Northern edition Winter Coaches of the Year

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Boys’ Team

DAVE HALLIGAN—Falmouth basketball

A season that included three agonizing one-point losses and a sweep at the hands of a rival could have ended in disappointment, but Falmouth’s boys’ basketball team saved its best for last.

The Yachtsmen enjoyed a spirited regional playoff run, being tested only once, then produced one of the more decisive state final victories in recent memory as they added a Class A Gold Ball to the multiple Class B and C trophies that already litter Falmouth’s trophy case.

Leading the way, as he has for three decades, is a coach who is approaching 500 career victories, one who always gets the most out of talent.

For winning yet another championship and making history in the process, Dave Halligan gets The Forecaster’s nod as our Northern edition Winter Coach of the Year of a boys’ team.

This is Halligan’s first award for basketball. He’s been honored for soccer three times, in 2003, 2006 and 2012.

Halligan is a Falmouth native, who played soccer, basketball and baseball at Falmouth High. Halligan started his coaching career in Cape Elizabeth and Portland, then came home to Falmouth in 1987 to coach soccer and basketball and the rest has been triumphant history.

As of this writing, Halligan has 482 basketball victories and six state titles (three in Class C, two in Class B and one in Class A) and 345 soccer victories (including 11 state titles).

This winter, Falmouth was expected to be a top Class A South contender, but frustrating one-point losses to Greely, Lake Region and Waynflete caused some doubts. The Yachtsmen lost their regular season finale to the Rangers and went into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, but after easily dispatching Westbrook in the quarterfinals and eking out a three-point win over defending Class B champion Cape Elizabeth in the semifinals, Falmouth got a bit of a break, as Greely was upset by Brunswick and defending champion Hampden Academy was upset in the Class A North semifinals by Oceanside. The Yachtsmen took advantage of their good fortune and downed Brunswick in the regional final before dominating Oceanside, 59-28, to capture the state title.

Halligan relied heavily on the brilliance of Thomas Coyne and Colin Coyne, but he also developed a pair of big men, Sam Skop and Matt Wuhlbrecht, who were at their best in the postseason.

“(This season) was fun to watch,” Halligan said. “Our goal is always to get better as the season goes along and I thought we did that.” 

Despite the age difference, Halligan still relates well to his players.

“Coach has been great,” Thomas Coyne said. “He’s a really good player’s coach. He’s been very successful. He teaches us to stay level-headed. He taught me how to be a better teammate.”

Halligan, who teaches gym at Falmouth High School, doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

That’s a good sign for the Yachtsmen and a troubling one for the rest of the state because Dave Halligan, our northern edition boys’ team Winter Coach of the Year, just wins and wins and wins.

Previous winners:

2014-15 Dave St. Pierre (Yarmouth hockey)

2013-14 Rob Hale (Greely swimming)

2012-13 Deron Barton (Falmouth hockey)

2011-12 Adam Smith (Yarmouth basketball)

2010-11 Adam Smith (Yarmouth basketball)

2009-10 Marc Halsted (Yarmouth hockey)

2008-09 Barry Mothes (Greely hockey)

2007-08 Craig Sickels (Freeport basketball)

2006-07 Adam Smith (Yarmouth basketball)

2005-06 Jorma Kurry (Falmouth track)

2004-05 Scott Rousseau (Falmouth hockey)

2003-04 Barry Mothes (Greely hockey)

2002-03 John Maloney (Yarmouth basketball)

2001-02 Scott Matusovich (Yarmouth hockey)

Girls’ team

CHRIS STRONG—Yarmouth basketball

One of the more inspirational stories of the 2015-16 basketball season was the rise of the Yarmouth girls, who made the playoffs for the first time in four years and despite a gutwrenching and controversial setback in the quarterfinals, set the stage for future excellence.

The Clippers started the season with a lot of question marks, but they steadily improved and saved their best for last, qualities that come from great coaching and for leading Yarmouth back to the tournament, Chris Strong is The Forecaster’s choice for our Northern edition Coach of the Year, of a girls’ team.

Strong was an athletic standout at Georges Valley High School, playing soccer on the boys’ team and dazzling on the basketball court. She went on to become a key contributor on the court at the University of Maine.

Strong took her first varsity coaching job in 2013 with the Clippers, inheriting a team that went 1-17 the year before. Yarmouth went 4-14 in Strong’s first season, then improved to 7-11 and just missed the playoffs in 2014-15.

This winter, the Clippers had some holes to fill, a challenge which was compounded when expected point guard Sara D’Appolonia decided not to play, so there were few expectations around the program, but Yarmouth rode strong play from juniors Alison Clark, Johanna Hatton and Cory Langenbach, as well key contributions from the likes of sophomore Jessica Kirk and freshman Claire Brady and Clementine Blaschke and the leadership of seniors Aizhan Gwynne and Sarah Kirk to a 9-9 record.

The Clippers earned the No. 6 seed in Class B South, then met pedigreed Lake Region, a squad that beat Yarmouth twice in the regular season, in the quarterfinals. The Clippers weren’t expected to handle playing on the big stage against a talented, seasoned foe, but they led almost the whole way until the Lakers pulled even late. Then, to the shock and dismay of Yarmouth’s players, coaches and fans, a late held ball resulted in a possession arrow error and instead of having the ball for a potential game-winning shot, the Clippers saw Lake Region get it and make a free throw with 3.3 seconds remaining to prevail by one.

Even in the aftermath of that heartache, Strong said all the right things and made sure her girls kept their heads held high.

“At the beginning of the season, a Class A coach said to me, ‘It’s going to be a tough season,” but my girls were determined,” Strong said. “They have huge heart.”

Those players had great respect and affection for Strong, lobbying for her to receive this award as far back as the end of the regular season.

“Coach rebuilt the program,” said Langenbach. “Her passion and knowledge of basketball and her commitment and enthusiasm towards the program have enabled us to improve drastically this past year. She has an amazing ability to identify each player’s strengths and she knows how to use them to help us work together as a team. As a result, our individual and team skills really excelled this season. She pushes us really hard, but we have so much fun in the process. She has a positive and encouraging personality that inspires us to work our hardest every day. She had a special bond with each player that helped our team become so close and that ultimately led to our success. She really was more than just our coach, she was our friend and role model.”

Strong lives in Yarmouth, owns Strong Bodies, a personal fitness and sports training center in town, and is the mother of three athletic kids. Despite graduation and transfers, the Clippers have the pieces in place to be good again next winter.

The future for this program is bright. Especially with Chris Strong, our Northern edition girls’ team Coach of the Year, at the helm. 

Previous winners:

2014-15 Joel Rogers (Greely basketball)

2013-14 Jeff Haley (Yarmouth/Freeport hockey)

2012-13 Nate Guerin (Greely hockey)

2011-12 Jay Lowery (Yarmouth basketball)

2010-11 Mark Ouellette (Greely Alpine skiing)

2009-10 Rob Hale (Greely swimming)

2008-09 Billy Goodman (Greely basketball)

2007-08 Nick Nash (Yarmouth basketball)

2006-07 George Conant (Falmouth basketball)

2005-06 John Keyes (Falmouth swimming)

2004-05 John Folan (Greely track)

2003-04 Jim Seavey (Greely basketball)

2002-03 Jim Seavey (Greely basketball)

2001-02 Eric Austin (NYA basketball)

Other edition winners:

Portland: Joe Russo (Portland basketball), Kent Hulst (Cheverus hockey)

Southern: Derek Veilleux (Scarborough track), Lynne Hasson (South Portland basketball)

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

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