Despite having a 5-7 record entering the IHSA Class 3A girls soccer tournament, Oak Park and River Forest High School coach Christie Johnston felt her team was capable of making noise in the Morton Sectional.
That belief was rewarded as the Huskies recorded back-to-back road upsets last week to claim their first regional title since 2011. After a 2-0 shutout at fifth-seeded Whitney Young June 2, No. 12 OPRF knocked off West Suburban Silver rival and No. 4-seeded Downers Grove North 2-1 on June 4.
“It’s incredible,” Johnston said. “I always say at the start of the playoffs, everyone’s 0-0, and that motivation has helped us so far.”
The Huskies (7-7) fell behind early in the first half against Downers North but maintained their poise and took the lead late on goals by junior midfielder Katherine Hoffman and junior forward Julia Daun. Then OPRF locked down on defense in the second half to secure the victory.
“[Senior defender] Audrey Stutz is the anchor of our defense. She holds things down in the back,” Johnston said. “Audrey denied every opportunity [Downers Grove North] had and played incredible.”
Not only is this the Huskies’ first regional championship in 10 years, it’s the first of Johnston’s career. And it’s something she’ll always be grateful for, especially given the circumstances of the last two years.
“It’s been hard keeping things together with COVID-19 issues,” she said. “But the seniors have stepped up and led this team with tenacity. It’s been an awesome ride so far, and I’m incredibly proud of the team. They’ve come together when it matters the most.”
OPRF faced a stern test in sectional semifinal on June 8, after Wednesday Journal’s press time, at top-seeded Benet Academy in Lisle. The Redwings, currently ranked third in the state and the 2A champions in 2019, figure to be a difficult opponent for the Huskies.
“I think we’ll give [Benet] a game for sure,” she said. “We’re ready to take them on and we’ll see what we can do.”
Fenwick falls in regional final
The Friars’ season came to an end June 5 as Downers Grove South scored a pair of second-half goals to prevail 2-0 for a 3A regional title.
“It’s always disappointing to lose to end the season,” Fenwick coach Craig Blazer said. “But this team accomplished a lot and I’m really proud of them.”
Blazer felt the hallmark win of the year came on June 1 when the Friars upset Hinsdale Central 2-1 (4-3 on penalty kicks) in the regional semifinal.
“For us, that speaks volumes of the quality of competitiveness we had this year,” he said. “We led most of the game, then [Hinsdale Central] scored near the end and we could’ve folded. But we didn’t, and that says a lot.”
Senior forward Julianna Giuffre led Fenwick (8-3-2) with 11 goals for the year, while junior forward Kate Henige added 10. Giuffre is among eight seniors that the Friars lose to graduation.
But Henige, junior goalkeeper Audrey Hinrichs, and junior defender Abbie Rogowski will lead an experienced roster for next season, and Blazer is looking forward to what lies ahead.
“Our future is bright,” he said. “We can’t wait to get going.”
Blazers stopped short by Pritzker
Trinity High School’s soccer team fell to host Pritzker College Prep 8-1 in the 2A regional final June 2, ending a difficult season as Trinity went winless in head coach Roberto Cianci’s debut.
“It was tough,” Cianci said. “We were coming off a year in which we didn’t play, and we didn’t have as many players out for the team. And we were also in a difficult conference [Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red]. I can only thank those who showed up, and we worked with them the best we could.”
Trinity’s 21-player roster had only six seniors, so 15 players will return having gained some experience with Cianci’s system.
“That’s the upside,” said Cianci of the large group of returnees. “Our younger players got a lot of varsity experience under their belts this year, and that should help with their development.”