Despite carrying only a pair of seniors a year ago, the Riverside-Brookfield wrestling team enjoyed one of its finest seasons in a long time.

The Bulldogs managed to send a representative to the IHSA State Meet for the first time in 23 years, and despite having fewer sectional qualifiers than the year before, still inched closer to a Suburban Prairie (East) Conference title.

With their State-tested wrestler back in the fold and another year of experience for their other young grapplers, the Bulldogs are looking to take another step forward this year.

“We still have a pretty young team, but it helps a lot to have some experienced guys coming back,” said RB coach Neil Dughetti, who is beginning his third year of leading the Bulldogs. “That means we have a lot of goals.

“We wanted to place in the top-3 at the Guerin Invitational, which we did (over the weekend). We want to be in the top four at the Lyons Township tournament. We want to win our conference, and we’d like to get more guys qualified for sectionals and maybe send two guys to State this year. If all of that happens, we think we can win our regional, too.”

Leading the way for RB is their State qualifier from last season, senior John Passarella. The 160-pounder will be looking for a return trip downstate with the chance to advance further in the championship tournament. Last year Passarella fell in the preliminary round to Alex Macier of Joliet Catholic. The senior finished first at Guerin last weekend.

Also back are seniors Kevin Solik (130) and Jeff Lockwood (152). Both qualified for their first sectional last year. Solik was another first-place winner at Guerin, while Lockwood finished third in his weight class last weekend.

Headlining the Bulldogs’ junior class is Kyle Kiburz. The 140-pounder is already a two-time sectional qualifier. Junior Drew Hunt just finished second at 171 pounds at Guerin. Ricky Passarella will go for RB at 119 pounds and Hank Sitkiewicz will wrestle at 215.

Sophomores Vinny Valez (112), John Jones (135), Dan Bullard (145) and freshman Nico Torres will also be regulars in the Bulldogs’ lineup.

“This year when we go through our lineup we feel good about who we have at certain spots,” Dughetti said. “Across the board we have kids that are super-hard workers. They’ve been great in that respect, so it’s been enjoyable working with them.”

RB is already off to a good start with a strong finish at Guerin. The Bulldogs will also use tough matches at the Maine East quad in a few weeks as another yardstick to measure their progress.

This could also be the year RB claims a conference crown, despite a deeper field with a talented Lemont team joining the SPC East. Last season a close dual loss to eventual champ Fenton kept the Bulldogs from landing on top of the pile.

“It’s pretty even,” Dughetti said. “We’re all on the same playing field, so it’s really up for grabs.”