The Oak Park and River Forest High School boys tennis team opened the season with a 6-1 victory over visiting Maine South on March 23.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as on-campus construction, this was the first home match for the Huskies in nearly four years, and OPRF coach John Morlidge was thrilled.
“It was very nice because we hadn’t had a home match in a while,” said Morlidge, in his 32nd season. “The weather was awful, but it was still amazing.”
With 12 returning players from last year’s team that went 6-3 in duals, finished third in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division and had an individual state qualifier, Morlidge is optimistic this spring.
“We have a lot of depth and experience on the team,” he said. “We have a lot of flexibility because many of the boys can play singles and doubles.”
OPRF’s top returning players are sophomores Alex Dolipschi, Manu Rajagopal and Eli Stein, juniors Cameron Khaledan and Will Neumann and seniors Gabe Wolter and Trevor Wilson. The Huskies’ top newcomers are seniors Jay Ahn and Ian Kelley.
Juniors Ian Hansen and Evan Pope and seniors Jacob Drews, Alex Hymson, Trevor Raymond, Simon Wellner and Charles Yang round out the roster.
OPRF’s key invitationals are at Hersey and Hinsdale Central, where many of the state’s top teams and players will participate.
“Tournaments are the best prep for state, because you have to play multiple matches in the same day,” Morlidge said. “We get beat up a little bit, but these tournaments also help us get ready for the end of the year.”
Hinsdale Central is one of the state’s premier programs, one that has an established stranglehold on the WSC Silver. That said, Morlidge says OPRF looks to finish second in the conference and qualify multiple players for the state finals.
“We need to play to our maximum level, and I have to make the correct doubles pairings to achieve these goals,” he said. “It also depends on the sectional draw. Since we’ve gone to two classes, it’s so much tougher to make it to state.”
OPRF hosts a quad tournament April 1, which includes Fenwick High School, during spring break.
“It’s the end of break so I’ll be missing some kids, and other teams will probably be missing some kids too,” he said. “But just to have a tournament again is nice, and we’ll try to get back up to eight teams next year.”
Friars to rely on experience
Fenwick opened the season with a 5-1 victory at Wheaton-St. Francis on March 20. With last year’s top eight players returning, Fenwick coach Gerard Sullivan likes how things are shaping up.
“We’re very solid in terms of depth and experience,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good players that play well and take things seriously. They’ve been playing in the offseason to get better, and there’s a lot of spirit and good energy.”
Seniors Bobby Anzaldi, Matt Carmody, Colin Crotty, Jack Harrison, Danny McGarel and Marty Morrissey were Chicago Catholic League medalists last spring. Junior Jake Brecknock and sophomore David Schubkegel (5th in No. 1 singles at the CCL meet) are Fenwick’s current No. 1 doubles pairing.
“David is as good as he was last year,” Sullivan said. “He’s in No. 1 doubles with Jake, and he loves being there.”
Junior Tommy Shishman , the No. 1 singles player in the lower levels last season, also saw time on the varsity and looks to make a bigger contribution to the Friars. Junior Matt Bero and senior Quinn Hynes complete the roster.
Fenwick, which has finished third in the Catholic League the past two seasons, looks to compete with Loyola Academy, Marmion Academy, and St. Ignatius for the title this spring.
“St. Ignatius looks like the team to beat; they’re really strong at the top,” Sullivan said. “Loyola’s always good top to bottom, and Marmion is a solid team with the top singles player in our league. That good competition helps us get ready for postseason.”
Last year, the Friars were in the IHSA’s toughest Class 1A sectional at Chicago University High and failed to qualify anyone for state. This year, Sullivan feels Fenwick can get multiple players downstate, but it won’t be easy.
“If we go to U-High again, they’ll have to come in with a grudge and go all out,” he said. “To get a good draw, you need a seed, and to get a seed, you need to have good results all season. We’ve got two good doubles teams and a singles player who’s a battler that will improve with every match, and we’ll do the best we can.”
Fenwick will compete in the OPRF Quad on April 1.
“We haven’t played them since the pandemic. I’m sure both teams will be energized and put up a good fight,” said Sullivan.