Now entering its third varsity season, the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys volleyball team is looking for its hard-won experience to carry it over the hump in 2005.

The Bulldogs stumbled to a 3-33 record last season, but that squad had only one returning varsity player on its roster. This year, RB returns several players, including four starters from the 2004 team that showed marked improvement by the end of the season.

“We really struggled, and it was the lack of experience that killed us,” Bulldogs coach Laura Witteman said.

“This year it’s a whole different ball game. I’ve never had this many returning players before, so this year I can start where I left off instead of staring again from scratch.”

Where the Bulldogs left off was splitting a pair of matches in the postseason, beating De La Salle before being eliminated by an established Lyons Township team. With small taste of postseason success, RB hopes to bring some momentum into the new season.

The Bulldogs will be led by a pair of three-year varsity players. Middle hitter Neil Harrington, who plays club volleyball in the offseason, gives Witteman a solid hitter and blocker. Chris Lid, a starting outside hitter, also gives RB a lot of experience on the court. Both seniors begin the season as co-captains.

Seniors Eli Johnston, the other starting middle, and Ted Johnson, a defensive specialist, are the other two returning starters. Both were new to the varsity last season, with Johnson having never played volleyball before joining the team last year. Witteman thinks the on-the-job training from last season will pay off for this year’s squad.

Sophomore Jon Baldermann, who joined the varsity toward the end of last season, will be RB’s setter this season. Junior Matt Petkus, a three-year player, will move into a starting outside hitter role this season. Andrew Razniewski, another junior, will play opposite hitter on the right side.

Junior Matt Escovedo is a defensive-minded player beginning his second season, while senior David Baum is another defensive specialist. Junior Matt Knowski begins his third season and will see time on the court as Witteman plans to use the lefty hitter to throw off opposing defenses.

RB will also carry two more sophomores on the roster. Scott Rodriguez gives the Bulldogs yet another defensively skilled player, and Scott Pfieffer is a good all-around player who will work his way onto the court.

“There’s depth on the bench like I’ve never had,” Witteman said. “And the beauty is we have a good mix of [young and experienced] players. I’ll have my setter for the next three years, and all of my juniors and sophomores are talented. Plus we have a number of talented players coming up on the sophomore team.”

The Bulldogs have already notched one win this season, beating St. Joseph in two games, 25-12, 25-23. Baldermann led the way for RB with 12 assists, a dig and a kill.

Will a fully loaded roster, the Bulldogs hope to keep rolling into the conference season, when they’ll have a chance at their first-ever Suburban Prairie Conference win. Though RB was winless in 10 tries in conference last year, the Bulldogs were in almost every match, and hope to turn some of those narrow losses into wins this year.

“We just kept getting better every single game, losing by two or three points,” Witteman said. “Nobody was walking over us.”

RB took on St. Laurence on the road Monday after press time and will play Fenwick at home today. Saturday the Bulldogs travel to the Elk Grove Invite. They’ll open their conference season April 19 at home against Plainfield South.

“We would like to get better over the course of the year and better our record from last year,” Witteman said. “We’re shooting for a .500 season, and we want to win some conference games. These players take pride in themselves and are ready to compete against more established teams. There’s no reason we won’t add some this season.”