Before the regional match against Lyons Township High School, the OPRF varsity volleyball team didn’t look like a team that was about to face a conference foe who had taken them down in the first two meetings in the regular season. They brought in-game energy during warmups, ready to seek revenge and keep their season alive.
They did just that as the team bulldozed the Lions in a quick two-set win at Lyons Township on Oct. 31 (25-14, 25-14).
“We came out with that energy right away, which is exactly what we wanted to do,” said OPRF’s head coach Kelly Collins. “We talked in practice about coming out from the start with a sense of urgency. We knew exactly what they were going to do. … There weren’t any surprises and we needed to do it from the very beginning and our kids did an excellent job with that.”
The Huskies came out of the gate with a 12-7 lead, paced by senior Natalie Chizzo (who has committed to play volleyball at Northwestern University next year). LT called a timeout to regroup after a few OPRF points were caused by miscommunication on the Lions’ end.
“We didn’t show up tonight,” said LT head coach Jill Keeve. “Defensively, we talked and scouted, and we knew the right things to do, but we weren’t able to do those things during game time. I think that’s what gave [OPRF] the advantage because we became so mentally frustrated.”
After the Lions brought the deficit down to 14-10, the Huskies went on an 11-4 run, highlighted by a high-powered offense finding holes in the defense. OPRF took the set 25-14.
“I feel like our offense is unstoppable when we pass well and run that up-tempo offense,” said Collins. “We have a lot of different options, whether it’s coming from the outside, either pin, and definitely the middle.”
In the second set, LT jumped out to a 2-0 lead after senior Patti Cesarni started things off with a kill and Chizzo hitting her next attempt out of bounds. Both teams traded points and the Lions found themselves trailing 9-8.
The Huskies gained back their momentum on the next point when Chizzo hit a bullet into the left corner of the court. The Lions had committed to defending the front row before Chizzo’s attack which set up the open space for her to make her move.
LT called another timeout, but the match got away from them as the Huskies overwhelmed their conference foes with a 19-11 lead. Keeve used one more timeout but at that point the team couldn’t turn things around.
“At the end of the day, they came out to play and wanted it more than us,” said Cesarni. “It’s unfortunate — I have to say it that way — but that’s just how it went. They did a bunch of film on us, we did a bunch of film on them, but they came out ready to win.”
OPRF finished off the match winning six of the next seven points to move on to the next round.
“We were hyped up on the bus beforehand since we knew that was a good team over there,” said Chizzo. “We lost to them the first two games of the season, but this time around I feel like we found our identity as a team.”
Chizzo: 3 aces, 12 kills, 2 blocks, 7 digs; Chloe Gill: 2 aces, 9 kills, 7 digs; Zahria Woodard: 1 ace, 6 kills, 2 blocks, 1 dig; Alex Weisman: 21 assists, 1 kill, 3 digs
After thumping Lyons Township High School in the regional final, OPRF’s varsity volleyball team didn’t advance to the next round of the playoffs after it lost to Mother McAuley in two sets (26-28, 19-25). According to MaxPreps’ website, Mother McAuley (29-8) is ranked third in the state for girls volleyball.
“That’s a top-of-the-line, powerhouse program,” said OPRF head coach Kelly Collins. “They execute the fundamentals 98 percent of the time, and they showed that last night. However, they weren’t a team we felt we couldn’t handle. We knew what we were walking into. We just missed a couple of opportunities.”
The Huskies finish their season with a 21-16 record with five seniors graduating in the spring. Collins became the head coach of the program when those seniors were freshmen.
“I just have a lot of gratitude for them,” said Collins. “They’ve always been on board with me and the coaches and we wouldn’t be where we are without them. … That’s exactly what I told them. They helped lay the foundation and this is just the beginning. I just wanted a little more for them.”
The program has now won back-to-back regional championships with Collins at the helm. Even with five seniors graduating, the team has high expectations going into next season.
“The message after the match was, ‘This is the expectation now,'” said Collins. “The expectation is to go even further. We aren’t in a place where we are rebuilding but rather working hard to meet that expectation.”
Chloe Gill: 14 kills, 4 digs; Natalie Chizzo: 9 kills, 4 dig; Zahria Woodard: 6 kills, 2 blocks; Alex Weisman: 22 assists, 4 digs