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Cheverus Stags Winter Sports Preview

Sports

Cheverus Stags Winter Sports Preview

Cheverus' fall season went as far as it could go and winter should be equally successful. Boys' basketball is poised to bounce back after a rare season missing the playoffs. The girls' basketball team is coming off the best season in program history. Boys' hockey is on the short list of top contenders. The girls' team has what it takes to make a playoff run. Both indoor track teams feature great athletes. Boys' swimming made history last winter and is primed to make another title run. The girls' team should be very good as well. Alpine skiing hopes to contend. Four boys, including junior captain Liam LaFountain and sophomore Aiden Whitis, are wrestling this winter, training with Deering, while representing Cheverus.

BOYS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Dan Costigan (second year, 6-12 overall record)

2012-13 record: 6-12 (No postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Brad Carney (Senior), Sam Cross (Senior), Manny Ismail (Senior), Mike Sinclair (Senior), Noah Stebbins (Senior), Derek Hammond (Junior), Zordan Holman (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 10 BONNY EAGLE, Dec. 13 TA, Dec. 20 DEERING, Dec. 30 @ Portland, Jan. 31 PORTLAND, Feb. 4 @ Deering

COACH’S COMMENT: “We're just a few days in as a real unit. We're getting the football players in basketball shape. The guys who are in shape are cooked. We're starting from a better place this year. A year ago, we had guys who hadn't played much varsity. This time, we'll be much better. We've got some pieces who know what to expect. They're good, coachable kids. We'd like to think that we're a playoff team.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Football giveth and football taketh away at Cheverus. While the Stags reveled in their trip to the football state final, that put basketball behind the eight ball. Big time. Due to the overlap in seasons and Cheverus mandating that football players get time off before starting basketball, the Stags really haven't been able to practice with the lineup many expect to see. While the situation is far from ideal, the Stags will be just fine. After falling short of the playoffs last winter (something which hadn't happened since 1999-2000), Cheverus is poised for a bounce-back season and should return to its accustomed perch as one of the top contenders. This year's squad will feature a strong combination of inside and outside play. Down low, the Stags boast the likes of the 6-foot-6 Sinclair (who has been slowed by injuries throughout his high school career), the 6-5 Holman (an honorable mention all-star who led the Southwestern Maine Activities Association in rebounds per game last winter, 11.5 per game) and senior Kodiak Simpson, who stands 6-4. Cross, who stands 6-2 and brings a football mentality to the hardwood, will also be heard from down low. Cheverus' strength has long been an ability to drain outside shots and this group has the pieces to do so again. Ismail (a top foul shooter who had 7.9 points, 2.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game last winter) will run the offense at point guard. Carney (who made 24 3-pointers a year ago) and Stebbins (who averaged 10.5 points per game and drained 29 3-pointers last year) are seasoned. Hammond is fighting his way back from injury and should be back in the lineup by the end of the month. Junior Cam Chea and freshman Austin Boudreau will look to made their presence felt as well. While Costigan isn't pleased with being without several players in the preseason, a quick start isn't imperative. After all, last year's team started 2-0 and 3-2, but won just three times the rest of the way. This team is more concerned with how it finishes and that promises to be strong. Once you get past preseason favorites Bonny Eagle and Portland, the league is very balanced and the Stags have all the necessary ingredients to not only contend with everyone, but win more than they lose. The feeling last winter was that teams should enjoy beating up on Cheverus while they could. This winter, the Stags will be back. That means a winning season, a trip to the playoffs and quite possibly a deep postseason run.

GIRLS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Richie Ashley (seventh year, 72-45 overall record)

2012-13 record: 18-3 (Lost, 47-36, to eventual champion McAuley in Western A Final)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Georgia Ford (Senior), Cassidy Grover (Senior), Sadie Lyons (Senior), Alisha Starbird (Senior), Jillian Libby (Junior), Jess Willerson (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 13 @ TA, Dec. 20 @ Deering, Dec. 23 @ McAuley, Dec. 30 @ Portland, Jan. 7 @ Gorham, Jan. 14 @ Westbrook, Jan. 17 SP, Jan. 28 @ Scarborough, Jan. 31 PORTLAND, Feb. 4 @ SP, Feb. 7 MCAULEY

COACH’S COMMENT: “Like last year, we want to take it game by game. We don't have a ton of experience coming back. Only Georgia played significant minutes last year. We'll be more physical this season. We'll still be athletic. We have excellent shooters.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Cheverus' program had much to be proud of entering last year's tournament, but the Stags still wore the albatross of not being able to win a big game. That stigma disappeared forever thanks a memorable run which didn't end until a valiant upset bid against McAuley in the regional final fell just short. With that run, Cheverus cemented its status as an annual contender and despite some painful graduation losses, most notably reigning Winter Female Athlete of the Year Brooke Flaherty and Kylie Libby, both of whom are playing in college, this year's squad should be right back in the hunt. Inside, the Stags look for big things from Willerson, who was very impressive as a freshman. Grover has experience and size. Lyons, who missed the latter part of last season after a serious knee injury (but still finished fourth in the league in steals, 3.6 per game), is healthy and her tenacious play will make life difficult for the opposition. Cheverus got an early Christmas present when junior Laura Holman left McAuley and transferred in. She'll make an immediate impact with her strong post play and her experience in big games. The backcourt shows great promise as well. For starters, there's the sharpshooting Ford, a third-team all-star a season ago, who proved that regardless of the setting, she was never shy about letting it fly and quite often, she buried clutch 3s. She'll keep opposing defenses honest. Jill Libby will run the offense and could be on the brink of a breakout season. She'll get it done on both ends of the floor. Starbird is currently sidelined with a concussion, but when she's cleared, she'll help the cause as another top-notch talent. Then there's a second transfer, sophomore Anne Veroneau, who lived a fairy tale as a freshman at Waynflete, seeing key minutes playing alongside her sisters, Catherine and Martha (the reigning Miss Maine Basketball) and helping the Flyers win a first-ever Class C championship (rumor has it that various Veroneau stars of the past helped Cheverus prepare for the season). She's capable of playing various roles. It will take a little while for the Stags to hit their stride, as there are new faces in new places, but this team's upside is tremendous. On paper, this could be the second-best team in the region, behind McAuley, and perhaps the squad best equipped to end the Lions' reign (and how sweet would that be in Stags Nation?). Cheverus will likely spend some time at the Cumberland County Civic Center again come late February. If all goes well, the Stags will play there once more on the first Saturday in March.

BOYS' HOCKEY

COACH: Dan Lucas (fifth year, 45-30-1 overall record)

2012-13 record: 13-7 (Lost, 4-2, to Scarborough in Western A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Jason Blier (Senior), Alex Grant-Roy (Senior), James Hannigan (Junior), James Kane (Junior), Jean-Claude Lemieux (Junior), Matt O'Leary (Junior), Conor Ryle (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 14 @ St. Dom's, Jan. 1 @ Portland, Jan. 4 @ Falmouth, Jan. 9 @ Scarborough, Jan. 18 PORTLAND, Jan. 29 @ TA, Feb. 6 SCARBOROUGH, Feb. 8 @ Biddeford, Feb. 13 BIDDEFORD, Feb. 20 TA

COACH’S COMMENT: “We'll continue to work hard and improve to be competitive in every game.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Cheverus has been very competitive in recent seasons with last year marking the first time since the championship season of 2005-06 that the Stags made it to the semifinal round. Are they ready to take the next step? They can certainly entertain title hopes, but there is a lot of work to do during a very challenging regular season. Cheverus will be led on offense by Hannigan, Lemeiux and Ryle. The defense is anchored by Grant-Roy (a second-team all-state selection last winter), Kane and O'Leary. Newcomer Kieran Conley will contribute as well. Blier (another second-team all-stater) returns in goal. Lucas has done a great job returning this program to an elite level. The problem now is that there are so many good teams standing in the Stags' way. A good season might not even be enough to host a quarterfinal round playoff game as there are four other strong teams in Western A alone, not to mention traditional powers Lewiston and St. Dom's in the East. Look for this team to steadily improve, score a lot of goals and play stingy defense. If Cheverus can stay healthy and be at its best come playoff time, it might not just go back to the Colisee, but stay another round or two.

GIRLS' HOCKEY

COACH: Amy McNally (second year, 6-13-1 overall record)

2012-13 record: 6-13-1 (Lost, 6-1, to Scarborough in West Region semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Katie Randall (Senior), Sophia Giancotti (Sophomore), Jill Hannigan (Sophomore), Caroline Ray (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 14 @ Scarborough, Jan. 1 @ Portland, Jan. 4 PORTLAND, Jan. 11 @ Falmouth, Jan. 16 FALMOUTH, Jan. 18 @ Biddeford, Jan. 25 SCARBOROUGH

COACH'S COMMENT: “We have a young team and low numbers, but we have some high quality players who are willing to work hard and learn a lot to improve their game. We have room to improve and we've already made substantial progress from last season's start. We're looking to gain another playoff birth and surprise people once again in the first round."

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Cheverus' program is always in the mix and could be a force again come playoff time. First, the Stags have to fight through some growing pains, as evidenced by an 0-2-1 start (losses to Biddeford and Lewiston and a tie versus York). The pieces are place to win some games. On offense, Hannigan and Randall figure to lead the way and score their share of goals. Giancotti and Ray anchor the defense in front of sophomore Taylor Courtois, who will be in the cage. Several other players will look to make a mark and a number of newcomers hope to quickly get up to speed. Cheverus will be tested by several teams this season, but should remain competitive throughout. By the end of the year, the Stags will be dangerous. If they get back to the playoffs, they'll be capable of turning some heads again.

INDOOR TRACK

BOYS COACH: Steve Virgilio (fourth year w/boys' team; second year w/girls' team)

2012-13 results:

(BOYS) 2nd @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 4th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNING ATHLETES:

(BOYS) Elijah Yeboah (Senior), Isaac Yeboah (Senior), Anthony Ciampi (Junior), Jake Dixon (Junior), Jacob Schott (Junior), Gerry Wagner (Junior), Nick White (Junior), Hunter Griffiths (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Elyse Caiazzo (Senior), Kiera Murray (Senior), Meredith Willard (Senior), Madison Aldrich (Junior), Georgia Caso (Junior), Abby Goodrich (Junior), Milena Opielowski (Junior), Sarah Mount (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Bonny Eagle, Scarborough, Thornton Academy

COACH'S COMMENT: “The boys' team lost a lot to graduation, including six senior captains and five scorers. Three scorers and just under a quarter of our points are returning. The boys have worked hard and done a lot of good things in recent years. They've accomplished much and also have been waiting a long time for one elusive goal. There are a lot of people, past and present, who are behind the team and look for another exciting season of top level performances and competition. The girls' team returns six scorers and more than three-quarters of last year's points. We finished fourth last winter and continue to aim high. The girls are after their first major indoor team victory. With multiple contenders in the sprinting, jumping, distance and relay events, we should provide our followers with as much pride and excitement as ever.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Cheverus lost some top-notch talent, but both indoor track teams should once again be among the best in the conference and in the state.

The boys' squad was a close second to Scarborough at the state meet, but that group graduated a lot. All is not lost, however, as the Stags bring back some special athletes. The top returners are Elijah Yeboah (fifth in the 55 hurdles and sixth in the 400 at last year's state meet), Dixon (part of a state champion 800 relay team) and Schott (who won the junior high, long and triple jumps at Southwesterns). Dixon and Schott will lead the sprinters and jumpers this winter. Elijah Yeboah and Isaac Yeboah will be heard from in the sprints and hurdles. Griffiths and Wagner add depths in the sprints. White is the top thrower, with help from Ciampi. Five newcomers will also be heard from. Senior James Biegel is a middle distance runner. Classmate Felix del Vecchio competes in the sprints and middle distance. Junior Drew Harris is a sprinter and middle distance runner. Sophomore Brady Levesque competes in the middle distance and classmate Josh Veroneau is a distance runner. Look for this group to be competitive throughout and to make a run at another top five finish. After placing second in three of the past five seasons, the Stags would love nothing more than to get over the hump and win their first Class A title in 16 years.

On the girls' side, Murray returns as a defending state champion in the two-mile. She'll be the team's top distance runner. Willard came in fourth in the 55 and the 200 and will be a top sprinter, along with Caiazzo, Cheverus' Fall Female Athlete of the Year, who scored in the 800 relay last season. Mount was sixth in the 400 a season ago. She'll impress in the sprints and hurdles. Caso placed sixth in the 800. She's joined in the middle distance by senior Laura Bither and junior Kaitlyn Dostie. On the field side, Opielowski was fourth in the long jump last year. She, along with Goodrich and junior Lizzie Ford, will score in the jumps, while also threatening in the sprints. In the throws, look for Aldrich and sophomores Abby Ford and Emily Grinnell to make noise. Three freshmen show promise. Ana Guggenheim will sprint. Katherine Sullivan competes in the sprints and middle distance. Emily Turner is a sprinter and a jumper. With so much talent on the roster, don't be surprised if the Stags, who have never finished higher than fourth at a state meet, make a run at the very top. It could a memorable campaign for this group.

SWIMMING

COACH: Kevin Haley (25th year, one state championship)

2012-13 results:

(BOYS) Class A state champions

(GIRLS) 5th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) John Devine (Senior), Tim Jerome (Senior), Sam Devine (Junior), Tony Penk (Junior), Michael O'Donovan (Sophomore), Thomas Nappo (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Sarah Nappo (Senior), Courtney Kane (Junior)

TOP FOES: Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely

COACH'S COMMENT: “I have another great group. We have 66 members this year, 22 who are freshmen. A lot of them are year-round swimmers. The guys have a lot of frontline talent, we just need to stay healthy. We'll do the best with what we have. We're deep. We hope to finish in the top three. The girls are very young. Most of our top swimmers are freshmen. I'm already using relay teams that are all freshmen. We'd like to be in the top three.

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Last winter was one for the history books for the Stags and this season should be just as exciting and triumphant.

The boys won their first-ever Class A crown a year ago (and took home the Sportsmanship award for good measure), the program's first title at any level since 1979, which was so long ago that Haley wasn't coaching. The team did graduate reigning Winter Male Athlete of the Year (and the state's backstroke and butterfly champion) Trebor Lawton to graduation and Spencer Lindsley isn't swimming this season, but there is plenty of talent in reserve. The top returner is O'Donovan, who erased former Stag and Olympic champion Ian Crocker from some of the school's record books last fall en route a runner-up showing in the 500 freestyle at states. He'll be a premier distance swimmer. Penk will also be a factor in the distance freestyle and individual medley. John Devine and Jerome are seasoned and will compete in the breaststroke (Devine also swims the fly). Sam Devine and Nappo will be heard from in the backstroke. Kane is a fly and IM specialist. The team is further bolstered by the return of senior diver Nick Jensen, who didn't compete last year, and freshmen Raymond Le (fly and IM) and Ben Tompkins (IM and backstroke). Cheverus will have its hands full from several top foes in the regular season and Bangor will be formidable at states, but this group will be in the hunt for more hardware.

On the girls' side, the team features two top returners and four freshmen you'll be hearing a lot about over the next several seasons. Nappo is the defending Class A champion in the backstroke and looks to repeat. She also scored (fourth) in the 50 free a season ago. Nappo could compete in the IM as well. Kane placed third in diving last winter and hopes to ascend to the top spot. Freshmen Danielle Chambers, Lauren Girard, Carrie Hight and Abby Longstaff join the squad and bring a ton of potential and excitement. Girard, Hight and Longstaff can swim all strokes, while Chambers will focus more on the distance freestyle races. All four will make an immediate splash. Over the program's 12-year varsity history, there have been a lot of top five finishes. This team should continue that legacy and if all goes well, it might just follow in the boys' footsteps from a year ago and reach the top spot on the podium for the first time.

ALPINE SKIING

COACH: Rob Tole (second year)

2012-13 results:

(BOYS) No score @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) No score @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS

(BOYS) Josh Boynton (Junior)

(GIRLS) Margaret Katherine LaFountain (Senior), Lizzie Fossett (Sophomore), Hanna Sonesson (Sophomore)

COACH'S COMMENT: “We'll have five girls and two boys this year, so the girls can score as a team. We're trying to bring our numbers up. I'd like for the girls to be among the top three teams in the conference. I think that's attainable. I'd like to sneak our two guys into the top 20.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: The Cheverus Alpine ski team remains small, but will be heard from.

The boys have just two skiers this year. Boynton has experience, while freshman Schuyler Black shows promise. They'll both be in the thick of things in the regular and postseasons.

On the girls' side, Sonesson was 36th in the girls' giant slalom at last year's state meet. Fossett was 39th in the slalom. Both will be heard from throughout. LaFountain is the seasoned team leader. Two seniors, Devon Jones and Maria Nappi, join the team and will allow it to score. Just how high the Stags will finish is the question. They should be among the better squads in the league and will make some noise in February.

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

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Junior Zordan Holman projects to be one of the top players in the SMAA this season.

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Senior Emmanuel Ismail has a sweet shot and will look to lead the Stags to the playoffs.

Photo: Michael Strout

Junior Derek Hammond will be a key player for the Stags this winter.

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Senior Michael Sinclair will make his presence felt down low.

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Senior Georgia Ford possesses a deadly outside shot and will be one of the top players in the SMAA.

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Junior Jill Libby could be in a for a breakout season this winter.

Photo: Michael Strout

Senior Sadie Lyons is healthy again and that's bad news for the rest of the league.

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Junior Laura Holman has come to Cheverus from three-time defending Class A champion McAuley and looks to make an impact with the Stags this winter.

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Junior James Hannigan is a top returner for the Stags.

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With a name like Jean-Claude Lemieux, could the Cheverus junior be anything other than a hockey standout? Lemeiux hopes to help the Stags to another deep playoff run.

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Junior Matt O'Leary will help anchor the Cheverus defense.

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Sophomore Jill Hannigan is coming off a strong freshman season and will score several goals for the Stags this winter.

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Junior Milena Opielowski returns as a top jumper for the Cheverus girls' indoor track team.