OPRF junior Grace Nelson (center, blue shirt) spikes the ball during a recent girls volleyball practice. Nelson orally committed to the University of Kansas August 15. (Carol Dunning/Contributor)

Oak Park and River Forest High School junior girls volleyball outside hitter Grace Nelson, one of the Chicago area’s top prospects, had her choice of colleges.

Although one of her older sisters, Allie, played at the University of Kansas, Nelson initially wasn’t sure if she wanted to follow in her footsteps.

“I never wanted to go there since Allie went there,” she said after OPRF’s Orange and Blue scrimmage Aug. 20. “I already knew the coaching staff, but I wanted to go on a visit to make sure I found my perfect school. It just felt right.”

Now that Nelson, who orally committed to Kansas on Aug. 15, has secured her collegiate future, she can focus on helping OPRF improve from a 2021 campaign, which saw the Huskies go 23-14 and reach a regional final.

“I feel this is definitely our year to make some damage,” said the 6-foot-1 Nelson, who had 369 kills, 36 aces, 33 blocks and 256 digs in 2021. “Everyone has been working hard and there’s been so much improvement over the past two weeks.”

With seven returning players from last season, head coach Kelly Collins has plenty of reason to be optimistic.

“Everyone has a year of experience under their belts and they’ve all improved in the offseason and in our preseason,” said Collins, in her seventh season. 

Other top OPRF returnees are senior middle hitter Reese Garland, junior outside hitter Ella Hullinger and junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Keira Kleidon.

In addition, the Huskies have added a top transfer in junior setter Kinsey Smith. She comes from Whitney Young, which ended OPRF’s 2021 season with a three-set victory in the regional final.

“She’s a phenomenal player and just doesn’t let the ball hit the ground,” Collins said of Smith. “Her ability to read and react to hitters is amazing, and [she] already has a great handle on our offense.”

OPRF is participating in several top in-season tournaments, including the Illinois Prep Volleyball Crimson Classic, Wheaton-Warrenville South Classic and Glenbard East Autumnfest.

“We’re looking to either win or at least place in the top five of those tournaments,” Collins said. “We don’t want any surprises come the postseason. That’s why we play the tough competitors from the get-go, so that we’re prepared by playoff time.”

Another goal for OPRF is to win the very competitive West Suburban Conference Silver Division. The league is stacked with programs such as Downers Grove North, Glenbard West, Hinsdale Central and Lyons Township.

The Huskies, who haven’t won a WSC Silver title since 1993, narrowly missed last fall.

“Our goal is to get that ring at the end of the season,” Nelson said. “We want to win conference and then work our way to the top from there.”

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