By Marty Farmer
The Nazareth Academy football team won a state title and the girls basketball team finished third in the Class 3A playoffs. Fenwick earned its first-ever state championship in girls hockey coupled with a runner-up finish at the state finals by the boys water polo squad. Lyons Township took second and fourth in the state, respectively, in boys water polo and girls soccer.
And yet, while all these teams set the standard of excellence for our local teams, I found the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball team and girls softball team the most interesting squads to follow during the 2018-19 school year.
So before we begin the offseason and its summer-filled itinerary of camps, clinics, leagues and travel teams for athletes, here's a nostalgic look back at the best the Bulldogs had to offer this past sports year.
Anybody who even casually follows area high school boys basketball knew RBHS would be good last fall. The team entered the season with talented and experienced roster of players, notably seniors Zach Vaia, Andrew Veon, Charles Terry, Reggie Loury, Patrick Hanley, Ryan Cermak and Sam Grivetti. Head coach Mike Reingruber is among the best in the business.
However, an argument can be made the Bulldogs exceeded even their own expectations.
RBHS turned in one of the best seasons in program history. The Bulldogs (28-5) recorded the most victories in a single regular-season with 26, won their 17th conference championship in 18 years, and won the Morton Regional and VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic championships.
The sharp-shooting Bulldogs also made 304 three-pointers (tied for eighth in state history). RBHS routinely defeated tough opponents, including Morton, Oak Park and River Forest, Kenwood, Fenwick, Lyons Township, Brother Rice, Marshall and Lincoln Park.
Even in their 62-53 loss against Curie in the semifinals of Proviso West Sectional, the Bulldogs went out with a fight.
"There is a reason why Curie is the No. 1 team in the state and one of the top teams in the country," Reingruber said. "The season didn't end the way we wanted, but we battled until the very end. This senior class will be missed. It's a group of high character kids, who have worked extremely hard and given everything they have to our program. I'm honored to have had the opportunity to coach this group."
Similar to the Bulldogs' dismissal in hoops by Curie, another nationally-ranked team was needed to upend RBHS in softball. Marist, one of the top teams in the country and fourth-place finisher in the Class 4A state playoffs, edged RBHS 1-0 in eight innings in a compelling sectional final.
Prior to their postseason exit, the Bulldogs bashed opponents all spring en route to a 27-5 record, second place in the Metro Suburban Conference, and a regional championship. Like the boys basketball team, RBHS earned notable wins over bigger schools in Oak Park and River Forest, St. Francis, Lyons Township and York.
Emily Noel (.431 batting average, 12 HR, 50 RBIs), Nadia Ranieri (.516, .613 on-base percentage; 16-3, 2.43 ERA) and Isabella Garcia (.353, 6 HR, 29 RBIs) led the star-studded Bulldogs.
"It was the best year I've had, but not just record-wise," RBHS coach Doug Schultz said. "The girls were truly amazing. It sounds cliché, but the group worked so hard and always wanted to improve. They weren't satisfied with being good; they wanted to be great."
Junior Abby Favela added: "We had so many great memories this season. It felt like more than a softball team; it felt like a family.
Collectively, these two entertaining Bulldog squads won 55 of 65 games and multiple championships. However, it's the way they won: with class, chemistry, camaraderie and a fierce competitive steak, that the players and fans alike will remember most.