High school basketball kicks off this week, nearly three months late and pandemic-shortened. The season will be a month-long sprint through March 13 and will finish up without a state tournament. But players and coaches are just happy to have the chance to play.
“We’re excited to get going,” said RBHS boys basketball coach Mike Reingruber.
One rule change this year is that there will be no jump balls. The visiting team will take the ball out to begin the game and then the alternate possession rule will be used.
Players will be required to wear face masks on the court and a maximum of 50 spectators will be allowed at games played at the Riverside-Brookfield High School main gym. Parents of athletes will be given passes to attend games.
The RBHS boys kick off their season Tuesday evening with a game at Ridgewood High School. No fans will be allowed at that game.
The Bulldogs return only one starter. 6-foot 3-inch junior J.P. Hanley, from last year’s team that finished 22-11, tied for the conference title with Chicago Christian, and won an IHSA regional title before losing to Bogan in the sectional round.
Only one senior, 6-foot sharpshooter Michael Bloodgood, will start for the Bulldogs on Tuesday. Three other juniors, 6-2 Joevonn McCottry, 6-3 Joe Gilhooley, and 6-0 Cory Baker, will join Bloodgood and Hanley in the starting lineup. The Bulldogs have no player taller than 6-3 on the varsity roster this season.
Six-foot-three freshman Will Gonzalez and 6-1 senior Julian Colon, a transfer from Lincoln Park, are expected to play significant roles off the bench.
The Bulldogs have a 15-game schedule, 12 conference games and three non-conference games against St. Laurence, Nazareth, and Andrew. The Bulldogs open the season with four consecutive away games before their first home game Feb. 19 against St. Edward.
With the absence of summer and fall leagues due to the pandemic, it may take some time for the young team to jell.
“With a kind of inexperienced group coming back and not having a traditional offseason to kind of figure things out and with short practice, I think it’s going to trying to figure things out early in the year, but I expect us to get better and better,” Reingruber said. “I really like the group that we have.”
The Bulldogs have won conference titles 18 of the last 19 years, so that’s always a goal.
“That’s what we set out for every year,” Reingruber said. “There are some schools that are going to be pretty good, that have a lot coming back, but we’re not playing to finish second.
“Especially this year with no state tournament this is it, this is what we’re playing for.”
Loftus leads RBHS girls front line
The RBHS girls basketball team returns three starters, including career scoring leader Brenna Loftus, from a 30-4 team that won conference and regional titles last year before losing to Kenwood in the sectional.
Loftus, a 5-8 senior forward, averaged nearly 30 points a game last year and is a four-year starter who has scored more than 2,000 points in her career. She broke Maggie McCloskey’s career scoring mark last year. Loftus scored 1,044 points last year, shattering McCloskey’s single season record of 691 points set in 2006.
The other returning starters are inside players Hannah Organ, a 5-8 junior, and Abigail Yager, a 5-11 senior.
Organ is fierce inside.
“She’s our monster rebounder, double, double kid,” coach Mark Ruge said. “Plays every minute of every game; she’s our enforcer down there. She’s literally a beast on both ends of the court for us.”
Yager, meanwhile, is a force on defense, according to Ruge.
“She does all the dirty work also, boarding, she’s very lengthy, helps us control the inside.” Ruge said.
Fighting for the starting spots in the backcourt are 5-3 seniors Daniella Ullo and Tess Bruno and 5-4 junior Shannon Malloy.
The Bulldogs open their season at home, hosting Rosary at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11.