Although the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys volleyball team fell three wins shy of a state title, the Huskies are in great spot. Next year offers an opportunity to build off the momentum of two highly successful seasons.

“I think our goal was just to be better than last year, which we were this season,” OPRF senior Jack Valenti said. “We had a better record playing against better teams this season. I think that everyone knows it’s going to be the same goal next year. With the group of juniors on this team, I have no doubt it will happen.”

In the state quarterfinals at Hoffman Estates High School on Friday, OPRF lost to eventual state champion Lincoln-Way East 25-22, 25-20.

The Griffins (36-3) edged Neuqua Valley 20-25, 25-21, 25-22 in the state championship game.

Tied at 5-5 in the first set against Lincoln-Way East, the Huskies scored four of the next five points to take a 10-6 lead. OPRF’s spurt included two kills from junior outside hitter Kyle Rasmussen assisted by junior setter Sean Califf, a kill by right side junior Quinton Kitzman and some errors by the Griffens. Later in the set, Kitzman had another kill off a Califf assist to knot the score at 19-all. However, Lincoln-Way East went on a 6-3 run the rest of the way to claim a tight opening set which included 10 tie scores.

The Griffins established a 7-2 lead in the second set and never looked back en route to a 25-20 score and sweep of OPRF.

Rasmussen led OPRF with nine kills and Kitzman had five kills and two digs. Califf dished out 17 assists to go with six digs.    

“The match against Lincoln-Way East was a hard pull for us in the first round,” Valenti said. “We knew we all could take them if played well, and we did compete. It’s just a shame we couldn’t move on the semifinals.”

Ian Piet recorded nine kills and three digs for Lincoln-Way East. Will McPhillips (six kills) and Mark Wroblewski (five kills) also played well along the net. Brent O’Donnell and Jeremy Walsh fueled an effective passing game with 16 and 14 assists, respectively, for the Griffins.

Despite the season-ending loss to Lincoln-Way East, the Huskies had another banner season under veteran coach Don August. OPRF (28-8) advanced to the state finals tournament for the second season in a row. In 2017, OPRF finished 25-8 and lost to Lake Park 27-25, 25-17 in the state quarterfinals. August has a 271-213 career record as the Huskies’ head coach over 17 seasons.

The Huskies excelled in all facets of the game this spring. A group of outstanding juniors led the team, including Lucas Schattauer (team-high 236 kills, 114 digs, 33 aces), Rasmussen (214 kills, 108 digs, 13 aces), Kitzman (186 kills, 54 blocks), Califf (706 assists, 126 digs), Valenti (76 kills, 81 blocks) and Mike Perla (214 digs).

“This season feels beyond successful for us,” Califf said. “Even coming up short in the end, I feel as if we made accomplishments even we weren’t expecting. We developed and struck through it all together.”

The future looks promising considering OPRF returns 9 of 14 varsity players next season and only loses one starter (Valenti) to graduation. The other seniors are reserves Mike Milad, Devon Chamberlain, Ban Taubman and Max Wierdak.

“Next season is going to be an amazing season,” Califf said. “I think we all will have a few more tricks up our sleeve to catch teams off their feet.”

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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...