Portland Bulldogs 2010 Fall Sports Preview

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Fans of the blue and white should have a lot to cheer for this autumn. The football program has returned to prominence and could play well into November. Boys’ soccer is coming off a dazzling summer and sees itself as a top contender. The girls’ team is young, but should be in the mix. Field hockey figures to improve by several victories and could be in the postseason hunt. Both cross country teams boast good runners and have states as a realistic goal. The golf team will improve and will look to qualify for the state meet.


COACH: Mike Bailey (25th year)

2009 Record: 5-4 (Lost 25-19 to Bonny Eagle in Western A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Caleb Kenney (Senior), Andrew Poston (Senior), Carl Szanton (Senior), Jordan Voisine (Senior), Eddie Walsh (Senior), Will Walsh (Senior), Imadhi Zagon (Senior), Seamus Kilbride (Junior), Nate Porter (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 3 (H) DEERING, Sept. 10 @ Bonny Eagle, Sept. 25 @ Cheverus, Oct. 15 (H) WINDHAM, Oct. 23 @ South Portland

COACH’S COMMENT: “I’m very pleased so far. We’ve had a great preseason. Our line is much improved. We’re definitely a run-oriented offense. We won’t be a Chris Treister-type offense. I think it’s more wide open than last year. I’m cautiously optimistic. If we play together and stay healthy, we’ll be in the mix.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: The Bulldogs got back to the playoffs last season and posted their first winning record since 2006. While the season ended with a painful loss at defending champion Bonny Eagle, it’s clear Portland is on the upswing. This fall, with no clear favorite, the Bulldogs could ascend to the top of the heap. Bailey returns for his 25th season and some impressive assistants, including one-time Fitzpatrick Trophy winners Sean Hawkins and Mike Rutherford. Tony DiBiase and old friend Gary Groves will also be on hand. The staff has plenty of talent to work with. The fun begins with the dynamic Zagon, who is getting interest from big-time college programs. He’ll run Portland’s version of the “Wildcat” offense, handing it off and throwing the ball at times, but keeping it more often than not. He’s very difficult to contain. Other weapons include Kenney, Szanton and Will Walsh. Kilbride and Poston, along with new junior Mike Herrick and sophomore Nick Volger are options through the air. The line is anchored by Porter, Voisine and Eddie Walsh. Junior Nick Higgins will also be heard from. The Bulldogs will very difficult to slow. If the line has improved as much as Bailey has hoped, defenders will have a hard time getting to Zagon, who’s very difficult to bring down even when you do have a good look at him. Look for Portland to score its share of points. The defense surrendered 26 points a game in last year’s losses and should be improved. Sophomore Bernie Gayle will play noseguard. Higgins, Porter and Eddie Walsh are also on the defensive line. The linebacking corps features the bruising Kenney, Szanton and Will Walsh. Herrick, Kilbride, Poston, Volger and Zagon will see time in the secondary. There aren’t many easy games on this year’s schedule so the Bulldogs will have to come to play every week. We’ll get a good idea of where they stand in the opener Friday after hosting rival Deering, which should be vastly improved. If Portland gets off to a good start and stays healthy, it will be in the hunt for a top playoff seed. This could be the best team the Bulldogs have fielded since the early part of the decade and will be a lot of fun to watch.


COACH; Rocco Frenzilli (36th year)

2009 Record: 10-4-2 (Lost 7-2 to Scarborough in Western Class A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Sid Baxter (Senior), Oryem Charles (Senior), Feliks Cobanovic (Senior), Abdul Hassan (Senior), Ralph Houanche (Senior), Taylor Mannix (Senior), Fazal Nabi (Senior), Nick Rovnak (Senior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 4 (H) THORNTON ACADEMY, Sept. 7 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 11 @ Windham, Sept. 16 @ Deering, Sept. 23 @ Gorham, Sept. 30 (H) WESTBROOK, Oct. 5 @ Cheverus, Oct. 19 @ Bonny Eagle

COACH’S COMMENT: “I like this group and their work ethic. Having a player like Fazal has helped us step up the last couple years. We have to come to play every day. If we jell with the balance we have, we could have a very good season. We need some other guys to step up when Fazal gets held in check. If we stay healthy, I like our chances.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland made great strides a year ago, riding an eight-game win streak before running into Scarborough in the playoffs, and could be on the verge of a special season in 2010. The Bulldogs won the Maine-Mass Cup this summer, beating not only premier teams from Maine, but also from out of state. Nabi took part in a tournament in the United Kingdom and excelled. If the fall’s anything like the summer, Portland might just play into November. While there is an abundance of talent on the roster, Nabi will get the lions’ share of attention. For good reason. He’s the school’s two-time reigning Fall Male Athlete of the Year, was a first-team league all-star last year and is widely recognized as one of, if not the finest player in the state. He’s an offensive force who doesn’t only finish (18 goals in 2009), but is also unselfish (14 assists last fall). Charles, junior Andrew Schwartz, sophomore Tim Rovnak and freshman Tony Yekah will also look to tickle the twine and if they can do so regularly, this offense might just be unstoppable. The midfield features a plethora of great athletes. Baxter, Hassan, Houanche and junior Paley Burlin will make their presence felt all over the field. Defense also projects to be strong. Cobanovic and Nick Rovnak return and are joined by juniors Hunter Andreasen, Ben Day, Liam McNeill and Brett O’Kelly. Mannix, who split time with Jason Knight last year, is the man in goal. The Bulldogs pitched five shutouts in 2009. The fact that the offense should have possession so much of the time figures to make life easier for the defense, although that unit and Mannix will be tested. While Scarborough remains the standard-bearer in the league and several other strong teams dot the schedule, Portland has reason to believe it could be as good as anyone. Nabi will produce plenty of offense in the weeks to come, but he may be neutralized against top competition, meaning others will have to deliver. If they do, a return to the glory days of the mid-1990s is possible.


COACH: Dave Levasseur (ninth year)

2009 Record: 8-5-2 (Lost 1-0 to Greely in Western Class A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Casey Hart (Senior), Becca Smith (Senior), Nicola DiPietro (Junior), Robin Bernsten (Sophomore), Drew Barry (Sophomore), Ashley Frank (Sophomore), Sophie Hulbert (Sophomore), Mishale Nabi (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 8 @ Scarborough, Sept. 10 (H) WINDHAM, Sept. 17 (H) DEERING, Sept. 23 (H) GORHAM, Oct. 6 (H) CHEVERUS, Oct. 15 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND

COACH’S COMMENT: “We graduated 12 seniors so we have a lot of new faces. We’re in transition. We’ll be young. We’re stronger on defense right now by far. It’s not unrealistic for us to make the playoffs.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland has been one of the most consistent teams in the SMAA under Levasseur and even though the program lost a lot of talent, including reigning Fall Female Athlete of the Year Sophia Nappi, the Bulldogs have reloaded before and shouldn’t be ruled out of the mix. This year’s offense figures to be led by Barry and DiPietro. Hulbert is another player to watch. Hart is a top midfielder. On defense, Portland will be tough to beat. Bernsten, Frank and Smith provide a formidable wall in front of Nabi, who had a strong freshman campaign. The Bulldogs will be in just about every game and will hope to find a way to score consistently and get some favorable bounces. While Gorham and Scarborough are viewed as the league’s elite, there is plenty of room for a team like Portland to make the playoffs if it can win enough games. This squad figures to improve dramatically from start to finish this fall.


COACH: Beth Arsenault (11th year)

2009 Record: 1-13 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Kathleen Dalbec (Senior), Effie Drew (Senior), Mckinleigh Isherwood (Senior), Maura O’Conor (Senior), Ellen Taffere (Senior), Raechel Allen (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 2 @ Scarborough, Sept. 8 (H) THORNTON ACADEMY, Sept. 14 (H) BONNY EAGLE, Sept. 16 @ Deering, Sept. 28 @ Sanford, Oct. 2 @ Westbrook, Oct. 6 @ Cheverus, Oct. 8 (H) GORHAM

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’re looking pretty good. We had a good summer league. We scored more goals than we have combined in several years. We’ve got depth this year and 13 seniors. We’re returning 17 players and we have a lot of versatility. We were in so many close games last year. I’d be thrilled with a .500 record. We’re expecting playoffs. The girls are excited.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: If Portland’s offense is as improved as summer play suggests, it’s due for a quantum leap in the standings. Last year, the Bulldogs managed just 13 goals in 14 games and lost seven times by one goal, including three in overtime or double-OT. Clearly, a little more potency would have spelled many more victories in 2009. There’s a buzz around this year’s team as consensus holds that Portland is about to become a factor. The pieces are certainly in place. Allen (the hockey standout) will score her share of goals. Drew, O’Conor (an honorable mention all-star in 2009),, Taffere and new junior Cat Flaherty will also be heard from. The Bulldogs will look to use their speed to create offense and if they can take advantage of special teams and finish when they get the chance, the wins will come. On defense, Isherwood holds the fort in front of Dalbec, who has received plenty of trial by fire in recent seasons. Portland figures to be in just about every game. Some early success, both with goals and wins might just propel them into the playoff hunt. The Bulldogs haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2005, but there’s ample reason to believe that drought could come to a halt.



(BOYS) Dan Deniso (19th year)

(GIRLS) Sophie Payson-Rand (fifth year)

2009 Results:

(BOYS) DNQ for state meet (11th @ regional meet)

(GIRLS) DNQ for state meet (12th @ regional meet)


(BOYS) Owen Carten (Junior), Sam Hamilton (Junior), Dexter Morse (Junior)

(GIRLS) Maxine Eisenberg (Junior), Alice Lala (Junior), Nyawel Lia (Junior), Devon Miller (Junior), Helen Otto (Junior)

TOP FOES: Cheverus, Gorham, Scarborough

COACH DENISO’S COMMENT: “It’s a relatively young team. We want to be in the mix to be one of the last teams to make it to states. Whatever we do this year, we should build on next year. I’ve never enjoyed coaching more than I do with these kids .”

COACH PAYSON’S COMMENT: “We’re a developing team this year with several returning runners who I expect to be in the top contenders. I have many new runners this year. Overall, I expect to have a strong team and am looking forward to having a good mix of experience and dedication to bring us forward..”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Both Portland teams have legitimate reasons to think they can make it to the state meet this fall.

The boys’ squad lost top runner Cole Hutchison (a state qualifier as an individual last autumn), but return Morse (47th at the regional meet in 2009) and Hamilton (49th). Carten also has experience. They’re joined by new sophomore Liam McNeill and freshmen Ben Allen and Jake Morrow-Spitzer. The Bulldogs will do their best to form the strongest pack they can between now and the end of the season. This is a team that should be at its peak when its time to qualify.

On the girls’ side, there are several promising runners, both returning and new. Lia (44th at last year’s regional meet) is coming off a solid spring outdoor season and should lead the way along with Otto (who was 41st at regionals). Lala (64th last year) Eisenberg (73rd) and Miller (90th) are also back. The list of newcomers is promising. Freshman Lizzy Landry projects to be a scorer. Juniors Nyadoor Ngyuany and Reesie Partlow, sophomore Meghan Kelley and freshmen Claire Kinney and Samantha Topchik round out an up-and-coming unit. Portland will be one of the stronger teams in the regular season and if it stays healthy and improves, has a great shot to move on to states for the first time since 1998.


COACH: John LaFond (20th year)

2009 Results: 0-10 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYER: Rudy DiMillo (Senior), Anthony Bowden (Junior)

TOP FOES: Cheverus, Deering

COACH’S COMMENT: “I think we’re definitely heading up. We have a lot of nice young talent. The kids are enthusiastic. We’ll try and make it to states. With a little luck, we can get there.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland didn’t win a match last fall, but to be fair, the Bulldogs were consistently pitted against some of the top teams in the region. The schedule won’t get any easier in 2010, but the team is better conditioned to compete. DiMillo was a second-team league all-star in 2009 and looks to emerge as a standout this autumn. Bowden brings experience and could be an up-and-comer. Senior Elliott Neale, a transfer from Cheverus, and freshmen Mike Fuller and Zack Luce (who won the Junior Seacoast championship) will help immediately. The Bulldogs are on their way back to prominence. By year’s end, they could be in position to make some noise at the qualifier.

Senior Caleb Kenney delivers a powerful hit and is a force on both sides of the ball for a Bulldogs team seeking a return trip to the playoffs.

Senior Fazal Nabi is widely regarded as one of the finest players in the state. He’ll look to lead the Bulldogs to great things in 2010.

Junior Ben Day’s defense will frustrate Portland’s opponents this season.

Senior Kathleen Dalbec returns in the cage for a Portland field hockey squad which should be vastly improved this fall.

Junior Sam Hamilton finished 49th last year at the Western A regional meet. He and his teammates hope to qualify for states in 2010.

Helen Otto was 41st at last year’s regional meet. She and her teammates are hoping to end an 11-year drought of failing to qualify for states.

Sidebar Elements

Senior Imadhi Zagon spent much of 2009 running away from opposing tacklers. This year, he projects to be one of the best players in the state as Portland hopes to be a top contender in Western Class A.

More photos below.

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