Even though his squad was shut out in its first two games, Riverside-Brookfield High School girls soccer coach Danny Makaric is confident that the program continues to build toward a promising future.

The Bulldogs return several starters, including all-conference picks Meaghan Dorsey and Esther Annoreno, from last year’s team that posted a 7-10-1 mark and lost 2-1 to Glenbard South in a Class 2A regional final.

“We have eight seniors and I think we have enough experience that we’re going to go for the regional championship,” said Makaric, who began his fourth season at the helm with a 23-27-4 record. “I think we can contend for the conference championship, too, but the regional will be easier than conference.”

The RBHS program has grown steadily under Makaric, who holds summer camps for middle school players each year. Interest has blossomed to the point where the boys team may need to make freshman cuts for the first time next fall. The girls program is similarly strong.

“We’re growing numbers-wise,” Makaric said. “Lots of schools have a problem with that at the freshman level but we have pretty strong numbers. We have 17 girls at the freshman level.”

Three freshmen are on varsity. Goalkeeper Emily Graham will back up junior Karli Riviera between the pipes, while forward Allie Kucera is expected to make an immediate impact on offense. Gabby Tarrant will vie for time in the midfield.

“I think she is going to have a pretty good season,” Makaric said of Kucera. “I’m excited. She’s got a nose for the goal.”

Kucera isn’t the only one. Much of the Bulldogs’ offense is expected to come from younger players, including Annoreno, a midfielder who led the team in scoring last year. Another sophomore, Ivy Marcuci, and four-year starter Ashley Ferguson also are threats to score in the midfield.

RBHS employs a 4-4-2 formation but Makaric has had to tinker with that because Ferguson is limited by a pulled muscle and junior midfielder Anika Marchan also is dealing with an injury. Makaric plans to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation for the time being.

The Bulldogs opened the season with a 2-0 loss to Lake Park on March 19 and lost to Maine South 5-0 last Thursday in a match played at a park in Cicero because the football stadium is being renovated. But Makaric is not concerned with the losses to bigger schools.

“They were big strong soccer schools but I like to schedule them so we know what we need to change,” Makaric said. “When we play games [against smaller schools] they will be easier games.”

The Bulldogs have another stiff test on Saturday against Hinsdale Central, the state runner-up in Class 3A in 2013. But that will be the toughest remaining match on a season-opening eight-game home stand (a game against Oak Park and River Forest on March 24 was cancelled due to bad weather) which also includes games against Fenton, Romeoville, Downers Grove North and Guerin.

In the meantime, the defense has been busy yet improving. Dorsey, junior Sarah Sanchez and junior stopper Claire Hansa anchor the back line along with senior Julia Roede, who will also move forward to support the attack.

“She is a big part of what we do,” Makaric said. “She will be a big runner for us. She needs to run both ways for us and she can do that.”