Riverside-Brookfield High School soccer coach Danny Makaric believes it takes a little longer to build a girls program. While he’s coached the Bullldogs’ boys program to considerable success, including conference and regional titles over the past several years, the charismatic Croatian-born coach is just in his third year as the girls’ coach.

By the measurement of time, he’s off to a heckuva start building the girls program, with three straight second-place finishes in the Metro Suburban Conference since taking over in 2012. Over the past two seasons, RBHS has won nine of 12 conference matches. The team’s record is subpar in nonconference games, but that’s by design.

“I like to play bigger schools and play tough teams to get a good sense of the kind of team we have,” Makaric said. “We’re going to lose some games, but it will make us a stronger and better team in the long run.”

Most importantly, Makaric has established a flowing pipeline of talented players, who are coming to RBHS via his Chicago Inter Soccer Club youth programs. Currently, RBHS freshmen Esther Annoreno, Kathryn Sessler, Ivy Marcucci, Briana Sanchez, along with sophomores Anika Marchan, McKenna Powers, Mariah Dorsey and Emily Pitts comprise a primary reason why the Bulldogs’ current soccer status is solid and the future appears bright.

“The freshmen are very skilled technically,” Makaric said. “They all played with Chicago Inter and they are the future of our team.”

 Overall, Makaric estimates there are approximately 70 girls in the RBHS soccer program, a very healthy number relative to some lean participation numbers in the past.

Marchan and Annoreno have already established themselves as capable scorers, while Sessler is a heady all-field player and Marcucci is developing into a lockdown defender after playing forward in youth soccer.

“Esther, Ivy and I have played travel [soccer] with the [RBHS] upperclassmen for a few years,” Sessler said. “Danny [Makaric] has always coached us. We all get along and always stick up for each other. We’re not just a team but a family.”

Marchan and Annoreno have a good-natured repartee about who will finish with more goals this season.

“I’m the leading scorer but Esther is catching up to me,” Marchan said with a mix of pride and laughter.

Amid all the promising underclassmen, it’s noteworthy to mention several of the team’s top players have been around the program for a while. Senior defender Caroline Waas and senior Lily Lisle, along with senior midfielders Amy Zyck and Lia Sanchez provide leadership not lost on the others.

“The value of our seniors is that they really set the team,” Annoreno said. “It’s going to be a loss for us when they leave.”

Led by the animated Makaric, the Bulldogs aren’t ready to break up just yet.

Regional host RBHS opened the playoffs with an 8-0 win over Hancock at Shuey Stadium on May 21.

“Coach Danny does a good job of mixing discipline and fun with our team,” Marcucci said. “We’re thrilled to host a regional because we know our field and we have the support of our fans, parents and friends.”