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Deering Rams Winter Sports Preview

Sports

Deering Rams Winter Sports Preview

A championship defense and several new faces are the story at Deering High this winter. The girls' basketball team has won two straight Class A titles and has the goods to do it again. The boys' team has also had its share of success in recent seasons and hopes for a deeper postseason run this time. Boys' and girls' hockey say hello to new coaches as they hope to improve. Both track teams have enough solid athletes to be formidable in conference. The two swim teams also have new coaches, both of whom inherit teams ready to make noise. Nordic skiing has promise. Wrestling, as always, has a shot at producing at least one state champion.

BOYS BASKETBALL

COACH: Dan LeGage (eighth year)

2008-09 Record: 12-7 (Lost 51-48 to Thornton Academy in Western A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Eddie Tirabassi (Senior), Rico Augustino (Junior), Nick Colucci (Junior), Jackson Frey (Junior), Dennis Ross (Junior), Jamie Ross (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 22 @ TA, Jan. 7 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, Jan. 12 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 19 @ Westbrook, Jan. 22 @ Portland, Jan. 26 (H) WINDHAM, Jan. 28 @ South Portland, Feb. 2 @ Cheverus, Feb. 5 (H) PORTLAND

COACH'S COMMENT: "We're undersized, but we're athletic. The key for us this year is to play unselfishly. We're primarily juniors. The kids need to buy into the team concept. It's time for them to understand that. We have some athletic kids who know how to play basketball. If we play well, we can compete with top tier teams. We hope to find our identity by tournament time."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: People forget that Deering had eventual state champion Thornton Academy on the ropes in an exciting quarterfinal and could have been the story of the tournament a year ago. The Rams already had beaten the Golden Trojans in the regular season, but couldn't quite finish on the big stage. This year, Deering isn't on the short list of title hopefuls, but is once again very dangerous. The Rams will miss the graduated Khadar Abbas and Ronald Abwoch, but return some good players and have added some promising newcomers. This winter, Deering's offensive attack is led by Tirabassi (8.4 ppg last winter), Dennis Ross (6.9), Jamie Ross (5.0) and Colucci. Augustino runs the show at point guard (sophomore Patrick Green was supposed to fill that role, but tore his ACL in the summer). Frey is also capable of doing damage from the guard spot. Senior Sam Coyne will provide size down low. Sophomore guard John Amabile has potential (he had 30 in a season-opening 64-51 win at Bonny Eagle), as does junior John Hughes, a transfer from Westbrook. Deering has boasted its share of athletes in recent seasons, but hasn't mastered the team dynamic. LeGage is confident this year's team will be more unselfish and if so, should be able to hold its own against everyone in a very deep and talented SMAA. The Rams might not have a gaudy record or seed come February, but as was the case last year, whoever draws Deering in the postseason better be wary. This team will once again be very dangerous when the stakes are at their highest.

FUN FACT: Deering has lost in the quarterfinal round three years running. The last time that happened was over a six-year span from 1975-1980, when the Rams were eliminated in the quarterfinals each year.

GIRLS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Mike Murphy (second year)

2008-09 Record: 22-0 (Defeated Messalonskee 49-34 to win second straight Class A state championship)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Claire Ramonas (Senior), Maria Salomone (Senior), Kayla Burchill (Junior), Britni Mikulanecz (Junior), Aarika Viola (Junior), Ella Ramonas (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 11 @ Scarborough, Dec. 18 (H) BIDDEFORD, Dec. 22 (H) TA, Jan. 12 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 22 (H) PORTLAND, Jan. 28 @ McAuley, Feb. 3 @ Portland, Feb. 5 (H) MCAULEY

COACH'S COMMENT: "Last year was a dream season. There are still a lot of expectations with three starters back. We have kids who have been battle-tested. It's nice nucleus of kids who want to compete. They want to be very, very good. This group will have to find its own identity. I like what we have, but we have areas to improve on. Nothing is a given. We're a team. Individual stats don't matter. The girls have great attitudes. They're a pleasure to coach."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: A program which for a long time had little pedigree, has rapidly become the gold standard in Class A. The 2007-08 Rams were terrific, but last year's squad was simply unbeatable, even after a last-minute coaching change. While Deering graduated seven seniors, including the dynamic Diana Manduca and Jess Ruhlin, it returns several players who are bound and determined to keep the good times rolling. Burchill (a first-team all-star as a sophomore) could be the league's next big star. She has great skills (11.4 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game a year ago) and can do it all (she opened with a flourish Friday, scoring 21 points in a 71-24 romp over Bonny Eagle). Claire Ramonas (3.1 steals per game and an honorable mention all-star last year) is another standout on both ends of the floor (she started with 17 points and 10 boards). Mikulanecz is a tenacious defender (3.1 steals per game, as well as 3.0 assists last winter during an All-Rookie team season), who stands to step it up offensively this winter. Salamone, Viola (14 points versus Bonny Eagle) and Ella Ramonas should all play bigger roles this time around. If that's not enough, several newcomers will provide depth and hope to make contributions as the season goes on. That group includes sophomores Emily Cole, Maura Densmore and Caley Presby and freshmen Marissa MacMillan, Chelsea Saucier and Alexis Stephenson. Deering can score as many points as it needs to, control the boards and play the best lockdown defense around. This year's team hopes to make its own mark and continue the school's legacy. While Scarborough, McAuley and possibly Biddeford are standing in the way of a three-peat, the Rams have to be considered the team to beat until someone defeats them (something which hasn't happened since Jan. 5, 2008). Deering has to like its chances.

FUN FACT: Prior to 2004, Deering had never played in a girls' state final. The Rams have won three of the past six.

BOYS' HOCKEY

COACH: Jack Lowry (first year)

2008-09 Record: 2-16 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Riley Asbury (Senior), Ben Rodick (Senior), Travis Wade (Senior), Kevin Crowley (Junior), Connor Petropoulos (Junior), Taylor Py (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 17 (H) PORTLAND, Dec. 23 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 14 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, Feb. 16 @ Gorham

COACH'S COMMENT: "I've been very pleasantly surprised so far. It's a lot of work, but it's fun. There hasn't been much continuity here so we've designed a program. The kids have been very receptive. We have some really skilled players. Our defense is very strong. We weren't very disciplined last year. Our big focus is to eliminate the silly stuff and focus on what we can control. We'll go out and play hard. We hope to win the games we should win. A .500 season would be fantastic."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Deering has nowhere to go but up this season and the program is in good hands. Lowry led Cheverus to its first and only state championships in 2005 and 2006. He was a standout player in Massachusetts who competed at Boston College and in junior hockey. He takes over a team that has some talent and could be primed for a move up the standings. Petropoulos, Rodick and Wade are all dangerous scoring threats (each had a goal in a season-opening 4-4 tie against Marshwood/Traip Saturday). Asbury and Py anchor the defense. The goalie spot will be manned by either sophomore Nick Martin or sophomore Jackson Stevens. The Rams have a very favorable early schedule and should be able to gain some early confidence. Deering should easily eclipse last year's win total and if all goes well, could be in the playoff hunt. If the Rams learn to believe in themselves and stay out of the penalty box, this could be one of the more inspirational success stories of the winter.

FUN FACT: Both of Deering's wins last winter came on the road. The Rams' last home victory was Feb. 16, 2008 (5-4 over Bonny Eagle).

GIRLS HOCKEY

COACH: Brittany Dion (first year)

2008-09 Record: 1-16-1 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Julie Pallozzi (Senior), Adie Broadwater (Junior), Jennifer Lynch (Junior), Rebecca Silver (Junior), Lindsey Sneider (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 8 @ Cape Elizabeth, Jan. 2 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Jan.5 @ Greely, Jan. 7 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 18 @ Portland, Jan. 25 (H) CAPE ELIZABETH

COACH'S COMMENT: "We're very much in the growing stage. What I hope for my team this year is to have a season that they can walk away from proud of themselves. I don't believe pride is always revealed on the scoreboard. I think it's a feeling of accomplishment that is rooted in a team that sees themselves as one, working together for an outcome, whatever that may be. I wish my team the best and hope that together we can deliver a season we all can say was a great time."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Deering welcomes a new coach this winter in Dion, who played at Deering back when girls' hockey was a club sport. This is her first varsity coaching job and she brings a lot of passion and enthusiasm to the team. The Rams have struggled in their early contests, but are showing promise. Lynch and new senior Tiffany Leadbetter, who previously played on the Bangor boys' team, have managed to score goals. Sneider is another offensive weapon. Broadwater and Silver anchor the defense in front of Pallozzi, who has already been named Player of the Week by the Maine Girls' Hockey Academy. Seniors Becca Coyne, Elecia Fortier, Azaria Galli, Kaela Holmes and Rachel Merrill bring leadership. New senior Lydia Raszmann is a player to watch. New junior Alanna Derrig and freshman Michelle Fortier will also be in the mix. Pallozzi will keep Deering in a lot of games. If the Rams can find a way to score some goals, they'll enjoy the fruits of victory more frequently this winter. This program appears to be heading in the right direction and will make some positive strides in the weeks to come.

INDOOR TRACK

BOYS COACH: Dick Kress (18th year)

GIRLS COACH: Kevin Campbell (eighth year)

2008-09 Results:

(BOYS) 2nd @ Southwesterns (Tie-18th @ Class A state meet)

(GIRLS) 6th @ Southwesterns (Tie-15th @ Class A state meet)

TOP RETURNING ATHLETES:

(BOYS) Carleton Allen (Junior), Sam Balzano (Junior), Renaldo Lowry (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Fiona Densmore (Senior), Jane Farrell (Senior), Maggie McKeon (Senior), Sarah Savage (Senior), Amanda Masse (Junior), Kristin Pollard (Junior)

TOP FOES: Bonny Eagle, Gorham, Scarborough, Thornton Academy

COACH KRESS' COMMENT: "We'll focus on the regular season meets and Southwesterns. We're not a big meet team. The junior division is also a question mark. It's way too early to predict season performances, but I'm optimistic about continuing our success at the Expo if the junior division develops and athletes stay injury-free."

COACH CAMPBELL'S COMMENT: "Our numbers are a little low. Our junior division will be very strong. Our relays are always competitive. We'll be able compete with almost every team in the league. Our goal is to finish in the top half at states and score more points than last year."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Both Deering indoor track teams will turn heads in the weeks to come.

The boys are once again a squad that should more than hold their own at the Expo in the regular season and at the SMAA championship. This year's team will be led by the speedy Balzano (sixth in the 55 last year at states), Lowry (seventh in the 200 last winter) and Allen (a hurdler and high jumper). Junior Joe Luka joins the team and will be a threat in the longer races. There are always athletes in reserve on this squad and if a few step up, the Rams will do what they always seem to do in the winter, compete and impress.

On the girls' side, Densmore and Farrell return as scorers from last year (both did so in relays). Densmore will sprint and Farrell will focus on the middle-distance events this season. Masse (sprints), McKeon (distance), Pollard (distance) and Savage (400) all have experience and look to make a mark this winter. Campbell is excited about freshman Trish Stewart, who holds the middle school high jump record. She'll jump and sprint and could make an immediate impact, as will senior Claire Ramonas, best known for her brilliance on the basketball court. Ramonas will throw and could single-handedly help Deering eclipse last year's state meet point total. The Rams figure to be a team on the rise this season.

SWIMMING

BOYS' COACH: Geoff Hadam (first year)

GIRLS' COACH: Angie Chessey (first year)

2008-09 Results:

(BOYS) 2nd @ Southwesterns (4th @ Class A state meet)

(GIRLS) 6th @ Southwesterns (8th @ Class A state meet)

TOP RETURNING SWIMMERS:

(BOYS) Noah Major (Senior), Brian McRae (Senior), Zach Sawyer (Senior)

(GIRLS) Nora Cecere (Senior), Lily Evangelista (Senior), Kristen Grandonico (Senior), Dayna Kazilionis (Senior), Emily Kelsey (Senior0, Jami LeRoy (Senior), Dali Tauwala (Senior)

TOP FOES: Cape Elizabeth, Cheverus, Scarborough

COACH HADAM'S COMMENT: "We did lose three strong swimmers to graduation so we shall see from this year's large class of seniors what we can do. We have half of the team graduating after this year, so our depth will take a big hit. What I'm hoping for is that the swimmers can make the most of this year and see what kind of payoff the next two months of training can bring them."

COACH CHESSEY'S COMMENT: "I hope that through teamwork and hard work the girls will meet their goals. I am already impressed with the maturity and ambition the girls demonstrate at practice."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Both talented Deering swim teams welcome a new coach this winter.

The boys are now led by Hadam, who was a standout at Cape Elizabeth in the 1990s. He qualified for the Junior Nationals in the 100- and 200-backstroke before an injured shoulder curtailed his ability to swim in college. He has some holes to fill (most notably replacing state champion E.J. Googins), but some good athletes are in place. Top returners are McRae (the reigning diving champ), Major (butterfly) and Sawyer (backstroke). Junior Erik Thomas (freestyle) and sophomore Dejan Varagic (IM) look to make a bigger splash. Senior David Wells and freshman Dylan Farber add diving depth. The Rams should improve steadily between now and February and will again turn some heads at the championship meets.

On the girls' side, Chessey comes home to take over the program. She swam at Deering between 1996 and 1999, was a member of the Portland Porpoise swim club, then went on to compete at Eastern Michigan. She inherits two returning scorers from last winter: Gradnonico (third in the 50 free and sixth in the breaststroke) and LeRoy (sixth in the 200 free and eighth in the 100 free). Cecere, Evangelista, Kazilionis, Kelsey and Tauwala provide experience and depth. Junior Daniella Kahn and freshmen Jessica Blake, Sophie McGovern, Autumn St. Clair, Genevieve Worthely and Lilly Worthely are new to the squad and could contribute immediately. Look for another strong season from the Rams.

NORDIC SKIING

COACH: Craig Whiton (11th year)

2008-09 Results:

(BOYS) No score @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) No score @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNING SKIER:

(BOYS) Logan Roche (Senior)

COACH'S COMMENT: "We have more kids than ever this year, 20. We've taken on two Cheverus skiers and we have some kids from Casco Bay High School. It's a young squad. The boys are young, but are expecting good things. The girls will go for individual results. They love what they're doing and don't care what team it is "

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Deering's skiers join those from Cheverus, Portland and Casco Bay under the Portland Nordic Ski Club umbrella. Roche returns to lead the boys' squad. He's joined by junior Mason Norton, a transfer from North Yarmouth Academy. Other boys and girls hope to improve and make a mark as the season progresses.

WRESTLING

COACH: Al Kirk (32nd year)

2008-09 Results: 5th @ regional meet (8th @ Class A state meet)

TOP RETURNERS: Tyler DeBardino (Senior), Arjan Nekoie (Senior), Mike Spizuoco (Senior), Harrison Stein (Senior), Corey Van Brocklin (Senior), Connor Darling (Sophomore)

COACH'S COMMENT: "We have good numbers. We'll be very competitive. We have some good support people and eight freshmen. We have all the weight classes covered right now. Tyler has a legitimate shot at a state championship. We'll be in the top four or five."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: The Deering program always produces top talent and this year's team will have some athletes to watch. Leading the way is DeBardino, a heavyweight, who was 46-6 and third in the state a year ago. He went on to capture the Tournament of Champions this summer. Other returners to watch include Nekoie (145 pounds), Spizuoco (152), Stein (130), Van Brocklin (189) and Darling (171). New senior Diondrea Howard,, who moved to town from Virginia, could be a force at 135 pounds. Freshman Nick Darling has potential at 130. As usual, the Rams will fill the weight classes and will be able to compete with everyone they face. There isn't the top-end talent this winter that the program's possessed in recent years, but Deering will hold its own and has a great chance at producing another individual state champion in February.

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The Deering girls' basketball team celebated its second successive Class A state championship last winter. The Rams feel they have a great shot to make it three in a row.

MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Jackson Frey is one of several guards capable of doing damage for the Deering boys' basketball team this winter.

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Senior captain Eddie Tirabassi figures to be right in the middle of the action for the Rams this winter.

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Senior Claire Ramonas is one of the top post players around and will make life miserable for opposing defenses in the weeks to come.

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Junior Kayla Burchill is primed to be one of the top players in the state this season.

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Junior Britni Mikulanecz is a premier defender and one of the Rams' many weapons.