Portland Bulldogs Fall Sports Preview

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Senior Griffin Foley is one of the state’s top receivers. He’ll play a key role this season in Portland’s quest for a third straight regional football championship.

File photos.

More photos below.

FOOTBALL

Coach: Jim Hartman (sixth year, 39-13 overall record)

2016 record: 9-2 (Lost, 34-14, to Bonny Eagle in Class A state final

Top returners: Charlie Egeland (Senior), Griffin Foley (Senior), Vinnie Pasquali (Senior), Zach Elowitch (Junior), Koa Farnsworth (Junior), Ben Levine (Junior)

Pivotal games: Sept. 2 OXFORD HILLS, Sept. 8 @ Edward Little, Sept. 15 BONNY EAGLE, Sept. 23 WINDHAM, Sept. 30 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “We’re a young team this year, so we’re doing a lot more coaching. You can’t replicate (the departed players’) heart and courage. These guys are learning and we’ll be fine. We just need to find our personality. We’re very experienced up front and we’re very quick. We have a lot of veterans on defense. We may start slow, but we’ll be cranking by the end of the season.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland is coming off its best two-year stretch since the early 2000s, but the Bulldogs haven’t been able to take the final step and capture a championship trophy. Despite another valiant effort, Portland lost to Bonny Eagle in last year’s state final, then was hit hard by graduation, as the likes of Nick Archambault, quarterback Issiah Bachelder, Ethan Hoyt, Jake Knop, Nick Giaquinto, Dylan Wike and reigning Class A North Player of the Year and Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist Dylan Bolduc all departed. While they’ll be hard to replace, anyone writing off this proud program will be surprised in the weeks to come. By the end of the season, the Bulldogs will again be on the short list of teams battling for a championship.

Portland hoped to have Terion Moss under center this fall, but Moss has been offered a basketball scholarship to the University of Maine and at press time, doesn’t appear to be playing football. That leaves the offense in the hands of Pasquali, who has made a name for himself on special teams. Pasquali’s top weapon through the air is the one who helped make Bachelder look so good a year ago, Foley, a reigning conference all-star, who has speed, great hands and a flair for the dramatic. Eight of his 20 catches last year went for touchdowns. Junior tight end Nico Leavitt is another receiving option. Replacing Bolduc as lead running back will be Elowitch, who gained 63 yards on six carries in limited action a year ago. Junior Ben Stasium and sophomore Sam Knop will get opportunities to carry the ball as well. The Bulldogs are stacked on the line behind Egeland (a Class A North all-star in 2016), Farnsworth, Levine, junior Chris Vincent and sophomore Jonah Green.

Defense has long been a Portland strength thanks to coordinator Mike Rutherford. This year’s team will continue that hard-hitting, opportunistic style of play to frustrate the opposition. On the line, Egeland, Farnsworth (an all-star after posting 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year), Green and Leavitt will be difficult to move. Elowitch (51 tackles in 2016) and Levine (who were both all-stars last season) lead the linebacking core. In the secondary, look for Foley, Pasquali (43 tackles and a league-high 5 interceptions last fall) and Stasium to cause turnovers.

Class A North is more wide open this fall than in recent years and there isn’t a clear favorite. While the Bulldogs will have their hands full against several opponents from the region, as well as a huge test against Bonny Eagle in a crossover, they’ll be in position to hold their own. Portland might not boast the kind of glowing record its posted the past few seasons, but by the time the playoffs roll around, this squad will be in the title mix again. If the Bulldogs can get back to the big stage, perhaps the third time will be the charm.

BOYS’ SOCCER

Coach: Rocco Frenzilli (31st year, 207-176-47 overall record)

2016 record: 12-4-2 (Lost, 1-0, to Gorham in Class A South Final)

Top returners: Quinn Clarke (Senior), Rowan Daligan (Senior), Dana Hinchliffe (Senior), Aaron Hoekstra (Senior), Sam Mermin (Senior), Zekariya Shaib (Senior), Manny Yugu (Senior), Abubakar Ali (Junior), Berrick Bobe (Junior), Pedro Fonseca (Junior), Tyler Lemay (Junior), Sam Nkurunziza (Junior), Alex Millones (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Sept. 9 @ Gorham, Sept. 12 @ Falmouth, Sept. 14 CHEVERUS, Oct. 5 @ Deering, Oct. 10 SOUTH PORTLAND, Oct. 12 @ Scarborough

Coach’s comment: “We have a big team. Close to 90 kids this year. Last year’s run was such a pleasant surprise. The guys worked hard for it. Most of the guys are back, but the bottom line is have we progressed as much as other teams? The kids are ready and excited and I’m excited. We know what we’re up against. Everybody in this league is to be reckoned with.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland quietly put together a fantastic regular season a year ago, then the secret was out in the playoffs, as the Bulldogs upset higher seeded Deering and Falmouth to reach the regional final for the first time since 2013. There, a controversial non-call helped leave Portland a goal shy of Gorham, but with graduation losses at a minimum, the Bulldogs appear ready to be a top team in Class A South again.

Portland has traditionally been strong in goal and that will be the case again this fall as Daligan (a second-team league all-star in 2016) returns. He had a 1.07 goals-against-average and managed six shutouts last season. Defensively, Clarke, a captain and first-team all-star last year, is joined by Yugu (honorable mention) as players who will stymie the opposition and also have a nose for the goal at the other end (Clarke scored seven times last season). Ali, Hoekstra, Lemay and Mermin will also be heard from on defense. The midfield features Shaib (honorable mention), Bobe, Millones and Nkurunziza. Hinchliffe and Fonseca seek to finish up top.

The talent on this squad is undeniable. Will the Bulldogs have the hunger and frankly, the occasional doses of good fortune necessary to make a deep run? That remains to be seen. The guess here is that we’ll see Portland play deep into October and if all the pieces come together, the season might just carry into November.

GIRLS’ SOCCER

Coach: Curtis Chapin (second year)

2016 record: 7-4-4 (Lost, 2-0, to Sanford in Class A South preliminary round)

Top returners: Ella Altidor (Senior), Morgan Kierstead (Senior), Gracie LaGrange (Senior), Catriona Moran (Senior), Sydney Girsch (Junior), CC Ritter (Junior), Grace Stacey (Junior), Annika More (Sophomore), Isabella More (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Sept. 6 @ Cheverus, Sept. 13 GORHAM, Sept. 19 WINDHAM, Sept. 23 SOUTH PORTLAND, Sept. 27 @ Falmouth, Oct. 14 DEERING 

Coach’s comment: “Our numbers are great this year. We lost eight seniors, but the majority of our spine is back. We’ll be building around that. For us, it’s about taking that next step. We expect to be in the playoffs. We want to get out of the first round.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has been ousted at home in the preliminary round each of the past two seasons and has aspirations to be competitive again, but there are some big holes to fill, especially after the departure of standout big-game goalie and reigning Fall Female Athlete of the Year Taylor Crosby and clutch goal-scorer Kate Johnson, as well as several other key contributors. Plenty of talent is waiting in the wings, however.

Annika More and Isabella More broke out in a big way as freshman and will again pace the offense with their tenacity and finishing touch. LaGrange is never out of range for a shot and she’s become notorious for scoring from 30-plus yards out. Expect her to continue helping the offensive cause. Girsch, Kierstead, Moran and Stacey will also be reckoned with. Altidor, a first-team league all-star last season who has blazing speed, will again anchor the defensive unit with help from Ritter. Options to replace Crosby in goal include sophomore Laini Legere, last seen playing a big role on the softball team as a freshman, along with freshman Caroline Lerch.

Portland appears primed to again be in the second tier of squads chasing the Gorhams and Scarboroughs of the world for supremacy in the region. Look for this group to steadily improve and be a very dangerous foe by October. If the Bulldogs can get a few bounces to go their way, they’ll take the next step in the postseason.

FIELD HOCKEY

Coach: Beth Arsenault (18th year, 71-167-9 overall record)

2016 record: 2-12 (no postseason)

Top returners: Clay Bessire (Senior), Sydney Gilbert (Senior), Charlie Green (Senior), Emma Scholz (Senior), Jaidyn Appel (Junior), Bridget Maloney (Junior), Nettie Walsh (Junior), Audrey Dufour (Sophomore), Jada McIlwain (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Sept. 13 @ Scarborough, Sept. 15 DEERING, Sept. 27 CHEVERUS, Oct. 9 SOUTH PORTLAND

Coach’s comment: “I really have no idea where my team might finish, but I am certain they’ll work hard in every game for the entire game and will represent our school well. This is a very high character team. They took their lumps last year and just got closer and stronger. Our captains are strong leaders and are surrounded by a great group of seniors. I do expect us to be more competitive, but we’re not really talking a lot about how we rate compared to other teams as we’re trying to keep the focus on what we need to do both as individuals and as a team in order to play the best field hockey we can.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland struggled with wins and losses a year ago, but there is ample reason to believe the Bulldogs will be much more competitive in 2017 and could even improve enough to where they could be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

Gilbert, a co-captain, was last year’s leading scorer and she’ll pace the offense again with help from Appel and Maloney. Senior Maddey Pettengill and new sophomore Noelle Walker are another potential scorers to watch. Portland appears solid in the midfield behind its other co-captain, Green, senior Sophie Frantz, juniors Walsh, Isabella Edwards (a transfer from MGA), Phoebe Howard and Georgia Sommer and Dufour, a sophomore. The defense needs to tighten up from a year ago, when it surrendered over five goals per contest. Bessire, Maloney and Scholz will anchor that unit, with help from seniors Antonia Daley, Emily DiBiase, Mikayla Fortin and Anna Garrett. McIlwain survived trial by fire as a freshman and could be one of the league’s better goalies this fall.

Portland last made the playoffs in 2014. This year’s team could bring the Bulldogs back and win a fair amount of games in the process. Look for some exciting things from this squad this season.

VOLLEYBALL

Coach: Joe Russo (third year, 6-22 overall record)

2016 record: 5-9 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Jess Brown (Senior), Sarah Bryan (Senior), Ashley Chadbourne (Senior), Shayla Eubanks (Senior), Veronica Iris-Bates (Senior), Abby Krieckhaus (Senior), Sophia Silva (Senior), Madison Guptill (Junior)

Pivotal matches: Sept. 5 @ Deering, Sept. 12 GORHAM, Sept. 14 NYA, Sept. 28 SOUTH PORTLAND, Oct. 5 WINDHAM, Oct. 17 CHEVERUS

Coach’s comment: “We return 12 players and we’re looking pretty good in the preseason. We have seniors who started the program as freshmen and they’ve really improved. It’s been neat to watch them make tremendous progress. We have great leadership, but we still need to improve. We want to win the matches we should, play tough against the top teams and make the playoffs. After almost making it last year, the girls really want to compete and excel.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s young program made great strides a year ago, improving from just one victory in 2015 to five and barely missing out on a playoff berth. This time around, a senior-laden squad wants to take that next step.

Krieckhaus is considered the Bulldogs’ best hitter and she’ll be a force at the net. Several other girls can hit as well, including Bryan, Eubanks (a captain), Guptill and Brown, the softball ace who will also be one of the squad’s best servers. Blockers to watch include Chadbourne (a captain) and Iris-Bates. Silva, the third captain, returns as a top setter. That nucleus is joined by several players who either saw limited time in 2016 or are new to the program. Senior Claire Burton and sophomore Emily Elowitch will be defensive specialists. Sophomore Katie Lederer could also see time on the back row. Senior Georgia Stoddard and sophomore Erin Chadbourne will also set. Junior Reagan Brown is a blocker and sophomores Kiera Eubanks, Illyana Hunter and Rose Watson (who has the potential to be a top server) provide depth as outside hitters.

Portland is still undergoing a learning curve, but there’s no question this program has improved by leaps and bounds in a short time. There are some tough teams on the schedule, but the Bulldogs should be able to compete most of the times they take the court and if they can improve on last year’s win total, a realistic goal, they’ll punch their playoff ticket for the first time. That would serve as a fitting punctuation mark on the seniors’ time in a Portland uniform.

CROSS COUNTRY

Coaches:
(Boys) Dan Deniso (26th year)
(Girls) Sophia Payson-Rand (12th year)

2016 results:
(Boys) DNQ for states (14th @ Western A regionals)
(Girls) DNQ for states (15th @ Western A regionals)

Top returners:
(Boys) Joe Harrington (Junior), James Needleman (Junior), Robby Sheils (Junior), Will Brewster (Sophomore), Wyatt Dana (Sophomore), Ben Herrick (Sophomore), Liam Niles (Sophomore)
(Girls) Christina Donato (Senior), Alice Kenny (Senior), Elizabeth Thomas (Sophomore)

Coach Deniso’s comment: “As always, we’ll focus on consistent training, improvement and camaraderie.”

Coach Payson-Rand’s comment: “I’m feeling very hopeful about the team and the season. The new runners all have a lot of talent and are starting out in great shape. Many of them have never run cross country, so I’m hoping we’ll develop a love for the sport and have a lot of fun.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Both Portland teams have runners to watch this fall.

The boys’ team returns four scorers from last year’s regional meet. Harrington (37th) leads the way. He’s joined by Niles (41st), Brewster (42nd) and Dana (94th). Herrick, Needleman and Sheils also have experience. They’re joined by a triumvirate of promising freshmen: Matt Breece, Cooper Jepson and Zach Lull. Portland will be among a group of teams that have a chance to qualify for states if all goes well. The Bulldogs last made the cut in 2011 and would love to end that drought.

On the girls’ side, Donato is a top returner. She placed 75th at last year’s regional meet. Also scoring a year ago at regionals were Thomas (86th) and Kenny (103rd). All three girls hope to move up this fall. They’re joined by several new runners who provide depth and promise. Senior Ana Mitchell, juniors Eva Clews and Elisa Membreno and sophomores Lucia Daranyl and Ella Fergeson all look to make a mark in the weeks to come. For Portland to qualify for states for the first time since 2011, a lot of growth will be necessary between now and late October, but the pieces are in place for a memorable campaign.

GOLF

Coach: John LaFond (40th year, four state championships)

2016 results: 4-6 (DNQ for Class A state match)

Top returner: Reed Foehl (Senior), Cam King (Senior), Jacob Loranger (Junior), Jake Luce (Junior), Ben McCallum (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “Our goal is to qualify for the team state championship.”

The  forecast: Portland was competitive a season ago, but couldn’t qualify for states. This fall, the Bulldogs have enough talent to not only be strong in a very deep division during the regular season, but to turn heads in October.

Foehl and Luce are the top returners. A league all-star a year ago, Foehl shot an 81 at the team state qualifier and tied for 18th with an 85 at the individual state match. Luce shot a 78 at the team qualifier and came in sixth as an individual with a 77. King, Loranger and McCallum also have experience. That core is enhanced by the arrival of newcomers Cooper Bay and Sam Bibeau.

Look for big things from Foehl and Luce in the weeks to come. If other players elevate their game, Portland is going to enjoy one of its most triumphant seasons in many years.

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

Senior Vinnie Pasquali has made big plays all over the field for the Bulldogs and this season, will be under center as quarterback.

Junior Zach Elowitch projects to be Portland’s lead running back this fall.

Junior Koa Farnsworth will be a force on both sides of the ball.

Senior captain Quinn Clarke is a top defender for Portland’s boys’ soccer team, which has championship aspirations this season.

Junior Pedro Fonseca will do plenty of damage up top for the Bulldogs.

Expect opposing players and coaches to lose sleep figuring out how to defend Portland senior Manny Yugu.

Senior Ella Altidor is a lockdown defender with the speed to transition the ball to offense for Portland’s girls’ soccer team, which is vying for another playoff spot.

Annika More had a great freshman season and figures to score even more often as a sophomore.

Where Annika More goes, her sophomore twin sister, Isabella More, will be found as well striking fear into opposing goalkeepers.

Senior Gracie LaGrange has the ability to score goals from long distance.

Junior defender CC Ritter will help frustrate opposing teams.

Junior Grace Stacey, playing without a cast this year, will make life difficult for the opposition.

Senior Sydney Gilbert is a captain and top scorer for a Portland field hockey team which is hoping to make a run to the playoffs this autumn.

Junior Jaidyn Appel is another scoring threat for the Bulldogs.

Senior hitter Abby Krieckhaus is one of many returning Bulldogs who have helped start the volleyball program and turn it into a contender. Before graduating, Krieckhaus and her classmates would like to earn a playoff berth.

Senior Veronica Iris-Bates returns as a blocker.

Senior Sophia Silva is a captain and top setter for the Bulldogs.

Junior Joe Harrington is a top returning scorer for Portland’s boys’ cross country team.

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