The Riverside-Brookfield High School girls basketball team won a lot of games the last two seasons with a clear-cut identity.
The Bulldogs relied on a balanced inside-outside attack at both ends of the court featuring guards Samantha Bloom and Lyndsey Hoyd, forward Janae Dabney and center Dana Rettke, which yielded a 51-12 overall record and pair of second-place finishes in the Metro Suburban Conference.
The outlook is decidedly different entering this season.
Dabney, who missed the second half of last season with a torn ACL in her left knee and a sprained ligament, graduated last spring along with seven other role-playing seniors.
Unquestionably, the biggest loss for the Bulldogs during the offseason however was Rettke’s decision to not play hoops this year. Rettke, a 6-8 junior who has committed to play volleyball at Wisconsin, decided to focus on volleyball year-round. While volleyball is her preferred and best sport, Rettke was a tremendous shot blocker, excellent defender, underrated passer and capable scorer for the Bulldogs.
With Rettke, the Bulldogs are a proven winner with high expectations; without her, they are a talented but undersized group with potential. From a pure numbers perspective, the Bulldogs are losing Rettke’s production of 11.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game.
“The loss of Dana is a huge but understandable,” Bloom said. “A lot of people say I should be upset, but honestly I’m so happy and proud of her. She made a decision to be the best volleyball player she can be. Dana deserves that and she’s going to do great things.”
Fortunately for coach Dallas Till, the talent cupboard isn’t exactly bare due to the return of Bloom (12.9 points, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game in 2014) and Hoyd (8.5 points, 2.1 assists, 1.64 steals). Both combo guards are three-year varsity starters who score and pass well.
“Sam and Lyndsey give us an experienced and talented backcourt,” Till said. “Barring foul trouble or injuries, they are going to be on the floor 32 minutes and probably take about 20 shots each per game. If they shoot well, we will play well; if not, we will struggle.
“We don’t have the luxury of size anymore so we’ll have to take and make good shots, get out in transition and limit our mistakes. We will have to rebound as a team.”
Versatile senior swingman Jess JnoBaptiste and senior forwards Elexis Walker and Brenda Ulloa will collectively try to fill some of the void left by the departures of Rettke and Dabney.
“Lexi Walker got some playing time last year,” Till said. “We’re looking for big things from here. She can provide us some muscle and rebounding down low. Even though she won’t be the tallest girl on the floor, she’s going to have play well in the paint.”
JnoBaptiste will be instrumental in the Bulldogs’ development.
“I tell Jess all the time she’s the key to our puzzle,” Till said. “She has to be more aggressive this year. Teams are going to try and lock down Sam and Lyndsey so we need a third player to alleviate some of the defensive pressure on those two kids.
“She also needs to rebound and defend well. Jess is a versatile player who has the build and talent to do a lot of good things on the court for us.”
A couple of underclassmen in 5-7 sophomore guard Allie Kucera and 5-11 freshman forward Madeleine Meehan should make an impact this season. Kucera, an outstanding soccer player with Division I recruiting interest, is an excellent all-around athlete. Meehan can score in a variety of ways and could provide a much-needed interior presence.
“Allie’s athleticism will help our team,” Till said. “Maddie figures to be in the rotation as well. She’s a stretch four who can hit jump shots and gives us some size without Dana and Janae.”
Guards Sarah Schneider, Therese Hanley, Colette Murray, Taylor Jensen, along with forwards Maggie Shereck and Sophia Bolton could conceivably see playing time as Till tinkers with finding the right combinations on the court.
“We’re young again,” he said. “With so many new kids on our team, I’m trying to find which players can get acclimated to the speed of varsity basketball and solidify our rotation. We will give kids some opportunities early in the season to see who will be our fourth and fifth starters and key players off the bench.
“It’s going to be a bit of a game to game and game plan to game plan process this season. We’re going to do what we think gives us the best opportunity to be competitive and win games.”
Regardless of personnel changes, the Bulldogs’ aspirations remain the same.
“Our goals are the same every year,” Till said. “We want to win the tournaments we compete in, as well as our conference, and then make a run in the state tournament. The Metro Suburban Conference should be wide open. It will be interesting to see how it shapes out.”
RBHS opened the season with a 47-42 win over DeKalb at the War-Hawk Tournament hosted by Waubonsie Valley and West Aurora High Schools. Bloom (17 points), Hoyd (9 points) and JnoBaptiste (7 points) led the Bulldogs (1-0) in scoring.
“I think this new group works extremely hard,” Hoyd said. “I know we’ll make it work and be successful. Expect to see a very different team on the floor, but also expect just as much if not more success than last year.”