Along with football and boys soccer, there are two other Illinois high school traditional fall sports which had their seasons moved to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, field hockey and girls volleyball. 

While there will be no postseason play in any of the sports, the expectations of the local schools do not change — having as much success as possible while developing character in young men and women. 

This week, we feature two teams making the transition from fall to spring, the Oak Park and River Forest High School field hockey program, and the Fenwick High School girls volleyball program.

OPRF field hockey 

Traditionally one of the state’s best programs, the Huskies are off to another splendid start, having won four of their first five matches. 

“We were all very excited to hear that we would have the chance to play this season,” said OPRF coach Kristin Wirtz in an email. “It is definitely a unique season with six weeks and new protocols in place, but our team has adapted quickly.

The Huskies returned several experienced players from the 2019 season, and that — along with playing stellar defense — has been the key to success this spring, according to Wirtz.

“Our vision on the field has improved significantly as well as our level of game awareness,” she said. “Defensively, we have a strong back line that is hard to get past; it is coming up with block tackles at every turn and distributing the ball well.”

Junior Hailey Nowak leads OPRF in scoring. Nowak, senior Emma Brandt, and junior Tiala Ortega have combined for 14 of the Huskies’ 21 goals on the season. Senior co-captains Tao Tao Stolz and Cate Szpila provide steady leadership and play in the midfield, while standout junior goalkeeper Cate Barkdoll works well with the backfield.

This chemistry was on display March 27 as OPRF defeated conference rival Glenbard West 4-3 in a shootout. Nowak scored both regulation goals for the Huskies. After a scoreless overtime, the match went into a shootout, where Stolz and Szpila scored on their one-on-one attempts and Barkdoll allowed just one goal to secure the victory for the Huskies. 

Newcomers sophomore Lily Rose Drews and junior Leyna Fougere supply versatility and energy for the team.

There won’t be a state tournament this spring, but in order to keep being one of the state’s top teams, OPRF wants to win as many games as possible. Wirtz feels her team has put the time and work in, and that will pay dividends for this season. 

This has the ingredients of being another successful campaign for the Huskies’ program, one that has a lasting legacy and a commitment to success, something that Wirtz, a former OPRF player herself, knows all about.

“Almost all of our coaches on the staff are alumni,” she said. They understand the legacy that we believe in. Every year since I’ve been part of this program, we have been working to develop our athletes into not only the best players they can be, but supporting them in being the best versions of themselves.”

Fenwick girls volleyball

Under the guidance of head coach Kathleen O’Laughlin, the Friars have been one of the top Girls Catholic Athletic Conference teams over the last several seasons. In 2019, Fenwick went 24-9 and won a regional title. 

This season, despite not having a state title to play for, Fenwick is grateful for being able to play a few matches.

“Both the coaching staff and the players were very excited to learn there would be a season played,” O’Laughlin said in an email. “We are all very thankful to all the people who worked so hard to secure an IHSA season for our athletes.”

Senior middle blocker Beau Vanderlaan, who is heading to Brown University this fall, is the top player for the Friars. A four-year varsity player, she brings leadership and confidence to the floor.

“Beau is an exceptional player and person,” said O’Laughlin. “She’s a threat to any offense with her blocking skills and can attack at a high level both in the front and back courts.”

 Vanderlaan sparked Fenwick to a comeback victory on March 23 against visiting DePaul Prep. After the Rams captured the first set, the Friars rallied to take the next two 25-21 and 25-13.

Fenwick has 12 matches scheduled for this abbreviated season and will play in the GCAC Red for the first time, facing powerhouse teams such as Loyola Academy, Mother McAuley, and St. Ignatius. O’Laughlin hopes the Friars will be able to compete at a high level while playing with high energy and a lot of heart.

But if nothing else, she’s proud of how well her team has handled the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, and learned a valuable lesson as well.

“It has taught us to be more flexible and appreciate all the little things along the way,” O’Laughlin said. “We’re excited to be back in the gym with a refreshed perspective on the importance of high school athletics.”

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