The Oak Park and River Forest High School girls volleyball team enjoyed a splendid 2022 season, finishing with a 27-10 record (4-2 in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division) and an IHSA Class 4A Whitney Young regional championship. 

The Huskies were eliminated by eventual 4A champions Mother McAuley in the sectional semifinals. But with eight returnees, including five starters, they’re optimistic they can reach the same level of success this year, and perhaps go further in the state tournament.

“We’re seeing a lot of good things from everybody out there; it’s a great group of kids,” said OPRF coach Kelly Collins. “We’re excited to get out there and compete.”

Oak Park and River Forest High School volleyball player Grace Nelson prepares to hit the ball during practice last week. A University of Kansas commit, the senior outside hitter posted 445 kills, 261 digs, 32 aces, 25 blocks, and 23 assists last year for the Huskies. | Carol Dunning

Two reasons for OPRF’s enthusiasm are senior outside hitter Grace Nelson and senior setter Kinsey Smith. Nelson, a University of Kansas commit, posted 445 kills, 32 aces, 25 blocks, 261 digs, and 23 assists last season.

“In my opinion, Grace is the best outside hitter in the state of Illinois,” Collins said. “She’s a powerhouse and a fierce competitor. … The leadership she brings to our team is so impactful.”

Smith, a Davidson College commit, had 808 assists, 221 digs, 37 aces, 50 kills, and 35 blocks for the Huskies in 2022. 

“Kinsey’s done a great job,” Collins said. “She’s the quarterback of our offense and is literally going to keep hitters guessing on the other side of the net. She’s also a fierce defender.”

Oak Park and River Forest High School volleyball player Kinsey Smith prepares to bump the ball at practice last week. A Davidson College commit, the senior setter had 808 assists, 221 digs, 50 kills, 37 aces, and 30 blocks last year for the Huskies. | Carol Dunning

Other returnees for OPRF are senior outside hitter Ella Hullinger and senior libero Keira Kleidon, junior middle hitter Gabby Towns and sophomore outside hitter Samantha Shelton. A key newcomer is junior Phoebe Shorney, who missed last year due to injury.

Depth could be a concern as the Huskies have just nine players on the varsity roster. But Nelson feels the team is versatile and can adapt.

“Everyone can play a lot of different positions,” she said. “There’s a lot of talent within the nine of us, so I’m not worried where people are going to go. Everyone’s going to do their job, no matter what.”

OPRF has another grueling schedule this year, beginning with the Mizuno Invitational Aug. 25-26. It features several of Chicagoland’s top programs, including Barrington (last year’s 4A runner-up), Marist and St. Charles North.

Then the Huskies have to deal with the WSC Silver, perennially one of the area’s best leagues. Downers Grove North, Glenbard West, Hinsdale Central and Lyons Township all figure to be vying for the title along with OPRF.

“We know the challenges that are ahead of us, that’s no secret,” Collins said. “It’s a tough schedule, but that’s how we like it.”

Collins wants the Huskies to daily build upon what they have. She believes if they do, good things are in store.

“The talent is there, we’ve got to go out and execute and perform every single day,” Collins said. “When you’ve got as much talent as we do, everyone wants to beat you. We have to have a little more grit than anyone else we face, but these kids are up to the challenge.”

New coach at helm of Fenwick volleyball

There are many changes on the Fenwick High School girls volleyball roster, including new head coach Tee Pimsarn.

Pimsarn, however, previously was the assistant for long-time coach Kathleen O’Laughlin, who coached 19 non-consecutive seasons, the past 12 as head coach.

“The transition has been smooth. Everyone’s been awesome,” Pimsarn said. “So far [I’m excited about] our growth.”

The 2022 Friars were 17-20 and 2-4 in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red Division. They won their seventh consecutive regional for complete seasons before losing 25-19, 27-25 in the Class 3A Little Village Sectional final to Nazareth.

Seniors Lola Tortorello, a 5-foot-11 setter and fourth-year varsity player, and 5-4 libero Hazel Davis are returning starters. 

Seniors Elizabeth Scharpf and Taylor Woods and sophomores Marcelina Kozaczka and Lily Sampey saw significant action. Other team members are senior Madison White, juniors Ava D’Alessandro, Mollie Meehan, Tea Pasquesi, Eve Rosenberg, Julia Schumm and Kate Williams, sophomores Lilly Boyle and Sophia Leonardi, and freshmen Bella Gray and Jordan Rossi.

Besides assists, Tortorello was among the Friars’ top four in kills, digs, blocks and aces last season. She’ll become a more prominent attacker in a two-setter offense with Scharpf.

“Lola’s going to be our leader on and off the court,” Pimsarn said. “Last year, we had a lot of seniors, a lot of hitters. She kind of got overshadowed a little bit. I think it’s going to be a big year for her to shine.” 

Davis was integral to Fenwick’s serve receive and finished among the top three in aces.

How diverse the offense can be may depend on the progress of 6-0 middles Kozaczka and Rossi and 5-11 Gray on the pin.

“Our first contact needs to be there and then I’m huge on being disciplined on defense,” Pimsarn said. “It’s about training them, and we’ll see how big of a [postseason] run we can make in October.”

More experienced Trinity optimistic in 2023

At first glance, a 14-22 record last year doesn’t sound good for the Trinity High School volleyball team.

But a closer look shows that the Blazers – who had three sophomores in the lineup- were much more competitive than that. Where they had an issue was finishing matches. 12 of the 22 defeats were decided in the third set, including nine after Trinity had won the opening set.

“We made a lot of mistakes because of our inexperience,” said Trinity coach Ken Uhlir.

But with a more experienced squad returning this year, he’s optimistic things will be different.

“Our girls have worked hard in the offseason,” Uhlir said. “Now that we are a year older, I think we will do a better job of closing out those tight matches.”

The Blazers’ top returnees are senior outside hitters Erin Weger and Erin Whiteside. Three juniors also return in twin sisters Flynn (setter) and Lilli (libero) Puttin and outside hitter Claire Rambasek.

Seniors Johanna Obaldo, Olivia Price, Sofia Samatas and Evelyn Wirkiowski; juniors Marissa Huerta and Yasmin Smith; and sophomore Meredith Breunig round out Trinity’s varsity roster.

Invitationals at Willowbrook and Glenbard West, which Uhlir said “will be very challenging”, highlight the Blazers’ schedule. In the newly realigned Girls Catholic Athletic Conference White Division, Trinity will compete for the title along newcomers De La Salle and Providence Catholic and holdover DePaul Prep, Resurrection and Rosary.

“As always, our first goal is to win the conference, but with the new teams it will be a challenge,” Uhlir said. “We expect all the matches to be competitive. Our second goal is to win regionals and compete beyond that in the IHSA playoffs. We’ll have to play a little more consistently and eliminate all the errors we made last year in those three-set losses.”

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