The OPRF girls volleyball team is off to a rather pedestrian start with a 5-6 record.
The Huskies took fourth at the New Trier Tournament and 10th at the Metea Valley/Oswego East Invite. At New Trier, OPRF went 3-0 in pool play with wins over Niles North, Glenbrook North and Warren. The following day, the Huskies lost close matches against the host Trevians 26-24, 25-23 and Glenbrook South in three games. At Metea Valley/Oswego East, seniors Zahria Woodard and Ella Dunavan earned all-tournament honors.
“Despite our losses, we know we could have won all of our games,” junior Chloe Gill said. “I have seen great skill in all of my teammates. When we work together as a team and get into a rhythm, other teams will have a hard time stopping us.
“I’m very excited to see where the season will take us because we’re working hard to make it further into the playoffs this year.”
Reflective of the Huskies’ start this fall, the team finished 15-20 last season. Whitney Young defeated OPRF 23-25, 25-18, 25-22 in the semifinals of the De La Salle Sectional in 2018.
“Our season ended on a bad note last season,” senior Alex Wesiman said. “All five of us [current seniors] took that to heart. We promised each other and our teammates that this year would be different. More than any other season, we have had a sense of urgency and a want to win this year.”
With eight key returnees, multiple Division I recruits and a tall, athletic lineup, the Huskies have cause for optimism. And in terms of their inconsistent start, OPRF has already faced eight regional champs from last year, so strength of schedule has been a factor. Most importantly, the Huskies believe their best volleyball is yet to come.
“The season has not gone how we might have wanted or expected it to go so far,” said senior outside hitter Natalie Chizzo, “but that is what I think we need in this part of the season. These are learning moments that will ultimately make us better and more competitive.
“I have very high expectations for us in the next couple of months. As far as goals, winning conference is definitely on our minds as well as going far in the postseason.”
Chizzo’s confidence appears understandable when breaking down the OPRF roster. She’s a 6-foot-2 outside hitter who is a three-year varsity starter. Chizzo, who has committed to Northwestern, is averaging nine kills, eight digs and three blocks per game this season.
Woodard, a fellow 6-2 senior/3-year varsity starter, accounts for six kills and six blocks per game. She will play college volleyball at South Dakota State. However, until she leaves for Brookings, South Dakota, her priority is providing leadership and production for OPRF.
“My job is to lead and uplift the team through all that we do regardless of the circumstances,” Woodard said. “We have trustworthy leaders who know how to set an example for our younger players on the team. We are extremely diverse and our greatest strength on the team is our height. Our team has great potential and is capable of being regional champs and making it to state.”
Gill (9 kills, 6 digs per game), Dunavan (12 digs) and Weisman are other notable contributors with experience.
Gill is a 6-2 junior outside hitter who is being recruited by Washington University, Brown University and the University of Chicago. She’s transitioning from the right side to the outside position this season.
Dunavan is a four-year varsity player and second-year starter at libero. Weisman is a 5-8 senior setter and co-caption with Chizzo.
“This season is about discipline and determination for the Huskies,” said coach Kelly Collins. “We are going to have stay extremely disciplined at practice every day to ensure we are challenging ourselves to be better than we were the day before, both as individuals and as a team. If we can serve and receive consistently well to make our setter’s job easier, we have a very tough offense to stop.”
The Huskies will need to be on top of their game, particularly in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division. The league is loaded with quality teams, notably 2018 Class 4A state runner-up Downers Grove North, Lyons Township and York. Along with OPRF, those three teams all advanced to at least a sectional semifinal in the state tournament last year. Glenbard West has a solid squad as well
“We are in one of the toughest conferences in the state,” Collins said. “It’s tough weekly competition in the West Suburban Silver.”
OPRF takes on elite competition outside of conference as well. The Huskies visit 4A defending state champion Marist on Thursday, Sept. 12. The match starts at 6 p.m. in Chicago.
“Playing [Marist] within the first three weeks of season is going to give us a very good idea of where we are as a team,” Collins said. “We are excited for the matchup.”
Other remaining nonconference tests include Whitney Young, Riverside-Brookfield, Fenwick and St. Ignatius.
“We do not put anyone on our schedule who will not make us better,” Collins said. “If we want to compete at a high level this year, we have to compete against the best.”