By Marty Farmer
Although Riverside-Brookfield High School's new head girls volleyball coach Mary Pakosta is thrilled to take over the program, perspective and patience will be required this season.
Pakosta inherits an inexperienced roster that includes six underclassmen. That's half the team which has only two seniors.
Nevertheless, Pakosta is optimistic about the future of the program for a variety of reasons.
First off, she's very familiar with the Bulldogs. Pakosta, who graduated from RBHS in 2004, replaces Aubrey Dondlinger as the team's varsity head coach. Previously, Pakosta coached the freshman team for six years and then the junior varsity at RBHS the past three seasons.
"Coaching a lot of these girls at the lower levels obviously should help," she said. "Not every girl makes it up to varsity, but I've been working with many of these girls the last few years."
Additionally, the entire coaching staff is RBHS alumnae. Jennifer Lyon (Class of 1992) is Pakosta's lead assistant with 20 years of coaching experience, while Kim Fitzgerald (1988) and Amy Frey (2014) are the other assistant coaches.
Off to a 3-8 start this fall, Pakosta is taking a measured approach in terms of the team's progress. The Bulldogs have beaten Lincoln-Way West 18-25, 25-22, 27-25, Proviso West 25-19, 25-20 and Richmond-Burton 25-15, 26-27, 25-15 this fall.
"We are a very young team," Pakosta said. "We just need time to play together, develop a team chemistry and find a lineup that clicks. The keys to success are working together and staying positive."
With development over the course of the season cited as a primary goal, Pakosta believes the Bulldogs can improve on last season's 8-24 record, which included an 0-7 mark in the Metro Suburban Conference. In the Class 4A state playoffs last season, the Bulldogs won their opener 25-20, 25-15 over West Chicago before losing to eventual state runner-up Downers Grove North 25-16, 25-10 in a regional semifinal at Maine South.
Looking at the Metro Suburban Conference race this year, St. Francis is the prohibitive favorite. The Spartans, who won the conference title with a 7-0 league record last year, have a long track record of success. Timothy Christian should be a top contender.
As for the Bulldogs, their expectations are more modest.
"Our goals are to have a better showing in conference and to improve upon our sectional seeding from last season," Pakosta said. "We are a team that is going to continue to grow."
While RBHS lost setter Leah Rettke and leading offensive outside hitter Joy Greco to graduation, a few returnees will help stabilize the lineup.
Sophomore outside hitter Colette Barnes, junior libero McKenna Sloan, junior middle/outside hitter Annalisa Cinkay and senior middle hitter Julia Brom lead the Bulldogs.
After 11 matches, Barnes is the offensive leader with 74 kills on 212 attempts and a .108 hitting percentage.
Cinkay has 30 kills on 105 attempts and a team-best 15 solo blocks."
"Annalisa is an important offensive piece of the team," Pakosta said. "She is also a key defender for us."
Brom has 10 solo blocks and 39 kills on 119 attempts. Sloan leads the team in digs.
"Julia's senior leadership as a captain really holds the team together," Pakosta said. "McKenna's leadership is beneficial to the team as well with the varsity experience she gained last season."
In terms of the aforementioned underclassmen, Barnes leads a promising group of sophomores including setter Emeli Romo, defensive specialist Anne Barlow, opposite hitter Allie Kruger and outside hitter Hannah Organ.
RBHS hosts Willowbrook on Sept. 11 and then visits Hinsdale Central on Sept. 12. Both nonconference matches start at 5:30 p.m.
"We have a tough tournament schedule this season," Pakosta said. "We've already seen tough competition at the Plainfield North Tournament over Labor Day weekend. We will play in the highly competitive Rich East Invite [Sept. 27-28] and Maine West Pumpkin Tournament [Oct. 18-19] later this season."