OPRF's focus this season is to rebuild, get better

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With few returning players and a very young team, the OPRF girls' water polo team is hoping to make the best of what will be a year of learning for many.

"We have a pretty young team," said co-captain Emily Japlon, "so basically we want to work on getting experience."

Japlon, a junior, is one of just four returning varsity players, along with fellow co-captain junior Lauren Daggett, junior Rachel Velasquez, and sophomore Val Poulos. Juniors Lauren Gumbel and Rosie Hackl, two players from last year's junior varsity, are expected to take big roles in the Huskies' lineup.

"We have a lot of underclassmen and not a lot of returning varsity players," said Daggett, "so a lot of what we're doing is working on getting better for next year." Daggett said that she could already see improvement in the Huskies performances from the beginning of the season, even though they have only played four games thus far.

"We've improved for sure in each game," Daggett said, "which is really hard. We're getting so much better."

Even with this improvement, however, the Huskies lost their first three games. On March 8, the Huskies narrowly lost to Lyons 7-6.

"Val Poulos played especially well in our first game, against Lyons Township," said head coach Beth Nickels. Last year, the Huskies finished second in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference, behind Lyons. "It was always neck-and-neck with Lyons in conference," said Nickels.

On March 10 the Huskies lost 12-7, this time to Homewood-Flossmoor. They also lost the next day to Stevenson, 9-5. While the Huskies would have preferred wins in these games, they were still pleasantly surprised with how they performed.

"The games were pretty close," said Japlon. "It showed us that we have a lot to work on, but we played a lot better than I think most of us expected."

Japlon, Daggett, and Poulos will have to lead the Huskies this year. "The three of them are definitely our best players," said Nickels. "Though our goalie, Mary Kate Walker, is good too."

Without a lot of depth, the Huskies are hoping to learn as much as they can this year, so that they can have a strong team next year with a lot of returning players.

"One of our goals is just to stay positive as a team," said Nickels. "We want to do all of our fundamentals right in the games."

The Huskies would like to mature to point where they can beat Fenwick when the two teams face off. This will be a tough and important game for the Huskies. "They're pretty much our big rival," said Japlon.

The Huskies travel to Fenwick on April 1.

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