About midway through the season, the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls volleyball team epitomized mediocrity. The Bulldogs owned a 10-10 record overall and 4-4 mark in the Metro Suburban West. RBHS notched two wins in a row three times and a pair of two-match losing streaks during its pedestrian 20-game span.

The second half of the season offered a decidedly more positive narrative. The Bulldogs (23-14, 8-4) won13 of 17 matches and advanced to its own regional final.

“It was awesome to see our progress,” senior libero Natalia Gheewala said. “At the start of the season, I wasn’t quite sure how we would do. I loved watching a lot of my teammates improve as the season went along. We had a lot of younger players. I think over the next few years, RB definitely will be a team to look out for.”

Added junior middle blocker Nicole LaBelle: “I think we started to realize our potential as a team. We were very united and found different ways to win. This is my second year with Coach [Dan] Bonarigo; he’s the best coach I’ve ever had in any sport. I think the returning girls are really looking forward to next year.”

 Unfortunately, the team’s surge this fall came to an abrupt end with a 25-17, 25-19 loss against York in the championship match of the Class 4A Riverside-Brookfield Regional. The Dukes are the second seed in the De La Salle Sectional.

“We got beat tonight by a team that played better than us,” Bonarigo said. “We did not play our best by any stretch. I thought we didn’t pass well enough and we gave up too many easy points which helped some of their runs. I’m proud of the fact we played hard, but we just didn’t have it.”

In the early going of Game 1, the Bulldogs kept the score close at 9-7 as 6-foot-7 middle blocker Dana Rettke paced the offense with multiple kills.

Led by junior outside hitters Alexandra Preuss and Ally Mann, York responded with a 5-0 run en route to a 25-17 victory in the opener..

In the second game, the teams changed momentum swings early with York scoring the first four points before the Bulldogs charged into the lead at 5-4 on a kill by outside hitter Katie O’Connell. Preuss strung a few points together off kills to give the Dukes the lead for good at 7-5. Trailing 23-15, Rettke sparked one more 4-0 spurt by the Bulldogs to pull within 23-19. Mann secured the regional title on match point with an emphatic kill against RBHS.

“We definitely had really high energy which is exactly what we needed,” Preuss said. “We’re not the biggest team, but if we keep our energy up we’re a pretty good. We tried to put the tall girl [Rettke] out of our minds and just focus on hitting the ball in the court where there were open spaces.”

RBHS, the ninth seed in the De La Salle Sectional, advanced to the title match by upsetting No. 7 seed Willowbrook 25-23, 25-22 in the regional semifinals. The Bulldogs return eight of the 12 players on this year’s varsity squad.

2014 Bulldogs leaders

Dana Rettke 344 kills, 43 aces, 140 blocks
Nicole LaBelle 134 kills, 34 blocks
Olivia Gyssler 356 assists, 34 aces, 140 digs
Natalia Gheewala 90 assists, 34 aces, 329 digs
Paola Lehman 106 kills, 16 aces, 185 digs, 14 blocks