RBHS players Thomas Dixon (left) and Sam Shelven block a ball during the Bulldogs’ match against Oak Park and River Forest on April 12 in Oak Park. The Bulldogs lost that match in two sets. | Sara Janz

Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Iggy Bielobradek can’t help but be all-in this boys volleyball season. 

Playing exclusively in the front row most of 2022, the 6-foot veteran now is in the full rotation and serving as he usually does during his club season.

“I love being on the court,” Bielobradek said. “Even when I’m in the back row, I feel like there’s a role to play in helping the team and keeping our heads up.” 

The Bulldogs gave among their best all-around efforts on April 17 at Downers Grove North, but two rough stretches resulted in an empty feeling afterwards.

RBHS (10-7) lost 23-25, 25-23, 25-18 after leading 23-19 in the second set.

“Hopefully the team’s more motivated [after this] and we’re ready to come back,” Bielobradek said. “We do what we can and when we play to our full potential, we compete with the best teams. That’s what we have to do. We have to play scrappy and realize that we can’t let the ball drop.” 

Sebastian Ciszewski had five kills and Bielobradek (4 digs) and Thomas Dixon (7 digs, 4 service points) had four kills apiece. Other stat leaders included Landon Harazin (18 assists, 4 block assists), Liam Reilley (12 digs), Ricardo Ulloa (10 points), Sam Shelven (3 kills, 3 blocks) and Angel Herrera (2 kills, 2 blocks).

Downers North (7-4) seized the momentum after scoring the final six points of the second set behind three blocks, including set point, one kill and RBHS service and attack errors.

“I’m proud of how well we played overall, but really letting that go to the third set is really the big thing,” RBHS coach Dan Bonarigo said. “We have a lead 23-19 but then we give up a six-point run to lose set two, and you’ve got to be tougher than that. In a tight, competitive match against a good team you’d like to pull that out.” 

The Trojans owned the third set after seven straight points for a 14-7 lead. RBHS cut a 21-12 deficit to 21-17 behind Ulloa’s serving, but the rally ended when libero Reilley appeared to keep the ball in play with a foot save. Instead, the attack was ruled a kill, Bonarigo disputed the call and the Trojans received an additional penalty point to lead 23-17.

After 16 kills with eight errors over the first two sets, the Bulldogs began the third set with one kill and seven errors.

“You can’t afford to give up two or three-point runs, and we gave up [seven]. Against a good team, that’s nearly impossible to come back,” Bonarigo said.

Otherwise, the Bulldogs played back-and-forth and steady with fewer kills than the Trojans but also fewer mistakes.

Another of the team’s strengths is a veteran setter in Harazin.

“Being a setter, I feel the pressure every game. I feel responsible when we lose or something doesn’t go to plan but when something goes well or we win, I feel like I had an important role,” Harazin said earlier this season. “Many teams on paper are taller, more experienced, faster. We need to be the team that just keeps getting the ball over. We want to be that annoying team that gets into the opposing teams’ heads.” 

The Bulldogs are 2-2 in three-set matches. The first was among their more satisfying victories, an 18-25, 25-18, 25-13 comeback against Joliet Catholic on March 24.

“We’ve been putting in a lot of work and our expectations are real high,” Bielobradek said. “We’ve played some tight games with some good teams but hopefully our performance in the second half of the season is better.”