Neither the high school sport nor the gender matters whenever Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick collide in athletics. What’s assured is a competitive, interesting contest between crosstown rivals.
The host Huskies and Friars engaged in yet another battle on Sept. 13, this time on the volleyball court. In front of a loud, boisterous crowd befitting the occasion, Fenwick took this round via a 25-21, 22-25, 26-24 victory.
“It was fun,” said Fenwick coach Kathleen O’Laughlin. “OPRF has a great team and they played great tonight. Any time these two teams play, it’s kind of like a good old-fashioned street fight. You could see that by the playoff-type atmosphere we had. I was proud of how our girls rose to the occasion and took care of important points during the match.”
OPRF coach Kelly Collins echoed O’Laughlin’s assessment of the match in terms of both quality and atmosphere.
“It was super-competitive and a lot of fun for both sides.” Collins said. “It probably could have gone either way. When you get the whole community out to one gym, it’s an exciting place to play.”
Indeed, the student sections from both schools provided energy from the start of the match. Led by starting quarterback Jaden McGill, several OPRF football players donned their home jerseys in support of the Huskies.
On the other side, the Fenwick fan base traveled well.
In the first set, the teams played evenly with the Huskies clinging to a 20-18 lead late. Buoyed by stellar play from senior McKenzie Moorman (16 kills, 10 digs), Fenwick went on a 7-1 run to take the opening set 25-21.
Trailing 18-17 in the second set, OPRF scored four straight points to take the lead for good en route to a 25-22 score.
The final set featured several lead changes.
With the crowd on its feet for much of the set, the Friars led 7-3 early but OPRF countered with a 9-1 spurt to build a 12-8 advantage. Sparked by Moorman, Kate Beltrame (14 digs) and Beau Vanderlaan (7 blocks), Fenwick responded with a 5-1 run to tie the score at 13-all. The Huskies regained the lead at 18-16 courtesy of a 5-3 run fueled by Zora Barnett, Hayden Benson and Zahria Woodard.
The Huskies’ Natalie Chizzo served for the match at 24-23, however her offering sailed long. With new life, the Friars reeled off the final three points of the match to secure their clutch win.
“I’m so proud of the team. I’m kind of at a loss for words,” said Moorman, a South Carolina recruit. “We have a lot of young players so this was a big test for our team. I’m proud of the way we came out, kept our composure and stayed calm throughout the match.
“(Pre-match) we had a talk about our mental game,” she added. “That’s the biggest thing for us this year because we are so young. After every point, we say ‘next point’ whether we mess up or not because it’s all about the next point mentality for us.”
According to O’Laughlin, having an accomplished veteran like Moorman leading the Friars is a huge bonus.
“It’s really hard to stop McKenzie,” she said. “She’s got that next gear that she can go into which elevates the play of everybody around her. It’s nice to have her on the floor.”
Vanderlaan and Beltrame also played vital roles for Fenwick.
“Beau does a nice job,” O’Laughlin said. “She’s a big force in the middle because the middles have to pay attention to her. The second they don’t, she’s going to be killing balls. And Kate just did an awesome job. She’s a powerful, undersized left-side hitter that goes in there and can really work the blockers.”
The Friars consolidated their good fortune against OPRF with a 4-1 record at the St. Viator Tournament over the weekend. Fenwick defeated Carmel, Glenbrook South, East Aurora and Elk Grove before losing to Bolingbrook in the championship match.
Moorman had 15 kills each against Carmel and Glenbrook South, while Vanderlaan tallied 13 blocks, collectively, against Glenbrook South and Carmel.
The Friars are 10-2 with upcoming matches against DePaul Prep, Jones, Montini, St. Ignatius and Whitney Young.
“The tournament was a great experience for us as it helped us solidify a few things in our lineup,” O’Laughlin said. “We played well. Defensively, we made some improvements and stayed steady in serve receive. We had key players step up and provide big plays in big moments throughout the day.”
Against Fenwick, Collins felt the Huskies’ serve-receive setup was the difference in the match
“We definitely saw where our weaknesses are,” she said. “I don’t think we serve-received well enough. At times when we needed to be more disciplined and hold the serve, we weren’t able to execute.”
Even so, the Huskies had positive contributions from several players notably Barnett and Benson.
“We run an offensive system where we try to get the middles the ball as much as possible, especially off of serve-receive,” Collins said. “I thought Zora and our setter Hayden did a great job connecting and made an impact.”
Playing this kind of match surely will pay dividends down the road for both the Huskies and Friars.
“It was a true test for us and we passed it,” O’Laughlin said. “We gained some confidence coming out of this match that we needed. It’s good to see that we can be so poised in a playoff-type environment.”
Moorman added: “I think we learned we can stay calm, which hadn’t been the case the previous couple of days. We’ve been a little bit frazzled, but this match was good for us because we kept our composure.”
Facing Fenwick helped OPRF prepare for the highly regarded Mother McAuley Invitational.
“We tell our kids that we want to play the best,” Collins said. “Win or lose, we want to compete against the best teams that are out there so that we’ll be ready for the playoffs. It will be tough (Mother McAuley Tournament) but we hope to grow from it.”
-Marty Farmer contributed to this story