Believe it or not, Blair Ripley’s future might be on the perimeter.
That’s saying something considering the Oak Park and River Forest High School junior is currently starring as a 6-foot-1 post player.
“What I was looking for over the summer was to really improve my guard skills because I’m looking to play in college and it will probably be more of an outside position because girls are taller, faster and stronger,” Ripley said. “So I really wanted to become more of an all-around, sound, consistent player. We’re still working on that.”
No matter where Ripley plays, or what she’s doing, she works hard. Extremely hard.
“Blair is awesome,” OPRF senior guard Madison Siler said. “She stays back after practice. Her mom stays with her and they shoot, they do drills.
“In the summer she helped lead ball handling drills. You usually don’t see a center doing that too often but she does great.”
Because of her height, Ripley has always played under the basket. As a sophomore, she made the starting lineup and averaged 10 points and eight rebounds for a team that went 14-19 and advanced to the regional finals.
It was obvious even then that Ripley had a bright future. Her teammates and OPRF coach J.P. Coughlin recognized that and named Ripley and point guard Molly Cullinane co-captains, a rare honor for a junior.
“There’s some really good seniors but Blair’s maturity level is off the charts,” Coughlin said. “Blair started to emerge as a vocal leader at the end of last year, which as a sophomore is really hard to do. She really embraced that. The leadership thing is important to her.”
Ripley has taken the reins of a young team that isn’t as talented as last year’s team and shaped it in her image. The Huskies (8-10, 6-1 West Suburban Conference Silver Division leaders) have recovered from a 0-5 start and are a team on the rise, one that reflects Ripley’s work ethic and positive personality.
“Blair is a great leader for the team,” Siler said. “She’s super positive.”
Ripley is relishing the captain’s role.
“Obviously I was really happy about it and it wasn’t a huge surprise only because I knew that we did have a lot of younger players coming in,” Ripley said. “I think what we try to stress at Oak Park is you don’t have to be a captain to be a leader, so everybody, even the younger kids sometimes, if you play hard and you work your butt off on in practice, everybody can step up and bring something to the table. That’s what we really try to stress here.”
Ripley has been good about taking the stress off the team’s younger players and her tenacity sets a sterling example of what Coughlin wants from his players.
“She just has a great enthusiasm for the game,” Coughlin said after the Huskies upset Kenwood on Dec. 28. “She’ll go home and watch this game on film but she’ll also watch our next opponent’s game on film.”
Ripley is still learning post moves, but she is a good shooter and solid passer and dedicated to working on all aspects of her game.
“She’s one of the most passionate, mature kids I’ve ever coached,” Coughlin said. “It’s just a matter of her growing into her body and figuring it out.
“She’s really taken the improving her ball handling and shot seriously. She gets really excited when we split up guards and posts and I take her with the guards.”
The guard skills come in handy when Ripley works in the high post looking to set up other post players like senior forward Crystal Corr.
“She’s just great at seeing the floor,” Corr said. “I feel like we have a lot of chemistry. I know where she is, she knows where I am. We get each other open and she’s a good passer.”
Siler has noticed how Ripley has gotten mentally tougher, bouncing back if she misses a shot or has a poor game. That, too, sets an example.
“All of the older kids are really trying to set a good example for the younger kids because we are a really young team,” Ripley said. “We don’t squabble when it’s not working. We’re here to prove what we can do.”
What Ripley does eventually could be considerable.
“She’s a phenomenal kid,” Coughlin said. “Success is just starting for her.”
Huskies edge LTHS; lead conference by two games
Led by Ripley’s game-high 16 points and terrific team defense, the Huskies held off visiting Lyons Township 43-39 on Saturday. The victory gives OPRF (9-10, 6-1) a two-game lead over LTHS (11-5, 4-3) in the conference standings.
Tied at 23-23 entering the third quarter, the Huskies went on an 11-0 run and held the Lions scored until the 1:17 mark of the quarter to push out to a 34-23 lead. Although LTHS drew within 39-38 with 1:34 left in the fourth quarter, sophomore guard Maeve Nelson went 4-for-4 at the free throw line the rest of the way to preserve the important conference victory. She also set the tone defensively with seven steals.
“I question if there’s a better player in the state at making a bigger impact (on defense) than Maeve,” OPRF coach J.P. Coughlin said. “We can play a zone and have her cover almost half the floor.”