The OPRF softball team celebrates its second straight state championship, after defeating Lincoln-Way East in the Class 4A state finals. Mariah Scott hit the game-winning home run as the Huskies edged the Griffens 1-0. (File photo)

The Oak Park and River Forest High School softball team and Huskie wrestler Jason Renteria both celebrated state titles in 2017. Winning went well beyond champions, however, as several OPRF, Fenwick and Trinity teams tasted their share of success this year. Here’s a look back at another remarkable high school sports year in our town:

Huskies’ Sweet Repeat!

The OPRF girls softball team cemented its place in Illinois and Huskie lore by winning a second straight Class 4A state title. Catcher Mariah Scott hit a towering solo home run in the top of the seventh to power the Huskies to a 1-0 win over Lincoln-Way East in a riveting championship game. OPRF pitcher Chardonnay Harris, now a freshman on the Auburn University softball team, fanned 16 of the 21 outs she recorded in a complete game, one-hit effort.

I love high school. I know everyone says that, but I feel like I’ve just had a different experience,” Harris said after the final. “To go back-to-back, with these girls and the ones before, it’s just been a dream come true.”

During their spectacular two-year run, the Huskies went 74-3. Elite players Maeve Nelson (.514 batting average, 12 HR, 61 RBI, .603 on-base percentage) and Fiona Girardot (.603 batting average, 6 HR, 59 RBI, 118 total bases), who have committed to Northwestern and Wisconsin, respectively, will lead the Huskies’ bid for a three-peat in the spring. Veteran coach Mel Kolbusz is as good as it gets in the dugout.

Fenwick hoops, second in 3A

So close, yet so far. The Fenwick boys basketball team lost 69-67 in overtime to Morgan Park in the Class 3A state final at the Peoria Civic Center.

Fenwick’s freshman sensation DJ Steward shot a perfect game, going 10-for-10 from the field (including a pair of 3-pointers) and 2-for-2 at the free throw line to finish with a game-high 26 points. He also had seven rebounds and four steals in one of the best performances by a freshman in state finals history.

“We’re very disappointed because we had a chance to win a state championship and we didn’t make plays down the stretch,” Fenwick coach Rick Malnati said. “We’re not disappointed in anything else. We had a tremendous season with a lot of great memories.”

Fenwick (30-5) turned in a historic campaign. Led by seniors Jacob Keller, Jamal Nixon and the precocious Steward, the Friars won a school-record 30 games, plus the John Malone tourney, Chicago Catholic League North Division, regional, sectional and supersectional championships.

OPRF wrestling dethroned

The Huskies’ bid for a fourth straight IHSA State Dual Tournament title in Class 3A ended with a 29-26 loss to Montini in the quarterfinals. Seniors Jason Renteria (41-2), the 3A individual state champion at 132, Jaime Hernandez (19-3 at 138), Drew Matticks (33-8 at 170), Tariq Thurman (23-11 at 182) and Christopher Middlebrooks (27-4 at 285) notched wins against Montini (22-3).

“We kind of hugged each other and cried,” said Renteria, who is wrestling at the University of Nebraska. “We knew that was going to be the last time we were going to be on a team together.”

Prior to the team state tournament, OPRF had five individual all-staters — Renteria, state runner-up Tony Madrigal (39-3 at 126), third-place Matticks, and fifth-place Hernandez and senior Brian Holloway (33-11 at 160) — among 10 qualifiers.

Friars’ pool dynasty intact

Fenwick finished third and fourth at the girls and boys water polo state tournament, respectively, upholding the best high school winning tradition in Oak Park. On the girls’ side, Fenwick lost its bid for a second straight state title with an 11-6 loss to Naperville Central. In their season finale, the Friars rebounded with an 8-5 win over Mother McAuley in the third-place game. Kelly Frumkin, now playing water polo at Santa Clara University, led Fenwick (26-7-1) with three goals against the Mighty Macs.

“Losing Kelly will hurt, but only three seniors are graduating,” Fenwick coach Jack Wagner said. “This season has given a super young team like ours a ton of experience. We’ll be back with a vengeance next year.”

Fenwick (25-10) started the boys state tournament well with a 10-9 victory against Barrington in the quarterfinals; however, the Friars lost 12-11 to New Trier in the semifinals and 11-6 to Naperville Central in the third-place game.

“We’re obviously bummed about fourth [place],” Fenwick coach Kyle Perry said, “but we’ve come a long way — a lot of the guys on this team had never played polo before coming to Fenwick.”

Ungaretti makes another splash

Regardless of what happens next season, OPRF junior Natalie Ungaretti has already established herself as one of the most decorated swimmers in program history. As a sophomore, Ungaretti won the 50-yard freestyle state title and placed second in the 100 freestyle in leading the Huskies to a fourth-place finish.

Ungaretti recorded even faster times in both sprint races this season. She finished third in the 50 free with a time of 23.06 seconds (better than her 2016 state-title winning time of 23.31) and fourth in the 100-yard freestyle at 50.34 (better than her 2016 state meet runner-up finish of 50.90).

“Natalie and Alex [Gill] are so talented,” OPRF swimmer Sara Segal said about the Huskies’ leaders. “They always do an amazing job at state. I really enjoyed the good energy our entire team had all season.”

The Huskies turned in a solid performance at the state meet, hosted by New Trier, finishing 16th with 28 points in the team standings.

Huskies show spirit of ’76

The OPRF boys basketball team fell one win shy of the program’s first sectional title since 1976. After an impressive win against 2016 Class 4A state champion Curie in the semifinals, the Huskies lost 73-55 to eventual state champion Whitney Young in the Proviso East Sectional final.

The Huskies (24-7) had a banner season by winning the Riverside-Brookfield Thanksgiving Classic, West Suburban Conference Silver Division and Fenton Regional.

“I’m very proud of these guys, and most importantly, of the seniors who played for the letters on the front of their jersey rather than the back,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “The brotherhood that grew in the locker room from November to the end of the season was remarkable.”

Hogan joins 800 club

Although the Fenwick baseball team closed the season with a lackluster, error-filled 8-2 loss to New Trier in the Lane Sectional final, the Friars produced another winning season. Longtime head coach Dave Hogan reached the 800-win mark with a victory against De La Salle on May 4.

Anthony Cavalieri, Harrison Hayes, Mike Cerceo, Casey O’Laughlin, Jack Grace, and Alex Pup flourished in the Friars’ potent lineup, while pitchers Justin Sosa, Marty Stein, Ian Crowell, and K.J. Slepicka anchored the rotation.

Under Hogan’s guidance, the Fenwick baseball program has reached its zenith in recent years. Last season, the Friars advanced all the way to the Class 3A quarterfinals. In 2015, Fenwick won conference and regional championships. The Friars won a sectional title in 2014.

Blazers’ bragging rights

The Trinity basketball team pulled off the challenge of beating rivals Fenwick and OPRF this winter. Off to a 7-3 start overall under head coach Mike Valente, Trinity topped the Friars 53-50 on Nov. 28 and OPRF 65-64 in overtime on Dec. 7. In the latter matchup, Alex Fanning led Trinity, recording a double-double of 28 points and 14 rebounds. University of California, Santa Barbara-bound Lauren Lee added 19 points and Kelcie Leyden had 11 points for the Blazers.

“It’s fun because I have a lot of friends who go to OPRF,” said Lee, who lives in River Forest. “I had many of them here at this game and it was good to see everybody.”

Elite 8 for OPRF volleyball

Employing a team-centric approach all season, the OPRF boys volleyball team won 25 matches and finished among the top eight teams in the state. Seniors Ben Hancock, Evan Beebe, Elijah Peppers, Mike Saleh and junior Jack Valenti led OPRF to the state quarterfinals, where Lake Park defeated the Huskies 27-25, 25-17.

“We have a lot to be proud of this season,” OPRF coach Don August said. “This was a great group of guys who preached playing for something bigger than yourself, which was playing for the team. I think we’re going to be pretty good next year, too.”

A Loud legacy

OPRF senior Irwin Loud closed out his accomplished high school career with a pair of top-six showings at the track and field state finals. Loud finished fifth in the 1600-meter run with a time of 4 minutes, 17.10 seconds, and was sixth in the 3200 run at 9:14.22. He accounted for nine of the 10 points for OPRF, which tied with five other schools for 30th place in the state finals standings.

Loud, a freshman on the University of Illinois track and field team, earned six-time IHSA All-State honors (5 in track, 1 in cross-country) at OPRF.

Huskies tear up track

The OPRF girls track and field team tied Whitney Young (17 points each) to place 15th at the Class 3A track and field state finals in May. Held at O’Brien Stadium on the Eastern Illinois campus in Charleston, senior Ella Rosa came in fifth in the 100-meter high hurdles with a time of 14.90 seconds. Junior Destiny White recorded a time of 57.64 in the 400, good for sixth place.

OPRF senior Lila Wine cleared 11 feet to place eighth in the pole vault. The Huskies’ highest finish came in the triple jump with sophomore Rachel Rowe finishing fourth (38-08.25) and freshman Passion Worsham 11th (37-01).

Night of Champions

On June 20, Wednesday Journal hosted its annual “Night of Champions” at Dominican University’s Lund Auditorium in River Forest. In its third year, the event functions as an opportunity to honor the accomplishments of elite high school teams, athletes and coaches from the Oak Park and River Forest communities. In addition to a pro sports memorabilia auction, refreshments and food, live music, and speakers from the world of pro sports, co-host Doris Davenport and myself proudly presented the following award winners:
Hall of Fame Award Winner:
Dave Hogan, Fenwick baseball coach
Coach of the Year (Male Team): Matt Maloney, OPRF boys basketball; Don August, OPRF boys volleyball

Program of the Year: Fenwick boys and girls water polo

Male Team of the Year: Fenwick basketball
Female Team of the Year: OPRF softball
Male Athlete of the Year: Jacob Keller, Fenwick football/basketball; Jason Renteria, OPRF wrestling
Female Athlete of the Year: Chardonnay Harris, OPRF softball; Natalie Ungaretti, OPRF swimming
Hall of Fame: Jim Strickland, pro boxing trainer
Volunteer of the Year: Marie Lillig, Fenwick sports
Excellence Award: Fenwick football
Breakout Athlete of the Year: DJ Steward, Fenwick basketball

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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...