By Marty Farmer
By his own admission, Riverside-Brookfield High School girls basketball coach Dallas Till knew it would take some time to figure out his team this season.
"We have had a pretty solid core of players the last four years," Till said earlier this year. "It's all a bit new to me and our coaching staff this season with such a young team. We're trying to figure who we are as a team and what's best for us."
The Bulldogs lost three top contributors to graduation and the returning players are relatively new.
"Even though we lost those seniors, we still learned from them and appreciated their talent," sophomore forward Natalie Leon said. "We've adjusted to those losses by making this a group effort. We have players that contribute from the freshmen to the senior levels."
While RBHS remains a work in progress, the team is winning and winning big as in a perfect 7-0 record and Maine East Tournament title champions.
What's been the secret to the Bulldogs' success?
Try good old-fashioned teamwork and hard work. Substance over style.
"We are really excited about our 7-0 start this season," RBHS junior forward Maddie Meehan said. "I believe this is due to the effort that each and every person on our team has been showing.
"Everyday at practice and before, during, and after games there is incredible energy. It's very apparent that everyone wants to be here and work hard. The attitude and work ethic throughout the team is the reason for our start to the season."
Reflective of their balanced roster, the Bulldogs are getting it done on both ends of the floor. Offensively, the team is averaging 53 points per game with an equal opportunity approach. It's not uncommon to have 8-10 players score in a game. The focus is simply on ball movement and finding the best shots.
On defense, RBHS is holding opponents to a paltry 29 points per outing.
"We're a team that generates offense through our defense," freshman forward Brenna Loftus said. "We're scrappy and we hustle every play. I think we really try to up the speed of play in order to get quick baskets and transition scoring."
At 5-foot-8 and with a well-rounded game, Loftus has been a welcome addition to the varsity. She has tremendous potential and has led the Bulldogs in scoring multiple games.
In a 46-32 win over Aurora Central Catholic, Loftus had 20 points, seven rebounds and four steals. She produced a similar stat line in a 53-43 win against Wheeling with 21 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
Other top contributors have included the versatile Meehan with her scoring, rebounding and defense, along with solid backcourt play from junior Ashley Rivera.
Against Aurora Central Catholic, Meehan scored nine points and pulled down 13 rebounds. That's a fairly typical stat line when Meehan is on her game. Rivera is a capable scorer who can be a ballhawk defensively. In a 54-41 win over Round Lake, she scored 12 points with a team-high seven steals.
And with only two seniors (Vasara Kulbis, Alyssa Alvarado) on the roster, the future looks bright.
Guards Leah Rettke, Cassie Hines, Angelina Ocampo, Mary Maloney, Elizabeth Murphy, along with forwards Natalie Leon, Sylvia Harvin and Georgiana Gomorczak have all contributed this season.
On the bench, Till and his varsity assistant coaches Mark Ruge and Marty Sloan are adept at developing players.
Sophomore guard Sarah Jnobaptiste, another solid rotation player, credits team chemistry as a cause for success.
"I have grown to love my teammates as a family because of the all time we've spent together both on and off the court," she said. "Plus, it's so much more fun winning when you're doing it with people you care about."
As the Bulldogs venture deeper into the season, tougher games remain ahead. It's a challenge, however, the players embrace.
"I am very excited about our upcoming games," Jnobaptiste said. "I think they're very good matchups for us. I can't wait to see how they turn out."
In a scheduling quirk, RBHS plays 12 of its first 13 games on the road this season. The Bulldogs finally return home for a game against defending conference champion Glenbard South on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. A week later, RBHS hosts its annual Christmas tournament.
"We are cautiously optimistic about the rest of the season," Meehan said. "We have goals for sure, but no preconceived ideas of how the rest of the season will play out.
"We have a lot of exciting upcoming opponents, including our annual Christmas tournament," Meehan added. "Everyone loves that tournament because it's on our home floor and there are a lot of good teams coming. We are super excited for the rest of the season and whatever it brings."
The Bulldogs take on Immaculate Conception on Thursday, Dec. 7 in Elmhurst. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.