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Portland Bulldogs Spring Sports Preview

Spring Sports Previews

Portland Bulldogs Spring Sports Preview

Portland has some new coaches this spring and also has the ingredients to be very good in several sports. Baseball remains young, but dangerous. If this team grows up fast, look out. Softball welcomes a new coach and should begin its climb back to competitiveness. Boys' lacrosse has been as good as anyone in the state the past several seasons. Look for another run to the postseason for that group. The girls' team, which has a new coach, could be very formidable. The track teams are unheralded, but capable. Boys' tennis has a new coach and playoff aspirations and the girls' team, which has been very solid in recent years, looks to remain a top contender in the region.

BASEBALL

Coach: Tony DiBiase (second year, 6-10)

2011 Record: 6-10 (no playoffs)

Top returning players: Caleb Fraser (Junior), Kyle Reichert (Junior), Tim Rovnak (Junior), Nate Smart (Junior), Nick Volger (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 24 (H) SCARBOROUGH, April 28 (H) MARSHWOOD, May 10 @ Cheverus, May 14 (H) WINDHAM, May 22 @ South Portland, May 24 (H) WESTBROOK, May 26 (H) DEERING, May 29 @ Scarborough

Coach's comment: “We're still young. We have only one senior in the program, but the talent is there. We have to find the right positions for kids to perform at their best. It'll be the youngest team in the league. It always comes down to pitching. When Fraser and Smart are on the mound, we can beat anybody. They're quality pitchers. Playoffs are a realistic goal.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Portland showed glimpses last year, starting 3-1 before falling victim to a tough league and the vagaries of youth, just missing the postseason. This time around, the Bulldogs could very well be in the hunt from start to finish, even though most of their opponents will have more experience. Smart (3.73 earned run average in 2011) and Fraser (four wins, 40 strikeouts last season) will have to match up with league's best arms and are equipped for the task. Both players can hit as well. Last season, Smart batted .292 and drove in five runs. Fraser had a .314 average, 16 hits (including four doubles) and drove in nine runs. Volger (who will catch, play second base and the outfield) was a first-team all-star last spring after hitting .417 with 20 hits and 12 runs scored. He's a big-game performer. Reichert (All-Rookie team in 2011 after hitting a home run and driving in a dozen runs) at first base and Rovnak (another All-Rookie team selection after batting .302) in the infield or outfield will also play key roles. Portland is still on a learning curve and there will be difficult days, but if this team develops as hoped, it will be dangerous by the latter part of the schedule when it faces several heavyweights. The Bulldogs have the look of a squad that can make it to the postseason after a two year absence and once there, perhaps steal headlines a year ahead of schedule.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Kelly Libby (first year)

2011 Record: 0-16 (no postseason)

Top returning player: Sam Dobson (Senior), Francesca Johnson (Senior), Leanne Reichert (Junior), Amanda Gould (Sophomore), Cassandra Kennie (Sophomore), Kelly Walsh (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: May 2 @ Deering, May 4 (H) MCAULEY, May 11 @ Cheverus, May 23 @ South Portland

Coach's comment: “We have a young team with a whole new philosophy. The girls have responded well. They have great attitudes. Everyone's really coming along. We've focused on playing hard. Diving for the ball. That's the mentality we have. We want to be respected and want teams to know it's only a matter of time until we're contending.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Portland welcomes a new coach this spring in Libby, who played baseball, basketball and soccer at Sacopee Valley High School and served as an assistant coach at Sacopee and at the University of Southern Maine. He's assisted by Nicole White, who played at McAuley and the University of New England. They take over a squad that is very young, but ready to begin to climb the ladder back to contention. Gould, Kennie and Walsh will all see time on the mound. The team is anchored by Reichert behind the plate. She could be one of the more potent bats in the league. Dobson (infield) and Johnson (infield) also look to contribute. Several other players will find their place and make their mark in the weeks to come. The Bulldogs couldn't have a tougher opening schedule, first hosting defending state champion Scarborough, then playing at potential powerhouse Thornton Academy, but after that, Portland should be able to hold its own with most teams. If the Bulldogs can get consistent run scoring, steady pitching and defense and stay aggressive on the basepaths, they'll have some positive results. The playoffs are likely still a year or so away, but look for this team to be much improved by the end of May, which will set the stage for even more success in 2013.

BOYS' LACROSSE

Coach: Eric Begonia (10th year, 102-30 overall record, one state championship)

2011 Record: 10-4 (Lost 15-6 to Lewiston in Western Class A semifinals)

Top returning players: Hunter Andreasen (Senior), Anthony Bowden (Senior), Nick Higgins (Senior), Ryan Jurgelevich (Senior), Seamus Kilbride (Senior), Zack Lane (Senior), Andrew Schwartz (Senior), Jason Webster (Senior), Max Pierter (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 20 @ Deering, April 30 (H) FALMOUTH, May 2 @ Kennebunk, May 4 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 12 @ Yarmouth, May 16 (H) CHEVERUS

Coach's comment: “We've had a good preseason. It's much different this year, but we have anchors at every position. We're very strong on defense. We have to find the group to put it in the net. We won't have big scorers. We'll have a bunch of guys score one or two goals. We're certainly a playoff team. We could go pretty deep if we grow on offense..”

The Forecaster's forecast: Portland has been as consistently excellent as any program in the state dating back to 2005, but for the first time in a long time, the Bulldogs aren't viewed as a favorite. That might be a mistake. While scoring machine Caleb Kenney has graduated and there aren't as many “big names” on the roster than in the past, there is solid senior leadership and a good core. Portland is fortunate to have one of the state's top goalies in Jurgelevich, who will keep the Bulldogs in every single game. A four-year presence, Jurgelevich is steady when he has to be and is often spectacular. He was a first-team league all-star and Portland's Spring Male Athlete of the Year in 2011. Defensively, Andreasen, Bowden and Higgins have been through the wars and that will make the Bulldogs even more difficult to be scored upon. Lane and junior Liam Brochu will handle faceoff duties. They'll be joined in the midfield by Schwartz and sophomore Ben Allen (Portland's Winter Athlete of the Year). Lane will also see time on attack, along with Kilbride (an honorable mention all-star in 2011), Pierter, Webster and sophomore Mike Fuller, who could emerge as a top scorer. The Bulldogs suffered a frustrating 3-2 loss to visiting Thornton Academy in their opener Thursday, but got a typically strong game in cage from Jurgelevich and goals from Fuller and Pierter. You can't keep Portland down for long. While the Bulldogs will have a tough time against some of the elite teams on their schedule, they will improve mightily in the weeks to come. If the offense comes, so will the wins, which means by June, Portland will be in position to make another deep playoff run.

GIRLS' LACROSSE

Coach: Kait Johnson (first year)

2011 Record: 6-7 (Lost 12-9 to Mt. Ararat in Eastern Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Raechel Allen (Senior), Carli McQuinn (Senior), Mary Roma (Senior), Drew Barry (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 26 (H) KENNEBUNK, May 1 @ Cheverus, May 10 @ Thornton Academy, May 12 @ McAuley, May 14 (H) DEERING, May 24 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND

Coach's comment: “We're very athletic. The girls are very coachable. It's a great group. We've had a good preseason. We're pumped to go. I think we can go pretty far. I have high expectations.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Portland has some new faces this spring and that could continue a school year trend which saw vast improvement in field hockey and ice hockey with many of the same names. The Bulldogs welcome a new coach this spring in Johnson, a New Hampshire native, who played lacrosse for two years at the University of Massachusetts and for two more at the University of Vermont. She's coached the Maineiacs club team and also at the University of New England. She takes over a team that came close a year ago and might be primed to do something special in 2012. Portland won the preseason Bagataway tournament over city rivals Cheverus, Deering and South Portland and it hopes to build on that momentum in the regular season. Barry, a league all-star and Portland's 2011 Spring Female Athlete of the Year, returns to handle draw controls and pace the offense. She'll get help from the often unstoppable Allen and new senior Kylie Dalbec (Portland's Winter Female Athlete of the Year), who comes over from North Yarmouth Academy, where she played on the 2010 Class B state champion. Dalbec's skill, leadership and knowledge of how to win will help this squad immensely. Defensively, McQuinn and Roma return and are joined by junior Gabi Cardona, who transferred from Cheverus. They'll have to ease the transition of two new goalies, sophomore Abby O'Brien and freshman Elizabeth Victer. The Bulldogs have to like their chances. The program has only posted winning records twice (2004 and 2010), but this year's team should have little trouble winning more than it loses. While Brunswick remains the flagship program in Eastern Class A, come playoff time, Portland might be ready for a run. The seniors on this group have had the Midas Touch this school year and their magic could continue into June.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Coach: Carroll Nappi (11th year w/boys; first year w/girls)

2011 Results:

(Boys) 12th @ Class A State Meet

(Girls) Tie-20th @ Class A State Meet

Top returning athletes:

(Boys) Drew Graham (Junior)

(Girls) Eleni Anderson (Senior)

Top foes: Bonny Eagle, Cheverus, Deering, Scarborough, Thornton Academy

Coach's comment: “We're awful young. Between the boys and girls, there are only 30-something kids and just six or seven seniors. I'm getting used to the girls. I think it'll work out pretty well. The boys lost points to graduation and baseball and lacrosse. Hopefully the kids will progress through the year. There's a lot of potential.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Nappi has long been a fixture as the boys' coach. This season, he inherits the girls' team as well. He'll be assisted by former Bulldogs standout Skippy Edwards.

The boys are led by Graham, who throws the javelin. Sophomore Richard Akera could be a factor in the middle distance races. The Bulldogs certainly will miss standout Imadhi Zagon, who was a points scoring machine for four seasons, but look for the team to improve over the next several weeks and be in position to score some points at states.

On the girls' side, Anderson is the top returner. She competes in the middle distance. Portland scored at the state meet last spring for the first time since 2007. The Bulldogs' goals for 2012 are modest. Look for steady improvement, individual growth and perhaps a few athletes to make some noise in the postseason.

BOYS' TENNIS

Coach: Gus Goodwin (first year)

2011 Record: 2-10 (no playoffs)

Top returning players: Owen Carten (Senior), Will Chapman (Senior), Isaac Jaegerman (Senior), Jack Swann (Senior), Jon Gatti (Junior), Malcolm Henry (Junior), Matt Livermore (Junior)

Pivotal matches: May 2 (H) CHEVERUS, May 7 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 21 (H) DEERING

Coach's comment: “I'm impressed with the intensity, tenacity and sense of team spirit I've seen. We have our sights on states, one ball at a time.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Portland has a new coach this spring, but he's well known in the city. Goodwin played at Edward Little in High School and coached the Deering girls for nine seasons, reaching the state final match three times. He's also an active player. He takes over a team that has several returners and is poised to move up the standings. Carten, Chapman, Jaegerman and Swann bring senior leadership. Gatti, Henry and Livermore also return. Freshman Curran Clere is looking for a varsity spot. The Bulldogs should be competitive in most matches. Look for an improved win total and perhaps a return to the postseason after a two-year hiatus.

GIRLS' TENNIS

Coach: Bonnie Moran (fifth year, 47-11 overall record)

2011 Record: 8-5 (Lost 3-2 to Scarborough in Western Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Natalie Anderson (Senior), Sophie Hulbert (Junior), Kayla Berg (Sophomore), Annette Denekas (Sophomore)

Pivotal matches: May 2 @ Cheverus, May 7 @ Scarborough, May 18 (H) MCAULEY, May 21 @ Deering

Coach's comment: “Our goals are to continue to improve racket skills, especially volleying, footwork, anticipation and moving to the ball and the mental game, staying composed and focused with our emotions in check. I have a very large team and am committed, as always, to introducing the game to newcomers and improving the skills of intermediate players. I want everyone to have a good time.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Portland has enjoyed great success under Moran and gave eventual regional champion Scarborough a scare in last year's quarterfinals. The Bulldogs did lose Molly Gallagher, a second-team all-star in 2011, to Deering, but return plenty of talent and have an infusion of promising newcomers. At press time, Hulbert (a second-team singles selection last spring) projects to play first singles. Freshman Margot Andreasen could be in the second spot. Depth comes from Anderson, Berg and Denekas (the latter two were second-team doubles all-stars last season). Senior Nyador Nguany and junior Lily Bruenjes return from injury and freshman Georgia Drew will also be in the mix. Look for Portland to contend all season. If things fall right, the Bulldogs will have another impressive record and will be in position to not only make the postseason, but stay awhile.

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

Photo: File photo

Junior Tim Rovnak is one of several promising returning baseball players.

Photo: File photo

Senior Seamus Kilbride returns to pace the boys' lacrosse team's offense.

Photo: File photo

Explosive senior Raechel Allen hopes to cap a memorable school year by leading her girls' lacrosse team to the playoffs.

Photo: File photo

Senior Mary Roma is a top returning defender for the Bulldogs.