Portland Bulldogs Fall Sports Preview

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Pedro Fonseca and his Portland boys’ soccer teammates soared high above the competition a year ago, getting to the Class A state final before losing in overtime to Lewiston. This fall, Fonseca, now a senior, and his teammates look to finish the job.

File photos.

More photos below.

FOOTBALL

Coach: Jim Hartman (seventh year, 43-20 overall record)

2017 record: 4-7 (Lost, 42-6, to Windham in Class A North Final) 

Top returners: Zack Elowitch (Senior), Koa Farnsworth (Senior), Nathan Kapongo (Senior), Ben Levine (Senior), Ben Stasium (Senior), Chris Vincent (Senior), Jonah Green (Junior), Ryan Howell (Junior), Sam Knop (Junior)

Pivotal games: Aug. 31 @ Windham, Sept. 7 CHEVERUS, Sept. 14 @ Bonny Eagle, Sept. 21 @ Lewiston, Oct. 12 @ Oxford Hills

Coach’s comment: “The preseason has gone very well. We have a fast team with a lot of three- or four-year starters. I think we’ll be very strong defensively, I’m very happy with our offense and our special teams will be strong. We’re looking for that state title.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland took a step back record-wise in 2017, but when the playoffs began, Bulldog Pride took over and a pair of upsets sent Portland to its fourth regional final in five seasons. This fall, the senior-laden Bulldogs appear to be the team to beat in Class A North.

Offensively, Knop. who was quarterback for a time before Terion Moss took over in 2017, will be under center and he has impressed in the early going. Elowitch could be the heir to Justin Zukowski, Joe Esposito and Dylan Bolduc and be the type of running back who can carry 20, 30 times a game. Junior Jamal Moriba will also handle the ball. Levine is the fullback. Through the air, look for Stasium to be a top target. Senior Tyler Blazejewski, a transfer from Gray-New Gloucester, and senior Grant Jacobson, a transfer from Windham, will each play tight end and will play key roles in both the running and passing games. On the line, Farnsworth, Green, Howell and Vincent have experience. Don’t be surprised if Portland continues its tradition of plucking a player from the soccer team to do the place-kicking.

On defense, Kapongo, a league all-star last season, will be a force on the line where he’ll be joined by Farnsworth (an SMAA All-Defensive team selection in 2017), Green and Howell. Elowitch (a reigning all-star), Jacobson and Levine are top linebackers. Senior Ben Trefethen, who played previously at Deering and Windham, will also make his presence felt at that position. In the secondary, look for Levine, Moriba and Stasium (another all-star in 2017) to hold down opposing passing attacks.

While the likes of defending champion Scarborough and perennial powerhouse Thornton Academy are getting most of the preseason buzz, Portland plans to be a force in November as well. The Bulldogs won’t have an easy time getting through Class A North, but with all of their winning experience, combined with a hunger to finish the job, it’s not much of a stretch to expect that Portland will be playing on its home Fitzpatrick Stadium turf on the final Saturday of the season.

BOYS’ SOCCER

Coach: Rocco Frenzilli (32nd year, 232-184-50 overall record)

2017 record: 13-4-1 (Lost, 1-0, in OT, to Lewiston in Class A state final)

Top returners: Berrick Bobe (Senior), Pedro Fonseca (Senior), Tyler Lemay (Senior), John Moran (Senior), Sam Nkurunziza (Senior), Alex Millones (Junior), Eric Mukwa (Junior), Than Tiparos (Junior), Max Cheever (Sophomore), Gracien Mukwa (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Sept. 8 GORHAM, Sept. 11 FALMOUTH, Sept. 13 @ Cheverus, Oct. 4 DEERING, Oct. 9 @ South Portland, Oct. 11 SCARBOROUGH, Oct. 16 @ TA

Coach’s comment: “We lost a big part of our defense, but we’ll plug people in and see where we end up. I have 11 returners and really good leadership. Seven starters are back from last year. We scored 34 goals last year, 22 by returners. I’m extremely pleased with our summer workouts. The players are hungry. We’re looking forward to a challenging season. Hopefully we can compete with everyone. Even though the ball is round, it can bounce in strange ways.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland nearly had a storybook ending a year ago, emerging from a balanced Class A South to win its third regional title before dropping a heartbreaker in overtime to Lewiston in the state game. While Quinn Clarke, Sam Mermin, goalkeeper Rowan Daligan, Zekariya Shaib and Manny Yugu, among many other key contributors, departed, the 2018 Bulldogs have the pieces in place to take that long-awaited final step.

Fonseca made the all-conference and all-regional team a year ago. He’ll be a captain this year who figures to score plenty of goals up top. Gracien Mukwa and Nkurunziza, another captain, will also keep opposing defense on their toes. Senior Kato Tchiputo, a trasfer from Deering, will also be in the scoring mix. Portland projects to be very athletic throughout the midfield. Millones, a captain, Eric Mukwa and Tiparos lead that strong contingent. Bobe, Cheever, Lemay, the fourth captain, and Moran will look to fill some big holes in the back and sophomore Henry Flynn, who saw limited varsity minutes in 2017, replaces Daligan in goal. Some newcomers project to step right in and make an impact as well.

It all adds up to what should be a very entertaining and talented team. The Bulldogs won’t have many easy games in their tough SMAA schedule, but that will benefit them by making them stronger in the long run. Nothing is certain and last year showed that any of a half dozen teams could get hot and run the postseason table, but if you consider Portland’s talent, experience and desire to finish the job, if you’re looking for a team that might be slightly above the rest, the Bulldogs could wind up being the one.

GIRLS’ SOCCER

Coach: Curtis Chapin (third year, 11-11-7 overall record)

2017 record: 4-7-3 (no postseason)

Top returners: Delaney Darling (Senior), Sydney Girsch (Senior), Grace Stacey (Senior), Laini Legere (Junior), Annika More (Junior), Isabella More (Junior), Hazel Praught (Junior), Cecilia Ritter (Junior)

Pivotal games: Sept. 5 CHEVERUS, Sept. 12 @ Gorham, Sept. 22 @ South Portland, Sept. 26 FALMOUTH, Oct. 12 @ Deering

Coach’s comment: “Our goal is to get back to the playoffs this year. We just missed out last season and this is motivation to work harder to get there.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland fell short of the playoffs last fall for the first time since 2012 due largely to bad luck and an inability to score goals when it mattered. This season, the Bulldogs expect to generate more offense and return to their winning ways.

Both Annika More and Isabella More have flashed a scoring touch since their freshmen season and the twins will pace the offense again this season, along with Girsch, Stacey and sophomore Toni Stevenson. Darling, Praught and Ritter anchor what should be a strong defense. Sophomore Lydia Stein provides depth on that unit in front of Legere in goal. Sophomore Caroline Lerch will also see time between the pipes.

If Portland can generate some offensive confidence early, it would go a long way toward being able to compete with everyone in a conference full of strong teams. The Bulldogs are hungry for success and it won’t be a surprise if they return to the postseason, or once there, if they stick around awhile.

FIELD HOCKEY

Coach: Beth Arsenault (19th year, 71-180-10 overall record)

2017 record: 0-13-1 (no postseason)

Top returners: Jaidyn Appel (Senior), Phoebe Howland (Senior), Bridget Maloney (Senior), Georgia Sommer (Senior), Nettie Walsh (Senior), Talia Casale (Junior), Audrey Dufour (Junior), Corry Hemond (Junior), Jada McIlwain (Junior), Noelle Walker (Junior)

Pivotal games: Sept. 7 WESTBROOK, Sept. 13 SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 24 @ Deering, Sept. 25 @ Cheverus, Oct. 3 BIDDEFORD, Oct. 5 @ South Portland

Coach’s comment: “I’m excited about the season. Despite the fact that we graduated 10 seniors, we carried a big team last year and are returning 10 with significant varsity experience. I’m really impressed with the amount of work several individuals put in during the offseason. It’s a very athletic group and now they have the skills to match their athleticism.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland is playing with a renewed confidence and purpose this fall and could be in line for a big leap up the standings. The Bulldogs are devoting their season to Antonia Daley, Class of 2018, and last year’s team Rookie of the Year, who passed away in June.

“(Antonia’s) presence on our team when she played and her memory continue to inspire us both as individuals and as a team,” Arsenault said. “The girls are committed to play the season in her memory with their goal being to work hard, continue to improve and enjoy every minute they are playing.”

On the field, Portland returns a second-team league all-star, McIlwain, in goal. She’ll be supported by defenders Hemond, Howland and Sommer. Walsh, an honorable mention all-star in 2017, is a top midfielder, along with Casale and Dufour. They’ll be bolstered by the arrival of sophomores Emma Harrigan and Thao Le. Up top, look for co-captains Appel and Maloney to lead the scoring parade. Walker and junior Carly Hagelin provide offensive depth.

The Bulldogs have promise and are motivated. However, they scored five goals all of last year. That number should rise dramatically in the weeks to come and if it does, the wins will come. This could be a very pleasant surprise season when all is said and done.

VOLLEYBALL

Coach: Joe Russo (fourth year, 14-29 overall record)

2017 record: 8-7 (Lost, 3-0, to Biddeford in Class A state quarterfinal)

Top returning players: Reagan Brown (Senior), Erin Chadbourne (Junior)

Pivotal matches: Sept. 4 @ Deering, Sept. 18 BONNY EAGLE, Sept. 27 @ South Portland, Oct. 16 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “We have no returning starters and only two returning varsity players. The girls are working hard. They’re great kids. We’re figuring out positions and rotations. A lot of girls played JV last year and had a good season. We made great strides last season making the playoffs for the first time. It’s a new beginning. Luckily, we have a lot of underclassmen, so most girls will be coming back. We’ll strive to compete every match.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland got to the playoffs a year ago in its third varsity season, but is largely starting from scratch this fall. It will be a process, but the Bulldogs will be dramatically improved from the start of the season to the conclusion.

Brown (middle blocker) and Chadbourne (setter) are the only veterans. They’ll lead the way this fall. Senior hitter Iliyana Hunter shows great promise. Senior Jill Joyce, who transferred from Maine Girls’ Academy, junior Kiera Eubanks and sophomore Amanda Labonte are other blockers to watch. Junior Rose Watson and sophomore Coral Smith will look to contribute at the net. Defensively, junior Elsa Digiovanna and Emily Posey will try to keep the ball off the floor. Junior Katie Lederer is another setter to watch.

Portland has tempered expectations, but now that the program is used to competing, you can bet it will give every foe a battle for three, four, or even five sets. The growth of this squad will be fun to watch.

CROSS COUNTRY

Coaches:
(Boys) Dan Deniso (27th year)
(Girls) Sophia Payson-Rand (13th year)

2017 results:
(Boys) 14th @ Class A state meet
(Girls) DNQ for states (16th @ Western A regionals)

Top returners:
(Boys) Joe Harrington (Senior), James Needleman (Senior), Robby Sheils (Senior), Will Brewster (Junior), Wyatt Dana (Junior), Liam Niles (Junior)
(Girls) Elisa Membrino (Senior), Ella Fergeson (Junior), Emma Brackett (Sophomore)

Coach Deniso’s comment: “While we have an abundance of freshmen and sophomores, the top seven should be very competitive. We’re hoping to qualify for states again this year.”

Coach Payson-Rand’s comment: “Our numbers are up this year with 13 runners. We have six returning and seven new. We have the potential to qualify for states, which would be our first time in (almost) a decade and that’s our team goal.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s program boasts strong runners of both genders this fall.

The boys qualified for states last season for the first time since 2011. The Bulldogs return state meet scorers Brewster (37th last year), Niles (64th), Harrington (83rd) and Dana (88th). Needleman and Sheils are also experienced. Freshmen Ben Horrisberger and George Theall are nice additions who will provide depth. It’s been over a decade since Portland qualified for states in successive years, but this group has what it takes to make that happen.

On the girls’ side, Fergeson (94th at last year’s regional meet) and Membrino (95th) are top returners. Brackett also has big meet experience. Senior Isabel Hungerford and junior Jean Wriggins are team captains. Senior Inez Braceras, junior Lucy Medd and freshman Ainsley Crimmin are new additions who will step right in and make an impact. Seniors Ava Giaquinto and Amanda Theall and junior Julia Ayers are also new and provide depth. The Bulldogs are looking for their first trip to states since 2011. If some of the newer runners can make a quick impact, that’s a tangible goal.

GOLF

Coach: John LaFond (41st year, five state championships)

2017 results: 5-5 (tie-5th @ Class A state match)

Top returners: Jacob Loranger (Senior), Jake Luce (Senior), Ben McCallum (Senior)

Coach’s comment: “We return five lettermen from last year’s team and we hope to get lucky.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland had a solid campaign in 2017 and turned heads at both the league qualifier and the state match. With ample talent returning, the Bulldogs could be in for another memorable year.

While the loss of all-star and individual state match qualifier Reed Foehl will be felt, Portland has ample talent in reserve. Luce, who had a brilliant round of 74 at last year’s team state match, looks to bow out with another strong performance. Loranger (81) and McCallum (89) also posted solid scores on the big stage a year ago. Cooper Bay and Sam Bibeau provide depth and experience and newcomer Griffin Buckley is another player to watch.

Portland, as always, will have its hands full in the Northern Division, against the likes of Cheverus, Falmouth and Scarborough, but that competition will make the Bulldogs stronger heading into October, where they hope to save their best for last. Again.

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

Senior Zack Elowitch projects to become Portland’s lead running back this fall and looks to lead the Bulldogs on another deep playoff run.

Junior Sam Knop will see the majority of time at quarterback.

Senior Ben Stasium is a big play threat for the Bulldogs.

Senior Koa Farnsworth will make life miserable for opposing ball carriers and quarterbacks.

Gracien Mukwa made his presence felt as a freshman for Portland’s talented boys’ soccer team. He’ll be one of many key players for the Bulldogs this fall.

Sam Nkurunziza will be in the middle of the scoring for Portland.

Junior Than Tiparos is another key returner for the Bulldogs.

Junior Annika More will be in the middle of the action for Portland’s girls’ soccer team, which hopes to get back to the playoffs this fall.

Junior Laini Legere returns in goal for the Bulldogs.

Junior Will Brewster helped Portland’s boys’ cross country team qualify for the Class A state meet a year ago and hopes to lead the Bulldogs back again this fall.

Junior Liam Niles is another top returner for the Bulldogs.

Junior Ella Fergeson is a top returning runner for Portland’s girls’ cross country team.

Senior Elisa Membrino is another top returner for the Portland girls.

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