Spring Preview: Portland Bulldogs
Several Portland High spring sports teams appear primed for a strong year. Baseball, always a lead contender, welcomes a new coach. Softball does as well and looks to build on last year's playoff berth. The boys' lacrosse squad has positioned itself as a perennial threat to win it all. The could be the season the Bulldogs get over the hump. The girls' team made great strides last season and with a returning coach, hope to make it back to the postseason. Track faces small numbers, but both the boys' and girls' teams will make noise. Boys' and girls' tennis look to be factors as well.
Coach: Mike McCallum (first year)
2008 Record: 10-8 (Lost 13-0, in five innings, to Westbrook in Western Class A quarterfinals)
Top returning players: Ed Bogdanovich (Senior), P.J. Brogan (Senior), Brian Furey (Senior), Peter Olafsen (Senior), Campbell Rico (Senior), Joe Violette (Senior), Adam Gould (Junior)
Pivotal games: April 25 @ South Portland, April 28 @ Bonny Eagle, May 7 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 21 (H) DEERING, May 26 (H) CHEVERUS, May 28 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, May 30 @ Westbrook
Coach's comment: "It's a good group. They're working hard. We're looking forward to a decent season. Our strength is our three good starters and our bats. We have to shore it up defensively. We should be one of the better teams."
The Forecaster's forecast: Portland seemingly is always one of the better teams, but the Bulldogs struggled at times in 2008 and still have a sour taste in their mouths after the playoff drubbing at Westbrook. For the second time in three seasons, the program welcomes a new coach, this time a familiar face in McCallum, who played at PHS (Class of 1995) and USM. He spent six years as Portland assistant under Mike Rutherford and also coached freshman, JV and Legion ball. He inherits a squad that could make a run at consensus favorites Deering and Westbrook. Three reigning all-stars returns. The highly-touted and respected Furey (a second team selection in 2008 after putting up a 2.90 ERA) is part of a formidable three-headed pitching monster which also includes Bogdanovich 5-1, 2.62 last year) and Brogan (2-0, 1.24), who were all-Rookie team mentions last spring. Gould will also see some time on the hill. Olafsen will catch. The offense figures to be led by Brogan, Furey (.304, two homers, 17 RBI last year) and Violette (seven RBI in 2008), but Bogdanovich (.286, 10 RBI last spring), Gould, Olafsen and Rico will all contribute as well. New sophomore Rudy DiMillo will factor in on the mound and the infield. The Bulldogs will get some tough tests right out of the gate, but should be up for the challenge. This is a team that has all the earmarks of a dark horse. Don't be surprised if come June, Portland is the hunt for the top spot.
Fun fact: Last year was only the third time since 1973 that the Bulldogs failed to finish with double-digit victories in the regular season.
Coach: Dee Regan (first year)
2008 Record: 8-9 (Lost 4-0 to Deering in Western Class A preliminary round)
Top returning players: Sarah Levesque (Senior), Jessica Martin (Senior), Lauren Messer (Senior), Ashley Olmsted (Senior)
Pivotal games: April 25 @ South Portland, April 27 (H) CHEVERUS, May 1 (H) MCAULEY, May 8 @ Deering, May 20 (H) GORHAM, May 29 (H) BIDDEFORD, June 1 @ Scarborough
Coach's comment: "I want to improve and be competitive. If we can get decent pitching, I think we'll compete. I hope to surprise some teams and be scrappy on the bases. I can't wait to get started."
The Forecaster's forecast: Softball is another program welcoming a new coach this season. Like baseball, the new skipper is no stranger. Regan was a standout for the Bulldogs and led them to the 2000 Class A state championship. She also played at St. Joseph's College. She inherits a team with plenty of seniors, but also one that might be short on offense. Martin can hit with anyone and is a potential all-star at shortstop. She'll need help though. Replacing Alex Perdomo on the mound will be a challenge as well. Senior Kaitlyn DeFilipp, who spent time on JV last year, and Messer will look to fill the void. The catcher will either be junior Courtney Phillips, a JV player last season, or junior Maggie Kilbride, who played as a freshman, but not as a sophomore. Levesque and Olmsted provide steady play in the outfield. While Regan seeks to wake up the echoes, it might take a few years. Portland can compete with many of the teams in the league, but will likely be overmatched against the powerhouses. Still, this team will win its share of games and hopes to extend its streak of making the playoffs to 27 seasons. Don't bet against it.
Fun fact: Here's a positive sign: The last time Portland lost to Deering in the playoffs (1989), it turned around and won the Class A championship the following season.
Coach: Eric Begonia (seventh year)
2008 Record: 8-5 (Lost 7-6, in overtime, to Cheverus in Western Class A quarterfinals)
Top returning players: Erik Casparius (Senior), Sam Guimond (Senior), Andrew Holt (Senior), K.R. Jurgelevich (Senior), Dylan Kenney (Senior), Igor Radosavljevic (Senior), Kyle Roberts (Senior), Tyler Sandler (Senior), Jason Smith (Senior)
Pivotal games: May 5 (H) CHEVERUS, May 8 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 12 (H) KENNEBUNK, May 16 @ Cape Elizabeth, May 18 @ Yarmouth, May 26 (H) DEERING, May 29 @ NYA
Coach's comment: "We have 10 seniors who will start. We have a strong defense coming in. It's our anchor. We're still sorting out the offense. We hope some others fill in. We have great senior leadership and great team chemistry."
The Forecaster's forecast: The Bulldogs were more hare than tortoise last spring, getting off to a sizzling start, which included landmark victories over Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth, before slumping down the stretch which set the stage for a gutwrenching overtime playoff loss to rival Cheverus. Rest assured, Portland will use that bitter pill as motivation this season. This could be a special squad with several returning stars and some exciting newcomers. All eyes will be on Jurgelevich, who will take his act to the University of Massachusetts next school year. Jurgelevich (38 goals, 19 assists last season) is a reigning All-American and first-team all-star. He'll spend more time at midfield this season and will be the faceoff specialist. He's joined by the talented Guimond (Portland's Winter Male Athlete of the Year), Holt, Roberts and Sandler to make life difficult for opposing defenses. A pair of newcomers, senior Kevin Nielsen and sophomore Caleb Kenney, will make their presence felt as well. The defense has all-star and college-caliber players also. Casparius, Kenney and Smith were all first-team all-stars last season. Casparius and Kenney will play at Siena next year, while Smith is bound for Maine Maritime. First, they'll anchor a smothering unit that also includes Radosavljevic and sophomore Will White, a transfer from Cheverus. Goalie Jeremy Finney graduated, but Portland has two options for his replacement: senior Nick Sterling, who was a fixture at Deering before transferring, or freshman Ryan Jurgelevich, who will give him a big push. Both figure to see plenty of action. While prior Bulldogs teams were more offense-oriented, the ultimate success of this year's squad will likely be authored by the defense. If it's as dominant as expected, Portland will be formidable. If the offense comes along as hoped, this team could find itself on its home field June 20, looking for a first-ever state championship.
Fun fact: Begonia has led Portland to a winning record in each of his previous six seasons. In that span, the Bulldogs have won 63 of 87 contests.
Coach: Eric Wales (second year)
2008 Record: 7-7 (Lost 16-1 to Scarborough in Western Class A quarterfinals)
Top returning players: Bayleigh Isherwood (Senior), Casey Monaghan (Senior), Nancy McAdam (Junior)
Pivotal games: April 28 @ McAuley, May 5 (H) WESTBROOK, May 19 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, May 23 @ Bonny Eagle
Coach's comment: "We have some very talented players who can flat-out play, but the process of 12 girls becoming one team will be the key. I truly believe we'll win many games, but we need to be very committed on working hard to limit our mistakes. The girls have the drive and heart to make this another big year. They love the game and being part of the team which will set us up for another exciting season."
The Forecaster's forecast: Portland made great strides last spring and with a favorable schedule, can improve even further in 2009. The Bulldogs will lean heavily on their three top returners. McAdam had a huge game in a playoff win at Westbrook and will look to light it up again this season. She'll get help from freshman center Rachel Allen and junior midfielder Dani Holt. Isherwood and Monaghan anchor the defense with the assistance of junior Ally Dolan. Senior Kristin O'Kelly, along with Allen and freshman Catherine Flaherty will handle draws. The biggest hole is in goal where Wales has yet to decide on a replacement for Julia Skoczenski. If the team comes together as hoped, the program's record of eight regular season wins is within grasp. There could be a buzz around this squad this spring. Portland should find itself back in the playoffs and will make its presence felt.
Fun fact: Wales' return marks the first time Portland has had the same coach in successive seasons since 2003-2004.
Boys' coach: Carroll Nappi (eighth year)
Girls' coach: Liz Koharian (second year)
(Boys) T-22nd @ Class A State Meet
(Girls) no score @ Class A State Meet
Top returning athletes:
(Boys) Nate Buck (Senior), Abde Ahmed (Sophomore), Imadhi Zagon (Sophomore)
(Girls) Laura Cowie (Senior), Jenny Huang (Senior), Brittany Ridge (Senior), Kristen Byrnes (Junior), Chrissy Flanders (Junior), Sophia Nappi (Junior)
Top foes: Bonny Eagle, Gorham, Scarborough boys; Scarborough, Thornton Academy girls
Coach Nappi's comment: "Right now I have 18 kids. Hopefully the younger kids will play off Imadhi. It's fun to see how the different kids work."
Coach Koharian's comment: "We have numbers this spring which is great. We have a large freshman class with a lot of talent. Our sophomore class is very experienced. I expect hard work and dedication. Since we have a larger team, I hope to create some depth. I think we'll be very strong in the sprints and field events. We'd like to score at the state meet."
The Forecaster's forecast: Both outdoor track teams should be fun to watch this year.
The boys are short on numbers, but Zagon is capable of scoring plenty of points on his own. He came in seventh in the long jump last spring. He was second indoors in both the high jump and long jump and came in fifth in the 200. He'll make his share of noise from start to finish. Buck placed seventh in the 800 indoors and will be the top distance threat. Ahmed shows promise in the 400. Portland won't have the numbers to compete as a team, but this season will be defined by some solid individual performances.
On the girls' side, the story is more encouraging than it's been in many years. Portland hasn't scored in the top 10 at states since 1999. This season, the Bulldogs will have to be accounted for. In the sprints, Huang, Nappi, sophomores Kalli Daggett and Maura O'Connor, newcomers Eleni Anderson and Alice Lala, along with Ridge, will be heard from. Cowie, along with sophomores Abby Daggett and Nyabang Diang, will run the 400. Flanders and sophomore Kara Cooper, along with newcomer Alex Thompson, are the distance threats. In the throws, look for Byrnes, Ridge and newcomer Courtney Rickett to make a mark. Huang will also compete in the jumps, while Diang will run the hurdles. There are a lot of potential points there. The Bulldogs are certainly heading in the right direction.
Coach: Bob Girsch (second year)
2008 Record: 4-8 (No playoffs)
Top returning players: Karl Fisher (Junior), Alexander Jordan (Sophomore)
Pivotal matches: April 27 @ Deering, May 8 @ Cheverus, May 13 (H) SCARBOROUGH
Coach's comment: "We'll have a young and inexperienced team. My hope is that the players have a positive experience and grow from those experiences."
The Forecaster's forecast: After falling short of the playoffs last spring, the Bulldogs hope to make a run this season. Jordan will play first singles. Fisher is penciled into the second spot. Senior Brian Watson, who played baseball his first three years of high school, will be in the third spot. Girsch expects freshman Isaac Jaegerman to contribute as well. If Portland can be competitive in the doubles matches, it will have a chance to hold its own against most foes in the SMAA. The Bulldogs have a good young nucleus and should ride whatever success they enjoy this spring to even greater triumph in the next couple of seasons.
Coach: Bonnie Moran (second year)
2008 Record: 10-4 (Lost 3-2 to Deering in Western Class A semifinals)
Top returning players: Greer Chapman (Senior), Maggie Swann (Senior), Corey Carmichael (Junior), Maggie Eismeier (Junior), Liza Iselborn (Junior), Lauren MacDougal (Junior), Mary Moran (Junior)
Pivotal matches: April 27 (H) DEERING, May 8 (H) CHEVERUS, May 13 @ Scarborough, May 26 (H) MCAULEY
Coach's comment: "I expect us to do very well this year. We don't have any superstars, but we have a large group of strong players with a very competitive spirit who are committed to constant improvement. We're working on the mental aspect of the game, staying focused especially at critical moments, solid fundamentals, consistency and doubles strategy."
The Forecaster's forecast: Portland came oh-so-close to its first-ever regional final berth in Moran's first season. This year's team should be right in the mix as well. Four players, Eismeier, Iselborn, Moran and Swann, were battling for three singles positions at press time. Coach Moran expects there to be movement in those spots throughout the season. Carmichael, Chapman and MacDougal return as doubles players. They're joined by two old friends who missed last season. Senior Audrey Seiz is back after injury and is only able to play doubles, but should contribute. Senior Zoe Lee was studying abroad in 2008, but will also be a factor. There isn't a dominating team this year in Western A so Portland could swoop in and make history. By year's end, the Bulldogs figure to be very dangerous.