The best team Riverside-Brookfield High School girls volleyball coach Dan Bonarigo has coached was the 2008 Bulldogs.
Until this year.
The current Bulldogs roll into the Class 4A playoffs this week with a 25-9 regular-season record and a Metro West Suburban Conference championship in tow. RBHS placed sixth out of 16 teams at the Rich East Invite and ninth out of 24 teams at the Maine West Pumpkin Invite, a pair of prestigious tournaments.
By comparison, the 2008 team finished 29-9 and advanced to a sectional semifinal.
“It’s tough to compare teams over the years, but I think this season is probably the best-performing team I’ve had at RB,” Bonarigo said. “That  team was very good. I think this year’s team has a tougher schedule and played better in tournaments. So with similar records, I’d say, yes, this is my best team.”
The Bulldogs’ success starts with 6-foot-8 outside hitter Dana Rettke. The Wisconsin-commit has already set several new records at RBHS. Only a junior, Rettke owns the single-season record with 403 kills, breaking the previous high mark of 366 kills held by Cathy Jurgens in 1988. Rettke is also the career blocks leader (currently 183 blocks), breaking Kathy Rigo’s record of 151 blocks held since 1993. Additionally, she leads the Bulldogs with 51 aces and 43 blocks this season, along with 190 digs and 21 assists.
Gaudy stats aside, Rettke’s development as a team leader and versatile player has been impressive.
“Even though I’m not a captain, I know that I set an example for my teammates,” Rettke said. “I try to help them be their best and they help me be my best. They count on me to be a go-to player. I like that responsibility and it keeps me in the game at all times.
“This year I’ve transitioned from middle to outside and I’m having a blast. I have been able to really improve my back row. Most people assume since I’m tall that I can’t play back row; similar to ball handling in basketball. It has helped me improve my overall game and will be important for college.”
Several players contribute to team’s success
While Rettke is the center of attention for the Bulldogs, the supporting cast is very strong. Seniors like libero Selene Anaya, setter Olivia Gyssler (26 aces, 116 digs, 296 assists) and middle hitter Nicole LaBelle (92 kills, 29 aces) along with junior right side hitter Gia Cinkay (155 kills, 34 blocks) have provided plenty of leadership and production this fall. Junior setter Maria Gonzales has also played well with 286 assists and 34 aces.
“Our three seniors with three years varsity experience have been excellent leaders,” Bonarigo said. “They know what the expectations are and they push and encourage their teammates to get better. They have struggled at their positions at times, but they have a great work ethic. I think that’s pushed Dana, Gia and the younger players, which we really need.”
Middle hitter Vasara Kulbis, libero Maya Diaz and right side hitter Michelle Cejka, all sophomores, have emerged this season as key contributors with a bright future.
“Vasara has been one of those valuable role players for us. She plays hard and has a great attitude,” Bonarigo said. “Maya has come in and played good defense for us. She’s been able to give Dana and Nerija Cuplinskas some breathers in the back row.
“Michelle Cejka has been starting at right side pretty much all year, and next season she will be a setter. Michelle is a gamer. She will dive on the floor, chase down a ball and give you everything she has during a match.”
Claire Swiatek and Maggie Shereck are other contributors for RBHS.
Teamwork has triggered the Bulldogs’ impressive run this season.
“I really believe the key to our success has been because everybody fully supports each other on the court,” Cinkay said. “Every single girl really hustles and goes above and beyond to make sure no ball hits the floor or that we get a kill somehow.”
The Bulldogs began post-season play against the winner of Fenton-Proviso East last night [past deadline]. With a victory, RBHS will play in Thursday’s 6 p.m. final of the Whitney Young Regional. A matchup between the Bulldogs and host Dolphins is probable.
If the Bulldogs advance past the regional, they will return home for sectional play. RBHS is seeded fourth in a stacked sectional, which includes top three seeds (in order) York, Glenbard West and St. Ignatius, plus dangerous floaters like Oak Park and River Forest, Addison Trail, Payton and Leyden.
“Each year we want to go as far as we possibly can in the state tournament,” Gyssler said. “The past two years we have come up short in the regional final. For the seniors, this is our last year and we want it more than ever. I think this is the year we really have the potential to bring home a regional championship.”
RBHS won its last regional title in 2009 and lone sectional championship in 1988.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us,” Bonarigo said. “Even if we just want to win a regional, we’re probably going to have to beat Whitney Young on their home court. They are a quality opponent. It will be a challenge, but our players are motivated to win it and then play at home in the sectional.”
*Michelle Cejka was misidentified as Michelle Jacobs in the print version of this story. The Landmark regrets the error.