The Riverside-Brookfield boys volleyball team won 20 games for the first time under fourth-year head coach Dan Bonarigo last season. However, it was the team’s development over all 37 games that truly showed the Bulldogs’ maturation process.

“I definitely think we took a step forward,” Bonarigo said. “The previous year [2009] we may have been in matches, but it wasn’t always truly competitive. The major change last year was that there was no match where I felt like we failed to be competitive.”

Statistically, the Bulldogs have been backing Bonarigo’s assertion of gradual improvement with win totals that have climbed every year under his guidance: 12-19 in 2008, 16-20 in 2009, 20-17 in 2010.

Although RB lost prolific outside hitter Juan Gomez, the RB all-time kills leader for a season/career) to graduation, another skilled record-setter returns for the Bulldogs. Senior setter Elliot Louthen is a three-year varsity starter, the all-time leader in aces, and second all-time in assists at RB.

“Elliot is not a dominant physical presence,” Bonarigo said, “but he’s so smart and does a nice job leading our guys.”

Seniors middle hitter Ben Bergstrom and outside hitter Mack Fieseler will serve as key offensive threats for the Bulldogs, while 6-foot-9 Alex Dizagwa will serve as an imposing middle hitter.

“Alex’s size really helps us out,” Bonarigo said. “He had a lot of success with the [RB] basketball team, so we are hoping he can bring that winning mindset and intensity to our team. Alex can be that guy who makes a big play when we need it.”

Right side hitter Trent Baer, middle hitter Joe Niemiec, libero Steven McCroary, and setter Hrvoje Zolo also figure prominently into the RB plan of attack.

“Hrvoje really developed as a utility player,” Bonarigo said. “He did some nice things for us last season where we needed help. Hopefully he can come up big for us again this year.”

Junior setter/libero Rich Green is an exciting addition to watch this year, added Bonarigo. Kovas Kulbis, Fabian Winter, Jack McCarthy, Brian Brown and Joe Sauer comprise the rest of the RB roster.

“We are a tall team so we should play very well at the net,” said Bonarigo. “We are going to need to work hard to pass and play defense behind our block. If we can pass well, we will have a successful season.”

The Bulldogs host Morton on Thursday (6 p.m.) in their season opener.