The commitment of the senior-dominated Riverside-Brookfield High School girls volleyball team under new head coach Caitlin Staib-Lipinski already has been loud and clear.
“This preseason has been awesome. They’ve bought into what I’m telling them,” Staib-Lipinski said. “They’re trusting the process. Our gym is vibrating with noise and sound so we’re high energized, which is what I want.”
The Bulldogs have seven seniors and five varsity returnees from the 2021 team that finished 14-21 and won the Metro Suburban Conference Red Division with a perfect 6-0 mark, their first league championship since 2016.
Senior outside/right-side hitter Sophia Cozzone, senior defensive specialist Elise Verdin and sophomore middle hitter Sofia Owens earned All-MSC honors. Also back are three seniors — middle Reagan Mulcrone, outside/right sides Anasofia Zaper and Christina Savaglio and junior setter Annabel Krueger, who played in five matches. This is Mulcrone’s fourth varsity season and third for Cozzone and Verdin.
“It’s nice having the majority of seniors on the team, because some of us have played together in the past so we already have some sort of connection,” Cozzone said. “The preseason has started off really good. We all are trying our best and we want to win.”
Last season, Cozzone (147), Owens (109) and Verdin (106) led the Bulldogs in kills and Owens (32) and Mulcrone and Zaper (23) were tops in total blocks. Cozzone (452) and Verdin (304) had the most serve receptions, while Verdin (205) and Cozzone (193) were third and fourth in digs.
Staib-Lipinski played volleyball at Bradley University and was a member of Naperville Central’s 2005 state championship team as a junior. Among her goals is “to be the toughest serving team in the conference.” Verdin (35) and Zaper (25) were second and third in aces last season.
The Bulldogs began a new weight training regimen on Aug. 15. New varsity assistant Amy Frey, a former RBHS player, has helped in rejuvenating team traditions like pasta dinners.
“The [preseason] vibe is really good. We’re getting pushed very hard by Coach Staib and I really appreciate it,” Zaper said. “I can really feel a connection with the team, even people I haven’t played with for as long.”
Seniors back with the program after one-year absences are defensive specialist Kira Conroy, who played club beach volleyball in 2021, and outside/right side Sammi Reeze, who improved through club play and clinics. Junior newcomers are middle Addie Blomgren, setter Paige Shipley and defensive specialist Kelley Tyler.
“I’d say we have a lot of potential as a team,” Verdin said. “Being that this is our senior season for so many people, that just makes it a lot more exciting. If we can lead our team to [winning] regionals or even sectionals, that would just make it an even better experience.”
The Bulldogs have lost their regional opener the past two seasons.
“I’m looking to get a lot farther in the postseason,” Mulcrone said. “Everybody’s more experienced so our skills are at a higher level.”