September 11th, 2018 12:27 PM
OPRF defender Maire O'Donnell is a leader in the backfield known for her outlet passing. (Photo by Carol Dunning)
By Marty Farmer
Once a Huskie, always a Huskie.
That's a mantra that easily applies to Oak Park and River Forest High School field hockey head coach Kristin Wirtz. In fact, virtually all the coaches on the field hockey staff are alumni of the school.
"All of our coaches have known OPRF as a championship program and that's where we want to see it again," said Wirtz, a 2010 OPRF graduate who played field hockey, softball and basketball for the Huskies. "Having a passion for this high school and the sport really makes my commitment even stronger. It also allows me to connect with the girls on a different level because I was them."
Wirtz played a key role during her upperclassmen years in powering the Huskies to a pair of deep runs in the postseason. She also played field hockey in college at Northwestern where she graduated in 2014.
Now back at her high school alma mater, Wirtz is excited about coaching the next wave of OPRF field hockey players.
"We have a big senior class that has worked really hard to make improvements," Wirtz said. "My goal for this group is to achieve their goal of making the final four at the state tournament this year.
"We've had a couple of tough losses in the beginning of the season. But it's not how you start, it's how you finish. We have learned from those losses and are making adjustments to continue our efforts towards the goal of earning a final four spot."
OPRF (3-2) has produced mixed results so far this season. The Huskies shut out Latin, Stevenson and Deerfield by a combined score of 11-0; however, OPRF lost to Glenbrook South, 6-1, and more recently to New Trier, 7-1, on Saturday.
New Trier and Lake Forest are annually two of the top programs in the state. Glenbard West has become a powerhouse program as well. Approximately, 20 schools have field hockey teams.
In 2017, OPRF went 9-6 and advanced to the state quarterfinals in Wirtz's head coaching debut. From a broad perspective, the Huskies have a winning tradition with multiple postseason appearances.
"When I first came in as the head coach it was definitely a little nerve-racking," Wirtz said. "I had ideas coming into last year, but it is different when you're in there and playing games, making changes.
"We've put a big focus on improving our fitness," Wirtz said. "I've also really tried to get the players back to having strong, basic skills. The biggest development I've seen is just the competitiveness within the program."
The Huskies' roster is solid, in large part because of the aforementioned strong senior class.
OPRF is fortunate to have a pair of capable goalies. Starter Kaitlin Vogen and Rowen Glusman have contributed to the team's success.
"Kaitlin is a senior and our quarterback on defense. She's really developed her communication on the field," Wirtz said. "Rowen has made huge strides over four years. Although she doesn't start, she has stepped in and done a really nice job for us."
The Huskies' defensive backline from right to left includes Olivia Ferraro, Maire O'Donnell and Sam Braun.
"Olivia does a nice job of moving the ball forward and being a very attacking defender," Wirtz said. "Maire is a definite leader defensively. She takes the lead on outlet passes of the ball and getting people organized on defense. Sam is a completely different player from last year to this one. She has really improved her hits and stepped up her individual defense."
Lydia Turk, Katie Bonaccorsi, Maeve Ryan and Lucinda Orencic comprise a solid group of starting midfielders.
Offensively, forward Hailey Nowak leads the team in scoring with four goals. Turk (3 goals), O'Donnell (2 goals) and Cate Szpila (2 goals) have also assumed scoring roles. Greta McNulty, Sheridan Grant and Ryan have scored a goal each.
Highest possession leaders on the team are Braun, O'Donnell and Ryan, while the team has amassed 90 saves from the goalie position.
While the players have made substantial progress since Wirtz took over the program, transferring that growth from practice to games remains a work in progress.
"We are still struggling with execution during games," she said. "The girls work very hard in practice with great intensity. They are really trying to take feedback from the coaches and apply it. The next step for us is taking what we are doing in practice with so much confidence and intensity into games."
Most of the Huskies' upcoming development will need to take place on the road. After hosting Lake Forest Academy on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 10 a.m., OPRF travels four of five games.
The Huskies return home the weekend of Sept. 28-29 for their annual invitational. The OPRF Invitational is a prestigious tournament, welcoming in top teams from Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and Kentucky.
"It's a very competitive tournament and a lot of fun," Wirtz said.
Facing elite teams from several states serves as a great barometer for the Huskies' progress.
"We still have a ways to go, but it's been fun see growth within the program," Wirtz said. "I know last year helped me build some confidence and relationships with the players."
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2018 Answer Book, please click here.
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