With all five starters returning next season, the best is assuredly yet to come for the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls basketball team. That’s a pretty exciting prospect, considering the Bulldogs notched 25 wins, their own Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament title, second place in the Metro Suburban Conference, and also a second straight regional final appearance this season.

“Because we had such a young and relatively inexperienced team, I honestly didn’t expect this group to do as well as they did,” RBHS head coach Dallas Till said. “If you told me before the season that this team would finish 25-7, I’d take that all day long. I’m proud of how hard the kids played. The future is bright, but there’s also room for improvement.

“Improved strength and conditioning will be a major component for us if we want to get better. The other key to our success will be if the girls want it as bad as [RBHS assistant coach, Mark] Ruge and I do. They’re kids so there’s always a lot going on in their lives, but they have to put in the time and hard work to improve.”

Kenwood temporarily derailed the Bulldogs’ considerable momentum with a 69-55 victory in the RBHS Regional championship game of the Class 4A playoffs on Feb. 20. RBHS hung tough with the speedy and talented Broncos in the first half, trailing 19-15 after one quarter and 35-28 at the break.

Janae Dabney scored a pair of inside baskets early in the third quarter to pull RBHS within 38-34; however, the Broncos responded with an 8-0 run to reestablish some breathing room. Kenwood (22-7) held off the Bulldogs the rest of the way to secure its first regional girls basketball title (and third regional title overall) in school history.

The Broncos’ vaunted full-court and man-to-man defense throughout the game pressured the Bulldogs into a whopping 31 turnovers.

“We struggled with their [defensive] pressure,” RBHS guard Samantha Bloom said. “They were all over us and we weren’t physical enough. Even though we prepared for their press, it was tough to handle.

“[The game] was nerve-racking and I think we all were a bit shaky. We never had the [RBHS students section] ‘6th Man’ at our games before. I’m proud though that we left it all out on the court and played our hearts out.”

Dabney, in particular, turned in an inspired performance with 22 points, 11 rebounds and several floor burns by battling for rebounds and diving for loose balls. Rettke also played well with 11 points, 13 boards and six blocks. When they both are on their games, the interior combination of Rettke and Dabney, is a tall order for any opponent to contain. Bloom added 17 points albeit on 5-of-22 shooting.

While the Bulldogs’ trio of prized freshmen, Rettke, Bloom and guard Lyndsey Hoyd, comprise the nucleus of RBHS basketball for the foreseeable future, Dabney can do it all for the court. The junior forward, who emerged last season as a third scorer supporting former RBHS stars Brittney JnoBaptiste and Hannah Claywell, tends to raise her level when games mean the most.

“I just feel like there is something more to reach for in the big games,” Dabney said. “Going for a regional title is huge. That’s not to say that I don’t try in the other games, but I want that big prize. I think we all do on this team.”

Alanna Slaughter paced Kenwood with a team-high 14 points and six steals, while Sharese Scott chipped in 13 points. Hydeia Thomas provided a solid post presence for the Broncos with eight points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots.

The Bulldogs opened the Class 4A playoffs with a gritty 52-41 victory over visiting Hinsdale South. Rettke, a 6-foot-5-inch center with sky’s the limit potential, had her best all-around game as a Bulldog by dominating the paint with 12 points, 17 rebounds, 15 blocked shots and five steals. Dabney netted 19 points and Bloom added 16 points. Till also praised the defensive work of Miranda Chavez, Caroline Waas and Hoyd, who collectively, hounded the Hornets along the perimeter the entire game.

While the Bulldogs will lose four seniors (notably Waas, the team’s defensive ballhawk), the rest of the roster remains essentially intact for next season, including a formidable starting five of Rettke, Bloom, Hoyd, Dabney and Chavez. Key reserves Renee Kunkel, Natalia Gheewala, Elexis Walker and Angela Comicho among others also return.

“We’re going to miss our seniors, but we have a great group coming back next season,” Dabney said. “I think our chemistry and results will be even better. Everybody is excited about the future.”