By Marty Farmer
The Oak Park and River Forest High School boys volleyball team believes its "Super Six" can finally get past the Elite Eight. After quarterfinal appearances in the 2017 and 2018 state playoffs, perhaps the third time will be the charm for the Huskies' state-title-chasing senior group of Sean Califf, Jared Schainis, Kyle Rasmussen, Lucas Schattauer, Quinton Kitzman and Mike Perla.
"This has been the most anticipated season for anyone who has known us in the program," Califf said. "We want to win the first [state] championship for OPRF, our coaches, our parents, our program, but most importantly, for our teammates."
Last season, these six players, plus 2018 graduate Jack Valenti, powered OPRF to a 28-8 record. The Huskies lost to eventual state champion Lincoln-Way East 25-22, 25-20 in the quarters. The Griffins went on to defeat Neuqua Valley 20-25, 25-21, 25-22 in the state final.
This spring, the Huskies' ambitious goal of winning state seems reasonable considering their recent run of success and current 20-3 mark. OPRF has notable wins over St. Rita, St. Patrick, Lincoln-Way East, Deerfield and Hinsdale Central (twice), among others this year. The team is also 3-1 in the stacked West Suburban Conference Silver Division, its only loss against league-leader Glenbard West. OPRF has won 41 of 49 sets overall.
"Our goal for the rest of the [regular] season is to finish as high as possible in the West Suburban Conference," OPRF coach Don August said. "Having lost to Glenbard West, we will need help if we are to win the conference. If that does not happen, we will finish second for the second year in a row and focus on state."
The Huskies' confidence stems from an experienced lineup of high-level players who have grown together over several years.
"After last season, I realized we played well, but we lost a lot due to our immaturity as a team," Califf said. "We have matured this year. Playing in tough matches gives us more experience to be ready for that next tough match."
In his 18th season as the OPRF head coach, August has relished the opportunity of working with this group.
"The team is a pleasure to coach," he said. "Their intensity in matches is amazing. The seniors support the juniors and the juniors support the seniors, which makes for a cohesive group who enjoy playing the game at a high level. They are respectful and coachable. Most important, they have fun playing volleyball."
In terms of the aforementioned seniors, the 6-foot-6 Califf leads the way as an elite setter. Described by August as the Huskies' quarterback, who directs the offense with a quiet confidence, the Purdue Fort Wayne commit has 407 assists, 62 kills and 34 service aces this season.
"This team has taught me a lot about actually being a leader," Califf said. "I have learned a lot on how to engage and defer to the different members of the team and how to specifically help each individual to contribute their maximum to the team. I'm having a great time this season with my team. We have already created a lot more memories."
Schainis, an aggressive middle blocker, leads OPRF in hitting percentage (.417 with 87 kills) and blocks (28 solo blocks, 18 block assists).
"Jared's aggressive play keys both our defense and offense," August said. "His ability to attack forces opposing blockers to key on him and opens up attacking lanes for our outside hitters."
Rasmussen and Schattauer are major contributors as outside hitters. Rasmussen, who will attend and play volleyball at New York University, has a team-high 144 kills with a .260 hitting percentage and 63 digs.
"Kyle is capable of attacking from the left side, the right side and the back row," August said. "His capability to attack the quick set from the outside hitting position gives our offense a dimension not many other teams in the state have."
Schattauer is third on the team in both kills (90) and digs (76).
"Lucas possesses one of the best vertical jumps on the team and is capable of hitting over most blocks," August said. "He also has the capability to hit from either side or the back row."
Kitzman is known for delivering clutch kills in matches. He's a complete player with 111 kills on just 256 attempts, but he also has 15 solo blocks often battling opponents' top hitters at the net.
Perla, a libero with 198 digs and 194 serve receptions, leads the OPRF defense and serve receive formations.
"The team feeds off of his intensity in the back row and relies on the precision of both his passing and digs," August said. "He has saved numerous points with some spectacular digs and incredible hustle."
OPRF excels with plenty of athleticism and length. Other than Perla, the aforementioned players range in height between 6-4 and 6-6.
Juniors Jason Klein (69 digs, 31 assists) and Nick Altier (21 kills) lead the reserves.
With the playoffs about three weeks away, August is pleased with the Huskies' progress. OPRF has it all in terms of offense, blocking and intangibles to vie for state this year.
There is room for improvement, however, particularly against the elite teams. August cited losses against highly-ranked Marist and Glenbard West as examples of the Huskies' weaknesses being exposed.
"We need to serve tougher against the top teams in the state and we need to receive serve at a higher level against those same teams," he said. "We have identified four teams in the state who are playing at a slightly higher level than we are in those two skills. Our goal in the three remaining weeks of the regular season is to increase our capabilities in both of those areas."
On April 24, the Huskies defeated visiting Riverside-Brookfield 25-23, 19-25, 25-20 in the area rivals' annual nonconference match. Kitzman (14 kills) and Rasmussen (11 kills) powered the offense, while Perla had 10 digs. Califf turned in a terrific all-around effort with team-high 32 assists, 12 digs and five kills.
Vejas Kuplinskas led RBHS with 11 kills, while Colby Campbell and DJ Degand had eight apiece. Jonah Raith dished out 29 assists and Lucas Reilley led the Bulldogs defensively with nine digs.
OPRF hosts Addison Trail (Wednesday, May 1) and Brother Rice (Thursday, May 2). Both matches start at 5:30 p.m. in the OPRF Fieldhouse.
Answer Book 2019
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