Deering Rams Winter Sports Preview

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Senior Abi Ramirez is one of the state’s scrappiest players. She and her Deering girls’ basketball teammates are expecting big things this winter.

File photos.

More photos below.

BOYS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Todd Wing (fourth year, 44-17 overall record)

2015-16 record: 17-3 (Lost, 70-39, to Portland in Class AA North Final)

Top returning players: Jean Claude Butera (Senior), Manny Chikuta (Senior), Raffaele Salamone (Senior), James Sinclair (Senior), Ben Onek (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 15 EDWARD LITTLE, Dec. 27 @ Bangor, Jan. 6 @ Cheverus, Jan. 12 TA, Jan. 14 SOUTH PORTLAND,  Jan. 17 @ Portland, Jan. 24 @ Oxford Hills, Jan. 27 CHEVERUS, Feb. 3 PORTLAND, Feb. 9 @ South Portland

Coach’s comment: “We’ll play our usual up-tempo style and we hope to score more in the halfcourt. I like our chemistry. We complement each other well. I like the direction we’re going. We’ve had a lot of success in the summer and preseason. Portland is still the team to beat, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think we could match up with them. We have potential. Hopefully we’ll have a big year and be ready to compete come February.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Deering had a superb team a year ago, but the sting of the decisive loss the Rams suffered at the hands of their fiercest rival in the regional final lingers. Deering graduated league all-stars Anthony Lobor, Malik White and Ben Williams (who combined to average nearly 44 points per game), but several talented players return and others will get a chance to play bigger roles.

Salamone is the lone returning starter. A third-team all-star a year ago after placing fourth in the league in rebounds per game (9.1), Salamone’s size and skill will give the opposition nightmares. He’ll be a force in the paint at both ends. Butera will do the majority of the ballhandling. He tied for 19th in assists per game (2.1) and tied for 15th in steals (1.6) last season. Freshman Darryl Germaine will also run the offense at times. Chikuta is a player to watch on the wing, while Sinclair will be another big body down low. Onek made the All-Rookie team as a freshman and could be primed for a breakout season. He can get it done off the dribble or on the perimeter. Senior Machar Nguany, who was limited by injuries last season, is ready to contribute in the frontcourt. Junior Ricky Despacho, a transfer from Texas, figures into the backcourt mix and adds depth.

Deering should be solid on both ends of the floor and will again be among the best teams in the state. Ultimately, the Rams will be judged by whether or not they can solve Portland. The Bulldogs have beaten Deering nine consecutive times, including three straight years in the playoffs. Portland remains a powerhouse, but could be vulnerable and the Rams will likely get three more cracks at the defending champs. They only need to be victorious once, in late February. If this team develops as hoped, look out, the city of Portland could see another Gold Ball, but this time, it could reside on Stevens Avenue.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Mike Murphy (ninth year, 126-36 overall record, one state championship)

2015-16 record: 12-8 (Lost, 45-35, to Oxford Hills in Class AA North semifinals)

Top returning players: Amanda Brett (Senior), Abi Ramirez (Senior), Tasia Titherington (Senior), Victoria Garand (Sophomore), Delaney Haines (Sophomore), Mandy Mastropasqua (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 13 South Portland, Dec. 15 @ Edward Little, Jan. 3 @ Cheverus, Jan. 10 @ Windham, Jan. 12 @ TA, Jan. 20 GORHAM, Jan. 24 OXFORD HILLS, Jan. 27 @ Maine Girls’ Academy, Jan. 31 BONNY EAGLE, Feb. 3 @ South Portland, Feb. 7 @ Scarborough

Coach’s comment: “We have a lot of work to do, but I like the core of my group. Our sophomores got their feet wet last year. I wish we had a little more height. We’ll have to rebound. We do have good guard play and we’ll be solid on defense. I think Gorham has the two best players, but you have to play the games. I hope we can mesh and play good basketball and I hope we’ll have some fun. ”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Deering had its share of fun a year ago during a competitive season that was capped by a come-from-behind playoff win over Cheverus before it finally ended with a close loss to Oxford Hills in the semifinals. This season, the Rams are viewed by many as a squad that could go all the way to the state final.

Deering returns some solid senior leaders and they’ll be bolstered by a sophomore class which has received trial by fire. Ramirez is the school’s reigning Winter Female Athlete of the Year and was a second-team all-star a year ago after averaging 3.3 assists (11th in the league) and 2.1 steals (13th). The dynamic sparkplug is listed at 5-feet-4, but plays with no fear, driving to the basket, forcing turnovers and exciting all on hand with her style of play. She’ll again be in the middle of the action. Titherington, a third-team all-star after averaging 13.2 points (seventh in the SMAA) and 2.6 assists (tied for 12th), has featured a deadly shot since her freshman year and when she’s hitting the mark, she’s nearly impossible to stop. Brett is a threat in the post. She averaged 10 points (15th in the league) and 7.6 rebounds (seventh) per contest in 2015-16. Haines made the All-Rookie team as a freshman. She’s another scoring threat from the perimeter. Mastropasqua is a solid defender in the post and Garand also features size and the ability to rebound. Sophomore Ashleigh Mathisen will spell Ramirez at point guard at times and senior Sydney Giroux is another solid player who will make a mark off the bench. The Rams should be effective on both ends of the court.

Deering will be tested by a challenging slate, which includes powerhouses from Class AA South like defending champion Gorham and South Portland, as well as several teams such as Cheverus, Edward Little and Oxford Hills that the Rams could have to beat the playoffs. If this group can stay healthy and focused, the sky is the limit. Murphy, last year’s SMAA Coach of the Year, will get the most out of the Rams and position them to steal headlines in late February. Perhaps in early March as well if the season goes as well as hoped.

INDOOR TRACK

Boys’ coach: Gerry Myatt (fifth year)

Girls’ coach: Kevin Campbell (15th year)

2015-16 results:

(Boys) 4th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 24th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Roman Anderson (Senior), Ezra Chapola (Senior), Jonata Mbongo (Senior), Kevin Segal (Senior), Cade Violette (Senior), Luc Harrison (Junior), Nick James (Junior), Jack Lynch (Junior), Kabala Muka (Junior), Yahya Nure (Junior), Songha Loth (Sophomore), Iessa Ramadan (Sophomore), Alec Troxell (Sophomore)

(Girls) Nicola Ciccomancini (Senior), Elizabeth Erbe (Senior), Maggie Healy (Senior), Caitlin Lally (Senior), Annah Rossvall (Junior), Angela Muka (Sophomore), Sreyly Sao (Sophomore)

Coach Myatt’s comment: “Our numbers are good. We have a lot of good athletes. We’ll do fine in the events we cover. I hope we match last year or do even better. We hope to be very competitive.”

Coach Campbell’s comment: “We have a lot of new runners this season and we hope to be competitive in most meets. We have good numbers and should be able to cover all events.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Deering indoor track program boasts a lot of talent and holds plenty of promise this winter.

The boys are coming off a solid campaign and even though reigning Winter Male Athlete of the Year and defending Class A 400 champion Paolo DeMarco has graduated, the Rams are absolutely loaded with athletes this time around. Chapola was fourth in the triple jump last season and leads a group of strong jumpers. He’s joined by Anderson, Harrison, Segal, Violette and new junior Manny Lam. Muka hopes to score in the throws. He’s joined by sophomore Josh Paisley. After a superb cross country season, it’s no surprise that Deering is loaded in the distance races. Look for Fall Male Athlete of the Year Nure, Ramadan, Troxell and sophomore Jerry Mixangelo to all play key roles. The Rams have no shortage of sprinters and Harrison, James, Loth, Lynch, Mbongo and junior Chris Iroaoze will all be heard from. Hurdlers of note include Ioraoze, Segal and Violette. Deering will get a challenge from Scarborough, Thornton Academy and Westbrook in the league and of course, powerhouse Falmouth awaits at states, but the Rams will produce a lot of highlights in the weeks to come and will be right there in the championship meets.

On the girls’ side, Rossvall is the lone returning scorer. She came in seventh in the 400 last season and will sprint and hurdle this winter. Other veterans include Ciccomancini (sprints), Erbe (800), Healy (sprints), Lally (sprints), Muka (jumps, throws, sprints) and Sao (jumps and sprints). Mix in new sophomore Elizabeth Sevigny (shot put) and freshman Darcy Lally (hurdles, pole vault) and Deering has the opportunity to score a lot of points in the regular season and at the SMAA and state meets. Look for the Rams to move up quite a bit come championship season.

SWIMMING

Coach: Sarah Rubin (fourth year)

2015-16 results:

(Boys) 24th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 7th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Jasper Sommer (Senior)

(Girls) Nicole Whipkey (Junior), Claire Christopher (Sophomore)

Coach’s comment: “We have a big team this year. Claire and Nicole will lead our girls and both hope to repeat their great performances at states. Jasper will lead our boys.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Deering’s swim team is ready to make the most of its talent this winter.

Sommer is the boys’ team’s top returner. He can swim multiple events. The girls feature Christopher (eighth in Class A in the 500 freestyle as a freshman) and Whipkey (who scored in a pair of relays last season).

Look for both teams to improve as the season goes on and to turn heads in February.

NORDIC SKIING

Coach: Aaron Duphily (seventh year)

2015-16 results:

(Boys) No score @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 3rd @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Caleb Niles (Senior), Peter Jordan (Junior)

(Girls) Leinani Farnsworth (Senior), Ewka Varney (Senior), Morgan Aponte-Clarke (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “It should be an exciting winter. I feel good about the girls’ team’s depth. Ewka and Leinani both look very strong. I think we can definitely challenge Falmouth and we might be able to give Mt. Blue a run for their money. The boys don’t have enough members to score as a team, but all three skiers will be competitive.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Deering members of the Portland co-op Nordic ski team should perform very well and allow the Rams to be a factor at the state level.

The girls’ team came in third in Class A a year ago and is hoping for even bigger things this time around. Farnsworth was runner-up in the classical at last year’s Class A state meet and placed fifth in the freestyle. Varney was sixth in the freestyle and eighth in the classical. Aponte Clarke overcame injuries and came in 17th in the classical and 22nd in the freestyle. Look for Grace Callahan, Violet Sulka-Hewes and Grace Tumavicus to also play key roles. This team’s depth and skill will be tough for anyone in the SMAA to match and will set Deering up to do great things on the big stage.

On the boys’ side, the Rams only have three skiers, but all three could turn heads. Niles came in fifth in both the classical and freestyle last year. Jordan came in 13th in the freestyle and 14th in the classical in 2015-16. Both will be top contenders again. They’re joined by freshman William Jordan, Peter’s younger brother, who was a middle school champion a year ago. Watching the individuals vie for a high finish will be a highlight for this year’s squad.

WRESTLING

Coach: Al Kirk (39th year)

2015-16 results: Tie-17th @ Class A state meet

Top returners: Bridget Fehrs (Senior), Mort Soule (Senior), Ryan Walsh (Senior)

Coach’s comment: “Our numbers are low. We have 15. We just want to get better and have a good time.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Deering has modest goals this winter, but the Rams do have some wrestlers to watch.

Soule is the captain and will contend at 160 pounds. Walsh (182) and Fehrs (132) are also experienced. Keep an eye on a couple of newcomers, senior Chris Solo (145), who transferred from Georgia, and freshman Travis Soule (138), Mort’s brother.

The Rams will hope to fill the weight classes as best they can and look for a few individuals to make a run in February.

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

Senior Raffaele Salamone is a dominant inside presence for a Deering boys’ basketball team seeking a state title.

Senior Jean Claude Butera will be the Rams’ point guard.

Senior Manny Chikuta will play a bigger role this season.

Senior James Sinclair will be a force inside for the Rams.

Senior Tasia Titherington has demonstrated a nice scoring touch since her freshman season.

Senior Amanda Brett will be a matchup nightmare for the opposition.

Sophomore Mandy Mastropasqua looks to build on her strong freshman campaign.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.