Emeli Romo | Shanel Romain/Contributor

Senior setter Emeli Romo was excited when informed by coach Mary Pakosta about being among the top performers in Riverside-Brookfield High School girls volleyball history.

Then Romo laughed hard.

She currently owns the highest attack percentage in a season with more than 100 attempts at .355. That topped Wisconsin All-American Dana Rettke’s .347 her 2016 senior season en route to 2,688 career kills as the program’s greatest player.

“I’m 5-4 and I really shouldn’t be on the net too much, front row. The fact that I get to be up there, having a really good hitting efficiency, is amazing,” Romo said about 61 kills on 155 attempts with six errors. 

“Well, I’m not a hitter. It’s like my setter dumps [for kills]. It’s my little thing I do, you can say my signature. I don’t know. The other team doesn’t expect it.” 

Romo has had an amazing three varsity seasons with many other significant contributions. 

At 5-foot-4, you wouldn’t think of Emeli Romo (to the left of the net)as someone to be feared in the front line, but she’s shown an uncanny knack for dumping the ball past blockers. | Shanel Romain/Contributor

This season, Romo leads RBHS in assists (335), digs (210) and service aces (53). In the Bulldogs’ record book, Romo is ninth in career assists (765) and 11th in career digs (375) and career aces (101) — even with the COVID-shortened junior season.  

“Emeli is a gamer and can figure out how to score points when we need them. It could be a setter dump on the second ball, a tough string of serves or a fantastic dig,” Pakosta said.

“She’s a very all-around defensive person and just goes after the ball. That really helps the team around her. It’s sort of contagious. If she goes for it, they’re going to follow suit.”

RBHS (10-16, 4-0 in Metro Suburban Conference Red Division) needs to win one of its final two conference matches to at least share the title. The Bulldogs are the No. 9 seed for the IHSA Class 4A Mother McAuley Sectional.

Romo thinks also playing beach volleyball has helped her further recognize and exploit open court areas for setter dumps. Currently playing for 1st Alliance, Romo also has been a back-row specialist with club teams, strengthening her defensive skills.

“Defense is my favorite thing,” Romo said. “But setting up my other hitters for them to get a kill, I love seeing their faces when we both look at each other for the acknowledgement. 

“Setters don’t get too much appreciation. It seems easy, but it’s really hard in my opinion. Just the fact that my hitters acknowledge that the set was good, they’re proud of me and I’m proud of them.” 

Romo and starting libero Anne Barlow are the lone seniors in the lineup after Colette Barnes was injured during the season-opening Plainfield North Invitational.

Juniors Sophia Cuzzone (team-high 95 kills, 50 aces, 140 digs) and Elise Verdin (62 kills, 144 digs, team-high 306 serve receptions) and freshman Sofia Owens (79 kills, team-high 26 blocks) are other statistical standouts. Cuzzone and Romo were all-tournament at the Rich Township Invite.

The Bulldogs immediately realized their potential when they opened with traditional 3A state-power Nazareth and only lost 25-23, 25-21.

“We were super scared and we played the best game we ever played,” Barlow said. 

“We kind of have a new, fresh team because everyone’s younger and we haven’t played together. It’s fun just getting the team chemistry, just growing as a team together. Everyone has a really good attitude and is optimistic. It makes it super fun.”

Limited to 18 matches, Barlow has 159 digs and shares the team lead with Romo at 8.8 digs per match. A defensive specialist as a junior, Barlow follows the role of graduated libero McKenna Sloan.

“McKenna was one of our best friends on the team so it’s kind of sad not having her, but I’m really glad I get to play libero because I feel more comfortable,” Barlow said. “I like libero. I think I have more power, stepping up with the second ball (49 assists). I can cover more ground.”