April 9th, 2019 10:26 AM
The OPRF girls soccer team is making progress under second-year head coach Christie Johnston. After a 3-14 campaign in 2018, the Huskies are 2-2-1 this spring with plenty of young talent. (Courtesy of Christie Johnston)
By Marty Farmer
Just five games into the regular season, the Oak Park and River Forest High School girls soccer team is on pace to surpass last year's modest win total. Coming off a 3-14 campaign in 2018, the Huskies are 2-2-1 with a 1-0 record in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division this spring.
OPRF has already notched shutout wins over Niles West 1-0 and Proviso West 6-0 and a 2-2 tie against Nazareth. The losses have come against Wheaton-Warrenville South and St. Ignatius.
Along with their improved start, the Huskies' outlook becomes even brighter due to contributions from several underclassmen. Other than the loss of center defender Ellie Burnham (2018 graduate), OPRF returns an intriguing mix of a few veterans and a bevy of newcomers.
"We are a young team with a lot of talent," second-year OPRF coach Kristie Johnston said. "The girls have bought into the new system and never give up. They work together both on and off the field to be the most successful team possible."
Freshman forward Katherine Hoffman has scored five of the Huskies' nine goals this season, highlighted by her four-goal performance in the aforementioned shutout against Proviso West.
"Katherine has phenomenal technical and tactical skills, with great speed," Johnston said. "We are excited about what she will contribute for the next three years."
Sophomore forward Mari Wolter and sophomore midfielder Sophie Donnellan scored a goal each against Niles West and Nazareth, respectively. Sophomore defender Audrey Stutz, freshman goalkeeper Lilah Gery and junior midfielder/defender Sammy Gotti are other promising players in the lineup.
"Sophie has excellent passing ability, vision and solid control of the ball," Johnston said. "Audrey has great tactical awareness and ball control. Lilah is a natural goalkeeper who has kept us in many games with her saves. She has great anticipation and her athleticism is phenomenal. Sammy is a very versatile player with excellent skills. Her work ethic is outstanding."
While growing pains are inevitable with such a young team, returning veterans like senior Emma Wojack and junior Annie Wollmuth bring much-needed experience to the group. The co-captains provide leadership and anchor the defense.
"Emma has great physicality and field awareness," Johnston said. "Annie has great technical skill, which helps control the game from the back. Her excellent passing and distribution leads to goals being scored on our offensive end."
Johnston's influence will foster the Huskies' growth as well. In her 11th year coaching, she has also coached basketball and volleyball at various levels. She guided the OPRF freshman 'B" basketball team to a 22-0 record in 2018.
"I have a passion for coaching and I couldn't be more proud to be the OPRF girls soccer coach." she said. "I hit the jackpot with not only the amazing and talented players in the program but with my coaching staff. I have a great balance of coaches on all levels that bring a different perspective to the game. We are very excited for the rest of the season as well as how bright the future looks for the OPRF girls soccer program."
In terms of the conference race, defending champion Lyons Township and Hinsdale Central are pegged as the top contenders to win the championship; however, York, Downers Grove North and OPRF could be in the mix.
While winning is important, Johnson is more concerned with development.
"Our main goal this season is to learn, grow and develop every day," she said. "This is a transition year and there have been a lot of changes and higher expectations. If the players continue to believe in each other, the coaches and our new system, the wins will come."
OPRF takes on host Benet, Thursday, April 11 at 4 p.m. Along with key conference games against Lyons Township and Glenbard West, another highlight of the month will be the Huskies' taking part in the highly regarded Naperville North Tournament.
"We have a tough, competitive schedule," Johnston said. "We're looking forward to the Naperville North Tournament because great soccer is always played at that event."