Portland Bulldogs Fall Sports Preview

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The Portland High fall sports outlook is very promising. Football is viewed as a state championship contender. The boys’ soccer team overcame adversity a year ago and this time around, should be one of the best in the region. The girls’ squad is on the rise and could be playoff bound. Field hockey looks to bounce back and make it to the postseason. Both cross country teams have reason for optimism. Golf, despite being in a tough division, is poised to be very competitive.

COACH: Jim Hartman (second year, 6-4 overall record)
2012 Record: 6-4 (Lost, 35-7, to Cheverus in Western A semifinals)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Jake Dutton (Senior), Luigi Grimaldi (Senior), Jayvon Pitts-Young (Senior), Justin Zukowski (Senior), Dominic Dimillo (Junior), Domenic Fagone (Junior), Ryan Ruhlin (Junior), Jordan Talbot (Junior)
PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 6 CHEVERUS, Sept. 12 @ Deering, Sept. 28 @ Bangor, Oct. 11 WINDHAM, Oct. 25 SOUTH PORTLAND
COACH’S COMMENT: “We have to replace some key linemen. Our backfield is returning. That’s a big help. We have a lot of game experience. We need to keep improving and restore confidence. We have a lot of great athletes who can play. We have the potential, but it’s all mental. We want the Gold Ball. That’s the goal.”
THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: This could be Portland’s best team in a decade, but there’s work to do. The Bulldogs have crept incrementally closer to the elite the past few seasons and last year got to the semifinals for the first time since 2005, but had no answers for Cheverus on the big stage. While there were some key graduation losses (most notably lineman and linebacker extraordinaire Tate Gale, Portland’s Fall 2012 Male Athlete of the Year), plenty of talent returns and some newcomers will help the cause.
Talbot moves from wide receiver to quarterback. Hartman is excited about his ability to lead the team. The running game will be keyed by three potential standouts: the known entities (Pitts-Young and Zukowski, a first-team SMAA all-star last year) and an intriguing newcomer (senior Ronald Hargrove, who played for powerhouse Concord Carlisle High School in Massachusetts). The Bulldogs will have a formidable passing game as well, as Talbot can look to Fagone, Ruhlin and new tight ends sophomore Joe Fusco and senior Matt Talbot, best known for his basketball exploits. Opening holes and protecting the quarterback will be Dimillo, Dutton and Grimaldi. This team figures to move the ball on the ground and through the air and could put up a prodigious number of points.
Defensively, the outlook is just as promising. The Bulldogs’ line features Dimillo and Dutton. The linebacking corps includes Fusco, Grimaldi, Pitts-Young and Matt Talbot and in the secondary, Fagone, Hargrove and Zukowski wreak havoc.
The pieces for greatness are place and Portland will receive an immediate test when it hosts Cheverus in the opener Friday. A win there would do wonders for the Bulldogs’ confidence. They’re on the short list of favorites for a reason. Don’t be surprised if Portland if playing on its home turf in the Class A state championship game in late November.

COACH; Rocco Frenzilli (27th year, 181-163-38 overall record)
2012 Record: 7-8-1 (Lost, 3-0, to Scarborough in Western Class A quarterfinals)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Ek Bakunda (Senior), Stephen Barry (Senior), Ibrahim Dahir (Senior), Charlie Gauvin (Senior), Connor Bruce (Junior), Haron Habibzai (Junior), Oliver Brochu (Sophomore), Sam Farr (Sophomore), Josh Irving (Sophomore), Erik Molina (Sophomore)
PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 10 @ Scarborough, Sept. 12 DEERING, Sept. 26 CHEVERUS, Oct. 3 @ South Portland, Oct. 8 GORHAM
COACH’S COMMENT: “We have a lot of young guys coming back. They’ve learned a lot. We’re bigger, faster and stronger. (Timmy) Rovnak had half of our 30 goals last year. We’ll need to spread it around this year. We hope to get off to a better start than we did last season. I’m excited so far. I’m optimistic about the season.”
THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland experienced a little of everything last year, a forfeit due to a player who was older than records claimed, a 2-7-1 start, then a strong finish which got the Bulldogs into the playoffs, where they promptly eliminated defending champion Windham before finally meeting their match in eventual top dog Scarborough. This fall, Portland’s hoping for a little more tranquility as well as more triumph.
While the loss of Rovnak will certainly be felt, the team’s balance will help it hold its own. The addition of senior Yusuf Yama, a transfer from Lewiston and a reigning All-State player, is a good place to start. He’ll be joined up front by juniors Faris Bazika and Jonathan Bobe. Frenzilli has an abundance of midfielders to juggle, all of whom show potential. That group includes Barry, Dahir, Farr, Habibzai, Irving, new seniors Quentin Neayishimiye and Steven Renendeye and freshman Alex Frank. Defensively, the Bulldogs rely upon Bakunda, Brochu, Bruce (an honorable mention all-star last year), Gauvin, Molina, seniors Chandler Sturgeon and Zach Hodgdon and freshman Tim Baker. All-star goalie Chip Weber has graduated, leaving uncertainty at a key position. Sophomore Bobby Brittingham will likely get the nod there, but senior Danny Kane and junior Andrew Hoekstra are also in the mix.
The Bulldogs are athletic and deep and are starting from a better place than they did a year ago. Portland has some tough tests early in the season (opening at home versus Sanford Saturday, then playing at Scarborough three nights later), but like last year, should only get better as September gives way to October. A winning season, a 14th straight postseason berth and a longer playoff run is the likely result.

COACH: Arthur Mosen (second year, 2-10-2 overall record)
2012 Record: 2-10-2 (no postseason)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Elizabeth Harris (Senior), Zoe Rivera (Senior), Emma Stehli (Senior), Madison Bolduc (Junior), Chessa Hoekstra (Sophomore), Isabel Stehli (Sophomore)
PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 9 SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 12 DEERING, Sept. 27 @ Cheverus, Oct. 4 @ South Portland, Oct. 9 @ Gorham, Oct. 12 MCAULEY, Oct. 19 @ Windham
COACH’S COMMENT: “One of our biggest accomplishments last season was that we were able to create the right atmosphere together. The team spirit has only grown stronger since and all the credit has to go to the players. This preseason has been much more competitive than last and I think that’s because the girls are going into the season with a lot more confidence. We were able to hang with the top teams last season and became a frustrating team to play against. We’re not far from turning some of those losses and draws into wins. Our goal for the season is to focus on the game in front of us, to play with 100 percent commitment and hope we land in the playoff mix.”
THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland began its climb back toward contention last autumn and could be in the playoff hunt come October.
The Bulldogs have several girls who can score goals, including Emma Stehli, Bolduc, Hoekstra and Isabel Stehli and promising freshman Kate Johnson. Senior Elizabeth Harris is the anchor of the defense. Senior Zoe Rivera replaces Mashale Nabi is in goal. Freshman Hayleigh Blanchard is a key newcomer to watch..
Portland has confidence entering the season and some early success could really lead the Bulldogs to great things. A run at a .500 record or better is possible and a berth in a preliminary round playoff game would be quite an accomplishment after falling short three years in a row. Whatever happens this year, the future is bright and it won’t be long until Portland is back among the top teams in the conference.

COACH: Beth Arsenault (14th year, 53-128-9 overall record)
2012 Record: 3-10-1 (no postseason)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Ali Briggs (Senior), Tori Clayton (Senior), Georgia Drew (Junior), Tara O’Neal (Junior), Meggie Parker (Junior), Becky Scott (Junior), Renata Serio (Junior), Alysha Alling (Sophomore), Isabelle Dimillo (Sophomore), Gianna Gaudett (Sophomore), Lauren McIntyre (Sophomore), Ashly Paisley (Sophomore)
PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 12 @ Scarborough, Sept. 20 WESTBROOK, Oct. 4 CHEVERUS, Oct. 7 @ Deering, Oct. 15 MARSHWOOD
COACH’S COMMENT: “I hope we don’t take nine games to warm up like we did last year and that we’re competitive from the start. As always, we want to get to the playoffs and see what happens. We finished very well last season and that’s given us confidence. We had such strong senior leadership last year and this year’s team is quite seasoned for their ages. Even though they’re very young chronologically, we’re returning 14 players who got significant time on a varsity field. This is a very passionate group with great character, so we’re looking to compete, continually improve and have fun.”
THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland was done in by its 0-8-1 start a year ago and wasn’t able to build on the dramatic achievements of 2011, falling short of the playoffs. This time around, the Bulldogs have the type of schedule that allows for a faster start (they haven’t won their opener since 2007).
Portland will be solid in goal behind Gaudett, who was a member of the SMAA’s All-Rookie team in 2012. Defensively, Alling, Briggs and Parker will set the tone. The scoring figures to come from Clayton, Dimillo, Drew, McIntyre and Serio. Other players to watch include O’Neal, Paisley and Scott. Several newcomers help the cause. Seniors Nyaleda Deng and Eliana Finberg have been a part of the program and look to make a mark with the varsity team. The Bulldogs also have a pair of transfers from the highly successful Cheverus program, junior Gabby Wagabaza and sophomore Catherine Brewer.
The league is strong, but perhaps not as top-heavy as in recent years. Portland will be able to hold its own against everyone on the schedule. A good start would put the Bulldogs in position to post a winning record and make the playoffs. This team has experience and drive and could be in for a memorable campaign.

(BOYS) Dan Deniso (24th year)
(GIRLS) Sophie Payson-Rand (ninth year)
2012 Results:
(BOYS) 12th @ Western A meet (DNQ for states)
(GIRLS) 9th @ Western A meet (DNQ for states)
(BOYS) Ben Allen (Senior), Jake Morrow-Spitzer (Senior), Pat Sheils (Junior), Charles Winkelman (Junior), Teddy Crockett (Sophomore), Brad Ravenelle (Sophomore), Nick Stasium (Sophomore), Nate Tomasack (Sophomore)
(GIRLS) Sara Gale (Senior), Meghan Suslovic (Senior), Bea Hesselbart (Junior), Darcy Hinck (Junior), Hannah Mermin (Junior), Catherine Miller (Junior),
TOP FOES: Cheverus, Deering, Massabesic, Scarborough boys; Bonny Eagle, Massabesic, Windham girls
COACH DENISO’S COMMENT: “We have 15 kids, which is about average. They’re great kids. We want to get better. We’ll try to compete and qualify for states. I hope for at least our top three to qualify as individuals. Ben’s goal is to win regionals and states.”
COACH PAYSON’S COMMENT: “We’re currently expected to be in the top seven for Class A this year and I’m very excited because we have some additional talent joining the team this year. Our team goal is to qualify for states and given the talent and experience, as well as the dedication and commitment of our captains to bring out the very best in the team, I believe we’ll achieve this goal.”
THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: There’s a lot of optimism around the Portland cross country program this fall and both teams like their chances to have successful seasons.
The boys’ squad is led by the dominant Allen, a league all-star, who qualified for last year’s Class A state meet as an individual and came in 17th. He’s got his sights set on a top finish and might be the best around when all is said and done. Morrow-Spitzer was 55th at last year’s regional meet. Also scoring there were Sheils (76th) and Winkelman (81st). Crockett, Ravenelle, Sheils, Stasium and Tomasack all return looking to help the pack and after taking last year off, senior Jeremy Ravanelle is back with the team. Allen will lead the show, but the rest of the Bulldogs might just have enough to make it back to the state meet.
On the girls’ side, Portland is looking very strong and the Bulldogs are hoping for their first top 10 state meet finish this century. Even after the loss of top runner, senior Laura Frank, to an ACL injury, Portland has ample talent. The return of senior Lizzy Landry, who ran as a freshman and sophomore, will help fill Frank’s void. Two girls who scored at last year’s regional meet return: Hinck, who was 48th, and Suslovic (50th). Gale, Hesselbart, Mermin and Miller all have experience. Junior Francesca Butterfield and sophomore Nellie Block, who previously ran for McAuley, are also new to the team. The Bulldogs aren’t just content competing this autumn, they have high hopes and the talent to make greatness happen. Look for a strong regular and postseason from this group.

COACH: John LaFond (38th year, three state championships)
2012 Results: 4-6 (no postseason)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Nick DiPalma (Senior), Ryan Dixon (Senior), Mike Fuller (Senior), Travis Godbout (Senior), Zack Luce (Senior)
TOP FOES: Cheverus, Falmouth
COACH’S COMMENT: “We have a senior-laden team. Seven returning lettermen. The SMAA is loaded with talent. Our main goal is to make it to states, but we’re in a very tough division. We hope to sneak in there. It’s one of the most talented teams I’ve had in a long time.”
THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland has the talent to get to the state match, but unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they’re in the toughest division in the conference, vying with powers like Cheverus, Falmouth and Scarborough. Portland is led by Luce, a first-team league all-star a year ago, and Godbout, a second-team all-star, who qualified for states as an individual. DiPalma, Dixon and Fuller have also seen their share of varsity time. This is an experienced group that isn’t content just competing in the regular season. The Bulldogs want to make the trip to Natanis. While there’s a good chance a couple individuals will do so, getting there as a team will be an uphill battle, but don’t write this Portland group off.

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

The dynamic and talented Jayvon Pitts-Young returns for his senior season on the gridiron. He and his teammates have their sights set on a Gold Ball.

Senior Justin Zukowski is another top veteran back for one more go round.

Senior Ibrahim Dahir is one of many key returning players for a Portland boys’ soccer squad primed to extend its long string of playoff appearances.

Junior Haron Habibzai is another talented player to watch.

Senior Elizabeth Harris is a top returning defender for the Bulldogs, who are chasing a playoff berth this fall.

Gianna Gaudett, an All-Rookie team member a year ago, returns in goal for the Bulldogs.

Junior Becky Scott is a key returning player for the Bulldogs.

2013 schedules

Fri., Sept. 6 H CHEVERUS
Thurs., Sept. 12 @ Deering
Fri., Sept. 20 H EL
Sat., Sept. 28 @ Bangor
Sat., Oct. 5 @ Oxford Hills
Fri., Oct. 11 H WINDHAM
Fri., Oct. 18 @ Lewiston
Fri., Oct. 25 H SP

Sat., Sept. 7 H SANFORD
Tues., Sept. 10 @ Scarborough
Thurs., Sept. 12 H DEERING
Tues., Sept. 17 @ Noble
Thurs., Sept. 19 H BONNY EAGLE
Sat., Sept. 21 @ TA
Tues., Sept. 24 @ Massabesic
Thurs., Sept. 26 H CHEVERUS
Tues., Oct. 1 H MARSHWOOD
Thurs., Oct. 3 @ SP
Tues., Oct. 8 H GORHAM
Tues., Oct. 15 @ Westbrook
Thurs., Oct. 17 H WINDHAM
Tues., Oct. 22 @ Biddeford

Sat., Sept. 7 H SANFORD
Thurs., Sept. 12 H DEERING
Wed., Sept. 18 H NOBLE
Fri., Sept. 20 @ Bonny Eagle
Wed., Sept. 25 H MASSABESIC
Fri., Sept. 27 @ Cheverus
Wed., Oct. 2 H MARSHWOOD
Fri., Oct. 4 @ SP
Wed., Oct. 9 @ Gorham
Sat., Oct. 12 H MCAULEY
Wed., Oct. 16 H WESTBROOK
Sat., Oct. 19 @ Windham
Wed., Oct. 23 @ Biddeford

Wed., Sept. 4 @ Noble
Sat., Sept. 7 @ Windham
Tues., Sept. 10 H SANFORD
Thurs., Sept. 12 @ Scarborough
Mon., Sept. 16 H SP
Wed,. Sept. 18 @ TA
Fri., Sept. 20 H WESTBROOK
Tues., Sept. 24 @ Biddeford
Fri., Sept. 27 H BONNY EAGLE
Wed., Oct. 2 @ McAuley
Fri., Oct. 4 H CHEVERUS
Mon., Oct. 7 @ Deering
Thurs., Oct. 10 H GORHAM
Tues., Oct. 15 H MARSHWOOD

Fri., Sept. 13 H BIDD, MASS, SCAR
Fri., Sept. 20 @ TA (Noble, Windham)
Fri., Sept. 27 @ Sanford (Gorham, SP)
Sat., Oct. 5 @ Festival of Champions
Fri., Oct. 11 @ BE (Marsh, West)
Fri., Oct. 18 @ Cheverus (Deering)
Sat., Oct. 26 @ Western A Regionals
Sat., Nov. 2 @ Class A States

Fri., Sept. 13 H BIDD, MASS, SCAR
Fri., Sept. 20 @ TA (Noble, Windham)
Fri., Sept. 27 @ Sanford (Gorham, SP)
Sat., Oct. 5 @ Festival of Champions
Fri., Oct. 11 @ BE (Marsh, West)
Fri., Oct. 18 @ Cheverus (Deering, McA)
Sat., Oct. 26 @ Western A Regionals
Sat., Nov. 2 @ Class A States

Wed., Sept. 4 @ SP
Tues., Sept. 9 H DEERING
Thurs., Sept. 11 @ Falmouth
Tues., Sept. 16 @ Scarborough
Thurs., Sept 18 H CHEVERUS
Tues., Sept. 23 H SP
Thurs., Sept. 25 @ Deering
Sat., Sept. 27 H FALMOUTH
Thurs., Oct. 3 @ Cheverus

Sidebar Elements

Senior Ben Allen could be one of the best cross country runners not just in the conference, but in the state this fall.

More photos below.

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