The Oak Park and River Forest High School softball team’s 2-1 victory over Barrington on June 10 in the IHSA Class 4A third-place game brings an end to the 2022-23 high school sports season.
Although there were no state champions produced by OPRF, Fenwick and Trinity this year, there were plenty of good stories. That said, in the tradition of the ESPY Awards on ESPN, this week’s Tate’s Take column offers a few honors. I call them the Tatesies:
Male Team of the Year: Fenwick boys basketball. Not much was expected from the sophomore-laden Friars entering the season, but second-year coach Tony Young led them to 21 wins, more than doubling the previous year’s total of nine, and the final of the IHSA Class 3A De La Salle Sectional, where they dropped a hard-fought game to St. Ignatius. With all but one player returning, this coming season has the potential to be really good for Fenwick.
Female Team of the Year: OPRF softball. Last season, the Huskies won just 11 games and were eliminated in the regional final, which was unusual for the traditional powerhouse program.
However, this year OPRF bounced back with vengeance, winning 31 games, the West Suburban Silver championship, and the aforementioned third-place finish in Class 4A.
Coach of the Year (male team): Tony Young, Fenwick boys basketball. The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association named Young its District Seven Coach of the Year. He got the best from his young roster this season during practices and games.
“It always feels good to be recognized after the season,” Young told Wednesday Journal after winning the award. “But the reward goes to my boys. If they don’t win games and take care of business, nobody’s thinking about me right now.”
Coach of the Year (female team): J.P. Coughlin, OPRF softball. It isn’t easy taking over a program as successful as OPRF, for there are bound to be some early lumps. Coughlin, a longtime assistant under legendary coach Mel Kolbusz, took over after Kolbusz’s retirement in 2021 and struggled with a young roster last season.
But this year, the Huskies bounced back in a big way, and Coughlin’s wisdom and experience played a role in the renaissance.
Game of the Year: Fenwick vs. Trinity girls basketball, IHSA Class 3A Trinity Sectional final. The Blazers had their way with the Friars during the regular season, winning both games convincingly.
But when the two teams met Feb. 23 in River Forest with the sectional title at stake, it was an intense defensive struggle. Sophomore Keira Kapsch’s 3-pointer with 1:20 left in regulation broke a tie and paved the way to a 34-28 victory that gave Fenwick back-to-back sectional championships.
“Once it left her hands, I knew it was going in,” said junior Grace Kapsch, Keira’s sister.
It also marked a signature win for rookie head coach Lenae Fergerson, who took over for retired legend Dave Power.
“I told the girls they beat us twice this year, but the third time is ours,” she said. “I said we have nothing to lose. … I just want you to give it all you got, and I know if you do that we’re going to come out on top.”
Conversely, it was a heartbreaking loss for Trinity, which saw its season ended for the second consecutive year by the Friars in the sectional final.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times, but we knew that,” said Blazers’ coach Kim Coleman. “Hat’s off to Fenwick.”
Moment of the Year: Of course, being a big football guy, I’ve got to get this in. On Aug. 27, OPRF and Fenwick met in football for the first time since 1989.
Although the game was played at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, fans and students from both schools turned out in large numbers.
The Friars were defending IHSA Class 5A champions, but the Huskies came out and dominated. Jack Gooch threw for two touchdown passes and ran for a third while Khalil Nichols had three interceptions as OPRF cruised to a 35-7 victory.
“We had so many guys going both ways,” said OPRF coach John Hoerster. “They were ironmen that did some amazing things and never complained. Everyone cherished their roles, and I’m really proud of them.”
Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia, on the other hand, lamented the errors his team made.
“We didn’t play a good brand of football today,” he said. “We had too many missed [defensive] alignments and mental mistakes. A lot of it goes to the veteran presence [OPRF] had, and we’ve got a lot of guys still learning how to play varsity football.”
Both coaches felt the game was great for the community and hoped it would continue. And they got their wish: the Huskies and Friars will meet again on the gridiron Aug. 26 in Week 1 at Triton College.