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Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

Sports

Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

Portland's winter sports teams will be heard from right into March. Boys' basketball is on the short list of title favorites. The girls' squad will be in the mix for a playoff spot. The boys' hockey team, once again a co-op team with Deering, should be a threat. The girls' co-op squad has a lot of new faces, but should only get better. Longtime boys' indoor track Carroll Nappi is coaching both the boys' and girls' teams this winter and has some talent to work with. Swimming features some promising athletes. Nordic skiing always holds its own and wrestling looks to build on some recent success.

BOYS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Joe Russo (24th year, 321-140 overall record, two state championships)

2012-13 record: 15-5 (Lost, 49-41, to South Portland in Western A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Travis Gadbout (Senior), Dan Kane (Senior), Jayvon Pitts-Young (Senior), Matt Talbot (Senior), Justin Zukowski (Senior), Steve Alex (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 23 TA, Dec. 30 CHEVERUS, Jan. 14 @ Bonny Eagle, Jan. 17 @ Deering, Jan. 31 @ Cheverus, Feb. 6 DEERING

COACH’S COMMENT: “Football has made it tough. Friday was our first full practice. We have some good returning veteran players. We're quick and we'll get after it. We have good overall size with our big guys. Our chances are as good as anyone's. We'll be in charge of our destiny. We have the desire and attitude to go as far as we can. I like our chemistry and our effort so far. I'm excited."

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Russo should be excited, as his Bulldogs are viewed by many as a team to beat. Portland is off to a slow start in the preseason due largely to several of its key players getting into basketball shape after a long football season, but the Bulldogs aren't alone in that predicament, Bonny Eagle and Cheverus are in a similar quandary. It won't take long for Portland to hit its stride and once it does, look out, the pieces are in place for greatness. Talbot was a first-team Southwestern Maine Activities Association all-star a year ago after averaging 10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds (which was second in the league). He'll be a matchup nightmare, capable of dominating down low and stepping out and hitting jumpers. Zukowski was a second-team all-star and is coming off a fantastic football season which saw him named Portland's Fall Male Athlete of the Year. Zukowski averaged 11 points, 2.8 assists and 2.8 steals per game last season. He's a deadly outside shooter (hitting 21 3-pointers last winter). Pitts-Young, last year's league steals leader (3.8 per game) was a third-team all-star (he scored 11.8 points per game) and will score from the outside and slashing to the hoop. Godbout (a guard) and Kane (a forward) saw limited playing time in 2012-13 and will look to play bigger roles this season. Alex is a budding star. He made the All-Rookie team last winter. Newcomers to watch begin with sophomore guard Amir Moss, who was the freshman team's leading scorer a year ago. He could find his way into the starting lineup before all is said and done. Junior forward Tanner Foley, sophomore guard Joe Esposito and sophomore center Ben Griffin also project to see important minutes. This team appears to have it all. The Bulldogs have been knocking on the door in recent seasons, but haven't been able to kick it in. Portland's last trip to the state final was seven years ago and its last Gold Ball is a decade in the rearview mirror. If all goes well, the Bulldogs will end those droughts. This could be a special season all the way through.

GIRLS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Jan Veinot (seventh year, 31-78 overall record)

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

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Mariana Angelo (Senior), Brianna Holdren (Senior), Haley Nelson (Senior), Elizabeth Donato (Junior), Cierra Burnham (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 17 GORHAM, Dec. 20 @ SP, Dec. 23 @ TA, Dec. 30 CHEVERUS, Jan. 17 DEERING, Jan. 21 @ Scarborough, Jan. 24 MCAULEY, Jan. 30 SP, Feb. 7 @ Deering

COACH’S COMMENT: “It's a good, solid group. We have some good athletes. A lot of guards. Some great freshmen. We have a good combination of everything. We have defense, scorers and rebounders. If we can play as a team and stay healthy, I like our chances. We want to make the playoffs. That's the goal.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Veinot's goal is certainly attainable as this could be Portland's best team in almost a decade (the Bulldogs' last winning record and trip to the quarterfinals came in 2004-05). Returners of note include Holdren, who has a diverse game and can be effective as a guard or forward, Donato, a scoring guard, Nelson, a veteran scoring forward, and Burnham, a forward with scoring potential, who had a strong freshman season. Angelo is back from an ACL injury and will run the offense. Then, there's four promising newcomers who will help the cause. The first is junior Gabby Wagabaza, who transferred from Cheverus. Freshman Kate Johnson, who had a strong soccer season, brings a lot of buzz to the hardwood and could be one of the team's stars right out of the gate. Freshmen point guards Abby Ramirez and Taylor Sargent will also figure into the mix. For the first time in a long time, there's a lot of legitimate optimism around this program. Portland has athletes and basketball players and Veinot will put them in the right places. Look for the this team to keep getting better as the season progresses and perhaps be the feel-good story of the winter. A winning record and trip to the Expo and even beyond could be in store.

BOYS' HOCKEY

COACH: Chad Hart (second year, 14-5 overall record)

2012-13 record: 14-5 (Lost, 3-2, to Gorham in Western A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Ben Barnes (Senior), Stephen Barry (Senior), Chris Eye (Senior), Mike Fuller (Senior), Luigi Grimaldi (Senior), Zach Luce (Senior), Chandler Sturgeon (Senior), Ryan Ruhlin (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 7 TA, Dec. 12 GORHAM, Jan. 1 CHEVERUS, Jan. 4 @ TA, Jan. 11 @ Falmouth, Jan. 18 @ Cheverus, Jan. 20 @ Biddeford, Feb. 1 SCARBOROUGH, Feb. 19 BIDDEFORD

COACH’S COMMENT: “With 10 seniors, we have lots of experience, so we have high expectations for the season. Coming off last year's first round playoff loss, our goal and belief is that we can be a top team in the league and go deep into the playoffs. We have lots of depth and that's one of our strengths.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland/Deering had its best record in six years a season ago and could be even better this winter. Several talented players return and the Bulldogs will mix in some promising newcomers to make up an even deeper squad. Top returners include reigning first-team all-state selections Barry and Fuller. Barry helps anchor the defense, along with Ruhlin and Sturgeon, while Fuller is a top forward. Luce, a second-team all-stater last year, along with Barnes, Eye and Grimaldi, will also look to tickle the twine. Freshmen Brent Rickett and Dominic Tocci will also be offensive threats. Replacing veteran goalie Jon Gatti, who graduated, will be a challenge, but Hart is hoping either sophomore Alex Girsch or freshman Sam Segal will be up for the task. The Bulldogs are in a very deep and talented region and they'll be tested in most of their games, but this squad is up for the challenge. Last year's ouster left a sour taste and this winter, Portland is bound and determined to get back to the playoffs and make a deeper run. A trip to the Colisee isn't out of the question.

GIRLS' HOCKEY

COACH: Tim Murphy (first year)

2012-13 record: 3-13-2 (No postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Ella Coose (Junior), Georgia Drew (Junior), Delaney Stokes (Junior), Mia Thurston (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 9 @ Yarmouth, Dec. 19 FALMOUTH, Dec. 21 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 1 CHEVERUS, Jan. 4 @ Cheverus, Jan. 11 @ Biddeford, Jan. 23 YARMOUTH, Jan. 25 @ Falmouth,

COACH'S COMMENT: “This is a rebuilding year. Gone are the days of eight girls and a goalie. The team is made up of one senior and the rest are underclassmen. This team has six freshmen who are being groomed as future varsity players and this is the first year we have a power skating coach, defensive coach, offensive coach and goalie coach.”

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Portland/Deering begins a new era this winter under Murphy, who was a coach at the U.S. Naval Academy for several years prior to coming to Portland. He inherits a program that will be a work in progress. The Bulldogs opened with losses to Mt. Ararat (11-1) and Biddeford (8-2), but they will compete as the season progresses. Coose, Drew, Stokes and Thurston are players with experience. Coose, Drew, Stokes, junior Colleen Matthews and sophomores Lauren McIntyre and Callie Sturgeon should pace the offense. Defensively, sophomore Kate Brewer and freshman Lillian Frager will look to hold off the opposition in front of sophomore Anna Freund and junior Tara O'Neal, who are vying for the goalie position. Portland/Deering should show steady improvement as the season progresses and will be in line to be very formidable in the years to come.

INDOOR TRACK

COACH: Carroll Nappi (13th year w/boys' team; first year w/girls' team)

2012-13 results:

(BOYS) no score @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) tie-16th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Jonathan Bobe (Junior)

(GIRLS) Monica Reno (Senior), Madison Bolduc (Junior), Claire Kirby (Junior), Jessica Wolfe (Junior)

TOP FOES: Bonny Eagle, Cheverus, Deering, Scarborough

COACH NAPPI’S COMMENT: “We have 18 girls and 24 boys, which isn't bad. We only have five seniors. We have some new faces and some familiar faces. I'm hoping to get a few kids to states. I feel pretty good about the future.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Nappi is coaching both teams this winter and he has some good athletes to work with.

The boys return Bobe, who will be a top sprinter. He'll be the athlete best equipped to get to states and perhaps end Portland's drought of two years of not scoring at states. If a few other athletes step up, the Bulldogs will be competitive from start to finish.

On the girls' side, Bolduc is a returning scorer from last year's state meet, finishing fourth in the triple jump. She'll look to jump even farther this winter. Reno is a sprinter to watch. Kirby can sprint and hurdle. Wolfe is the top thrower. Nappi suggested that some of the freshmen could quickly garner some attention as well. There is depth and talent on this squad and Portland is hoping to hold its own in league competition and make an even bigger splash at Southwesterns and states.

SWIMMING

COACH: Lee Crocker (19th year)

2012-13 results:

(BOYS) 16th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) tie-18th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Chris Tomascak (Senior), Tyler Simpson (Junior), Eric Worden (Junior)

(GIRLS) Emily Burton (Senior), Kate Christy (Senior), Olivia Gilbert (Junior), Mayzie Corman (Sophomore), Emily Couture (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Cape Elizabeth, Cheverus, Deering, Greely

COACH'S COMMENT: “We have a great group that is a mixture of experience and first-timers, but we're low in numbers. Our three goals are to improve every week, to qualify as many swimmers as possible for states and to make the season fun and rewarding for each and every member.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland will make the most of its small numbers this winter.

The boys' squad covers the events nicely. Simpson and Tomascak are the top returning sprinters. Tomascak also swims the individual medley. They're joined by new juniors Oscar Carroll and Fedor Drown. Worden has experience and swims just about every stroke, including the butterfly, IM and backstroke. Junior Dominic Guimond is new to the team and will compete in the distance freestyle races. Two freshmen also will help the cause. Peter Gribizis competes in the backstroke. Bryant Peterson will swim the freestyle and backstroke. The Bulldogs should be competitive in the regular season and will look to do well at Southwesterns before hoping to move up at states. It's been 15 years since Portland's finished in the top 10 in the state meet. This group is hoping to make history.

On the girls' side, Burton (backstroke) and Christy (sprint freestyle and breaststroke) are captains. Gilbert (distance freestyle) also has experience. Corman (breaststroke and sprint freestyle) and Couture (IM, backstroke, freestyle) look to play a bigger role this year. Two freshmen, Reegan Leslie (IM, freestyle) and Iris Walter (breaststroke, freestyle), provide depth and hope to quickly make an impact. Look for the Bulldogs to send several girls to states and have a chance to move up the ladder.

NORDIC SKIING

COACH: Aaron Duphily (fourth year)

2012-13 results:

(BOYS) 5th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 2nd @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Ben Allen (Senior), Jeremy Ravanelle (Senior)

(GIRLS) Laura Frank (Senior), Lizzy Landry (Senior)

COACH’S COMMENT: “We have pretty much the same numbers as the last couple years. Close to 20. We graduated a big senior class, but we have the biggest new group we've had. A lot of strong individuals. This is the first time the middle school program has produced a lot. The boys could make a run. There's 12 of them. We don't have a full team for the girls this year.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: The Portland Nordic Ski Club features athletes from Cheverus, Deering, McAuley, Thornton Academy and Windham as well as Portland, but Bulldogs make up the core of it and as usual, both genders have some talented skiers.

The boys' team will be in the hunt in Class A and could improve on last year's finish. Allen was second in the Eastern High School championships last year and is vying for a spot on the Junior National team. He placed second in the freestyle and seventh in the classic a year ago at states. Ravanelle also has experience. Freshman Thomas Sheils will step right in and make an impact. Keep an eye on this squad. It will only get better.

On the girls' side, after back-to-back state runner-up finishes, graduation took its toll taking among others, reigning Winter Female Athlete of the Year Abby Popenoe. While there aren't enough girls to score, a couple individuals, Frank and Landry, will make some noise. Landry was 10th in the freestyle last winter and could be even stronger this winter. Frank will also make a run at a high finish. It should be a strong season all around for the program.

WRESTLING

COACHES: David Elowitch and Tony Napolitano (12th year)

2012-13 results: 8th @ Class A state meet (tie-7th @ regionals)

TOP RETURNERS: Kidayer Aljubyly (Senior), Greg Cassella (Junior), Josh Hunnewell (Junior), Zack Russell (Junior)

COACH ELOWTICH'S COMMENT: “We look to have an impressive year, as we look to fill all the weight classes and compete with many returners. We're fueled mostly by our juniors. We look to win a majority of our dual meets and place in the top five at regionals. Kidayer will vie for a New England championship..”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland's wrestling program has enjoyed a nice resurgence in recent years and that should continue this winter. Aljubyly has become a household name. He won the 106-pound Class A championship last year and was named Portland's Winter Male Athlete of the Year. He looks to repeat and could even make an impact on a regional level. Cassella was fourth last season in the 160-pound class. Hunnewell (170) and Russell (152) will also be heard from. Newcomer Jaime Lones-Martinez (113 pounds) is a top newcomer. The Bulldogs will battle throughout the season and could be quite formidable come February.

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

Photo: Michael Strout

Senior Jayvon Pitts-Young is a matchup nightmare who projects to have a big final season in a Bulldogs uniform.

Photo: Michael Strout

After a transcendent football season, senior Justin Zukowski is hoping to lead Portland to a basketball title.

Photo: Michael Strout

Senior Mariana Angelo is working her way back from a knee injury and should help resurgent Portland to a strong season.

Photo: Michael Strout

Junior Elizabeth Donato will score her share of points for the Bulldogs.

Photo: Michael Strout

Senior Brianna Holdren is a top returner for the Bulldogs this winter.

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Senior Steven Barry is a force on both ends of the ice.

Photo:

Senior Zach Luce will be a top scoring threat for the Bulldogs.

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Senior Chandler Sturgeon is a top defender for the Bulldogs.