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Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

Sports

Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

Portland's winter teams will produce a lot of excitement as the season progresses. Boys' basketball is viewed by many as the title favorite. The Bulldogs will certainly be one of the last teams standing. The girls' team hopes to improve and reach the postseason. Boys' hockey has a new coach and will be bolstered by the addition of a couple kids from Deering. The girls' squad is coming off its best season, but lost some top-notch talent. Regardless, the Bulldogs will be in the playoff hunt. Both track teams are small, but hold promise. Swimming could be in for a promising season. Nordic skiing looks once again to make the most of its numbers. Wrestling continues to improve and should have some individuals make noise at the state level.

BOYS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Joe Russo (23rd year, 306-135, two state championships)

2011-12 Record: 14-5 (Lost, 39-37, to South Portland in Western Class A quarterfinals)

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

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 11 @ Sanford, Dec. 14 @ Cheverus, Dec. 18 (H) BONNY EAGLE, Dec. 21 @ Scarborough, Jan. 11 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, Jan. 16 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 18 @ Thornton Academy, Jan. 24 (H) DEERING, Feb. 5 @ South Portland, Feb. 8 @ Deering

COACHS COMMENT: “I don't really understand why everyone's talking about us. We have to replace our leading scorer and rebounder. We don't have a go-to guy. Our key players are football players who have to get into basketball shape. We have tough games in the beginning. We do have some depth. We'll have to play together to be successful.”

THE FORECASTERS FORECAST: Whether Russo likes it or not, the Bulldogs are viewed as the favorite in most quarters entering the season. That's because Portland returns a lot of talent. Zukowski (10.5 points per game) and Pitts-Young (7.8) were both in the top 30 in the league in scoring a year ago. Zukowski (2.6 steals a game and 32 3-pointers made last season) will run the point this season, so he'll not only fill the basket, but will set up his teammates as well. Pitts-Young (1.6 steals a year ago), along with Volger (third in the league in steals, 2.8 per game, last winter), who has demonstrated a flair for the dramatic, senior Steve Angelo, junior Travis Godbout and sophomore Steve Alex, a transfer from Deering, are other backcourt options. Smart (5.2 rebounds in 2011-12) and Talbot will be difficult to contain in the frontcourt. Sophomore Garang Majok, a transfer from Deering, and senior Cosmo Donato, add some depth. The departure of Peter Donato, fourth in the league in rebounds during a first-team all-star campaign last winter, and scorer Mike Herrick (a third-team all-star) will definitely hurt, but the pieces are in place for a deep run. The seniors are determined to restore the Bulldogs to the pinnacle (Portland last played in a state game in 2007 and hasn't won a title since 2004). If the new players contribute as expected, the Bulldogs will be able to hold their own in a challenging league. Bonny Eagle, Deering and several other teams will pose difficulties, but look for Portland, as always, to be much better at the end of the season than at the beginning and make a deep tournament run. Perhaps by early March, Russo will understand what all the fuss is about.

GIRLS' BASKETBALL

COACH: Jan Veinot (sixth year, 25-66)

2011-12 Record: 2-16 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Sydney Levesque  (Senior), Ella Purington (Senior), Brianna Holdren (Junior), Elizabeth Donato (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 11 (H) SANFORD, Dec. 14 (H) MCAULEY, Dec. 15 (H) CHEVERUS, Dec. 20 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 17 (H) THORNTON ACADEMY, Jan. 24 @ Deering, Feb. 5 @ McAuley, Feb. 8 @ Cheverus

COACHS COMMENT: “We have good team chemistry. So far, I'm very proud of our team and their gutsy play. Our hopes is to provide quite a few upsets with our defense and running game.”

THE FORECASTERS FORECAST: Portland is looking to enjoy a breakthrough season. The Bulldogs return a core of experienced players which should help the cause. The team's top inside threat will be Purington, who can score and rebound and is a team leader. Sophomore Marianna Angelo will run the team at the point guard spot. She has quickness, can handle the ball and is also solid on the defensive end. Donato could lead the team in scoring. She can also handle the ball and will a factor in transition. Holdren is another player who can score. She can also post up, when need be. Levesque has experience and is a defensive specialist. She hopes to score more this winter. If this group develops as hoped and some other players step up, Portland will be able to hold its own against most foes. The Bulldogs should have no trouble exceeding last year's win total. If all goes well, Portland will make a run at a .500 record and a playoff berth.

BOYS' HOCKEY

COACH: Chad Hart (first year)

2011-12 Record: 2-16 (nopostseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Jon Gatti (Senior), Stephen Barry (Junior), Chris Eye (Junior),  Mike Fuller (Junior), Zach Luce (Junior), Chandler Sturgeon (Junior), Ryan Ruhlin (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 13 (H) KENNEBUNK, Dec. 15 (H) CAPE ELIZABETH, Dec. 22 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 10 (H) FALMOUTH, Jan. 19 @ Gorham, Feb. 2 @ Kennebunk, Feb. 12 @ Yarmouth,

COACHSCOMMENT: “Our team has many returning starters, including our very good senior goalie, a four-year starter. Our three top scorers are returning, along with three starting defensemen. We only graduated three players and have strong numbers that give us depth on the team. We have added a few upperclassmen who are strong players and a large freshman class. The past two years have been rebuilding years, with small numbers of upperclassmen. This year, the seniors and juniors bring a lot of experience. We want to build on that experience and the expectations are high. We hope to return to the playoffs this year and with a good seed as well.”

THE FORECASTERS FORECAST: Portland welcomes a new coach this winter in Hart, who served as an assistant the past two seasons. Hart played at Waterville High School and was part of a state champion in 1996. He also played at Bowdoin College. He inherits a team that should easily surpass last year's win total. The offense will be paced by Fuller (7 goals, 7 assists in 2011-12) and Luce (9 goals, 8 assists last season). Other forwards to watch include Eye (4 points last winter) and junior Zach Glanville. Defensemen Barry (5 points), Ruhlin (3 points) and Sturgeon (3 points) can also tickle the twine. Gatti is back for his fourth season in goal. Two Deering players, Ben Barnes and Gabe Johnson, have joined in the fun this year. The Bulldogs have a very tough schedule, but have the pieces in place to hold their own. Look for this team to gain confidence as the season progresses, compete against everyone it plays and get back to the postseason after falling short each of the past two years. Once there, Portland could be a darkhorse.

GIRLS' HOCKEY

COACH: Courtney Rideout (fourth year, 20-32-4)

2011-12 Record: 10-10 (Lost, 6-3, to Falmouth in West Region semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Drew Barry (Senior), Gabi Cardona (Senior), Leanne Reichert (Senior), Katie Rutherford (Junior), Ella Coose (Sophomore), Georgia Drew (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 8 @ York, Dec. 12 (H) FALMOUTH, Dec. 20 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Dec. 22 @ Cheverus, Jan. 9 @ Falmouth, Jan. 17 (H) YORK, Jan. 19 @ Scarborough

COACH'S COMMENT: “We're young this season and working with a large group of new players. With a solid group returning and the addition of newcomers, we continue to improve every day. Leanne has already proven solid in net and Drew has stepped up to be a threat both offensively and defensively.”

THE FORECASTER'S FORECAST: Portland enjoyed a great season a year ago and made it to the semifinals, but the heart and soul of that team, All-West Region first-team all-stars Raechel Allen and Kylie Dalbec (Portland's 2011-12 Winter Female Athlete of the Year), have graduated, leaving some holes to fill. In the early going, the Bulldogs have shown they can score goals, but they've started 1-2-1. Portland erupted for eight goals in a tie against Cheverus (Barry had six herself, while Drew and freshman Mia Thurston each had one).  Thurston and Kerry Wells are Deering High students playing with Portland. The Bulldogs lost two other games, 4-0 to Biddeford and 8-1 to Cape Elizabeth, then got in the win column with an 8-5 victory over Mt. Ararat. Clearly, Barry (Portland's two-time reigning Spring Female Athlete of the Year) will pace the offense and might be the top offensive force in the region, but she'll get assistance from Cardona, Coose, Drew, Thurston and freshmen Lauren McIntyre and Callie Sturgeon. Reichert (Portland's Fall Female Athlete of the Year) is a rock in goal. She made 37 saves versus Cheverus. She'll be aided by Rutherford and Barry, who can also play defense. The Bulldogs might have trouble matching last year's success, but don't write them off. The returners got used to winning a year ago. Portland will only get stronger as the season progresses and could be a team to fear if it can make it into the postseason.

INDOOR TRACK

BOYS' COACH: Carroll Nappi (12th year)

GIRLS' COACH: Tammy Heathco (second year)

2011-12 Results:

(BOYS) no score @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) no score @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Tate Gale (Senior)

(GIRLS) Megan Anderson (Senior), Sarah Gale (Junior), Monica Reno (Junior), Claire Kirby (Sophomore)

COACH NAPPIS COMMENT: “We only have 15 kids this year, but our numbers are balanced by class. We have a lot of kids who are untested. I hope the underclassmen will mature and stick with it next year. Tate, Drew (Graham) and Ben (Allen) have a good shot of making it to states.”

COACH HEATHCO'S COMMENT: “We're building on last year. We're still rebuilding the program. We have better numbers than last year. Sprints and hurdles are our strengths. We want to build positive energy around track and field and hope to send more girls to states.

THE FORECASTERS FORECAST: Both Portland teams are small, but hold promise this winter.

The boys are looking for big things from Fall Male Athlete of the Year Gale, who will contend in the shot put, senior Drew Graham, a hurdler who missed last season with a leg injury, and junior distance standout Ben Allen (who will also compete with the Nordic ski team this season). Freshman Bryan Donaldson (hurdles) is another athlete who could step up. Look for this team to steadily improve and for a few individuals to turn some heads come February.

On the girls' side, Gale is the lone returning postseason scorer. She was sixth in the junior 800 at last year's league championship meet. She'll be a force again in the distance races, along with up-and-comer Hallie Mares. In the sprints, look for Anderson, Kirby and Reno all to contend. Kirby is also a hurdler. Juniors Hallie Alexx and Samantha Topchick adds depth in the sprints. Sophomore Jessica Wolfe is a thrower to watch. This program is slowly climbing the ladder. Look for steady contention this winter and even better results down the road.

SWIMMING

COACH: Lee Crocker (second year)

2011-12 Results:

(BOYS) 16th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 23rd @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Nick Joyce (Senior), Bobby Parent (Senior)

(GIRLS) Meghan Hudson (Senior), Luci Veilleux (Senior)

COACH'S COMMENT: “We are looking to continue rebuilding a quality swim/dive program.  The number of participants is steadily rising and the commitment is there.  We hope to improve on last year's results.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Both Portland teams have reason for optimism this winter. Crocker returns as coach and is joined by first-year assistant Morgan Dorsey.

The boys return captains Joyce (100 freestyle, 200 individual medley) and Parent (IM, 100 backstroke). They're joined this season by junior Zach Roland (breaststroke) and sophomore Eric Worden (sprint freestyle and 100 butterfly). The Bulldogs hope to be competitive in dual meets and to once again produce some strong performances at the Southwestern and state meets.

On the girls' side, both Hudson and Veilleux (a captain) scored in the 200 free relay at last year's state meet. Hudson will be a sprinter, while Veilleux takes part in the IM and the fly. Freshman Emily Couture will look to make a mark in the backstroke and the 100 free. This group will get stronger as the season progresses and could score some points at the big February meets.

NORDIC SKIING

COACH: Aaron Duphily (third year)

2011-12 Results:

(BOYS) 5th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 2nd @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

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

(GIRLS) Abby Popenoe (Senior), Sadie Sarvis (Senior), Laura Frank (Junior), Lizzy Landry (Junior)

COACHS COMMENT: “We have the same number of kids as last year. The guys have gotten better. We have depth. We had success individual and team-wise last year. We're trying to take it to the next level this year. The girls were second last year. A lot of the top finishers are back, so we're looking good. A state title is the goal.

THE FORECASTERS FORECAST: Portland skiers make up the majority of this cooperative team and there are some good ones on the roster.

The boys will be led by standout Allen, who was third in the classic and seventh in the freestyle at last year's state meet. While also competing in indoor track this winter, Allen is eying the top spot this time around. Ravanelle hopes to make a mark as well. Look for good things from this group in the weeks to come.

On the girls' side, Portland shocked the local ski world last year by placing second to established power Leavitt at the state meet. This winter, three state meet scorers return, meaning the Bulldogs are aiming even higher. Popenoe leads the way. She was third in the freestyle and ninth in the classic last year. Frank (12th freestyle, 18th classic) and Landry (15th freestyle, 17th classic) also return. They're joined by Sarvis, who looks to make a mark. This program will continue to impress. A state title isn't out of the realm of possibility.

WRESTLING

COACHES:David Elowitch and Tony Napolitano (11th year)

2011-12 Results: 12th @ Class A state meet (sixth @ regionals)

TOP RETURNERS: Max Heller (Senior), Malcolm Henry (Senior), Kidayer Ajubyly (Junior), Greg Cassella (Sophomore)

COACH ELOWTICH'S COMMENT: “We have a great young team this year with only a few holes in the lineup. Max and Malcolm both plan on being state qualifiers. Kidayer has 42 wins in his first two years and might be Portland's first documented 100 wins wrestler by his senior year. We have some other young talent. Our goals include having a .500 winning percentage in dual meets and send five wrestlers to the state meet.”

THE FORECASTERS FORECAST: The Portland program has been trending upward and after an 10-11 regular season record last year, the Bulldogs had some success in the postseason. This winter, Portland expects to be even more competitive. Ajubyly (106 pounds) has been very good his first two seasons (he was third at regionals and lost in the consolation final at states last season) and will be one of the best in the region. Heller (152 or 160) and Henry (170 or 182) have their sights set on winning a lot of matches and taking part at states. Cassella (140 this year, fourth in the region at 132 last winter) is joined by junior Najee White (heavyweight) and other newcomers Jack Carroll, Liam Fox, Josh Hunnewell, Sam Martin and Zachary Russell, to provide depth. Elowitch's goals are attainable. The Bulldogs will start out with promise and figure to turn into a formidable squad by year's end.