Despite snow, sleet, ice, wind, and, of course, the polar vortex, winter in Oak Park was a bit more tolerable if you braved the unforgiving conditions to soak in the local high school sports scene. And if you understandably decided to stay home, here’s a recap of the most compelling teams during the winter season.
OPRF wrestling remains elite
The Huskies produced another excellent season, particularly at the IHSA individual and team state finals.
Montini defeated OPRF in the team state finals 41-18 at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington, but the Huskies held an 18-14 lead through eight matches. However, the Broncos won the last six matches and scored 27 unanswered points to secure their 15th state championship since 2000.
At the individual state tournament, 132-pound state champ Eddie Bolivar led a contingent of six OPRF grapplers who medaled at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
After a runner-up finish last season (16-1 tech fall loss against Montini’s 3-time state champ Real Woods), the Indiana-bound Bolivar took the final step with a 7-5 decision victory against Libertyville’s Danny Pucino.
Along with Eddie Bolivar’s title, Ashford Hollis (285-pound class) earned third, while Josh Ogunsanya (126) and Joe Chapman (152) each placed fourth in their respective classes. Nico Bolivar, Eddie’s younger brother, took fifth at 120 and Daemyen Middlebrooks earned sixth at 182.
“I think as a team we performed great,” said Hollis, a football star as well, who will attend Air Force Academy in the fall. “Placing six out of eight wrestlers we brought [to state] was awesome.”
OPRF, which finished 23-3 through the regular season, won titles at the Rex Whitlach Invite at Hinsdale Central and its own Huskies Invitational. The varsity also placed second out of 52 teams at the Powerade tourney in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania and won the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship with a 6-0 record.
Since 2009, the Huskies have won four team state championships.
Fenwick hockey targets state title
After advancing to the semifinals of the Blackhawk Cup last season, the Fenwick girls hockey team wants to win the BC title this year.
The Friars (19-1-5) will get their chance against defending champion New Trier on Friday, March 22 at 4:30 p.m. at the United Center.
The team completed its tiering round of games with an undefeated record of 11-0-2 and a No. 1 ranking in the state. Those are first-time accomplishments for Fenwick.
“Our team dynamic is special,” goalie Lena Flores said. “Our greatest strength is working together as a team. When we play games as a team unselfishly, there is nobody we can’t beat.”
Nine Fenwick players made the All-State team this season, including Forwards Ellie Kaiser, Erin Proctor, Emily Franciszkowicz, Katie Gobbler, Cecilia Jenkins, Kelly Millins, defensemen Sarah Steadman, Caroline Jenkins and Flores power the star-studded Friars.
“From a hockey standpoint, the team always wants to improve,” Kaiser said. “I think everyone from a character standpoint is in a good place. We have all found a way to connect and come together as a team. Besides becoming better hockey players, the team wants to win a state championship.”
Fenwick also has one of the best coaching staffs in the state. Mason Strom is the head coach and his assistants are Jess Cwik, Rebecca Shinsako and Natalie Blamires.
Friars restore girls hoops tradition
After a 1-2 start, the Fenwick girls basketball team reeled off 11 wins in a row. By mid-December, the Friars proved they were for real. Although the team played around .500 the rest of the way, the split results reflected the challenge of playing an extremely difficult schedule more than a dip in performance.
In fact, the Friars (23-12) featured one of the better lineups in the area with players contributing from all four-class levels. For the second straight year, Nazareth Academy defeated the Friars in the state playoffs. The Roadrunners’ star guard/forward Annie Stritzel scored 36 points to put away Fenwick 46-37 in the Fenwick Sectional final on Feb. 22.
Freshman forwards Elise Heneghan and Audrey Hinrichs led the Friars in scoring with eight points apiece. Heneghan added 10 rebounds.
“For them being young, to get to this level is a great experience. I think it’s going to carry them well in the future,” Fenwick coach Dave Power said. “The interesting thing is that they were bawling their eyes out because they wanted to win so badly for the seniors. They were just so happy with how they were embraced by them.
“So now their goal is to carry on the tradition because [the seniors] have helped bring Fenwick back to where we’re in the hunt for a state trophy every year.”
Sophomore Lauren Hall had seven points and Junior Lily Reardon six for Fenwick against Nazareth.
“I think we did really well this season,” Hall said. “We played as a team with everyone contributing. We had great chemistry. This is one of the best teams I’ve ever played on.”
Three-peat sweet for OPRF
Over the past three years, the OPRF boys basketball team has dominated the West Suburban Conference Silver Division, winning three straight championships and 36 of 39 games against conference opponents.
Unfortunately, the Huskies lost against host York 74-56 in a Class 4A regional championship game. OPRF (18-10), which had beaten the conference runner-up Dukes twice during the regular season, couldn’t overcome Yok in the game that mattered most.
Aside from winning the West Suburban Silver, the Huskies enjoyed several other memorable moments during the season.Highlights include a pair of wins over York and a victory over West Aurora at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. OPRF played particularly well after Christmas, winning 10 of 13 games.
Anthony Roberts, Charlie Hoehne and Chase Robinson earned all-conference recognition, while four-year varsity player Dashon Enoch also contributed for the Huskies.
“The season was a lot of ups and downs for us,” Roberts said. “We lost games that we shouldn’t have lost. We know we can play with any team and we are proud that we won conference for a third straight season.”
Josh Smith, Isaiah Barnes and Justin Cross are the top returners for next season.
“Josh and Isaiah got a lot of quality minutes and have huge upside,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “Justin also has a bright future.”
Rivals excel at state swimming
In addition to being primary rivals, the Fenwick and OPRF boys swimming teams have performed very well at the state finals. Led by rivals/friends Liam Hutchinson (Fenwick senior) and Will Raidt (OPRF junior), both teams did some damage at the state finals hosted by New Trier.
The Notre Dame-bound Hutchinson won a state championship in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4 minutes, 24.47 seconds.
“To become a state champion is a great feeling,” Hutchinson said. “Coming into my senior year, I knew it would be my last chance, so I feel I put in the proper preparation to win this year.”
Hutchinson’s 500 free time broke the school record (4:26.12) set by the Friars’ Robert Ramoska who won a pair of state titles in 1978.
Hutchinson just missed winning another state title in the 200-yard freestyle, placing second with a time of 1:38.16.
In the 200 free, Hutchinson edged OPRF junior Will Raidt for second. Raidt recorded a time of 1:38.97.
“It’s always fun racing Liam in the 200 free,” Raidt said. “It’s awesome that two of the three fastest 200 freestylers in the state are from Oak Park and River Forest schools.”
Loyola Academy’s Luke Maurer won the 200 free state title with a time of 1:37.33.
Hutchinson also swam a leg of the Friars’ 400-yard freestyle relay team, which took fourth at 3:06.66. Dan Bajda, Connor McCarthy and Mike Flynn were his teammates in the final race of the day.
Raidt also placed eighth in the 100-yard butterfly (50.03 seconds) at state.
In the 200-yard medley relay, the quartet of sophomore Diego Pareja, senior Alex Pedraza, sophomore Frank Tirone and Raidt took 10th in the state with a time of 1:34.72.
In the team standings, Fenwick scored 55 points to earn 11th place and OPRF finished with 23 points for 13th.