OPRF sophomore Grace Nelson (foreground) returns after being named an all-conference player as a freshman with 113 kills in 10 matches. She leads a returning squad full of young, but talented players. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

The pandemic played havoc on the girls volleyball schedule last year. The season was delayed until spring and, even then, the road was rough, particularly for the Oak Park and River Forest High School squad, which saw several matches canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.

While OPRF doesn’t possess a lot of experience, head coach Kelly Collins is optimistic about the season.

“What we lack in game experience, we will make up with our talent, speed, and versatility,” said Collins, in her sixth season leading the Huskies. “The kids come to practice every day willing to work hard and compete, and we’re seeing improvement each day.”

Sophomore Grace Nelson looks to pick up where she left off in the spring, when she was named to the West Suburban All-Conference team. She had 113 kills in 10 matches and Collins describes her as a powerhouse.

Other OPRF returnees are junior setter Molly Brown, junior middle hitter Reese Garland, senior middle hitter Rebecca Gutierrez, senior libero Ella Olson, and senior outside hitter Cate Wollmuth. The Huskies also are looking for contributions from newcomers Keira Kleidon and Skai Tune.

“We return a solid core who bring a high level of experience and high-caliber play from their club seasons,” Collins said. “We have a very competitive and multi-talented group of underclassmen that we anticipate will have a huge impact on our team from the start.”

OPRF has 13 matches during the first two weeks of the season, so the team will find out quickly where they are early. Collins says the Huskies’ goal every year is to win the West Suburban Silver – something that is easier said than done.

“It’s one of the toughest in the state; there are no easy opponents or matches,” said Collins of the conference. “We’re looking to be in the top three.”

Fenwick hopes to build on strong spring

The Friars had a good showing during the spring, posting a 7-4 record with a third-place finish in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red Division. 

Entering her 10th season as head coach, Kathleen O’Laughlin likes where her team is this fall, given the large amount of returnees.

“We’ve been starting a few underclassmen the last three years, so this year we have an older and more experienced group,” she said. “We have a great group of kids that love playing the game and competing.”

Fenwick’s top returning players are senior outside hitter Elise Heneghan, junior outside hitter Shannon O’Laughlin, junior setter Maeve Welsh and sophomore setter Lola Tortorello. Another player to watch is senior middle blocker Audrey Hinrichs.

The Friars will need contributions from every player as they navigate through a schedule that includes four big tournaments and matches against Loyola, Montini, Mother McAuley, New Trier, St. Ignatius, and OPRF. 

Trinity leans on experience in 2021

The Blazers volleyball team had a strong spring, finishing with an 8-2 record. The only losses came at the hands of Resurrection, and those were three-set matches.

But head coach Ken Uhlir isn’t sure how much momentum will carry over to this fall.

“Because we played only 10 conference matches in the spring, we really don’t know what to expect once we play a more difficult schedule,” said Uhlir, in his eighth season. “It kind of feels like starting over because we don’t have the depth of experience we’d normally have from the previous season.”

That said, Trinity has several key returning players, including seniors Megan Murphy, Eileen Weber, and Bridget Whiteside, as well as junior Maddie Breunig.

“Eileen is a four-year starting libero and brings a wealth of experience and IQ. She’s the best libero I’ve coached in my years at Trinity,” Uhlir said. “Bridget was a GCAC All-Conference setter [as a freshman] on a team that was 28-9 and regional champions.”

If there is a concern for the Blazers, it’s a lack of height. At 5-foot-11, Breunig is the tallest girl on the roster. Yet, Uhlir likes what she brings and thinks she’ll play a critical role in the team’s fortunes this fall.

“Maddie’s grown into a reliable and powerful offensive threat,” he said. “Our success this season will depend on being able to get her the ball as much as possible. If she can handle the load, we’ll be a tough team.”

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