Junior forward Janae Dabney emerged last season as a mainstay in the Bulldogs' starting lineup. This year, Dabney is a legitimate candidate to win the Metro Suburban Conference MVP award, along with leading the Bulldogs' defense of their conference title. (David Pierini/Staff Photographer)

Growing up in Michigan, Riverside-Brookfield High School girls basketball coach Dallas Till knew all about the “Fab Five” of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson who powered the University of Michigan to consecutive NCAA finals appearances in 1992 and 1993.

Fast forward 20 years later, and Till is now reaping the benefits of contributions from his own freshmen, RBHS players Samantha Bloom, Dana Rettke and Lindsay Hoyd. Bloom and Hoyd comprise a highly skilled backcourt, while Rettke is a 6-foot-5 center with huge upside. The precocious first-year varsity players, along with returning star post player Janae Dabney, led the tournament host Bulldogs to the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament title last week.

“They don’t look like freshmen on the court,” RBHS coach Dallas Till said about his trio of burgeoning stars. “We expect some bumps as they grow and mature as players, but I couldn’t be more pleased with all three of them. They are playing beyond expectations and at a high level.

“During the summer, I made a decision early on that we were going to throw [the freshmen] into the mix with our returning veterans. The players jelled late summer, and at the start of this season, the freshmen were already key parts of the team.”

With the exception of a 56-55 win over Mount Assisi in their opener, the Bulldogs (6-0) blasted the competition en route to claiming their own coveted Thanksgiving title for the third straight year. RBHS also defeated Ridgewood (65-31), Lisle (46-27), Morton (60-34) and West Chicago (55-39) at the VandeMerkt tourney to improve to 6-0 on the season.

“We started out kind of sluggish against Mount Assisi which is a very scrappy team,” Till said. “In hindsight, it was a good game for us because I think it was a wake up call for the girls to step up their game. Honestly, although we played some solid teams, we kind of cruised the rest of the tournament.”

Against Mount Assisi, Bloom stole the show for the typically balanced Bulldogs with a career-high 27 points. In the other four victories, Dabney tallied team-high scoring honors by consistently netting between 13 and 15 points per game.

“We need consistent scoring from Janae, but if other players contribute, that makes her life easier,” Till said. “We can be a very good basketball team if our players aren’t concerned with who gets the credit.”

Other key contributors for RBHS included Caroline Waas, Caitie Rusen, Miranda Chavez along with the aforementioned freshmen.

“We like to break up our season into sections,” Till said. “Phase one of our season, which was to win the VandeMerkt Tournament is complete. It’s always a goal to win in front of our home crowd and build confidence and momentum heading into [Metro Suburban] conference play. We’re still figuring ourselves out and we have a lot to learn as a team, but I’m very pleased with how we have opened the season.”

Riverside-Brookfield scouting report

Key returners: Janae Dabney, Caroline Waas, Miranda Chavez

Newcomer: Samantha Bloom, Lindsay Hoyd, Dana Rettke

2012-13 record: 24-5  overall, 11-1 Metro Suburban Conference champs, lost 52-50 to Proviso East regional final

Tidbits: A three-sport star in high school, Till grew up on a Blueberry farm on Michigan. His trusted RBHS assistant coach and overall aide de camp, Mark Ruge, starred as a basketball player at Morton College, while Ruge’s son, Joe, is a former RBHS baseball star.

Quote: “Phase one of our season, which was to win the VandeMerkt Tournament is complete.” – Dallas Till