Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

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Senior Donnie Tocci will be one of the state’s top boys’ hockey players this winter. Tocci hopes to lead the Bulldogs deep into the playoffs.

File photos.

More photos below.

BOYS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Joe Russo (29th year, 419-148 overall record, five state championships)

2017-18 record: 18-2 (Lost, 55-53, to Windham, in Class AA North semifinals)

Top returning players: Trey Bellew (Senior), Simon Chadbourne (Senior), Pedro Fonseca (Senior)

Pivotal games: Dec. 21 @ Bangor, Dec. 27 DEERING, Jan. 4 EDWARD LITTLE, Jan. 10 @ South Portland, Jan. 12 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 25 @ Thornton Academy, Feb. 5 SOUTH PORTLAND, Feb. 7 @ Deering

Coach’s comment: “We’re a work in progress this year, but it’s been fun. I like our enthusiasm and desire to do the best we can. I had Terion (Moss) for four years, so we’re looking for a point guard. We need one who will make his teammates better. Our job is to grow the point guard position and get the newcomers to improve. Teams will be coming at us and we’ll have to be ready. The league is really wide open. No one really stands out as the top dog.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: It’s a bit of a different season for Portland, as the Bulldogs aren’t the clear favorite, but Portland figures to be right near or at the top when all is said and done once again. Russo, who had a well-publicized battle with cancer in the offseason (he recently received a clean bill of health), is eager for the challenge. The Bulldogs might not boast the record they’ve enjoyed the past five years or be the top seed, but rest assured that they’ll be a daunting matchup in February.

Fonseca, an honorable mention all-star last year, will start the year at the point guard position. He can also battle on the glass and hit shots when needed. Chadbourne, an honorable mention all-star in 2017-18, has made a name for himself burying 3-pointers and he’ll be deadly again. He’ll also run the offense at times. Bellew, another reigning honorable mention selection, will be a force in the post. Portland has its share of unproven players as well and if a few of them can step up, look out. Senior forward Lewis Gaddas and juniors Griffin Buckley (a guard), Richard Greenwood (forward) and Ethan Thea (forward) have limited varsity experience and will be called upon to play bigger roles this season. Senior Jeremiah Alado, a transfer from Westbrook, can see time at point guard, while senior guard Ronaldo Wakati and junior guard Stillman Mahan will also figure into the rotation.

The opposition won’t care if the Bulldogs are reloading. After losing so frequently and in most cases, so decisively to Portland in recent seasons, the rest of the league will be out for blood, but it will likely wind up disappointed. The Bulldogs will need some time to hit their stride, but no one molds a winner from December to February like Russo. In a year devoid of a Class AA favorite, the last team standing could be the one we’ve grown so accustomed to for most of this decade.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Coach: Gerry Corcoran (second year)

2017-18 record: 13-7 (Lost, 58-38, to Edward Little in Class AA North semifinals)

Top returning players: Grace Stacey (Senior), Kiera Eubanks (Junior), Davina Kabantu (Junior), Amanda Kabantu (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 15 OXFORD HILLS, Dec. 27 DEERING, Dec. 29 GORHAM, Jan. 4 @ Edward Little, Jan. 10 @ South Portland, Jan. 18 @ Cheverus, Jan. 25 CHEVERUS, Feb. 1 @ Scarborough, Feb. 5 SOUTH PORTLAND, Feb. 7 @ Deering

Coach’s comment: “I thought we’d be senior-oriented, but we lost some girls. There are a lot of moving parts. We’re very athletic. We’ll play the same style. We want to come out fast. We just need to be able to shoot the ball. Jill (Joyce) gives me the ability to have a presence inside when we have to slow it down.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland was one of the most exciting teams around a year ago and made a run to the semifinals before finally being ousted. This winter, the Bulldogs expected to have a veteran group, but Reagan Brown, Nettie Walsh and Callie Watson all opted not to play. Junior Gemima Motema, meanwhile, is sidelined at least the first half of the season with a leg injury, but the reigning first-team league all-star hopes to contribute before all is said and done. Even in light of those challenges, Portland figures to contend once again.

The Bulldogs return Amanda Kabantu and Davina Kabantu, who each made the All-Rookie team a year ago. Davina Kabantu will play point guard, while Amanda Kabantu can play guard or forward. Both girls can score. Stacey is the steady veteran leader. She’ll play guard and hopes to help out on the score sheet. Eubanks could be in for a big year. She’ll be one of the team’s top forwards. Senior Jill Joyce, who spent her first three years at the erstwhile Maine Girls’ Academy, is recovering from foot surgery, but will make her presence felt in the post this winter. Senior guard Amanda Moffo and sophomore guard Mia Kelley each have seen limited varsity time and will play bigger roles this season. A trio of freshmen bring promise. Naulissa Tuza will play forward. Lina Wakati is a backup point guard. Elizabeth Yugu is another guard to watch.

It all adds up to a team that has some promising pieces that just needs some seasoning. Portland will have suffer some growing pains against a tough schedule and in a region with several other contenders, the Bulldogs might not have a high playoff seed, but once the postseason arrives, this group could be very dangerous and their athleticism and style of play will make them a team that no one will want to face with their season hanging in the balance.

BOYS’ HOCKEY

Coach: Jeff Beaney (fourth year, 24-30-3 overall record)

2017-18 record: 8-9-2 (Lost, 6-3, to Thornton Academy in Class A South quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Cam Clifford (Senior), Walter Lewandowski (Senior), Jake Luce (Senior), Ben McCallum (Senior), Donnie Tocci (Senior), Miki Silva (Junior), Whit Steele (Junior), Max Cheever (Sophomore), Dante Tocci (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 15 @ South Portland, Dec. 29 CHEVERUS, Jan. 3 SOUTH PORTLAND, Jan. 10 LEWISTON, Jan. 15 @ Biddeford, Jan. 19 FALMOUTH, Jan. 24 @ Cheverus, Feb. 9 ST. DOM’S, Feb. 18 @ Scarborough, Feb. 21 SCARBOROUGH

Coach’s comment: “We lost some solid seniors from last year, but we return a lot of young players who hopefully will step up for us. We didn’t take the extra step last year, but that’s our goal this season. I’d like to keep our streak of getting a home playoff game and if we can be one of the final four teams, anything can happen.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland/Deering co-op team boasts an impressive group of veterans and will add some promising youngsters this winter as it seeks a third straight playoff berth.

Portland/Deering returns all-state selections Silva and Donnie Tocci. Silva, who has played forward the past two years, moves back to bolster the defense, while Tocci is also a defenseman, but is well known for his offensive prowess. Lewandowski, last year’s leading scorer, Clifford, Luce, Steele, Dante Tocci and freshman Carlos Braceras will all team up to put the puck in the net with regularity. Cheever is another defender of note. McCallum returns in goal. Freshman Ryan Becker will also see time between the pipes.

For the first time in a long time, there isn’t a dominant favorite in Class A South. There are several strong teams, but Portland/Deering has every reason to believe it has a chance to do great things. If this squad stays healthy and produces as expected, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it plays into the month of March and steals some headlines.

GIRLS’ HOCKEY

Coach: Tom Clifford (second year)

2017-18 record: 14-6 (Lost, 8-2, to Cheverus in South Region Final)

Top returning players: Inez Braceras (Senior), Emily Demers (Senior), Elena Clifford (Junior), Kim Clifford (Sophomore), Lucy Howe (Sophomore), Caroline Lerch (Sophomore), Margaret Smith (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Dec. 19 @ Lewiston, Dec. 22 SCARBOROUGH, Dec. 29 CHEVERUS, Jan. 2 @ Cape/Waynflete/SP, Jan. 4 @ Scarborough, Jan. 16 LEWISTON, Jan. 19 @ Cheverus, Jan. 26 CAPE/WAYNFLETE/SP, Jan. 30 @ St. Dom’s

Coach’s comment: “I have a great group of girls that show up and work hard. The girls came into this year with a lot of confidence and we hope to continue with the positive steps the program took last season and are looking to put ourselves in a position to be a playoff team by year’s end.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland/Deering co-op team is coming off the most exciting and triumphant season in program history and the squad hopes to build on that this winter. Even though Portland/Deering dropped its first two games, 7-6 to Falmouth and 8-6 to defending state champion Greely/Gray-New Gloucester, it’s clear that the team will score plenty of goals and contend with everyone on the schedule.

The offense is loaded behind Demers (39 goals, 62 points during an all-state season in 2017-18 and seven goals in two games this winter), Lerch (20 goals, 44 points during an all-conference campaign last year), Braceras (10 goals, 19 points) and Howe (8 goals, 28 points). Smith (4 goals in 2017-18) is another forward to watch. Defensively, Portland/Deering features senior Maddy Danse and the Clifford cousins, who have some offensive pop of their own. Sophomore Anna Gannon, who went 2-0 in limited action last season, will be in goal.

A year ago, Portland/Deering was able to sneak up on the opposition, at least early in the season, but this winter, nothing will come easily. Portland/Deering will put the puck in the net and if the defense improves as the season goes along, another deep playoff run could be the end result.

INDOOR TRACK

Coach: Bill LeRoy (second year)

2017-18 results:

(Boys) no score @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 21st @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Will Bourque (Senior), Cam Connolly (Senior), Joe Harrington (Senior), Will Brewster (Junior), Wyatt Dana (Junior)

(Girls) Jaidyn Appel (Senior), Karina Boothe (Senior), Alexis Fiore (Junior), Noelle Walker (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “We have good numbers. About 35 on each team. We have a good nucleus back and we should cover most events. We want to continue to learn how to compete. With bigger numbers, we’ll accomplish more and develop kids who can score at Southwesterns and states. We’d like to move up the league standings.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s program continues to grow and it’s likely both genders will produce some standout athletes this winter.

The boys’ team has a strong distance contingent, led by Brewster, Dana and Harrington. Connolly will be a top sprinter. In the hurdles, keep an eye on sophomore Milo Bloom. Bourque and sophomores Nate Fogg and Jack Mahoney will all throw the shot put. Sophomore Anselmo Tela, coming off a strong soccer season, is a top jumper. The Bulldogs have scored at the state meet just twice in the past seven years, but this winter, Portland figures to have multiple scorers.

On the girls’ side, Appel is coming off a fourth-place showing in the high jump at the state meet and could do even better this winter. Fiore and Walker will also take part in the jumps. Fiore also throws the shot put. Booth hopes to score in the hurdles. The Bulldogs will score their share of points in the regular season and will make some noise at states.

SWIMMING

Coach: Morgan Dorsey (third year) and Kyle Rasmussen (first year)

2017-18 results:

(Boys) 5th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) 27th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Will Couture (Senior), Paul Gauthier (Senior), Josh Ying (Senior), Max Orchow (Junior)

(Girls) Ava Giaquinto (Senior), Julia Ayer (Junior), Corry Hemond (Junior)

Coach Dorsey’s comment: “We’re looking forward to a great season. We hope to have some great relays. The boys have lots of depth. The girls are focusing on building depth and having great swims.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland is poised to accomplish some big things in the pool.

The boys are coming off their top state meet showing since 1972. Couture is the top returner. He was runner-up in the 100 butterfly and third in the backstroke last season. He’ll serve as a captain this winter and will also compete in the 50 freestyle. Josh Ying (seventh in the 50 free) is another returning scorer. He’ll swim the breaststroke as well. Gauthier (breaststroke) and Orchow (freestyle, fly, backstroke) are veterans of note. Freshmen Kiron Das (freestyle), Beo Endicott (freestyle) and Tae-Su Park (breaststroke) add depth. Another strong season will be in store.

On the girls’ side, Giaquinto, a captain, will look to score in the freestyle, fly and IM. Ayer and Hemond have freestyle experience. A move up the standings could be the end result.

NORDIC SKIING

Coach: George Aponte-Clarke (second year)

2017-18 results:

(Boys) 4th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) No score @ Class A state meet

Top returners:

(Boys) Robbie Sheils (Senior), Liam Niles (Junior)

(Girls) Elizabeth Thomas (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “We want to build off last year’s accomplishments that yielded five podiums and 12 top 10 results at states. We’re bolstered by an influx of strong freshmen moving up from our successful middle school program. The girls have their eyes on a championship. With increased numbers, the boys hope to be competitive at states as well.

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Portland Nordic team, which also includes skiers from other local schools, will make some noise on the trails again this winter.

The boys’ squad returns Niles, who was the individual runner-up in Class A in the classical race and placed fourth in the freestyle a year ago. Sheils (16th in the classical, 18th in the freestyle) is another top returner and is a captain. Junior Will Jordan of Deering (ninth in the freestyle, 10th in the classical) will do big things for his school, while Cheverus’ Michael Luna hopes to move up after coming in 50th in last year’s classical and 54th in the freestyle. Freshmen Luc Dietlin, Ben Horrisberger and George Theal provide depth. Look to hear from plenty of these athletes in the weeks to come.

On the girls’ side, Thomas returns for Portland. She was 10th in the classical and 14th in the freestyle last season. Deering senior Grace Tumavicus, a captain, looks to win the classical after placing second a year ago (she was eighth in the freestyle). In fact, the Rams were second as a team last winter. Sierra Aponte-Clarke of Casco Bay High School was sixth in the freestyle and seventh in the classical last season and hopes for a top five finish. Casco Bay sophomore Ella Raymond (12th freestyle, 16th classical) is another returner to watch. Junior Lucy Medd and freshmen Merribel Collin, Megan Cunningham, Francesca Freeman and Zuzia Varney are new to the squad. It all adds up to what is sure to be an exciting campaign.

WRESTLING

Coaches: David Elowitch and Tony Napolitano (16th year)

2017-18 results: 11th @ Class A state meet

Top returners: Darrian Darling (Senior), Zack Elowitch (Senior), Abdullah Abdullah (Junior), Hussin Al-Saadi (Junior), Carlos Garcia (Junior), Shamus Cole (Sophomore), Malcolm Gartland (Sophomore), Anthony Napolitano (Sophomore)

Coach Elowitch’s comment: “Our goals are to win 75 percent of our dual meets, qualify eight for states, place five at states and win states in three weight classes.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland continues to climb up the ladder and the 2018-19 campaign should produce more triumph.

Elowitch is coming off a superb football season, one which saw him set records and lead the Bulldogs to the state final. Wrestling is his top sport and he’ll make a run at a state title in the 170-pound weight class. Several other veterans are also in the mix. Among them are Al-Saadi (138), Abdullah (145), Cole (126), Darling (195/220), Garcia (132), Gartland (182) and Napolitano (120). Junior Theo Burns (160) is a newcomer of note.

Portland should cover most weight classes and has several wrestlers who won’t just do well in the regular season, but could be formidable in the postseason.

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

Senior Pedro Fonseca will help run the offense for Portland’s always-strong boys’ basketball team.

Junior Simon Chadbourne can hit 3-pointers at a record rate.

Senior Trey Bellew will be a force at the defensive end.

Sophomore Amanda Kabantu was named to the SMAA All-Rookie team last winter and will be a top player this winter for Portland’s promising girls’ basketball team.

Davina Kabantu gets the job done at both ends of the floor.

Senior Grace Stacey will be a captain again this winter.

Senior Ben McCallum is back in goal for the Portland boys’ hockey team.

Miki Silva has seen a lot of ice time as a freshman and sophomore. He’ll play a key role again as a junior.

Senior Emily Demers is a goal-scoring machine for the Portland/Deering girls’  hockey team.

Caroline Lerch scored 20 goals as a freshman. She’ll find the net frequently this season.

After a record-setting football season, senior Zack Elowitch turns his attention to his prime sport, wrestling, where he hopes to win a state title at 170 pounds and lead Portland to a strong season.

Abdullah Abdullah is another top returner for the Bulldogs at 145 pounds.

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