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Coach: Paul Wright
Assistant coaches:
Luis Perez, Robert Fox
Sam Lisak Jr., GK
Joey Pasternak Jr., GK
Tim Huettel Sr., M
Seamus Blaha Jr., M
Noah Fluharty Jr., M
Mike Hoke Sr., M
Quinn Neuman Jr., F
Quentin Drane Jr., M
Joe Gullo Jr., M
Steve Hawthorne Sr., M
Evan Kindler So., M
Jesse Kusimba Sr., F
Erik Arsovski Sr., D
Mavin  Gill Jr., D
Kirk Svensson Jr., D
Bryndon Bush Jr., D
Harry Engoren Jr., F
Stevie Samuels Sr., D
Robbie Holmes Sr., F

Huskies' newcomers chipping in

By Dave Owen

Oak Park and River Forest ended September with an infusion of new players and revived optimism.

Two great extra effort goals in a 40-second span by Tim Huettel and key contributions from three recent additions to the varsity squad powered the host Huskies (4-4-4) to a 3-0 win over Elgin Larkin on Saturday.

The victory gave OPRF the long-delayed championship of the Leyden Cup in a match postponed by weather Aug. 31.

Just as importantly, the Huskies continued their rebound from a rough mid-September stretch in which they endured an 0-4-1 record after being undefeated through the first four games of 2013.

“We haven’t caught many breaks this year, but I feel like things are about to change,” OPRF senior defender Stevie Samuels said. “We haven’t been outplayed yet, and I think our luck’s about to turn over. We’re going to start winning some games and string some stuff together.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Will Dunne made a sensational varsity debut. Called up to fill in for injured usual starting keeper Sam Lisak (sore shoulder), Dunne had little time to get comfortable before being tested.

Dunne’s 12-save shutout (seven in the first half) began with a nice catch at the post of a 12-yard shot in the 4th minute of play. And he was just getting started – one sequence in the 23rd minute featured a diving Dunne save at the right post, then after a Larkin steal at the end line, Dunne stopped and covered a second attempt while still on the ground.

“Will in goal just killed it,” Samuels said. “What a debut. A couple great saves, and a couple mistakes on my part where he saved me.”

Whatever jitters the varsity rookie had were hardly evident.

“A bunch of nerves, but you try to play your game,” Dunne said. “And I’ve been practicing with these guys a lot. It’s a great team and I’m close with a lot of the defenders, so just the bond with each other is a big deal. Just working with the defenders and knowing them really makes a difference.”

Samuels, Mavin Gill, Bryndon Bush, Erik Arsovski  and Quinn Neuman provided support at defender spots.

“Coming in I just wanted to play the game that I’m used to playing,” Dunne added. “I’m a very loud goalkeeper – I like to talk a lot, so that lets off a lot of steam. I can always talk it off. But you just try to do your best, make the saves you can and if you don’t get to it there’s always next time.”

Dunne made his most athletic save of the half in the 30th minute. A Larkin player slipped free up the middle on a breakaway, but Dunne made a great diving kick save on the 12-yard blast to keep the score 0-0.

He followed with another nice catch at the post in the 33rd minute, moments before the Huskies’ offense would ignite a massive momentum swing.

A key player in that offensive surge was sophomore newcomer Kyle Pendleton.

After Huettel was knocked momentarily off the ball on his dribble into the box, Pendleton recovered possession for the Huskies. Huettel took a return pass, created a sliver of open space to his left and drove an 18-yard shot inside the right post to give the Huskies the lead.

Less than a minute later, Pendleton and Huettel combined on another scoring play. Pendleton made a nice midair touch of Evan Kindler’s pass from the left wing to Huettel sprinting in on the right side, and Huettel nicely angled a low 15-yard blast into the lower left corner of the net to give OPRF a rapid fire 2-0 lead.

Pendleton made his mark in the scorebook with his assists to Huettel, and fellow recent varsity call up Purvis Funches had a pair of near misses on scoring chances in the second half to punctuate his own strong day.

“We feel like they’ve really added a different type of attack up top,” OPRF coach Paul Wright said, “with a lot more aggressiveness and a lot more direct type of play. So we’ve brought them up to see if we can get a different look on it, and they’ve really provided a different energy and pace that we haven’t had all season.

“It was really good to see that change of style up on top. It’s really added another dimension. (Pendleton) really created space for the second Huettel goal.”

Seeing a tight defensive battle turn into a 2-0 lead literally in a matter of seconds provided a wave of confidence.

“Any time you can get anything going before halftime, it’s super important,” Samuels said. “It just changes your whole mentality in the halftime talk, and when you come out the second half is amazing.

“I never felt like we were in danger the whole game, which is a really good sign. We played great. We really came together as a team.”

Huettel, Samuels and the rest of the Huskies’ usual nucleus also excelled.

Kindler just missed adding to the late first half eruption in the 36th minute, when his 25-yard shot was tipped just over the crossbar by a leaping Larkin keeper.

Also at the defensive end, 6-foot-4 forward Robbie Holmes nicely shielded the ball from a Larkin attacker deep in the box to clear a threatening throw-in 11 minutes into the match. OPRF’s Quentin Drane also had a nice block of a pass just inside midfield to ignite a counterattack.

 “It was a full team defense – our forwards are even defending, which is amazing,” Samuels said. “That makes it so much easier for me.

“We had a couple of new guys on our defense today, and they just stepped up amazingly. They played great.”

Dunne made five saves in the second half, all but one on shots from 18 yards and out.
Meanwhile, the OPRF offense rolled on after the break when Funches' shot off passes from Holmes and Mike Hoke went inches wide of the right post with 27 minutes left in the match.

Then with 20 minutes to go, the Huskies made it 3-0. Steve Hawthorne dribbled up the right wing and sent a cross to Jesse Kusimba in the middle, who calmly gained control of the ball and lined a low blast under the Larkin keeper to extend the lead.

Three more great chances for OPRF in the final 14 minutes were narrowly denied.

Hawthorne was fouled in the box on his shot attempt off a great touch pass by Huettel, setting up a penalty kick with 13 minutes left. Hawthorne sent the PK just wide left.

Huettel came a fingertip away from a hat trick when his 15-yard rising liner was somehow batted aside by a flying Larkin keeper with 7 minutes to go. Funches later had a low 8-yard chance and subsequent rebound try denied by a diving Larkin netminder.

Harry Engoren’s corner kicks and strong midfield play by Noah Fluharty and reserves Seamus Blaha and Joe Gullo also sparked the Huskies’ strong performance.

“The movement was good, and they’re having fun,” Wright said. “That’s the first thing I told the kids – we feel like we’ve been in every game, but we just haven’t caught breaks and just haven’t finished.

“But we had a lot of fun this week in practice, then we battled back to tie Kelly 3-3 (Thursday). That was a nice pickup. We didn’t put our heads down.”

Thanks to the combination of newcomers making a splash and veterans playing well, the Huskies feel like a new team.

“The whole team is really welcoming,” Dunne said after his great debut. “It just goes back to the bond and communication between everyone. It’s a really good environment.”

“Great game, great championship,” Samuels said. “And we’re going to keep rolling.

 “We just have to cut down on our mental lapses. The only times we’re getting beat is when we’re giving teams goals – they’re not earning them as much as they should be. We just have to limit our mistakes.”

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