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Portland Bulldogs Spring Preview

Sports

Portland Bulldogs Spring Preview

Spring sports were very kind to Portland athletics a year ago, as the Bulldogs captured a state and a regional championship. This year should be more of the same. Baseball is very young, but expect this squad to become a force as the season progresses. Softball hopes to improve on last year's win total. The defending champion boys' lacrosse team has a vastly different look, but shouldn't be overlooked in its quest to repeat. The girls' squad hopes to make it back to the playoffs. Track athletes will make their mark all season. Boys' tennis hopes to be a factor, while the defending regional champion girls' team looks to get back to the state match and win it all.

BASEBALL

Coach: Mike McCullum (second year)

2009 Record: 10-8 (Lost 10-0, in six innings, to Deering in Western Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Adam Gould (Senior), Rudy Dimillo (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 24 (H) WESTBROOK, May 6 @ Deering, May 8 (H) MARSHWOOD, May 11 @ Thornton Academy, May 13 (H) BONNY EAGLE, May 18 @ South Portland, May 20 (H) CHEVERUS, May 22 @ Scarborough, June 1 @ Westbrook

Coach's comment: “We return only two starters from a year ago. We lost nine seniors and will be very young. The league is wide open this year. It's a work in progress. Our team goals are to make the playoffs and continue to improve and build for the future. With talented underclassmen, I think we're a year or two away from competing for a championship.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Portland is coming off its 27th consecutive playoff appearance, but was ousted in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. This year's team has its work cut out and won't be included among the favorites, but there is some nice young talent that will impress in time. McCullum will rely heavily on his only two returning starters. Gould (2-0, 24 strikeouts, 2.43 earned run average and inclusion on the All-Rookie team a year ago) will be the ace pitcher and will likely eat up a lot of innings. Dimillo (.250 in limited action in 2009), along with Gould, hopes to spark the offense. After that, there's a passel of newcomers primed to become household names. Joining Gould in the rotation will be sophomore Paley Burlin and freshmen Caleb Fraser and Nate Smart. Freshman Nick Volger will catch. He's expected to produce with the bat and should get help from seniors Scott Briggs (corner infielder) and Ben Dibiase (second base). Mix in seniors Alex Donatelli (outfield) and Jason Strauss (utility), juniors Ed Apon and Joel Dipetro (outfield) and freshmen Kyle Reichert (first base) and Tim Rovnak and the raw talent is there. While the Bulldogs will have trouble with the elite teams in the SMAA, there aren't a lot of them, so Portland will compete on most days and will have a shot to win a majority of its games. A record approaching last year's mark and another trip to the postseason are realistic goals if all goes well. Regardless, we'll be hearing a lot about this group the next couple of seasons.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Dee Regan (second year)

2009 Record: 2-14 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Mattie Crockett (Senior), Maggie Kilbride (Senior)

Pivotal games: April 24 @ Kennebunk, April 26 (H) DEERING, May 7 @ Gorham, May 12 @ Thornton Academy, May 15 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 17 @ Biddeford, May 21 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, May 24 @ Cheverus, May 28 @ McAuley

Coach's comment: “We have really low numbers this year, which is difficult. We'll rely on freshmen at pitcher and catcher, but they're very athletic. We want to improve and build as a team and get a lot of experience. We're young overall, with just two seniors and two juniors. The rest are sophomores and freshmen. That's positive for the future. They're really good kids who are fun to work with.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Last year marked the first time since 1981 that the Bulldogs fell short of the postseason. The team will face an uphill climb getting back this spring. Portland will go with a rarity, a freshman battery. Ashley Frank is the new pitcher and Leeann Reichert steps in behind the plate. This year's experience will pay off down the road for that duo. Reichert has a chance to produce with the bat as well. Crockett (a second baseman, who might pitch at times) and Kilbride (a former catcher, now at shortstop) also feature some pop. The Bulldogs will hope to get some breaks as the season progresses and trust that the younger players will come into their own. By year's end, Portland should be able to compete with all but the most elite teams in the league. Surpassing last year's win total is a realistic goal. More triumph will come in the near future.

BOYS' LACROSSE

Coach: Eric Begonia (eighth year)

2009 Record: 15-1 (Beat Brunswick 9-3 to win first Class A state championship)

Top returning players: Pat Curran (Senior), Nolan Hellen (Senior), Jason Knight (Senior), Kevin Nielsen (Senior), Gordon Parker (Senior), Bronson Guimond (Junior), Caleb Kenney (Junior), Will Walsh (Junior), Ryan Jurgelevich (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 28 @ Kennebunk, May 8 @ Lewiston, May 22 (H) DEERING, June 1 (H) SCARBOROUGH

Coach's comment: “We're a very different team, but we have anchors at every position and some pleasant surprises. We look very good defensively. We had a productive preseason. If we can stay healthy, we'll be in great shape. Our schedule is favorable. Winning's contagious, but this team has to earn its own respect.”

The Forecaster's forecast: After several seasons knocking at the championship door, Portland kicked it down with a flourish in 2009. The Bulldogs were sensational from start to finish, produced two All-Americans (K.R. Jurgelevich and Dylan Kenney), five league all-stars (Erik Casparius, Jurgelevich, Kenney, Sam Guimond and Jason Smith) and The Forecaster's Coach of the Year (Begonia). The program was devastated by graduation, but those who think Portland will fall off the map will be very surprised and disappointed in the weeks to come. The all-star names might be gone, but there is plenty of talent in reserve, befitting what is now unquestionably an elite program (60 wins, two regional crowns and a state title since 2005). This spring, another Jurgelevich will garner his share of attention, but Ryan will get it done as a goalie, not in the field. Only a sophomore, he showed glimpses of greatness last year and will keep his team in every game. The defense features big, strong athletes in Curran, Hellen and Walsh, all of whom will gobble up groundballs. The offense is deep and balanced. At the midfield position, Caleb Kenney is ready to emerge into a superstar. Nielsen (the faceoff man) and Parker are also skilled and able to tickle the twine. The attack features more threats in Bronson Guimond and Knight, along with freshman Max Pierter (the younger brother of former star, Mitch). The Bulldogs will benefit from an easier schedule this spring and should be able to post another solid record. This season, Portland will be classified in Eastern A for the playoffs, meaning a showdown with Brunswick wouldn't come in the state game this time around, but perhaps in a regional final. This group is hungry and ready to make its own mark. While the Bulldogs likely won't be the juggernaut of 2009, by June, they could be the team that everyone is talking about. Again.

GIRLS' LACROSSE

Coach: Eric Wales (third year)

2009 Record: 7-7 (Lost 16-8 to Gorham in Western Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Mariah Callender (Senior), Danielle Holt (Senior), Nancy McAdam (Senior), Effie Drew (Junior), Malinka Jankowski (Junior), Raechel Allen (Sophomore), Catherine Flaherty (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 29 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 3 @ Cheverus, May 13 @ Thornton Academy, May 18 @ Deering, May 22 (H) WESTBROOK, May 28 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, June 1 @ Marshwood

Coach's comment: “Our schedule is a good blend this year. We're kind of in the middle tier. Our zone defense has come into its own. Our goalkeeping will be a strength. We can transition. We have good athletes on offense. If our offensive unit can get to its potential, we should have a very good year. We should be .500 or better and we should definitely be looking at the playoffs.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Wales has brought stability to the program and the Bulldogs have responded in kind, posting back-to-back 7-7 campaigns with trips to the regional quarterfinals. This time around, Portland is hoping to win more than it loses and have a longer stay in the postseason (it will be in Eastern A for the playoffs this year). The Bulldogs feature some special athletes. Leading the way is McAdam, a first-team SMAA all-star in 2009. She has the potential to score a ton of goals while leading the offense. McAdam is joined by Portland's Winter Female Athlete of the Year, Allen (an All-Rookie team selection last spring), and freshman Drew Berry. That triumvirate will make life miserable for opposing defenses. Drew, Flaherty and Jankowski will also be factors. New junior Zoe Swaffer will handle draws. Callender is an experienced defender in front of returning goalie Holt. The pieces are in place for this to potentially be the best Bulldogs squad to date. If Portland takes care of business against the teams it's supposed to beat and can jump up and pick off one of the strong programs on the slate, it will be in good shape for playoff positioning. Once they get there, no one will want to see the Bulldogs with the season on the line.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Boys' coach: Carroll Nappi (ninth year)

Girls' coach: Liz Koharian (third year)

2009 Results:

(Boys) 6th @ Class A State Meet

(Girls) no score @ Class A State Meet

Top returning athletes:

(Boys) Abde Ahmed (Junior), Nemanja Jankovic (Junior), Imadhi Zagon (Junior)

(Girls) Kristen Byrnes (Senior), Kara Copper (Junior), Abby Daggett (Junior), Kalli Daggett (Junior), Maura O'Connor (Junior), Eleni Anderson (Sophomore), Nyawal Lia (Sophomore)

Top foes: Cheverus, Deering, Scarborough boys; Scarborough, Thornton Academy girls

Coach Nappi's comment: “We'll probably be middle-of-the-pack during the regular season. Hopefully at the end, Imadhi will have help when we go to states. If Koang comes through and some underclassmen pan out, we hope to be in the top five like we were indoors.”

Coach Koharian's comment: “We have a small team, but will have talent. I'm excited to see how we'll do this season.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Both Portland outdoor track teams are ready to turn heads this spring.

The boys' team is once again led by the dynamic and dominant Zagon, the school's Winter Male Athlete of the Year. Last spring, Zagon scored 38 state meet points all by himself, winning the 100, 200 and long jump, while placing second in the high jump. All signs point to him doing just as well in 2010. Ahmed is coming off a solid indoor season. He can score in the sprints and jumps. Jankovic will look to score in the throws. A pair of interesting newcomers could also impress. Senior Koang Thok, the basketball standout, will jump and could take part in other events. Senior Elie Nembambi is a sprinter to watch. Zagon alone is enough to keep the Bulldogs competitive in the regular season and in the championship meets. If he gets some help from the supporting cast, Portland could have a very productive season and could break into the top five at states for the first time since winning a title in 2005.

On the girls' side, after failing to score at states the past two years, the Bulldogs have what they feel are some athletes capable of ending that drought. A solid of group of returners is joined by three promising newcomers. Anderson (sixth in the 400 at last year's SMAA meet) runs the 400. Kalli Daggett's specialty is the 800, as is Lia's. Abby Daggett is a distance threat and will be joined by Copper. O'Connor is a top sprinter and a jumper. Byrnes will look to score in the throws. New junior Mary Nyembo will sprint. Freshmen Megan Anderson (sprints) and Carissa Pocaro (distance) hope to make an immediate splash. Portland is a small but dangerous team. Look for the Bulldogs to be more competitive this spring and make some noise in June.

BOYS' TENNIS

Coach: Bob Girsch (third year)

2009 Record: 4-9 (Lost 4-1 to Thornton Academy in Western A preliminary round)

Top returning players: Karl Fisher (Senior), Alexander Jordan (Senior), Ian Kuniholm (Senior), Isaac Jaegerman (Sophomore)

Pivotal matches: April 30 (H) WINDHAM, May 3 (H) DEERING, May 12 @ Cheverus, May 19 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 21 @ South Portland

Coach's comment: “My hope is for the team to win the matches against teams at our level and compete against teams at a higher level.”

The Forecaster's forecast: A year ago, the Bulldogs made the playoffs for the second time in three years and hope to do it again in 2010 as they seek the program's first winning mark since 2004. The team was still a work in progress at press time, but Fisher, Kuniholm, Jordan and Jaegerman are the top four, not necessarily in that order. Some newer, unproven players will need to step in and fill holes, but Portland figures to have the pieces in place to compete against most of the teams on its schedule. If the Bulldogs are able to improve as the season goes along, they could eclipse last year's win total and return to the postseason.

GIRLS' TENNIS

Coach: Bonnie Moran (third year)

2009 Record: 15-1 (Lost 4-1 to Lewiston in Class A Finals)

Top returning players: Corey Carmichael (Senior), Liza Iselborn (Senior), Lauren MacDougal (Senior), Mary Moran (Senior)

Pivotal matches: May 3 @ Deering, May 10 (H) GORHAM, May 19 @ Scarborough, May 25 @ McAuley

Coach's comment: “We would love to repeat the success we had last year. Our top players have had two or three years experience playing varsity, but we did graduate several key players. We have some depth and several players willing and anxious to step up. Our roster contains a large group of young players, so one goal this year is to help them develop their skills and foster a competitive attitude while having a great time, so they'll be ready when their turn comes.”

The Forecaster's forecast: The Bulldogs rewrote the record books last spring, setting a new mark for victories in a season (15), reaching the regional final for the first time and winning a first-ever Western A title. The fantasy run ended with a loss to Lewiston in the state match, but that did nothing to take away from what was a marvelous ride. Despite some graduation losses (most notably Spring Female Athlete of the Year, Maggie Swann), Moran, our reigning Coach of the Year, still has a lot to work with and Portland has a great shot at getting back to the ultimate match. Carmichael is a returning all-star. She brings experience and will move up from doubles to third singles. Mary Moran will step into the first singles role. Iselborn is now at second singles. Freshmen Molly Gallagher and Sophie Hulbert look to step right in and make an impact at doubles, which also features MacDougal and new senior Emma Wilson. The Bulldogs lost three of last year's four all-star doubles players and will need to fill those spots to remain at or near the top. This has become a premier program, so it's realistic to believe that Portland will find the answers. By year's end, the Bulldogs figure to be one of the best teams in the league once again and will have a great shot to get back to states and make a run at a first-ever championship.

Photo: File photo

Junior Rudy Dimillo is a rare veteran on the Portland baseball team this spring.

Photo: File photo

Senior midfielder Kevin Nielsen will be a force for the defending Class A champion Portland boys' lacrosse team this season.

Photo: File photo

Sophomore Ryan Jurgelevich is primed to take over in goal for the Bulldogs this year.

Photo: File photo

Sophomore Catherine Flaherty is one of several Portland girls' lacrosse players hoping to enjoy a solid 2010 campaign.

Photo: File photo

Sophomore Nyawal Lia leads Portland's outdoor track distance contingent.