Enhanced by his decidedly Queens, N.Y., accent, former Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire loved saying, “the best thing about freshmen ballplayers is they become sophomores.”
With all due respect to the legendary McGuire, his assertion seems a bit antiquated regarding many of today’s precocious players. See the University of Michigan’s Fab Five lineup Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson in 1991, or more recently, the University of Kentucky squad featuring Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague as prominent examples of freshmen taking the court by storm.
On the local high school level, RBHS girls basketball coach Dallas Till (who grew up in Michigan the same time as Webber and Rose) has also sided with youth, inserting freshmen Dana Rettke, Samantha Bloom and Lindsay Hoyd into the Bulldogs’ lineup.
The infusion of new talent has been the primary narrative in explaining the team’s 12-3 start. And while the team’s best basketball is likely down the road, the future is now in the estimation of the Bulldogs’ confident trio of first-year players.
“I know we’re a good team,” Rettke said. “We’ve had a few losses lately, but every team loses a game here and there. Plus, we have played some really tough teams. We believe that we can win our conference this year. It’s nice to know we’ll play together four years, but we want to do well this season.”
The seamless transition on the court from middle school to high school for the three friends is largely attributable to their involvement with the Riverside-Brookfield Girls Junior Bulldogs basketball program, which is open to girls in grades four through eight who live in the Riverside-Brookfield High School district.
Organized and run by their dads, Gary Hoyd and Bill Bloom, Linsday and Samantha played in the competitive travel basketball league when they were fourth-graders. Rettke joined the team shortly after.
“Playing in the Junior Bulldogs taught us how to play together,” Hoyd said. “We played against older girls and learned how to competitive and be stronger with the ball.”
Till also praised the benefits of his prized three freshmen developing their abilities with the Junior Bulldogs.
“I had been following their progress ever since I heard about them through Junior Bulldogs,” Till said. “When these girls came to RB, their fundamentals were really advanced comparatively speaking to other players. Of course, they have some improvements to make, but they have a good base of fundamentals. And they have played in hundreds of games already before high school, so they know how to compete and aren’t intimidated at all.”
Their value stems largely from their roles within the team’s framework. At 6-foot-5, Rettke is a major force inside with solid defensive and rebounding skills. She’s also a fluid player at the offensive end, capable of scoring in a variety of ways in the paint. Perhaps the scariest thought for opponents moving forward is that she’s projected to grow two to three more inches.
While the 5-foot-4 Hoyd and 5-foot-3 Bloom are relatively interchangeable, each possesses her own style of play along the perimeter. Hoyd is a knockdown shooter and Hoyd is a slashing guard, capable of scoring and passing.
Specific abilities aside, Rettke notices her considerably shorter friends occasionally invading her bailiwick during practice and warmups.
“Sometimes, I see Lindsay and Samantha working on post moves,” Rettke said with a laugh. “If keep going into the lane, I think I’ll probably start working on my point guard skills.”
Defensively, all three are still learning Till’s assorted defensive schemes. Hoyd, in particular, has shown major improvement on the defensive end.
“When she started with us, Lindsay was really poor in her man-to-man principles,” Till said. “Now, she’s sinking into the lane more to play help defense. She’s seeing the ball and the person she’s guarding much better.”
Till and his assistant coach, Mark Ruge, have been also working with Rettke on her post moves and simply jumping for rebounds. Bloom, who has exploded for several high-scoring games this winter, still can hone her game all-around. Ultimately, the sum is even more impressive than the parts.
“Because I’m so tall a lot of times people don’t know how to play with me,” Rettke said. “Lindsay and Samantha know how to get the ball to me in good spots. We play really well together.”
While the camaraderie among the three freshmen has never been in question, RBHS initially struggled with team chemistry.
“At first, it was a little shaky because we didn’t know what to expect from the older girls,” Bloom said. “We have all gotten to know each other better and everybody is more comfortable now. They’re cool with us; we hang out and eat lunch together.”
Senior captain Caroline Waas views the balance of the RBHS roster as beneficial.
“I love it,” she said after the Bulldogs’ Senior Night win over Illiana Christian. “I’ve been playing for years [at RBHS] and I’m learning from our younger players. And they’re learning from me. It’s perfect.”
Till also senses the players are all pulling on the same rope.
“We had a few bumps in the road as any team does,” Till said. “It’s my job to right the ship. The girls on the team have grown closer. I don’t care what class kids are; I’m going to play our best players. We’re not concerned with any stats other than getting a ‘W’ at the end of each game.”
Even with the considerable impact of the freshmen, experienced junior forward/center Janae Dabney is probably the Bulldogs’ best player and certainly the most well-rounded. Other role players like Miranda Chavez, Sydney Martinez, Marisa Jensen, Elexis Walker and Angela Comicho among others have also contributed for RBHS.
Still, Till can’t help but relish the comforting reality he has Rettke, Bloom and Hoyd in the RBHS lineup for the next four years.
“They are coachable and they’re gym rats,” he said. “All three of them accept coaching positively. They come to practice early to work on their games, which speaks volumes to me. The freshmen have a lot of work to do, but I really believe the sky’s the limit for them.”