On the heels of a 21-7 season (9-2 Metro Suburban), the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls basketball team will look to build off of that success, as many players from last year's inexperienced team return for another campaign.
Head coach Dallas Till is hoping to create winning habits during the summer, as he gets a first look at younger players trying to prove themselves, as well as upperclassmen who haven't played together since the end of last season.
At this point in the summer, Till's main concern is his team's fitness, which he hopes a more consistent summer schedule will help develop.
"Our conditioning isn't where it needs to be, because we aren't practicing on a regular basis," Till said. "The first couple weeks of summer league are pretty rough because some kids haven't been playing as much and don't have their basketball legs."
Although conditioning is not yet at the level Till wants to see, his team won first place in their summer league, as RBHS took all three playoff games including a semifinal victory over Aurora Central Catholic, and a championship win against Aurora Christian.
While winning games is a nice bonus, the most important aspect of the summer is building his team's chemistry while trying to plug new players into positions where they can be successful.
"I want to see developing cohesiveness among the group, (and) take a look at some of the newcomers from the sophomore team (and) if their game will acclimate to the varsity level," Till said.
When it comes to specific players, the Bulldogs return standout players Maddie Meehan and Brenna Loftus. Till emphasized Loftus' ability to get to the basket, draw fouls, and shoot. Till hopes she can continue to develop, after having success both last season and in the summer.
The only concern Till has for Meehan is her health, as she is nursing what he described as a "pretty serious leg injury." Assuming she can return in time for the regular season, Till will be counting on her to not only score in the post, but also to make her teammates better with her passing ability, shooting ability (to stretch the floor), and her leadership.
Till also stressed the value of returning starters Sara JnoBaptiste, a shooter, and Mary Maloney, a floor general. With Maloney specifically, Till feels he has a player whose speed and playmaking will be crucial towards the Bulldogs' success.
"Mary really came on in the middle of last year," Till said. "Due to some injuries, her playing time increased, and she really ran with that. Her scoring and her perimeter jump shot have really improved over the past couple seasons. She's almost faster with the basketball than she is without."
As for the new players trying to make their mark on the team, Till has a clear idea for the type of player he is looking for.
"Primarily, they need to be coachable, they need to be team-centered, and willing to buy in to what we're doing," Till said. "It's about understanding that no one is bigger than the team."
Translating success from season to season is one of the toughest challenges in sports, but Till is hopeful that because so many of the players on last year's team were underclassmen, this team will already have a clear idea of what players' roles are. Till also believes that because RBHS won many close games last year, the team will be more confident heading into this coming season.
"Last year we didn't really know what to expect. We had a lot of newcomers from the lower levels, and we were pleasantly surprised with how their games transcended to the varsity level. We're hoping we can build off of that success," Till said. "These kids learned how to win tight games last year and we feel that will help us this upcoming season."