RBHS senior guard Zach Vaia averaged 14 points, 5.2 assists, 4 rebounds last season. He's the reigning MVP of the Metro Suburban Conference. (File photo)

As a first-year head coach of the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team last season, Mike Reingruber endured an unsettling start as the Bulldogs lost five of their first six games.

But, the Bulldogs quickly rewarded Reingruber and their fans’ patience by winning 18 of their remaining 24 games to finish 19-11 last season. The season culminated with a 67-59 loss against Curie in a regional final.

More importantly, RBHS won another Metro Suburban Conference title with a 10-2 record in the league. The Bulldogs have won a remarkable 16 conference championships over the last 17 seasons.

This year, RBHS returns a pair of all-conference players and several other contributors.

Senior Zach Vaia is one of the best guards in the area. He averaged 14 points, 5.2 assists, 4 rebounds and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers and 91 percent from the free throw line. Those stats, coupled with his leadership and knack for making game-winning shots (against Immaculate Conception, Fenwick), paved the way to his selection as the Metro Suburban Conference MVP.

Andrew Veon is the other returning starter and all-conference pick. Veon, a 6-foot-6, senior, averaged eight points and five rebounds while shooting 59 percent from the field and 90 percent from the charity stripe.

Seniors Patrick Hanley (7.6 points per game, 42 percent on 3-pointers), Reggie Loury (5 ppg, 45 percent on 3’s) and Charles Terry are versatile players who will play larger roles for the Bulldogs this season. Loury and Terry, who are both 6-4, are lanky defenders who can guard multiple positions.

“Our main goal is to keep getting better each day,” Reingruber said. “We want to be playing our best basketball by the end of the season. We would love to win our conference and make some noise in the state tournament.”

Other players who could see playing time include 6-2 senior guard Ryan Cermak and 6-5 center/forward Sam Grivetti, plus newcomers Daniel Sessler, Nate Schoditsch and Dylan Meehan.

Cermak is an outstanding baseball player who has committed to Illinois State, while Sessler excelled as the RBHS goalkeeper in soccer this past fall.

“We are very versatile offensively and shoot the ball very well,” Reingruber said. “We have many interchangeable parts and can also go big if we want or play small ball if we want, depending on matchups. We like to be the aggressor both offensively and defensively and play a fast, fun style.” 

League newcomers Aurora Christian and St. Francis likely will battle the Bulldogs for the conference championship. A slate of nonconference games including OPRF, Morton, LTHS, Fenwick, Brother Rice, De La Salle, Marshall and Farragut ensures RBHS will be tested throughout the season.

Reingruber wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Our nonconference schedule is always very tough,” he said. “Depending on the publication, we play many teams that will be in top 25 rankings at some point this season.”