By Marty Farmer
There's a fine line between being a state champion and one of the top high school boys volleyball teams in Illinois.
Oak Park and River Forest High School is perhaps aware of that harsh reality better than any squad in the state. For the third straight season, the Huskies rolled into the IHSA state tournament determined to bring home a state championship. Unfortunately, as with previous excursions to Hoffman Estates High School, the third time wasn't the charm for OPRF.
After an impressive 25-17, 25-13 win over Barrington in the quarterfinals on May 31, the Huskies quickly met their match the following day against Marist in the semifinals. The RedHawks, who went on to defeat Glenbard West for the state championship, edged the Huskies 25-22, 25-23. In the third-place match, New Trier earned a 29-31, 25-22, 25-21 victory against OPRF on June 1.
"We played really well against Barrington in the quarterfinals," OPRF coach Don August said. "We took the lead early and played with a lot of intensity. It was just a really strong match where we looked relaxed and confident.
"On Saturday, we could never quite find our rhythm in either match against Marist or New Trier," he added. "Even though the games were close and we had opportunities to win both matches, we just seemed a little bit tense all day long. Instead of hitting a good relaxed swing for a kill, we hit it out. It was just a strange day where we could never get that relaxed, confident feeling."
Nevertheless, OPRF hung tough against Marist as the match included 18 tie scores and 10 lead changes over two taut games. Trailing 3-0 in the opening game, OPRF won 10 of the next 14 points to establish a 10-7 lead. A kill by Jared Schainis off an assist from Sean Califf provided the Huskies their last lead at 18-17. The RedHawks responded with an 8-4 spurt to take the opener 25-22.
The second game offered additional drama as the teams battled to an 18-all tie. A few points later, Schainis spiked another kill to give the Huskies a 20-19 lead. However, similar to the first game, the RedHawks finished well with a 6-3 spurt to secure the match.
Lucas Schattauer led OPRF with 13 kills and three digs, while Kyle Rasmussen finished with seven kills and seven digs. Califf (24 assists, 4 digs), Schainis (6 kills, 2 blocks) and Mike Perla (4 digs) also contributed.
Marty Jepsen (8 kills, 5 digs), Jake McClain (7 kills) and Gene McNulty (18 assists) paced Marist.
In the aforementioned loss to New Trier for third place, Rasmussen and Schattauer excelled at the net with 16 and nine kills, respectively, and both also had 10 digs. Quinton Kitzman added nine kills, while Califf turned in a terrific all-around performance with 28 assists, eight digs and five kills.
"All we asked of each other was maximum effort and lots of energy [at state]," Califf said. "We did that as a team which led to some success, but we had a few moments of lost focus that really hurt us."
Schattauer added: "The team played great at state. The energy was amazing and we gave it our all, but things didn't fall our way."
The regular season offered a glimpse of the Huskies' fate at state. Three of the Huskies' four losses during the regular season came against Marist, Glenbard West and New Trier, which finished first through third at the state finals.
While the Huskies won the majority of their matches over the last three years, Califf focused on simply becoming a better team.
"Playing on the OPRF volleyball team taught me that getting better is a process," he said. "It won't always go right the first time, but you can learn to enjoy and thrive off the idea of just getting better."
The senior-led Huskies finished with a stellar 35-6 record this spring. The starting group of Perla, Kitzman, Schattauer, Califf, Rasmussen and Schainis will be remembered as one of the best teams in the history of the program.
"To have six players with the kind of intensity and drive they have is something really special. You just don't see it too often," August said. "Their work ethic was amazing. It was a privilege to coach them. They share a very special bond and are all close friends."
For the season, Rasmussen recorded a team-best 286 kills, while Kitzman (211 kills), Schattauer (194 kills) and Schainis (174 kills) also dominated at the net. Califf posted impressive stats across the board with 797 assists, 184 digs, 101 kills and 62 blocks. Perla led the team in digs with 386.
After finishing 12-23 in 2016, OPRF went 25-8 and advanced to the first of three state quarterfinals the following year. In 2018, the Huskies went 28-7, followed by this year's 35-6 record.
"These past four seasons have been the best time of my life," Schattauer said. "I love playing with this group of guys. We are best friends; that's why we became the team we are. Our success came from all of us deciding to play club and becoming the best players we could be."
Looking ahead to next season, August welcomes back setter Jason Klein, and middle blockers Nick Altier, Paul Romano and Jaden Cone, who range between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6.
"At this point now, we have a lot of work to do," August said. "A lot of the younger guys just need more opportunities to play because our starters were so strong this year. Our future success will depend on how much time and work the retuning players put into it.
"It's difficult to see a group having the kind of success our seniors have had the past three years, but we return players with potential. They just need to put in the work and develop a team bond."
Answer Book 2019
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