The COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge this school year for all high school athletic programs in Illinois, with cancelations and rescheduling happening quite often.
But not only did the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys’ tennis team have to cope with the pandemic this spring, it had to practice and play all its matches on the road due to construction on campus that rendered the courts unplayable.
“Playing all of our matches on the road was a huge disadvantage,” said OPRF coach John Morlidge. “When you have a home match, you have time to stretch and warmup before the other team arrives. [But for] away matches, you get off the bus, hurry to the washroom, and then get a 10-minute warmup. Your home courts are your advantage because you practice there every day and know the conditions.”
In spite of the circumstances, the Huskies were able to put together a solid season, placing third in the West Suburban Silver Conference and fourth at the IHSA Class 2A Maine South sectional.
While OPRF didn’t advance anyone to the state finals, Morlidge was pleased with how the team performed. Moreover, his players enjoyed being around each other after last season was canceled due to the pandemic.
“Every kid was so happy and grateful to be able to participate,” Morlidge said. “I had some great senior leadership, which set the tone.”
“Playing and practicing in less than optimal conditions helped strengthen our bond, and being on the road was actually fun for me,” added recently graduated Patrick Marzec. “Not having the home-court advantage was a good experience.”
Marzec and Aiden Klass were OPRF’s top singles players for the season, while Mark Trinka/Luca Lissuzzo and Dante and Ezra Stukel were the top doubles teams. Other notable players for the Huskies were Salem Halab, Ben Piech and Trevor Wilson.
“We treated our young guys with respect and they gave it back to us,” Marzec said. “Because of that, we were able to have productive practices and got better as a whole. I think that contributed to our success.”
OPRF displayed plenty of perseverance in this challenging season, and Morlidge thought it was one of his favorite years.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of a group of young men,” he said. “The boys came to work every day and pushed each other to reach their potential.”
Marzec, who will attend the Berkeley School of Music in Boston this fall, won’t play in college. However, he feels that this season’s experience will serve him well for the future.
“Overcoming adverse situations can lead to greater things and will make you stronger,” he said.