Fresh off a 25-win season in 2013, highlighted by winning the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament and finishing second in the Metro Suburban Conference, The Riverside-Brookfield High School girls basketball team begins this season brimming with confidence. The Bulldogs return their entire starting lineup plus several key reserves and an influx of varsity newcomers.
While RBHS coach Dallas Till certainly believes in the team’s ability, he’s wisely pumping the brakes on a Bulldogs’ bandwagon in danger of looking too far ahead.
“I’ve always felt it’s important to be humble or you’ll be humbled,” Till said. “We’ve got a long way to go. Obviously, our expectations are high and have goals like winning conference and regional championships. We even have smaller goals over the course of the season like doing well at tournaments.
“Our focus is to take it one day at a time, one game at a time, stay healthy and hopefully play our best basketball at the end of the season.”
In addition to an expanded, tough conference schedule, Till also knows RBHS will be tested in the playoffs with an annually loaded sectional. Last year, the Bulldogs didn’t even make it that far, losing their own regional championship game 69-55 to Kenwood.
“Kenwood was faster, stronger and better than us,” Till said. “We learned a lot from that game. I think our players realized how hard they will need to work to reach a higher level.”
The Bulldogs are led by senior co-captain Janae Dabney and a terrific trio of sophomores in center Dana Rettke and guards Samantha Bloom and Lyndsey Hoyd.
Dabney is an experienced, versatile player who can score, rebound, defend and runs the floor well. She averaged 11.1 points and 4.2 rebounds last season. While her talent is unquestioned, providing intangibles like leadership, intensity and hustle will also be expected from the 6-1 forward.
“I just want to do whatever I can to help our team be successful,” Dabney said. “I think my teammates feed off my energy, so I’ll try to bring everybody together and boost their confidence along with mine.
“We have played with each other for a while so the team chemistry is great. I’m super excited to see what we can do this year because I think we have the potential to be very good.”
Rettke, Bloom and Hoyd all started as freshman last year.
At 6-7, Rettke offers a huge presence in the paint on offense and defense. She’s a superb shot blocker, solid rebounder and rapidly developing scorer. Last year, she averaged 8.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Also a volleyball star, Rettke has drawn recruiting interest from Nebraska, Penn State and Notre Dame for volleyball, while DePaul, Stanford, Iowa, Wake Forest, Michigan State and Miami (Fla.) are recruiting her for basketball.
Bloom and Hoyd comprise a pair of interchangeable combo guards who solidified the backcourt along with fellow returning starter Miranda Chavez. Bloom (14.1 ppg) is the Bulldogs’ best scorer and long-range shooter, while Hoyd offers a bit of everything at both ends of the floor. Both play the game with great intensity. As for Chavez, she’s the team’s best on-ball defender and a solid playmaker with an ability to penetrate the lane for points or kick-out passes.
Kunkel is emotional leader of team
Senior co-captain Renee Kunkel is another player who plays an important role for RBHS. In 2013, Kunkel had open-heart surgery which saved her life and she also had her thyroid gland removed in eighth grade to cure the thyroid cancer discovered during a routine physical exam. Needless to say, the congenial Kunkel is an inspiration to everybody around the basketball program. On the court, she’s an experienced guard who can score and play defense.
“I’m thrilled to be a captain,” Kunkel said. “It’s a little surprising because I really didn’t know I had that effect on people but I’m happy. I’m competing for a starting spot and playing time, but I’m also happy for the young guns on our team who are playing so well. It’s hard to believe it’s my last year, but I’m trying to soak it all in and have fun.
“We have a good mix of younger kids with a lot of talent and veterans who know how to win. We’re working hard and pushing each other because we want to reach our full potential.”
Varsity newcomer Jessica Jno Baptiste, the younger sister of former RBHS hoops star Brittney Jno Baptiste, will see plenty of playing time as well.
“Jessica is a multi-faceted player,” Till said. “She defends, rebounds and shoots the basketball well. She’s also got a lot of length so we can use her as a stretch four or play her at the three spot.
Other returning contributors for the Bulldogs include Natalia Gheewala, Angela Comicho, Caitie Rusen, Elexis Walker, Rachel Malloy and Ashley Lams.
“Everybody is excited to get the season started,” Till said. “We’re going to use our athleticism and put some pressure on teams. A lot of times it will just depend on the [game] situation in terms of who we will have on the floor. We’re going to play whatever style that gives us the best chance to win.”