I wrote this column on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday. A handful of hours later, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles became a household name, outdueling Patriots’ legend Tom Brady, who fell to 5-3 in The Big Game.
And yet, thanks to Riverside-Brookfield High School junior point guard Zach Vaia, I was in a Bulldogs basketball state of mind, frankly, all weekend.For the second time in a week, Vaia made a game-winning shot in the closing seconds of a game.
After his bank shot from just inside half court stunned host Immaculate Conception, 47-44 on Jan. 26, “V for Victory” nailed a fade-away jumper to shock Class 4A state contender Fenwick 67-65 on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (15-9), who have won 14 of 18 games, secured the signature win of the season via their customary balanced effort as four players scored in double figures. It’s obvious RBHS has vastly improved since Christmas.
Actually both the RBHS boys and girls basketball teams are no strangers to success. Other than last year’s aberrant 12-16 campaign on the boys side, the Bulldogs are virtual locks to win 20-plus games apiece.
After a long, successful stint as the boys sophomore coach and varsity assistant to Tom McCloskey, Mike Reingruber has established immediate credibility as a first-year varsity head coach.
The guy is a winner. During his 16 years coaching the sophomore team, the Bulldogs went 303-86 overall (78 percent) and 162-13 in conference (92.6 percent).
On the girls side, head coach Dallas Till has guided the Bulldogs to consistent success in the Metro Suburban Conference. The girls team is 21-7 overall and 9-2 in second place in conference this season.
Considering RBHS lost a pair of four-year starting guards in Samantha Bloom and Lyndsey Hoyd, plus a solid post player in Maggie Shereck to graduation, Till has done arguably his best coaching job to date. Looking ahead, the team returns 12 of 14 players next season.
There is undeniable individual talent. Freshman Brenna Loftus has the look of a future star and players like Maddie Meehan and Sarah JnoBaptiste have been stat-sheet stuffers all season. However, the formula for success is rooted in teamwork and chemistry.
Till and his varsity assistants Mark Ruge and Marty Sloan, plus the Bulldogs’ group of selfless players, deserve a tip of the cap for not only another winning season but how they have earned it.
“We’re proud of our program and the way we run it,” said Till, who has a 156-56 record at RBHS. “We’ve had our share of success because the girls buy into what we are teaching which is playing together as a team.”
JnoBaptiste believes the Bulldogs have taken it even a step further this winter.
“I enjoy the sport event more because of my teammates. I have grown to love them as a family because of the all the time we’ve spent together on and off the court,” she said. “Plus, it’s so much more fun winning when you’re doing it with people you care about.”
As for Reingruber and the surging boys squad, winning another conference title would be sweet. The Bulldogs have won 15 league titles in the last 16 years. Led by Vaia and a terrific group of teammates including three-year starter Ryan Cicenas, Jason Bageanis and Andrew Veon, the players and coaches have grown together simillar to the girls squad.
“The transition from sophomore to varsity basketball was easier with Coach Reingruber as my coach at both levels,” Veon said. “I also think our assistant coaches (Phil McGovern, Anthony Roberts) have done a really great job preparing us for each game.”
Both teams are well-positioned for a strong finish to this season, And the future looks even brighter.