By Marty Farmer
The Riverside-Brookfield High School girls volleyball team had one of the greatest seasons in program history in 2016. Led by 6-foot-8 outside hitter Dana Rettke and fellow senior stars Gia Cinkay, Maria Gonzales and Maggie Shereck, the Bulldogs advanced to a supersectional and won 32 of 40 matches.
Considering Rettke (who is playing volleyball at Wisconsin), Cinkay and Gonzales have moved on, the Bulldogs have put together a solid season at 15-11 with a 7-3 record in the Metro Suburban Conference.
"The adjustment to losing Dana Rettke, Gia Cinkay and Maria Gonzales, who were all three-year starters, plus Maggie Shereck has been tough," RBHS coach Dan Bonarigo said. "That group was not only talented, but they were great leaders."
The Bulldogs have picked up their play lately as the regular season draws to a close. After splitting its first 16 games, RBHS has gone 7-3 and remains in contention for a conference title.
"The season has been a bit of a roller coaster. We have played very well at times and other times haven't gone so well," Bonarigo said. "There have been a few matches that have seen us losing a set very badly, but then winning the next set and then that match. Overall, we have won a number of close matches and have gone two or three very tight sets against some quality teams."
While it's impossible to replace a player like Rettke, the Bulldogs have found a measure of success by committee.
"The returnees this year were a significant part of the team last year," Bonarigo said. "This year, they have been working hard to step into a new role of leadership."
A talented group of seniors has led the way through 26 games, including libero/defensive specialist Olivia Louthen (76 digs), middle hitter/right side Vasara Kulbis (87 kills, 30 blocks), libero/defensive specialist, Maya Diaz (193 digs, 15 aces), outside hitter Claire Swiatek (111 digs, 46 kills, 22 aces) and junior outside hitter Joy Greco.
Ruth Hruska-Kelley, a transfer student from Timothy Christian, has been a tremendous addition to the team. She has 167 kills and 90 digs as an outside hitter.
Junior setter Leah Rettke, Dana's younger sister, is also a top player for the Bulldogs. Through 61 sets players this season, she has 394 assists, 171 digs, 48 kills and 22 aces.
In a pair of wins against Aurora Central Catholic and Fenton last week, RBHS excelled with its customary team effort. Hruska-Kelley had 16 kills while junior Alyssa Hart and Leah Rettke added six and five kills, respectively, against ACC. Rettke also led in digs with 22, followed by senior Maya Diaz who finished with 16.
"I am very proud of the way this team has fought through some adversity with injuries and changing lineups and increased expectations," Bonarigo said. "We are currently 7-3 and sitting second in our division in conference with a chance to win a conference championship."
The Bulldogs travel to Elmhurst to take on Immaculate Conception on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m.
Looking ahead to the playoffs, RBHS is the No. 9 seed in the St. Ignatius Sectional in Class 4A. Other notable teams in that sectional include top-seeded Mother McAuley, Whitney Young, St. Ignatius and Oak Park and River Forest.