As the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys volleyball team took to the floor for the 2021 season this spring, head coach Justin Cousin found himself in an unusual spot.
A former OPRF player, he learned the sport from his coach, Don August, who built a powerhouse program. August came to OPRF in 2006 and guided the Huskies for 14 seasons, compiling an overall record of 271-215 over 14 seasons.
His teams amassed 12 regional and seven sectional titles, and finished fourth in the 2019 IHSA state tournament.
This spring, Cousin finds himself leading the Huskies following August’s death on Oct. 30, 2020, at the age of 68.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said Cousin about his first season as head coach. “I knew Don since 2006 and respected him a lot, and replacing him after he passed is surreal. But it also feels good to know that I’m able to do him some justice and honor.”
Like other boys volleyball teams in the state, the Huskies are excited to be back playing after missing last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are working hard every day according to Cousin.
“We have a core group of guys who managed to stay active during the pandemic, and a couple of them played [with] club, [teams],” he said. “We’re looking pretty competitive this year.”
A.J. Robateau, Owen Saranecki and Peter Zurawski have been OPRF’s top players thus far. The Huskies are off to a 5-1 start this season, including a 25-22, 25-23 victory at Lyons Township on May 6. Saranecki and Josh Rasmussen each had eight kills to lead OPRF.
Despite the strong start, the Huskies are young, and Cousin is using this season to make sure the team is competitive in the West Suburban Silver, which is always challenging.
“We graduated five seniors, so the goals are to get our young guys some experience, develop the program and create this love for hard work and team-building,” said Cousin.
OPRF has a 12-match regular season with all opponents consisting of West Suburban Conference schools due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, there is optimism about the possibility of having a state tournament next month, depending on how the health situation looks.
“All of our guys understand the situation,” Cousin said. “They know we have only 12 matches and we don’t know if we’ll even be able to finish them. So they’re taking advantage every rep in practice and every time they step on the court. We’re hopeful of a state tournament, and it looks like it’s a go [at this point]. But you never know with COVID-19.”