Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

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Portland High will be in the hunt in several sports this winter. Boys’ basketball appears down, but don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs make noise before all is said and done. The girls’ squad is hoping to be a playoff contender. Boys’ hockey is always competitive and should be again. The girls’ team could turn some heads. Track, swimming, skiing and wrestling are all up and coming.

BOYS’ BASKETBALL

COACH: Joe Russo (21st year)

2009-10 Record: 10-9 (Lost, 65-34, to Westbrook in Western Class A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Peter Donato (Junior), Nate Smart (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 17 @ Marshwood, Dec. 21 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 7 (H) WESTBROOK, Jan. 11 (H) WINDHAM, Jan. 18 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, Jan. 21 @ Cheverus, Jan. 25 (H) BONNY EAGLE, Jan. 28 @ Deering, Feb. 3 @ Scarborough, Feb. 8 @ South Portland, Feb. 11 (H) DEERING

COACH’S COMMENT: “The players are nice kids. They’re having fun. It’s going to be a challenge this year. The freshmen and sophomores are very good for their age, but against seniors and physical kids, it’ll be tough. It’s the most inexperienced team I’ve had at Portland. Usually we reload, not rebuild. We have a bunch of guys blending in. It’ll be point guard by committee. We hope to surprise some people. If we make it to the playoffs, that would be awesome. That’s our goal.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland is coming off its lowest win total since 1996 and might struggle to post an above .500 mark this winter. However, you’d be foolish to ever write off a Joe Russo-coached squad. He makes more out his talent from start to finish than anyone. While graduation cost the Bulldogs the likes of Wally Stover, Koang Thok and Joe Zukowski and point guard Will Defanti (a top 10 man in steals and assists) moved out of state, Portland’s cupboard isn’t completely bare. The team’s just young. This year’s squad, which was still deciding on a point guard at press time, will rely on the limited experience of Donato (at center), Smart (forward, All-Rookie team in 2009-10) and sophomore Nick Volger (guard). Junior Mike Herrick, who saw some minutes a year ago, could be a top scoring threat. Senior Brian Kane, juniors Jake Hatch, Zach Lane and Barry Quinn, sophomore Steve Angelo and freshmen guards Jayvon Pitts-Young and Justin Zukowski and 6-foot-4 freshman center Matt Talbot are promising as well. Seniors Dylan Goodman (guard) and Matt McInnis (center) move up from the junior varsity squad. The Bulldogs gave highly touted Thornton Academy a scare in the opener, leading by six at the half before going down to a 57-53 defeat (despite 16 points from Herrick). Portland is untested and will take some lumps during the course of the season, but if these kids stay the course, they’ll win some games and be very dangerous by February. The guess here is that the Bulldogs wind up surprising a few teams perceived as “better” during the regular year. The might even steal some headlines come tournament time.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

COACH: Jan Veinot (fourth year)

2009-10 Record: 5-13 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Nicolette Kapothanasis (Senior), Becca Smith (Senior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 18 (H) CHEVERUS, Jan. 4 (H) GORHAM Jan. 21 @ McAuley, Jan. 28 (H) DEERING, Feb. 1 @ Sanford, Feb. 3 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Feb 9 @ Deering

COACH’S COMMENT: “I’ve got some good athletes. We have good height, long arms and we’re quick. We’ll have to use our quickness and athleticism. I would hope we could make a run at the playoffs. In my mind, there’s no reason we can’t beat all the other teams after McAuley, Cheverus and Deering. I’m hoping for the best..”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland has fallen short of the playoffs in four of the past five years, but after the top three teams, the league is wide open, meaning the Bulldogs could be in contention. They fell in their opener, 55-41, at Thornton Academy. This year’s squad will be paced by Kapothanasis, an SMAA honorable mention all-star in 2009-10 after averaging 18 points per game. That’s exactly what she had in the opener. Smith, a defensive standout, joins Kapothanasis at guard. Senior Stephanie Rogers, who’s missed the past two years with knee ailments, is healthy and ready to make an impact down low. Sophomore forward Delea Malual has shown promise and could step in and become a top scorer. After that, there are a lot of unknowns. Portland will battle each night and look to improve as the season goes on. Some early victories would go a long way for the team’s confidence. The Bulldogs have a good shot at bettering last year’s win-loss mark and being in the hunt for the postseason.

BOYS’ HOCKEY

COACH: Andy Gildart (third year)

2009-10 Record: 9-10 (Lost, 3-2, to South Portland in Western A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Eddie Apon (Senior), Bronson Guimond (Senior), Anthony Bowden (Junior), Jonny Gatti (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 13 @ Thornton Academy, Dec. 23 (H) GORHAM, Jan. 6 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 8 (H) BIDDEFORD, Jan. 13 (H) YARMOUTH, Jan. 20 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, Jan. 22 (H) FALMOUTH, Jan. 26 @ Biddeford, Jan. 29 @ Falmouth, Feb. 3 (H) THORNTON ACADEMY, Feb. 10 @ South Portland, Feb. 21 @ Scarborough

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’ve made the playoffs the last four years despite having a short bench. This year, we have 10 freshmen who have all played hockey. Eddie and Bronson will lead the offensive attack, while Anthony’s the lone returning defenseman. Jonny will serve as the backstop. We never rebuild, but with 12 underclassmen could reload. We were 2.5 minutes away from going to the Colisee last season and always have a shot. Don’t count us out of the hunt.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland hasn’t just been a playoff team the past four years, it’s made it to the postseason 13 of the last 14 winters and last season won the sportsmanship award. This year’s group has the talent to keep the good times rolling, but the Bulldogs’ schedule is absolutely brutal, featuring two games each against traditional powers Biddeford, Falmouth and Thornton Academy, along with two apiece against dangerous Scarborough and South Portland. The offense will be keyed by Apon (18 goals, nine assists last year) and Guimond (13 goals, nine assists). Freshmen newcomers Antonio Dipietro, Mike Fuller and Zach Luce will help the offensive cause. On defense, Bowden is the anchor. He’ll be joined by newcomers Stephan Barry and Colin Merrill in front of Gatti, who won nine games and had an .864 save percentage in 2009-10. The defensive unit has a new coach this year in Chad Hart, a former Bowdoin College defenseman. Portland is unheralded this season, but still feels it and not South Portland, should have been in last year’s semifinals. The Bulldogs (who got off to a promising start Saturday night with a 4-2 win over Deering, behind two goals from Guimond and one each from Apon and Fuller) will struggle to beat the top tier competition, but if they can find a way to win enough games to make it to the big dance, no one will want to face them.

GIRLS HOCKEY

COACH: Courtney Rideout (second year)

2009-10 Record: 5-11-2 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Effie Drew (Senior), McKinzie Parker (Senior), Abbi Scrutchfield (Senior), Zoe Swaffer (Senior), Raechel Allen (Junior), Kathleen Dalbec (Junior), Courtney Rickett (Junior), Drew Barry (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 18 @ Scarborough, Dec. 22 @ Cheverus, Jan. 5 (H) YORK, Jan. 8 (H) FALMOUTH, Jan. 17 (H) SCARBOROUGH, Feb. 5 @ York

COACH’S COMMENT: “We have a number of players who will play a huge role in our success. We have some holes to fill, but a number of players have stepped up and are filling those roles. We’ll look to our captains to lead our team on and off the ice. With our core of returning veteran players, we should be a contender this season.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland is off to an encouraging start this winter. After losing a hard fought 5-3 decision to defending state champion Cheverus in the opener, the Bulldogs battled 2009 state champion Lewiston to a 3-3 tie, rallied for a 3-2 victory at Falmouth, then improved to 2-1-1 Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete. Allen (a first-team all-conference selection, the team’s leading scorer last year and the school’s reigning Winter Female Athlete of the Year) has led the way offensively, scoring twice against the Stags, three times against the Blue Devils, twice versus the Yachtsmen as Portland came back from two goals down and twice more against the Capers. Barry (a second-team SMAA all-star last winter), Drew and Parker have the other goals to date. Dalbec and Swaffer will also key the offense, along with freshmen Georgie Elwell and Emily Vance. Defensively, Barry, Dalbec and Scrutchfield will all play key roles in front of Rickett in goal. The Bulldogs are becoming a force to be reckoned with and their early success will provide a huge boost of confidence. Look for the wins to keep on coming and for Portland to make a legitimate run at a playoff berth before all is said and done.

INDOOR TRACK

BOYS COACH: Carroll Nappi (10th year)

GIRLS COACH: Liz Koharian (third year)

2009-10 Results:

(BOYS) 5th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) Did not score at Class A state meet (11th @ Southwesterns)

TOP RETURNING ATHLETES:

(BOYS) Abde Ahmed (Senior), Nemanja Jankovic (Senior), Imadhi Zagon (Senior), Drew DuHahn (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Kara Cooper (Senior), Abby Daggett (Senior), Kalli Daggett (Senior), Eleni Anderson (Junior)

TOP FOES: Cheverus, Bonny Eagle, Scarborough, Thornton Academy

COACH NAPPI’S COMMENT: “We’ll be competitive. It depends on how some of the new kids shape up. We have about 25 on the team, which is pretty good for us. If Imadhi’s 100 percent, that will be a big advantage. The other guys will hopefully move up into scoring positions.”

COACH KOHARIAN’S COMMENT: “We’re building up the program. We have a good number of returners and incoming freshmen. I think we’ll be stronger. We hope to score at states. It will be an exciting season.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Both Portland track teams have question marks, but also show promise at the dawn of a new season.

The boys, once again, will go as far as the dynamic Zagon can take them. A year ago, Zagon was the Class A state champion in the 55 and the long jump and placed second in the 200. He’s been battling a hamstring injury, but if healthy, will be as dominant as any athlete in the state. Ahmed also scored a year ago, finishing sixth in the 400. Jankovic could be a force in the shot put. DuHahn looks to score in the hurdles. The Bulldogs don’t have the depth of some of their rivals, but will hold their own and could wind up in the top 10 in the state once again.

On the girls’ side, optimism is in the air as numbers are increasing and more and more quality athletes are coming out for track. Anderson was a league all-star a year ago and will look to score in the middle and distance races. Cooper and both Abby and Kalli Daggett are also solid in longer races. Senior Mary Nayembo, injured last year, could be a threat in the sprints. The Bulldogs weren’t able to score at last year’s state meet and haven’t done so since 2006, but that drought could certainly end this winter. This is a program on the rise.

SWIMMING

COACH: Martha White (fifth year)

2009-10 Results:

(BOYS) Tie-15th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 22nd @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Simon Carroll (Senior), Will Dykes (Senior), Tyler Kelliher (Senior), Jeff Peisner (Senior), Parker Robinson (Senior), Peter Tomascak (Senior), David Bliss (Junior)

(GIRLS) Mary Badger (Junior), Leanne Reichert (Sophomore)

COACH’S COMMENT: “The kids are working hard and look solid. I expect continued improvement as we progress through the season and we have the potential for the most successful season in the last five years. We have a new ninth grade group that is nice addition to the girls’ team. The new boys’ solid athleticism is already paying off in the pool. The kids brand new to swimming are making strides and will be valuable contributors. I’m looking forward to working with this group of kids.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Both Portland swim teams feature promising athletes in 2010-11. White is joined by assistant Colleen Schweitzer, a recent graduate from Ohio State. who was nationally ranked in college.

The boys are led by Bliss, who was a state meet scorer in the breaststroke (ninth in Class A) and the butterfly (11th). He won Southwesterns in the breaststroke and will compete in just about everything. Dykes and Tomascak are top sprint freestylers. Carroll is a threat in the backstroke. Peisner specializes in the breaststroke. Kelliher will be heard from in the middle distance races and Robinson leads the divers. Carroll, Dykes, Robinson and Tomascak all scored in relays last year at states. This core should produce some strong regular season results and will be in the mix for solid showings at the postseason meets.

On the girls’ side, Reichert is coming off a stellar freshman season which saw her finish sixth in Class A in the 50 free and ninth in the 100 free. She already holds the Portland school record in the 50 free and is only getting better. Badger was part of a 200 free relay team which scored at states a year ago. She’s the team captain. That duo is joined by three new sophomores who show promise. Kelly Flanagan swims the backstroke and is an all-around talent. Megan Hudson competes in the backstroke and freestyle races. Luci Veilleux is a threat in the butterfly and the 200 free. This team could easily ride Reichert’s excellence to a higher finish than it enjoyed a year ago.

NORDIC SKIING

COACH: Aaron Duphily (first year)

2009-10 Results:

(BOYS) 8th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 7th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNING SKIERS:

(GIRLS) Abby Popenoe (Sophomore), Sadie Sarvis (Sophomore)

COACH’S COMMENT: “The girls are a young team with talent looking to make a splash this year. We have high hopes and expect to emerge as a force. The guys have a few additions and will be able to score as a team.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland’s Nordic ski team is again small, but features some very good talent.

The boys will turn to new junior Dexter Morse and freshman Ben Allen. They’ll look to improve as the season goes on and build for future success.

On the girls’ side, Popenoe is a top-notch returner. She came in 18th last year in Class A in the freestyle and was 22nd in the classic. Sarvis also returns. They’re joined by freshmen Laura Frank and Lizzy Landry. The Bulldogs could improve their state finish if all goes well.

WRESTLING

COACHES: David Elowitch and Tony Napolitano (ninth year)

2009-10 Results: 9th @ regionals (no score @ Class A state meet)

TOP RETURNERS: Pat Cormier (Senior), Fred Huber (Senior), Evin Michalski (Senior), Len Schwartz (Senior), Nate Porter (Junior)

COACH ELOWTICH’S COMMENT: “We have an opportunity to win many matches as we have many returning wrestlers and the potential for filling all 14 weight classes. In addition, we’re looking to send as many as six kids to the state championship tournament in February.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland’s fortunes are looking up with quantity and quality this winter. Top wrestlers to watch include heavyweight Porter, Cormier (at 145-pounds), Huber (140), Michalski (135) and Schwartz (130). New junior Jacob Bigelow (215) will also look to make a splash. The Bulldogs will be much more competitive this season as they’ll fill out the weight classes. If all goes well, a few of these kids could be in the hunt for regional or even state meet glory. The future appears even brighter for this program.

Junior Mike Herrick looks to play a big role for the Bulldogs this winter.

Senior Nicollette Kapothanasis will be one of the best players in the SMAA this year.

Sidebar Elements


Senior Imadhi Zagon figures to dominate in the sprints and jumps this winter.

More photos below.

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