Riverside-Brookfield senior Dana Rettke has always stood head and shoulders above all of her peers.
It has been the same way on the volleyball court.
The 6-foot-8 middle hitter not only is the tallest player; she’s also one of the best.
Just three years after taking up the sport, Rettke has committed to Wisconsin, one of the top collegiate programs in the nation. She holds RBHS’ single-season and career records in nearly every offensive category and has proven she can play effectively all over the court.
“It was my determination to be good in the sport,” Rettke said. “I started off freshman year and saw how good all these girls were and I just said I want to be like them.”
Rettke has done that and then some. While her staggering height – she is at least eight inches taller than everyone else on the team – draws stares everywhere she goes, her athleticism and talent also make her stand out.
Rettke had 10 kills in the Bulldogs’ 25-14, 25-8 victory over Ridgewood in the Oct. 20 regular season finale (no other player on either team had more than three). The last kill gave her 420 for the season, breaking her own school record set last year.
Rettke now has the three highest kill totals in program history. As a varsity rookie her sophomore year, she broke the old mark of 366 set by Kathy Jurgens in 1988.
Earlier this year, Rettke smashed Jurgens’ career kill record of 846 and now has 1,183. She also holds records for blocks in a season (140 in 2014) and career (246). The latter mark had stood since 1986.
Rettke also has taken down the records for aces in a season (82 this year) and career (189). Current assistant coach Jennifer Lyon had held those marks for 25 years.
None of this was foreseen three years ago. Rettke was a standout basketball player but gave volleyball a try when one of her friends played club volleyball.
“I was really into basketball, but I said I’ll try something new and maybe I’ll end up liking it,” Rettke said.
Rettke ended up loving it even more than basketball, which she reluctantly stopped playing last year to focus on volleyball.
“I didn’t want to give up basketball,” Rettke said. “It was really hard for me because that was my first love of a sport.
“I’d been playing forever, but at the same time I love volleyball a lot more. If I want to be the best I can be, I have to sacrifice something.”
For all Rettke has accomplished, she still draws attention because of her height. But she has never been self-conscious.
“I just kind of own it,” Rettke said. “Growing up I feel like I didn’t even really realize it until maybe fourth or fifth grade.
“No one ever bullied me or judged me because I was tall. Everyone accepted it.”
Unlike some tall girls, Rettke has ramrod straight posture and doesn’t mind the attention.
“(Posture) is very important to me,” Rettke said. “I see these girls who are so tall and pretty and they just stand (slumped).
“I really enjoy being tall. I’m not really an attention seeker but I’m my own person.”
RBHS coach Dan Bonarigo has been impressed with how Rettke has handled her celebrity.
“She really does have a great attitude,” Bonarigo said. “People are always gawking and asking, ‘how tall are you?’ and ‘where are you going to school?’
“She really has a good demeanor about her. Kids walk up and ask to take pictures with her and one time my assistant said, ‘you’re too nice, Dana.’ She said, ‘I’ve got to get used to it.'”
One thing Rettke refused to get used to was being stereotyped. Many coaches assume tall girls can only play in the front row, but Rettke has excelled at outside hitter and in the back row.
Indeed, Rettke leads the Bulldogs in digs this season with 203, 41 more than any other player. That’s a remarkable feat considering liberos or other shorter players usually have the most digs.
“That is probably up there with all of (her accomplishments) because everyone says tall people can’t play back row, but I was really determined,” Rettke said. “My first year of club my coach said, ‘You’re a middle, you can’t play back row.’ ‘I said, ‘yes, I can.'”
Bonarigo was receptive to the idea, mainly because it gave Rettke a chance to attack out of the back.
“The passing and defense was an added bonus,” Bonarigo said. “She’s our best serve receiver, our best defender. She leads us in digs, which is really significant.”
But Bonarigo holds Rettke to a high standard no matter what she is doing.
“I expect the same thing from her as I do from everybody else as far as diving on the floor and running balls down goes,” Bonarigo said. “Everybody has the same expectations for effort.
“I don’t expect everybody to be able to complete all the skills in the same way, but it’s all about effort.”
That’s never been an issue with Rettke, who gets her height from her parents (father John is 6-6 and mother, Kathy, is 5-11) and her agility from taking dance lessons when she was younger.
“She’s always wanted to be the best at everything, so her determination really pushes her to want to work hard and become successful,” said Leah Rettke, Dana’s younger sister. “It makes me want to work harder and obviously be better than her because I’m very competitive.
Rettke has enjoyed this season unlike any other and not only because the Bulldogs (28-7) are seeded second at the Class 4A Addison Trail Sectional. This is the first time she gets to play with Leah, a 5-9 sophomore who shares setting duties with senior Maria Gonzales.
“It’s so much fun,” Leah Rettke said. “She’s a good role model to have on the team. She’s always there to push me and make me better and it’s fun to be able to play together before she goes to college.”
Dana Rettke pushes her sister on and off the court. She works as hard on her academics as she does on her volleyball skills, something Leah doesn’t always appreciate.
“She gets mad at me,” Rettke said. “We share a room so I always keep a light on.”
“She’s a good student and she’s always studying a lot doing homework,” Leah said. “She leaves a light on so I can’t go to bed.”
Leah Rettke will get no sympathy from opponents, who regularly lose sleep thinking of ways to stop her big sister. It is, after all, a tall task.