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Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

Winter Sports Previews

Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

Optimism is high for a triumphant winter sports season at Portland. The boys' basketball team has the pieces in place to be one of the best in the conference and the state. Girls' basketball hopes for a run to the playoffs. Boys' hockey is viewed as a potential Western A darkhorse. The girls' team will be very tough to contend with from start to finish. Both track teams will hold their own in the league. The girls' squad has a new coach. There's also a new face at the helm of the swim program, one well known to the school. That group, boys and girls, will give their all this winter. Nordic skiing and wrestling also look to make noise.

BOYS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Joe Russo (22nd year, 292-130)

2010-11 Record: 12-8 (Lost, 45-41, to Cheverus in Western Class A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Pete Donato (Senior), Mike Herrick (Senior), Nate Smart (Junior), Nick Volger (Junior), Jayvon Pitts-Young (Sophomore), Matt Talbot (Sophomore), Justin Zukowski (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 15 @ Marshwood, Dec. 16 (H) CHEVERUS, Dec. 20 @ Bonny Eagle, Jan. 13 @ SP, Jan. 17 @ Cheverus, Jan. 19 (H) TA, Jan. 27 @ Deering, Feb. 7 (H) SP, Feb. 10 (H) DEERING

COACH’S COMMENT: “We're starting out in better shape than last year. We have some nice momentum from last year. It's a tough league. There will be some interesting games. Can the role players step up and score? Someone will have to emerge. I think we're in the top five. Potentially, if everything goes according to plan, we hope to be there at the end. I'm excited.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland looked dead in the water late in the regular season a year ago, but got hot late, earned a playoff berth, then upset South Portland in the quarterfinals and almost took down undefeated Cheverus in the semifinals before falling four points short. The confidence from that run will certainly help this year's squad, which has several key cogs returning. Leading the way is Herrick, who was a second-team all-star in 2010-11. He was seventh in the league in scoring with a 14.9 average. He also grabbed 4.6 boards and 1.8 steals per contest and was named Portland's Winter Male Athlete of the Year. He's dangerous inside and out. Donato (8.8 points, 6.4 rebounds a season ago) could prove to be one of the SMAA's top post players. Smart is another threat in the front court. The tone will be set on offense by point guard Zukowski (an All-Rookie team selection last winter) and Volger (2.3 assists, 1.7 steals per game a season ago). Pitts-Young emerged as a star in last year's tournament run and will be a handful for opposing defenses. Look for Talbot to play a bigger role in the post, while seniors Zach Lane and Barry Quinn will provide key minutes and timely baskets. The Bulldogs are notorious for getting better as the season goes on (Russo won Coach of the Year honors last season after perhaps his piece de resistance), but this winter, they look pretty impressive from the get-go. If the team can stay healthy and focused on being strong from start to finish, it will impress from the start and be there at the finish. Russo will earn his 300th victory with the program as the season progresses and Portland should make it 16 straight winning seasons. Just how many wins they'll earn will be in doubt considering the strength of the league, but heading into the year, the Bulldogs show great promise and we could be following their exploits right into March.

GIRLS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Jan Veinot (fifth year, 23-50)

2010-11 Record: 5-13 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Kristina Brown (Senior), Nyaliep Deng (Senior), Samantha Dobson (Senior), Delea Malual (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 13 @ Sanford, Dec. 16 @ McAuley, Dec. 17 (H) CHEVERUS, Dec. 20 (H) BONNY EAGLE, Dec. 23 @ Scarborough, Dec. 30 (H) GORHAM, Jan. 6 @ Windham, Jan. 26 (H) DEERING, Feb. 7 (H) MCAULEY, Feb. 10 @ Cheverus

COACH’S COMMENT: “I've seen some glimpses. We're athletic. We have long arms and love to run. We're experienced if nothing else. If they're going to step it up, this is the year. We have good depth. Nyaliep can do it all. She's a good all-around player. If we play defense and don't turn the ball over, we'll be OK. We had close games last year. We need to learn how to win them. We've got to get to the Tournament. That's our goal. I'd like to play a top team in the playoffs.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: After just one playoff berth in the past six seasons, none of which featured a winning record, the Bulldogs have lofty aspirations this winter. The squad has received trial by fire and could be on the verge of becoming one of the league's surprises. While the departure of 2010-11 Portland Winter Female Athlete of the Year and league all-star Nicolette Kapothansis will be a tough hole to fill, the Bulldogs appear to have depth. The team will be led by Deng, who is a scoring threat in the post and a dominant force on the glass (she was third in the league in rebounds last season with 9 per game). Deng had a team-high 10 points in a season-opening 55-27 home loss to Marshwood. Dobson and Malual also give Portland an advantage in the paint. Brown will run the offense from the point guard position. Senior guard Nyador Nguany, who had a knee injury last winter, could help replace some of Kapothanasis' scoring. The team has five seniors and four juniors who hope to take the next step. While the Bulldogs still have a ways to go to get to the level of their city rivals, there appear to be a lot of playoff spots up for grabs, especially now that the Maine Principals' Association has gone back to allowing two-thirds of teams to qualify. Portland will have to step up and beat a few teams it isn't expected to, but it has the pieces in place to make a run. Don't be shocked if there's a buzz around the Bulldogs as the season progresses or to see them playing their first meaningful February game in quite some time.

BOYS' HOCKEY

COACH: Andy Gildart (fourth year, 24-31-1)

2010-11 Record: 6-12 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Anthony Bowden (Senior), Ryan Jurgelevich (Senior), Sam Perdomo (Senior), Jon Gatti (Junior), Mike Fuller (Sophomore), Zach Luce (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 13 (H) BIDDEFORD, Dec. 22 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 2 (H) YARMOUTH, Jan. 11 @ York, Jan. 19 @ Scarborough, Feb. 1 @ TA, Feb. 9 @ Falmouth, Feb. 16 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Feb. 22 (H) TA

COACH’S COMMENT: “We'll be young with only three seniors. Despite the MPA not allowing the three Deering seniors to finish out their high school careers, we'll be able to dress a full 20 players which should help during a run for a playoff spot. If we play to our strengths, improve throughout the season and end up .500 or better, we could be back in the playoffs. Last year, it came down to one game. The boys don't want to be in the stands watching hockey in late February.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Last winter, the Bulldogs missed the playoffs for just the second time since 1996 and barely fell short, with a one-goal loss to Cheverus with a position at stake. This year, Portland hoped to add three Deering seniors who no longer have a team, but the Maine Principals' Association shot that down. Regardless, the Bulldogs have some impressive pieces in place as the new season dawns. Offensively, Luce leads the way. He had three goals and five assists last winter. Bowden (six assists), Jurgelevich (two goals, one assist), Perdomo (two assists) and Fuller (two goals, three assists) will also be heard from. On defense, freshmen Ryan Ruhlin (who played quarterback on the football team) and Zach Tarbox look to make an immediate splash. Junior Caleb Fraser (a baseball standout) is also new to the team and provides depth and a spark. Senior forward Marcus Griffin was expected to pace the offense, but he's sidelined with concussion symptoms. Gatti is now in his third season in goal. He stopped 89 percent of the shots he faced last season. The season opened Saturday with a 4-2 loss to Kennebunk, but Luce scored twice and Gatti made 29 saves. While the team is young and the schedule is extremely daunting (two games against defending Class A champion Thornton Academy, one with Class B champ York and one each with potential top contenders Biddeford and Falmouth), Portland likes its chances and opposing coaches feel the Bulldogs have a chance to turn some heads in the weeks to come. A return to the postseason looks promising.

GIRLS' HOCKEY

COACH: Courtney Rideout (third year, 10-22-4)

2010-11 Record: 5-11-2 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Raechel Allen (Senior), Nicola Dipietro (Senior), Rachel Waterhouse (Senior), Drew Barry (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 21 @ York, Jan. 5 (H) YORK, Jan. 7 (H) FALMOUTH, Jan. 13 @ Scarborough, Jan. 16 @ Falmouth, Jan. 21 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 23 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Feb. 2 (H) CHEVERUS, Feb. 4 (H) GREELY

COACH'S COMMENT: “We have a solid core group who are ready and willing to step up and fill some key leadership roles. We've added some real depth to our offensive and defensive attack. We have a group of players who know the game, can play at both ends and all are able to put the puck in the net. With some more practice and experience, our younger, new players will be able to step up and play some key roles in our success.”

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: The Bulldogs are an up-and-coming contender which is fitting seeing that the team boasts several field hockey players who are coming off that program's best season ever. Portland has begun the 2011-12 campaign with a flourish, blanking traditionally strong Biddeford (3-0), losing to Eastern A power Leavitt/Edward Little in a slugfest (10-6), then beating Biddeford (11-5) and shocking host Lewiston (4-3). The team has been bolstered by two additions, seniors Kylie Dalbec and Lindsey Sneider. Dalbec played at North Yarmouth Academy and has already brought the team a scoring punch, tallying three goals in the second win over Biddeford and a pair at Lewiston, including the winner. Sneider is the team's lone player from Deering and will also be relied upon to score. The offense is prolific as Barry (four goals versus Biddeford) and Allen (Portland's Fall Female Athlete of the Year, who had two goals at Lewiston) are pretty tough to contend with. Dipietro is also in the mix, as are new junior Gabi Cardona (a transfer from Cheverus) and freshman Georgia Drew. Barry is actually the anchor of the defense, but that gets lost in the shuffle when she fires shot after shot past hapless goalies. Waterhouse and junior Leanne Reichert provide two solid options in goal. Waterhouse is returning to the position, while Reichert is new, but is quickly getting up to speed. While the schedule gets tougher as the season progresses, the confidence already built thanks to the additions and early success will pay dividends down the road. The Bulldogs should have no trouble eclipsing last year's win total and a winning season and playoff berth are tangible goals. By February, no one will want to face this dangerous group that figures to be a lot of fun to watch as the season progresses.

INDOOR TRACK

BOYS' COACH: Carroll Nappi (11th year)

GIRLS' COACH: Tammy Heathco (first year)

2010-11 Results:

(BOYS) 8th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 13th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNING ATHLETES:

(BOYS) Isaac Atterberry (Senior), John Toohey (Senior)

(GIRLS) Eleni Anderson (Senior), Carroll Ann De Belen (Senior), Alice Lala (Senior), Zeinab Mohamed (Senior), Alex Thompson (Senior)

COACH NAPPI’S COMMENT: “We have about 20 committed kids. It's a new bunch. No superstars. I want to build up the kids. Hopefully, we'll specialize by the end of the season. I hope we improve throughout.”

COACH HEATHCO'S COMMENT: “We have a great group of student-athletes who have made a commitment to the team and have put forth a solid first three weeks of training. The girls have a great attitude and are willing to work hard and try new events..I'm proud of their dedication and look forward to the season.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: There's a lot of new around both Portland track teams this winter.

The boys won't have standout Imadhi Zagon for the first time since 2006-07 and with a lot of unproven athletes, it's hard to guess how well the Bulldogs will fare. Atterberry could be a threat in the middle distance events. Toohey hopes to score in the sprints. New sophomore Richard Akena shows promise in the middle and long distance races. Portland should become better and better as the season progresses and might surprise some folks at Southwesterns and states.

On the girls' side, Tammy Heathco takes over the program. She's been an assistant coach for outdoor track at Morse for three seasons and also coached the Greely Middle School indoor program. She takes over a group that has some solid senior leadership and athleticism in Anderson, De Belen, Lala, Mohamed and Thompson and several newcomers. That list includes juniors Megan Anderson, Sunday Charles, Hawo Mohamed and Carissa Porcaro, sophomores Annette Denekas, Sarah Gale, Monica Reno and Samantha Topchick and freshmen Margo Andreason, Fair Charles, Merideth Johnson, Clare Kirby, Hannah Smith, Alyssa Vaccaro and Jessica Wolfe. While events were still being sorted out at press time, this team has a lot of promise and has a good opportunity to make some noise in the regular season and possibly position a few girls to score at the state meet.

SWIMMING

COACH: Lee Crocker (first year)

2010-11 Results:

(BOYS) 14th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 22nd @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) David Bliss (Senior), Liam Brochu (Senior), Dylan Bruce (Senior), Liam McNeill (Senior), Nick Joyce (Junior), Bobby Parent (Junior), Payson Robinson (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Mary Badger (Senior), Megan Hudson (Junior), Lucy Veilleux (Junior), Isabel Walter (Junior), Emily Burton (Sophomore), Kate Christy (Sophomore)

COACH'S COMMENT: “It's going really well. There aren't as many kids as I'd like, but they're great kids who are working hard. There's great potential. I'm really excited. We're looking for a great season. I think we'll be very competitive with both teams. The boys hope to repeat last year when they were 6-2. For the girls, the top 10 is a nice goal. We want at least a .500 record after going 2-6 last year.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland returning Crocker as coach, who's served two previous stints with the program, from 1980-85 and 1990-95. He's been in administration the past decade, but is looking forward to taking over a program that could do exciting things in the weeks to come.

The boys are led by Bliss, a captain, who swims the butterfly and breaststroke. Brochu is the lead diver. Bruce (backstroke and freestyle) and McNeill (breaststroke and sprints) also have experience. Joyce (distance and breaststroke), Parent (backstroke) and Robinson (sprints and breaststroke) also return and bring depth. They're joined by freshman Dominic Guimond, a distance swimmer. Look for several boys to make a run at scoring at states and if they do so, the Bulldogs will be quite a force.

On the girls' side, the loss of Leanne Reichert to ice hockey hurt, but there are several good swimmers in reserve. Badger, Hudson and Veilleux all scored in the relays at last year's state meet. Badger is the captain and will compete in the sprints. Hudson (backstroke and freestyle), Veilleux (butterfly, IM, 500 free), Walter (breaststroke and butterfly) and Christy (IM) all return for another season as will backstroker Burton. Freshmen Olivia Gilbert (freestyle and backstroke) and Rachel Glover (all strokes) bring talent and depth. The Bulldogs will be very tough to contend with in the regular season and should have no trouble moving up the standings at the big February meets.

NORDIC SKIING

COACH: Aaron Duphily (second year)

2010-11 Results:

(BOYS) 9th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 4th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNING SKIERS:

(BOYS) Ben Allen (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Abby Popenoe (Junior)

COACH’S COMMENT: “The girls were fourth at states last year and we qualified more skiers for J2s than any team other than Yarmouth. The girls are shooting for a top two finish at states. The boys look to be competitive with many promising newcomers and the other teams will have individuals looking to make their mark.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland's girls were all about quality and not quantity a year ago and the program's hoping to be even better this time around. Popenoe came in seventh in both the classic and freestyle a year ago and is on the short list of the state's best. She's joined by freshmen Lucy Algeo, Bea Hesselbart, Darcy Hinck, Julia Rand and Meaghan Wells. Look out for the Portland Nordic Ski Club.

The boys will be paced by Allen (17th in the freestyle and 22nd in the classic a year ago). He'll only get stronger. Freshmen Johnathan Bland and Patrick Sheils provide depth. The Bulldogs look to once again score at states and can't be ruled out.

WRESTLING

COACHES: David Elowitch and Tony Napolitano (10th year)

2010-11 Results: 19th @ Class A state meet (eighth @ regionals)

TOP RETURNERS: Jake Bigelow (Senior), Nate Porter (Senior)

COACH ELOWTICH'S COMMENT: “We hope to have a strong meet record with four state qualifiers.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland had a very good season a year ago and hopes for more of the same this winter. Porter will make a run at the top spot from his heavyweight class. Bigelow (220) will be a tough matchup. Three newcomers will look to make an immediate mark. That group includes sophomore Kidayer Aljubyly (113) and freshmen Greg Casella (126) and Jack Schwartz (120). The Bulldogs should get better as the season progresses and could be a force to be reckoned with at the regional and state championship meets.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @foresports

Photo: File photo

Sophomore Jayvon Pitts-Young was a revelation during last year's tournament and should play a key role this winter.

Photo: File photo

Junior Nate Smart is another top returning Bulldog.

Photo: File photo

Junior Nick Volger's intensity will make Portland go.

Photo: File photo

Junior Jon Gatti is back for his third season in goal for the Bulldogs.

Photo: File photo

Sophomore Zach Luce will be a top scoring threat for a Portland boys' hockey team with playoff aspirations.