Freshman outside hitter Grace Nelson led the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls volleyball team with 12 kills, two aces, and nine digs on April 21 at rival Lyons Township, but the Huskies fell in two sets (20-25, 24-26).

Nelson has been a bright spot all spring during a pandemic-shortened season that saw OPRF finish 5-5.

“She’s a phenomenal player,” said OPRF coach Kelly Collins. “Her skills and ability are great. Grace is a six-rotation player with a deadly swing, whether she’s in the front row or the back. As a freshman, she’s very impressive.”

Other notable OPRF efforts at LTHS were turned in by senior Chloe Gill (7 kills, 1 ace, and 10 dig), Emma Luptak (11 assists) and Maeve Morgan (10 assists).

“It was tough competition [from LTHS], give them credit,” said Collins. “We just made some errors at crucial points, and we were chasing the whole game. It’s hard to overcome that.”

Usually, an OPRF-LTHS athletic event is a boisterous affair with fans of both schools creating a lively atmosphere. But the pandemic has resulted in stringent spectator restrictions within the West Suburban Conference. Only parents of the home team’s players have been allowed entry at most contests, so the Huskies have had to create their own enthusiasm.

“It’s definitely been a challenge for us,” Collins said. “We’ve had to get energy and excitement from our own team and there are just 13 of us, which can be difficult. … With the adversity they’ve seen this year, they’ve been able to face it head on and step up to the challenge. We’re grateful for the opportunity to play.”

Fenwick wraps with win over St. Ignatius

Fenwick’s Beau Vanderlaan (above, leaping) was one of three Friars named to the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference all-conference team. | Photo courtesy of Kathleen O’Laughlin

The Fenwick High School girls volleyball team defeated visiting St. Ignatius in two sets (25-14, 25-21) on April 22 to finish their pandemic-shortened season with a 6-4 record.

Against the Wolfpack, Elise Heneghan had eight kills, while Donna Carinato had nine assists and one ace and Maeve Welsh had five assists and one block. In addition, Gabriella Cavalieri added five kills, two digs and one block, while Beau Vanderlaan had four kills and two blocks to pace a well-balanced effort for the Friars.

“You always don’t get to finish the season with a win unless it’s the state tournament,” said Fenwick coach Kathleen O’Laughlin. “Tonight the kids did a great job of coming out against a very solid team. I think our senior leadership was awesome with Beau leading the charge, and Lauren [Hall], Donna, and Gabriella did an excellent job. I was proud of how the team finished.”

Heneghan, Vanderlaan and Welsh were named to the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference all-conference team.

There were plenty of challenges in trying to conduct a season in the midst of a pandemic, but O’Laughlin credited her competitors in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference for being flexible with scheduling in order to allow the teams to get in as many games as possible.

“The seniors were so happy just to have a season; they didn’t care when it was, they just wanted to get it in,” O’Laughlin said. “That’s so important for their emotional well-being, and I’m proud of the IHSA for coming up with a schedule that would benefit the kids.”

Vanderlaan, who will continue her playing career at Brown University this fall, said she’ll cherish the many friendships and memories made during her time at Fenwick, especially this season.

“I was proud of how we overcame all the adversity this season,” she said. “Regardless of how much we got to play, we always went all-out.”

While Vanderlaan and the other seniors will be missed, the future looks bright as there are several talented players coming back in August, including Heneghan, Welsh, Shannon O’Laughlin and Lola Tortorello.

Trinity ends 8-2 after hot start

The Trinity High School volleyball team finished the pandemic-abbreviated season 8-2, which featured a 5-0 start. The only blemish was a pair of three-set losses to Resurrection.

“We lost some powerful offensive players to graduation last year, so our success this season was based on our defense,” said Trinity coach Ken Uhlir. 

Junior libero Eileen Weger and junior setter Bridget Whiteside were the defensive sparkplugs for the Blazers. But Uhlir feels the offense will need to improve this fall in order for Trinity to realize its full potential. In particular, he would like to see better numbers in terms of kills per set and hitting percentage.

“I’m so excited [about next year] because we’ve got a great defensive team, but on the offensive side, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Uhlir said. 

Overall, Uhlir deemed the season a success despite the adversity caused by the pandemic. 

“With all the uncertainties and restrictions, I think it went off flawlessly,” he said. “The players were very good in following all the COVID-19 protocols, and they handled the situation better than I thought they would.”

Another issue the Blazers had to deal with was the conflicts caused by club volleyball. For this year only, the IHSA decided to permit student-athletes to participate with both their high school and club teams simultaneously. 

Trinity had three players who did that, resulting in less practice time with their high school teammates and cramming many competitions in a short period of time.

Still, Uhlir, who just completed his seventh year as head coach, was happy that a season was played after all.

“We were hopeful, especially for the seniors, that we would be able to get something in,” he said. “Although it was a short season, it was great to get back on the court.”

Editor’s note: Maddie Breunig (SO), Eileen Weger (JR), Erin Weger (FR), and Bridget Whiteside (JR) were named to GCAC All-Conference Team.

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