While it would be unreasonable to label the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls basketball program a best kept secret, an argument certainly can be made that the Bulldogs’ success has flown under the radar a bit this season, particularly if crowd turnout and program buzz are the measurement criteria.
Over the Christmas break, I covered both RBHS basketball teams which advanced to tournament title games. The boys team, 13-time defending conference champions in the midst of another stellar season at 13-1 under coach Tom McCloskey, played great basketball at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament with the exception of a 69-42 loss to Lake Forest in the title game.
Regardless of that unexpectedly lopsided result, a substantial crowd turned out at York High School to support the boys, including the school’s perpetually enthusiastic ‘6th Man’ student section.
The girls team demolished five opponents by an average of 26 points en route to winning a holiday tournament on its own floor. Unfortunately, while the Bulldogs enjoyed some support in the stands of Dudley Gymnasium during the RB Holiday Classic Tournament, it paled in comparison to the electric atmosphere at Tosh.
“Football and boys basketball are the sports that drive the spirit, heart and soul of schools,” RBHS girls basketball coach Dallas Till said. “I respect and appreciate that. I can’t control the notoriety, popularity or interest we receive from people outside of the program.
“[RBHS athletic director] Art Ostrow is always willing to host events so we try to take advantage of that with our two holiday tournaments in the hopes that fans will come and support our teams. And we’re very thankful for our fans and supporters.”
Till’s plea for increased interest/attendance regarding the program is not sour grapes. He’s a former college football and baseball player and assistant coach for the RBHS football program. Currently, he coaches the RBHS baseball team in the spring. He’s pro-popular sports.
Till simply wishes his team attracted bigger crowds and more publicity, probably how several coaches feel at RBHS.
In the case of girls hoops, the Bulldogs have earned it. They are prime-time players not an opening act.
Halfway through the season, the team is 16-2 with two home tournament titles in tow (RBHS also won the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament). The Bulldogs just cracked the Chicago Sun-Times top 25 this week. Since Till took over the program four seasons ago, the Bulldogs are 84-24 with two Metro Suburban Conference championships and three regional finals appearances.
Led by tournament MVP Janae Dabney and all-tournament selection Samantha Bloom, the Bulldogs saved their best for last by routing Reavis 83-50 in the RB Holiday Classic Tournament championship game. The Rams entered that apparent showdown with a 15-1 record, but their title aspirations were swatted away as easily as the Bulldogs’ 6-7 center Dana Rettke blocks opponents’ shots.
“Sweeping our Thanksgiving and Christmas tournament championships was quite an accomplishment,” Till said. “Winning these tournament titles highlighted the potential we have moving forward if we can avoid injury and stay the course.”
The Bulldogs employ an up-tempo, unselfish and entertaining style of basketball. They can run and gun with the best of them. In addition to Till, the players benefit from the guidance of an excellent coaching staff in Mark Ruge, Kelsey Sopron, Marty Sloan, Tom Rocco and John Gaines.
Dabney and sophomores Rettke, Bloom and Lyndsey Hoyd are all exciting players. Other fan favorites include emotional leader/senior captain Renee Kunkel, senior guard Miranda Chavez and junior swingman Jessica JnoBaptiste. Heck, even reserve guard Caitie Rusen recently exploded for 25 points on 7-of-8 three-point shooting in a 59-27 win over De La Salle on Dec. 17. Every player has contributed to the team’s success this season.
What’s not to like?
Of course, adversity accompanies any team. Till and his coaching staff nervously await the results of an MRI taken on Dabney’s left knee, which was injured during the Bulldogs’ victory over Reavis. Come playoff time, RBHS will be smack dab in a rugged sectional most likely including powerhouse squads like Class 4A state champion Whitney Young and Trinity, not to mention Proviso East, Kenwood, North Lawndale, Hinsdale South, Morton and Fenwick.
While the 6th Man kids are a fixture at boys basketball games, only special occasions like Senior Night or the state playoffs typically generate comparable attendance at girls games.
“I can only hope that our style of play coupled with the exciting players we have helps to encourage students, staff and community members to come and check out a game,” Till said. “We would love to see more people in attendance at our games.”
Bloom added: “We love our Christmas tournament because it’s our gym. We play really well on our home floor, but when our family, friends and fans cheer for us, it pumps us up even more.”
It’s your move, 6th Man.