18 before the Wolfpack ran off the final seven points to take the set.
“It was so close,” August said. “The effort was incredible on both sides.
“I told (the Huskies) to walk out with their heads held high. I’m very proud of their effort.”
The Huskies will say goodbye to six seniors, including two Division I players in Hamby and libero Allie Nelson. The Eastern Michigan-bound Hamby, a three-year starter after transferring from Nazareth, had 179 kills and 41.5 blocks, while Nelson, a Kansas recruit, was a four-year varsity player who led the team with 295 digs.
“One was the anchor of the front row and one was the anchor of the back row,” August said. “Ariel had an outstanding season. She was expected to dominate every game this year and she did.
“Allie did a lot of work in the back row. We relied on her defense and leadership and her general overall athleticism. They both will be missed.”
August said all of the seniors played significant roles, including Walsh, a two-year varsity player and right side Morgan Watson. Maeve McCormack was a serving specialist and Morgan Johnson subbed for Hamby in the back row.
“Next year will be a little bit of a rebuilding year, but not so much because we do have players who saw a lot of action this year,” August said. “And we expect some players to move up from the sophomore team.”
Three sophomores – Maeve Nelson, Mireya Garcia and Renae Tourtellotte – already are on the team and all started at times.
Nelson, Allie’s younger sister, was second on the team with 115 kills and third in digs with 102, while Garcia added 83 kills and 47 digs.
Junior setters Jordan Mrkvicka, who had a team-high 57 aces, and Sophia Demerdjian also will return.