The OPRF senior soccer players have some fun on the soccer field. (Submitted photo)

Oak Park and River Forest High School girls soccer coach Ignacio Ponce knows how hard it is to win games in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division. That’s why last season’s 1-0 victory against Hinsdale Central in a Class 3A regional semifinal meant so much to the Huskies. In the next round, however, Lyons Township routed OPRF 6-1 in the regional championship.

In fact, five of six West Suburban Silver teams battled it out in the stacked Downers Grove North Sectional last season. The host Trojans won their sectional, while OPRF finished 6-1-10 in 2017.

“Our conference is one the best in the state,” Ponce said. “We always look forward to playing our conference opponents and making the games competitive. I’m hoping we can do well and establish some positive momentum.”

The Huskies are off to an 0-4 start this spring, losing to Niles West, Nazareth, Riverside-Brookfield and St. Ignatius by lopsided scores in nonconference games. While the early-season record may not suggest progress, Ponce remains optimistic about the remainder of the season.

“My main goal is to develop our players and get them used to playing together,” he said. “There has been progress. I think we can get some good wins under our belt, while understanding our philosophy of playing a possession game. We’re also focused on fighting hard all 80 minutes on the field, not giving up and finishing each and every play.”

While virtually every player on the roster could see playing time, Ponce has a set starting lineup.

Elyse Kanagandram, Hope Nowak, Ariel Kelly and Kaitlin Vogan are the starting defenders.

In the midfield, Emma Smith, Alexis Schulman, Eloise Burnham and Anne Wollmuth compose a solid unit for the Huskies.

“Emma had some shin splints [last year], but she played as much as she could for us,” Ponce said. “Anne has made an impact on the varsity level this year.”

Senior Julie Cabacungan and junior Claire Love are the starting forwards, while junior Alex Hampton and senior Caitlin Kenoian split playing time in goal.

“Alex and Caitlin have a friendly competition regarding the starting goalkeeper position,” Ponce said. “It’s still up in the air and a matter of who wants it more.”

Other players expected to contribute this year include senior defender Emma Celio, senior forward Erica Ramos, junior defenders Claire Hulen, Hayden Benson and Amaya Cruz, along with junior midfielders Grace Malagoli, Emma Wojack and Caroline Wolter. Twin senior forwards, Allie and Eden Saraceno provide additional scoring threats.

Regardless of who is on the field, the Huskies’ style of play will not change.

“We want to be a possession team,” Ponce said. “We want to win the ball and move it on the ground with a purpose. We also stress strong backline defense and playing as a unit.”

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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...