By James Kay
Before the IHSA regional final match on Oct. 31 against Lyons Township High School, the Oak Park and River Forest varsity volleyball team didn't look like a team about to face a conference foe who had taken them down in the first two meetings in the regular season. They brought in-game energy during warmups, ready to seek revenge and keep their season alive.
They did just that as the team bulldozed the Lions in a quick two-set win at Lyons Township High School (25-14, 25-14).
"We came out with that energy right away, which is exactly what we wanted to do," said OPRF's head coach Kelly Collins. "We talked about in practice coming out from the start with a sense of urgency. We knew exactly what they were going to do … there weren't any surprises and we needed to do it from the very beginning and our kids did an excellent job with that."
The Huskies came out of the gate with a 12-7 lead that was paced by the senior Natalie Chizzo, who has committed to play volleyball at Northwestern University next year. LTHS called a timeout to try regroup after a few OPRF points were caused by miscommunication on the Lions' end.
"We didn't show up tonight," said LTHS head coach Jill Keeve. "Defensively, we talked and scouted, and we knew the right things to do but we weren't able to do those things during game-time. I think that's what gave [OPRF] the advantage because we became so mental and frustrated."
After the Lions brought the deficit down to 14-10, the Huskies went on an 11-4 run that highlighted by the high-powered OPRF offense finding holes in the defense. The Huskies took the set 25-14.
"I feel like our offense is unstoppable when we pass well and run that up-tempo offense," said Collins. "We have a lot of different options whether it is coming from the outside, either pin, and definitely the middle."
In the second set, LTHS jumped out to a 2-0 lead after senior Patti Cesarni started things off with a kill and Chizzo hit her next attempt out of bounds. Both teams would trade points before the Lions found themselves trailing 8-9.
The Huskies gained back their momentum on the next point when Chizzo hit a bullet into the left corner of the court. The Lions had committed to defending the front row before Chizzo's attack which set up the open space for her to make her move.
LTHS called another timeout but the match got away from them as the Huskies overwhelmed their conference foes with an 11-19 lead. Keeve used one more timeout but at that point the team's energy was lost.
"At the end of the day, they came out to play and wanted it more than us," said Cesarni. "It's unfortunate I have to say it that way but that's just how it went. They did a bunch of film on us, we did a bunch of film on them but they came out ready to win."
OPRF finished off the match winning six of the next seven points to move on to the IHSA sectional round.
"We were hyped up on the bus beforehand since knew that was a good team over there," said Chizzo. "We lost to them the first two games of the season but this time around I feel like we found our identity as a team."