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South Portland Red Riots Winter Sports Preview

Sports

South Portland Red Riots Winter Sports Preview

South Portland fans will enjoy watching their winter sports teams this year. Boys' basketball should be one of the best in the region and could be a state championship contender when its standout returns. The girls' squad is a postseason regular and is in the hunt this year. Boys' hockey made great strides a year ago and looks to be in the mix again. Both track teams boast strong athletes and both swim squads expect to contend.

BOYS BASKETBALL

COACH: Phil Conley (third year)

2008-09 Record: 14-5 (Lost 72-49 to Portland in Western Class A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Spencer Bowring (Senior), Ryan Curit (Senior), Jon DiBiase (Senior), Connor Hasson (Senior), Keegan Hyland (Senior), Matt Lee (Senior), Brian McHugh (Senior), Greg Reinhold (Senior), Steve Hodge (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Jan. 7 @ Deering, Jan. 9 (H) TA, Jan. 12 (H) PORTLAND, Jan. 22 @ Cheverus, Jan. 28 (H) DEERING, Jan. 30 @ Westbrook, Feb. 2 @ Portland, Feb. 5 (H) CHEVERUS

COACH'S COMMENT: "I love my group. We have a veteran team. They've been there. They work extremely hard every day. The kids have great character. It's a pleasure to coach them. We have great senior leadership. We'll be focused. I think we could go deep in the tournament, but the league is so competitive. We need to get healthy and stay healthy."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Indeed, health is foremost on the Red Riots' minds as the 2009-10 begins. Hyland, viewed by many as the best player in the state and a top college prospect, will miss much of the season with a pelvic stress fracture injury. A year ago, Hyland was a first-team Southern Maine Activities Association all-star, co-MVP, led the league with a 27.7 points per game average and delivered highlight performances almost every time out. Hyland does much more than score. He was also ninth in steals (2.5) and 11th in assists (2.7). If that's not enough, South Portland is also hindered by the loss of promising junior Vukasin Vijnjevic, who will miss the year with an injured knee. He was becoming a standout in his own right. But despite the blow of their absence, South Portland is still in very good hands. A lot of veteran ones, in fact. Lee was a third-team all-star last year (finishing ninth in scoring with a 13.0 average). He's battled injury in the past, but if he's healthy, can certainly help pick up some of the scoring slack. In the opener at Biddeford, Lee went off for 23 points (including five 3-pointers) to help the Red Riots win, 63-51. Tuesday night, in a come-from-behind 48-44 home triumph over Windham, Lee led the team with 15. Several other weapons are also in place. Hasson (8.3 ppg, 7.2 rebounds in 08-09) returns in the post. He had 14 points against the Tigers and 11 versus the Eagles.. Bowring (eight points in the opener) is a versatile athlete. Reinhold looks to step it up down low. DiBiase (3.8 assists per game a year ago) directs the offense at point guard. Curit (South Portland's Fall Male Athlete of the Year) will be a force on the boards and defensively. Seniors Adam Burpee and Spencer Gervais, McHugh (seven points against Windham), Hodge and Kennedy also return, providing great depth. Then, there's new sophomore guard Jordan Muller and freshman Tanner Hyland, Keegan's younger brother, who could see ample playing time. The Red Riots are fortunate in that the meat of their schedule comes in the 2010 portion, after the holidays. If this team can turn its adversity into a positive, growing situation, look out, they'll be close to unbeatable when Hyland returns. Whatever happens, rest assured that South Portland will play hard and be entertaining. There are several top-notch teams in the SMAA this year and the Red Riots deserve to be included as a leading contender. While the onset of the season brings its challenges, it's still very possible that South Portland will enjoy a happy ending.

FUN FACT: South Portland's 29 combined wins over the past two seasons is the program's best since the 1999 and 2000 squads won the same number.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

COACH: Mike Giordano (14th year)

2008-09 Record: 12-8 (Lost 53-26 to Scarborough in Western Class A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Tayla Genesio (Senior), Danielle McCusker (Senior), Esther Palmieri (Senior), Danielle DiBiase (Junior), Abby Hasson (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Jan. 2 (H) DEERING, Jan. 5 @ Scarborough, Jan. 7 @ McAuley, Jan. 9 @ TA, Jan. 12 @ Portland, Jan. 22 (H) CHEVERUS, Feb. 1 (H) PORTLAND, Feb. 5 @ Cheverus

COACH'S COMMENT: "It's been up and down so far. We play young, even though we have three seniors who will see a lot of minutes. I like to think we'll be one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot. The team-bonding piece is there. They work together well. Danielle and Esther's experience will help the other kids along."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Even though graduation has done a number on the program the past few years (2008-09 Winter Female Athlete of the Year Brianna Hawkins, a scoring and rebounding machine, was the latest big loss), the Red Riots will continue to battle this season. South Portland scrapped with Biddeford, one of the favorites, in the opener before falling 52-45. In that one, McCusker scored 15 points, while Genesio and Palmieri both had their moments. Tuesday, the Red Riots got in the win column with a 49-40 victory at Windham (behind 23 from McCusker and 10 apiece from Genesio and Palmieri) This team's strength could be its perimeter play. McCusker (an SMAA honorable mention last winter) is in her fourth varsity season and DiBiase (All-Rookie team member in 08-09) and Palmieri have been through the wars as well. New sophomore Emily Masters and freshman Danica Gleason should also see time. Down low, Genesio and Hasson look to step it up to replace Hawkins' production. This team will be a work in progress. The Red Riots have a favorable schedule early as they grow and come together. By the time January rolls around, the big threats arrive and hopefully by then, South Portland will have clicked. Expect Giordano to mold a competitive team that won't be easy to contend with in the latter part of the season. The Red Riots are often at their most dangerous when they have few expectations to contend with. That will be the case this winter.

FUN FACT: South Portland has enjoyed a winning record every season this decade, averaging nearly 15 victories per season.

BOYS' HOCKEY

COACH: Joe Robinson (third year)

2008-09 Record: 15-4-1 (Lost 10-0 to Falmouth in Western Class A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Tommy Ellis (Junior), Zach Griffin (Junior), Robert Hannigan (Junior), Zach Horton (Junior), Dominic Desjardins (Sophomore), Brendan Horton (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 10 (H) BIDDEFORD, Dec. 12 @ Portland, Dec. 16 @ TA, Jan. 2 (H) GORHAM, Jan. 14 @ Deering, Jan. 16 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 21 (H) PORTLAND, Jan. 27 @ Kennebunk, Jan. 30 @ Gorham, Feb. 13 (H) FALMOUTH

COACH'S COMMENT: "We play a tougher schedule this year with four Tier I teams. I think our scoring will be more spread out. We don't have a top sniper like Nick Fornwalt from last year, but our defense and goaltending is really strong. I think it might help us having our scoring spread out so teams can't just focus on one guy like they did with Nick. We hope to make the playoffs again with a young, but more experienced team."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: South Portland was the feel-good story of the 2008-09 season, winning 15 games, including a preliminary round playoff tilt in overtime. Replacing first-team all-star Nick Fornwalt won't be an easy task, but the Red Riots have plenty of young talent. The offense features Griffin and Hannigan, along with freshman Nick Whitten. South Portland's strength could be defense where not only Desjardins returns in goal (he came up big time and again as a freshman), but Ellis, Brendan Horton, Zach Horton and freshman Neil Maietta will make life difficult for opposing attacks. The Red Riots' schedule is a mixed blessing. It's an honor to play the tougher teams after success a year ago, but beating them won't be easy. If South Portland takes care of the others on the slate, it will be in good shape in regard to getting back to the postseason. This young squad will only improve between now and February and could write another inspirational story before all is said and done.

FUN FACT: The Red Riots have won 25 combined games the past two years. The only two-year span more successful was in 2003 and 2004 when South Portland managed 27 victories.

INDOOR TRACK

BOYS' COACH: Dave Kahill (third year)

GIRLS' COACH: Bob Zinchuk (19th year)

2008-09 Results:

(BOYS) 3rd @ Southwesterns (16th @ Class A state meet)

(GIRLS) Tie-11th @ Southwesterns (no score @ Class A state meet)

TOP RETURNING ATHLETES:

(BOYS) Brian Arsenault (Senior), Jon Clement (Senior), J.C. Esquibel (Senior), Mike Foley (Senior) Joe Michaud (Senior), Brian Campbell (Junior), Alex Ciampi (Junior), Arman Mohammad (Junior), Matt Welch (Junior), Dan Medici (Sophomore), Thomas Salamone (Sophomore), Darryl Wilkinson (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Faith Abraham (Senior), Bobielyn Fisher (Senior), Kristin Jerome (Senior), Olivia Treadwell (Senior), Tanya Wilkes (Senior), Annelise Donahue (Junior), Maria Letourneau (Junior)

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

COACH KAHILL'S COMMENT: "We have a talented, hardworking and focused group of seniors who will make us very competitive. Jon leads the distance runners and we have a core of versatile sprinters and middle distance runners. We have a solid shot put crew. The team's great character, attitude and competitiveness should lead to a successful season."

COACH ZINCHUK'S COMMENT: "We're returning three state qualifiers in Bobielyn, Kristin and Annelise and have a very talented junior division. This team will be very exciting to watch and will improve each week."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Both South Portland indoor track teams should be very good this season.

The boys' return no state meet scorers, but several athletes could be in line to make their names known this year. Clement is a first-rate distance runner. Mohammad, Salamone and Wilkinson will also run the longer races, along with freshman Austin Gotts. Michaud sprints and runs middle distance. He's joined in the sprints by Arsenault, Ciampi, Foley, sophomore Alognon Wamokanzi, new senior Chris Crouch-Foster, new sophomore Joey DiBiase and freshman Joe Feely. In the middle-distance, Campbell, Esquibel, Medici and newcomers Ryan Tuttle and Nick Williamson take part. Campbell, Ciampi, Esquibel and Medici are top hurdlers, along with Williamson. The throwers consist of Foley, Medici, Welch, freshman Eddie Apricopoai, Crouch-Foster and Izaak Onos. There's a lot of athleticism and depth on this team. If a few front-line scorers can emerge, look out, the Red Riots will be one of the best teams at the Expo and could threaten at the state meet.

On the girls' side, South Portland features Fisher in the sprints, Jerome in the hurdles and Donahue in the mile. All three girls qualified for the state meet a year ago and will look to score this time around. Abraham, Wilkes and Treadwell add depth. Big junior, sophomore and freshmen classes will also help the cause. The Red Riots will hold their own in league competition and will lean on their big three to make some noise at states, where they have a very good chance to score.

SWIMMING

COACH: Rob Card (fifth year)

2008-09 Results:

(BOYS) 7th @ Southwesterns (13th @ Class A state meet)

(GIRLS) 7th @ Southwesterns (18th @ Class A state meet)

TOP RETURNING SWIMMERS:

(BOYS) Nick Brown (Senior), Chris Harle (Senior), Travis Wibby (Senior), Lucas Ashbaugh (Junior), Jaren Parras (Junior), Adam Sellick (Junior), Chad MacWhinnie (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Courtney Perruzzi (Senior), Erin Speeches (Senior), Maureen Blanchard (Junior), Nicole Fogg (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough

COACH'S COMMENT: "Our goal this is year is for the boys and girls to place in the top 10 at states."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: South Portland has much to get excited about this swim season.

The boys' squad opened with two powerhouses, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, and comported itself well. The team returns state meet scorers Parras (fifth in diving) and Wibby (sixth in diving). The top sprinter is Harle. Brown will swim in the longer freestyle races. Ashbaugh competes in the IM and butterfly. MacWhinnie takes part in the back and fly. New freshman Colby Brown (freestyle) will also make some noise. The Red Riots should hold remain competitive throughout.

On the girls' side, the lone returning scorer is Perruzi (sixth in diving). Blanchard (backstroke), Fogg (50 free) and Speeches (breaststroke) have experience. New sophomore Haley Bartlett (IM, fly) and freshmen Lauren Holvorsen (breaststroke) and Abigail Onos (sprint freestyle) look to make a mark. South Portland lost to defending Class A champion Cape Elizabeth in the opener, but should steadily improve as the season progresses.

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South Portland boys' basketball fans (and those around the area) eagerly await the return of injured senior standout Keegan Hyland.

MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Senior Connor Hasson will step up and lead the Red Riots in scoring and on the glass this winter.

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Senior Esther Palmieri will be one of South Portland's top scorers.

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Senior Jon Clement is one of the top distance runners in the SMAA.