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Portland Bulldogs Fall Sports Preview

Sports

Portland Bulldogs Fall Sports Preview

Fall sports are on the upswing at Portland High and several teams will enjoy success this year. Football is primed to rejoin the playoff contenders in Western Class A. The Bulldogs could be one of the biggest stories of the year in that sport. Both soccer teams are eager to impress. The boys' squad made great strides in 2008 and hope to build on that success this autumn. The girls made it to the semifinals a year ago and are looking to keep the good times rolling. Field hockey stands to show dramatic improvement. Both cross country teams are lurking, ready to move up and surprise. Golf is essentially starting over, but will be competitive nonetheless.

FOOTBALL

COACH: Mike Bailey (24th year)

2008 Record: 3-5 (No playoffs)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Jake Alexander (Senior), John Brown (Senior), Adam Gould (Senior), Nolan Hellen (Senior), Gordon Parker (Senior), Jason Strauss (Senior), Ted Volger (Senior), John Wescott (Senior), Joe Zukowski (Senior), Caleb Kenney (Junior), Carl Szanton (Junior), Jordan Voisine (Junior), Ed Walsh (Junior), Imadhi Zagon (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 4 @ Deering, Sept. 11 (H) BONNY EAGLE, Sept. 25 @ Cheverus, Oct. 16 @ Windham, Oct. 23 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND

COACH'S COMMENT: "I'm very pleased with how things are coming together. I think we'll be up from the last couple years. We've had a great preseason. The kids are very close. We have an opportunity to get off to a good start. We're set at the skill positions. We have three of five back up front. We have a shot at the playoffs."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: The Bulldogs are primed for a possible return to glory this fall. With several key players returning and a promising addition to the roster, Portland is hungry and confident. Even though they finished 3-5 a year ago and fell short of the postseason, the Bulldogs made some positive strides which they'll build upon this season. Strauss returns as quarterback. He's improved dramatically from his junior year. He has several receiving threats, led by Alexander (who could have a breakout season), Brown, Gould, Volger and Zukowski. The running game could be Portland's biggest weapon as Zagon dazzled during his sophomore season and should be even more difficult to contain this fall. Junior Will Walsh, a transfer from Cheverus, will also see his share of carries, making life challenging indeed for opposing defenses. Kenney will make his presence felt as a blocking back. The line features Hellen, Voisine, Ed Walsh and Wescott. If the key contributors can stay healthy, this offense will be the most dangerous it has been since Chris Treister was calling signals. Defensively, Portland should be able to keep most teams in check. Up front, Alexander, Hellen, Szanton, Ed Walsh, Wescott and Zukowski will team up to hold the fort. The linebacking corps features Kenney, Will Walsh and Zagon, a very athletic unit. Brown, Gould, Parker, Strauss and Volger make up an impressive secondary. You can look at the Bulldogs' opening schedule (at Deering, home with defending Class A champ Bonny Eagle) one of two ways. It's either a cruel way to start a season, or an opportunity to immediately leap into the fray as a contender. Portland will approach those games with the latter mindset, knowing a win against either of last year's top two squads would immediately legitimize itself as a contender and provide immeasurable confidence. The pieces are in place for the Bulldogs' revival. Don't be surprised if there's a buzz around Portland all season, a year which could very likely end with the Bulldogs back where they feel they belong, in the playoffs.

FUN FACT: The last time the Bulldogs went 3-5 and missed the playoffs (1993), they turned around the next season and began a 13-year streak of postseason appearances.

BOYS SOCCER

COACH; Rocco Frenzilli (35th year)

2008 Record: 11-4 (Lost 1-0 to Westbrook in Western Class A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Andrew Capelluti (Senior), A.J. Hasanovic (Senior), Eddie Hernandez (Senior), Jason Knight (Senior), Sid Baxter (Junior), Oryem Charles (Junior), Abdul Hassan (Junior), Fazal Nabi (Junior), Nick Rovnak (Junior), Paley Berlin (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 4 @ Thornton Academy, Sept. 8 @ Scarborough, Sept. 17 (H) DEERING, Sept. 24 (H) GORHAM, Oct. 1 @ Westbrook, Oct. 7 (H) CHEVERUS, Oct. 20 (H) BONNY EAGLE

COACH'S COMMENT: "We had a great year last year, but with the 50 percent rule this year, it will be tough. There's so much parity now in the league. We have a lot of under and upperclassmen vying for spots in a swing capacity. We have 24 of last year's 46 goals returning from three strikers. I like to think we'll be able to spread it around since teams will focus on Fazal. Defensively, we're building. We'll give it our best shot."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Portland shot back into contention a year ago, earning the venerable Frenzilli SMAA Coach of the Year honors, and could be one of the best teams in the league in 2009. There's an abundance of talent on the roster and a lot of optimism inside the program and from outside observers. The Bulldogs boast the multi-talented Nabi, an SMAA first-team all-star, regional all-star and the league's Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, who is one of the premier players in the state. He scored 11 goals a year ago and is always the focal point of opposing defenses. He's far from the only threat, however, Charles (seven goals in 2008) and Hasanovic (six tallies last year) also have to be accounted for, as do Baxter and Hassan and new junior forward Fabrice Iradhua. Teams paying too much attention to Nabi will grow to regret it. If the Bulldogs can score consistently, they'll have a great shot at matching last year's win total, or bettering it. The defense stands to impress as well. Berlin, Capelluti (an honorable mention all-star a year ago), Hernandez and Rovnak return from a unit that allowed just 18 goals a year ago. They're joined by new seniors Zahid Abid and Ben DiBiase and will be very difficult to beat. The last line of defense is Knight, who returns in goal. He'll be joined this year by new junior Taylor Mannix, a transfer from Hyde School, who will also see some time in net. Scarborough has been the dominant team in the league and region this decade and the Red Storm have to be viewed as the favorite again this fall, but after that, the opportunity is ripe for a squad to make a run at the No. 2 spot. This Bulldogs team has as good a chance as anyone to do so. If Portland can indeed get diversified offense (especially against top foes) and play as well as expected on defense, it will be potent and a lot of fun to watch. Don't be surprised if Portland is a team everyone's talking about in late October.

FUN FACT: Last year, Portland increased its win total from five in 2007 to 11, a six-game jump. That was the program's best one-year improvement since the 1993 team won 11 games, eight more than the 1992 squad.

GIRLS SOCCER

COACH: Dave Levasseur (eighth year)

2008 Record: 11-5 (Lost 2-0 to Marshwood in Western Class A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Kristen Baker (Senior), Mariah Callender (Senior), Sydney Findlay (Senior), Maggie Kilbride (Senior), Nancy McAdam (Senior), Mary Moran (Senior), Sophia Nappi (Senior), Becca Smith (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 9 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 17 (H) DEERING, Sept. 24 @ Gorham, Sept. 26 (H) MARSHWOOD, Oct. 7 @ Cheverus

COACH'S COMMENT: "We're heavy with seniors. Eight of them have been with me since they were freshmen. If we remain healthy and get lucky, we could improve on last year's semifinal finish. It's a very good group. We're hoping for good things."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Coming off their first semifinal appearance in five years, the Bulldogs are hoping for big things in 2009. A talented and senior-laden squad feels it could make a run at Gorham for SMAA supremacy. Portland will be led on offense by Callender, Kilbride, McAdam, Moran and Nappi (a second-team all-star last fall). Incoming freshman Molly Gallagher should provide some depth and promise for the future. Last year, the Bulldogs averaged slightly more than two goals per game, but they were blanked in four of their five losses. With this much firepower, Portland needs to find a way to find the net against top opponents. If they do, the Bulldogs will be as good as anyone. The defense features experience in Baker (honorable mention all-star last season), Findlay (all-SMAA second-team a year ago) and Smith. Freshman Ashley Frank joins the group this year. Laura DiMillo graduated and her spot in goal will be filled by freshman Mishalle Nabi, the younger sister of the boys' team's star player. Gorham and Marshwood still look to be very good, although they might be coming back to the pack. Cheverus and Scarborough will also be tough, but Portland should be able to compete with all of those teams. The Bulldogs see the Red Storm in their second game and have a chance to make an early statement. This senior group has enjoyed great success and has a chance to depart as the winningest class in program history. If Portland can stay healthy and take advantage of its opportunities, it will be battling for league supremacy and perhaps even a regional crown.

FUN FACT: Before Levasseur took over in 2002, the Bulldogs had enjoyed just three double-digit victory seasons in their history. In his seven years to date, Portland has won 10 or more games on five occasions.

FIELD HOCKEY

COACH: Beth Arsenault (10th year)

2008 Record: 2-12 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Corey Carmichael (Senior), Kelsey Conicelli (Senior), Mattie Crockett (Senior), Melanie Peabody (Senior), Emma Wilson (Senior), Kathleen Dalbec (Junior), Effie Drew (Junior), Mackinleigh Isherwood (Junior), Maura O'Conor (Junior), Caitlyn Puchalski (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 4 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 14 (H) DEERING, Sept. 24 (H) SANFORD, Sept. 30 (H) WESTBROOK, Oct. 6 (H) CHEVERUS, Oct. 8 @ Gorham

COACH'S COMMENT: "I'm pretty excited about my team this year in that we gained a lot of valuable experience during last year's rebuilding season. Although we graduated several seniors, that class was such an unselfish and character group that this year's seniors and underclassmen will reap the benefits of their hard work. Last year, they got to play a lot and learned how to deal with adversity. They're definitely stronger for it and have a genuine sense of team already. Several players have worked hard in the offseason improving their skills and that work has been apparent, especially on offense. Our goal is to get to the playoffs and see what happens from there."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: After a tough season which saw them struggle to produce offense, things are looking up for the Portland field hockey program. This year's team stands to be vastly improved and could legitimately make a run at a playoff spot. Crockett, Drew and O'Conor lead the offense, a diverse attack that the Bulldogs haven't featured much of in recent years. Carmichael, Conicelli, Wilson and new sophomore Eleni Anderson will look to control the middle of the field and transition the attack. On defense, Isherwood, Peabody and Puchalski, along with new junior Michaela Holt, will look to hold the opposition at bay in front of returning goalie Dalbec. A year ago, Portland played some of the better teams close, but simply couldn't score. That story should be different this year. If the Bulldogs can get some positive results early and prove they can find the cage, look out. With the exception of a handful of top teams, the playoff chase is wide open in Western A. Portland has the pieces in place to turn heads during the season and if all goes well, crash the postseason in October.

FUN FACT: Of Portland's eight goals last season, half came in the team's two victories.

CROSS COUNTRY

COACH:
(BOYS) Dan Deniso (18th year)
(GIRLS) Sophie Payson-Rand (fourth year)

2008 Results:
(BOYS) DNQ for state meet (ninth @ regional meet)
(GIRLS) DNQ for state meet (12th @ regional meet)

TOP RETURNING RUNNERS:
(BOYS) Cole Hutchison (Senior), Billy Murdock (Senior), Josh Staples (Senior), Simon Thompson (Senior), Owen Carten (Sophomore), Sam Hamilton (Sophomore), Dexter Morse (Sophomore), John Toohey (Sophomore)
(GIRLS) Liza Iselborn (Senior), Maxine Eisenberg (Sophomore), Nyawel Lia (Sophomore), Helen Otto (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Cheverus, Massabesic, Scarborough, Thornton Academy

COACH DENISO'S COMMENT: "Most of our team is still learning to train and race effectively. It's one of the nicest and most coachable groups I've had. We hope to return to the state meet as a team and put at least two runners in the top 20 at regionals."

COACH PAYSON'S COMMENT: "My top four train very well and really push one another to be their best in every meet. I'm not yet sure who my fifth runner will be. Depending on what they bring for times, our hope is to make it to states. Being such a small team, we're able to bond well and as always, plan to have a lot of fun this season."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: After falling short of states a year ago, Portland hopes to return in 2009.

A year after missing states for the first time since 2000, this Bulldogs boys' team has what it takes to return. Hutchison finished 22nd at last year's regional meet and could be one of the best in the league this season. Hamilton (60th at regionals), Thompson (66th), Toohey (91st) and Staples (96th) all return as well. Carten, Morse and Murdock provide depth, as will a pair of promising new additions: senior Tim Weber (a Nordic skier, who could make an immediate splash) and freshman Gabe Doss. This Portland team, if it stays healthy, could easily meet its goal of returning to states.

On the girls' side, the leading returner is Otto, who was a promising 35th at the regional meet as a freshman. Lia (42nd last year at regionals), Iselborn (56th) and Eisenberg (62nd) make up a solid pack. That foursome is bolstered by the addition of seniors Alysia Eldred and Melanie Peabody (a field hockey player who is also running to stay in shape for Nordic skiing), sophomore Devon Miller and freshman Abby Popenoe, who was a standout at King Middle School. Portland hasn't competed as a team at the state meet since 1998, but might be on the verge of returning. The talent is in place and it appears the program is heading in the right direction.

GOLF

COACH: John LaFond (19th year)

2008 Results: 5-5 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYER: Rudy DiMillo (Junior)

TOP FOES: Cheverus, Deering, Thornton Academy

COACH'S COMMENT: "We're rebuilding big-time. We lost a lot. Only one returner. There are quite a few kids out. Our objective is to work on weekly individual goals. The team goal is to improve proficiency, get a bogey or better on every hole. Realistically, we're looking at next year."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: While Portland is certainly behind the eight ball with so little experience, its fiercest rival proved last year that anything is possible. In the regular season finale last Oct. 3, the Bulldogs drubbed Deering 11.5-1.5, but the Rams found a way to put it all together and win an improbable state championship. While such a lofty goal is a little far-fetched for this Portland team, it figures to be competitive in most of its matches. DiMillo, who was the No. 5 player a year ago, will move into the No. 1 spot this autumn. New sophomore Anthony Bowden shows great potential and is a building block for the future. After that, the pieces will have to fall into place. LaFond has coached for a long time and will get the most out of his charges. Anyone thinking the Bulldogs will drop off the map will be surprised. Look for Portland to improve dramatically between now and early October and to be a force again very soon.

Photo: File photo
Portland junior Imadhi Zagon figures to leave many defenders helpless as he roams down the field this autumn.

Photo: File photo
Senior Jake Alexander is a prolific weapon for the Portland offense.

Photo: File photo
Senior Andrew Capelluti was an SMAA all-star a year ago. He and the Bulldogs have high hopes for the 2009 campaign.

Photo: File photo
Senior Mariah Callender and her teammates look to soar above the competition again in 2009.

Photo: File photo
Senior Sophia Nappi will be a scoring threat for the Bulldogs.

Photo: File photo
Senior Corey Carmichael will be a key player for the Portland field hockey squad in 2009.

Photo: File photo
Junior Kathleen Dalbec returns in goal for the Bulldogs.