By Marty Farmer
Having a steady flow of incoming players with ability and experience is essential for any high school team's sustained success. It's akin to a Major League Baseball team continually reaping the benefits of a deep farm system.
The Oak Park and River Forest High School softball program is a prime example of how to restock a varsity team with waves of promising players.
The Huskies' modus operandi has served as a paradigm of excellence. Since head coach Mel Kolbusz took over the program in 1993, the varsity has amassed an overall record of 739-218 with three state championships (2005, 2016, 2017).
This year, OPRF went 25-8, with a regional title and runner-up finish in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division, despite key injuries to Fiona Girardot and Mary Jones.
Varsity returners Cassie Metzger (7-2, 2.94 ERA), Maddi Grant (.558, 8 HR, 57 RBIs), Karly Cantrell (.413, 6 HR, 22 RBIs, Jacky Neuman and Lucy Goodwin will lead OPRF next spring.
Grant was selected by the ICAS (Illinois Coaches Association - Softball) as a third-team all-state player. Girardot earned first-team all-state recognition in the spring. She will play softball at Wisconsin next season,
Another reason for optimism is the influx of talented players from the junior varsity, which had a 20-1 record in 2019. The Huskies' JV also won the conference championship. OPRF avenged its lone loss against York by routing the Dukes 10-0 in a rematch.
"I think our JV season went really well because the whole team worked together to get the wins," said pitcher/first baseman Alex Prouty. "Everybody tried their best in every game. The freshman and junior varsity teams prepared me to play on varsity next year by showing me the hard work and dedication needed to be on a winning team."
The junior varsity won with balance, chemistry and depth. Emma Brandt and Prouty led the pitching staff, while center fielder Rachel Hartman and shortstop Olivia Baig provided excellent defense and leadership. Offensively, Hartman and Prouty hit with power while Olive Jenkins and Abby Giardina consistently reached base via slap hits and bunts. Junior twins Isabel and Marriana Gutierrez improved greatly at the plate.
"I feel grateful that I get to play on such a highly competitive high school softball team," Prouty said. "Not many people get the opportunity to have such quality teammates and coaches by their side."
Junior Shelley Brown and Lisa Lisnic, along with sophomores Nina Allread, Gabriella Ferrante, Jess Kohlenberger, Maddie Macek, Bella Reniva and Cate Szpila contributed to the team's success as well.
"Playing with the girls on the JV team has been great," Ferrante said. "Many of us have played together for a few years and we get along really well on and off the field. I think when you get along, it helps the chemistry on the field.
"I am very excited and feel privileged to play on a team with such a prestigious softball history," she added. "My hope is that we can continue that tradition in the future and win another state championship."
In 2018, Prouty (.667, 5 HR, 33 RBIs), Ross (.517, 4 HR, 29 RBIs), Ferrante (.700, 2 HR, 22 RBIs), Brandt (4 HR, 18 RBIs) and Baig (2 HR, 21 RBIs) powered the OPRF freshmen team to a 19-1 record and the conference title. This year's freshman group won 17 of 18 games.
The highly regarded Oak Park Windmills youth softball program also prepares future Huskies well for high school competition.
"Our junior varsity and freshman teams both had terrific seasons," Kolbusz said. "The coaches do a great job preparing their players to be ready for varsity competition."
Answer Book 2019
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