Portland Bulldogs Winter Sports Preview

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BOYS’ BASKETBALL

COACH: Joe Russo (25th year, 343-140 overall record, three state championships)

2013-14 record: 22-0 (Beat Hampden Academy, 54-40, to win Class A state championship)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Steve Alex (Senior), Amir Moss (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 12 @ Marshwood, Dec. 16 GORHAM, Dec. 18 SOUTH PORTLAND, Dec. 30 @ Cheverus, Jan. 13 BONNY EAGLE, Jan. 15 DEERING, Jan. 17 MARSHWOOD, Jan. 20 @ Scarborough, Jan. 27 @ Windham, Jan. 30 CHEVERUS, Feb. 3 @ South Portland, Feb. 5 @ Deering

COACH’S COMMENT: “I’m enjoying the kids. They work hard. Our team chemistry and attitudes and work ethic have been really, really encouraging. You can do a lot with those ingredients. This might be the most balanced I’ve seen the league. Everyone is decent. There isn’t a clear favorite. I’m excited about the challenge of taking the ingredients we have and putting them together to try to be successful.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: It’s hard to duplicate perfection and this year’s group won’t be as prolific as last year’s undefeated champion, but if all goes well, the 2014-15 Bulldogs could wind up enjoying a similar title celebration. There are some mighty big holes to fill on the roster, but talent remains and some key additions will pay immediate dividends. The top returner is Alex, the only starter who is back. Alex quietly put together a strong complimentary season in 2013-14, being named all-conference honorable mention after finishing seventh in steals per game (2.9) and 23rd in assists (2.2). Look for Alex to pace the offense with help from Moss, who was a key reserve a year ago. A big addition to the program is senior Liam Densmore, who has transferred from Deering. Densmore can hit outside shots and handle the ball. Junior Joey Esposito, who saw limited time in 2013-14, and freshmen Terion Moss and Emmanuel Yugu, will also be part of the backcourt. Portland will miss standout Matt Talbot down low, but has a lot of size in reserve. Sophomore Charlie Lyall comes over from Waynflete and joins former junior varsity players senior Tanner Foley and junior Ben Griffin, senior Cedric Smith, junior John Williams and freshmen Griffin Foley and Owen Martinson to make up a formidable unit. Portland will be a work in progress, but even at the outset, it will feature size and athleticism. If Alex blossoms into the offensive leader, the Bulldogs will be able to go toe-to-toe with anyone. Unlike last winter, when Portland was clearly championship-caliber from the start, this team will have to answer some questions, but no one is better than Russo at getting his team to improve as the season goes along. Don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs once again end up with no peer.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

COACH: Jay Lowery (first year)

2013-14 record: 14-6 (Lost, 70-38, to eventual state champion McAuley in Western A semifinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Elizabeth Donato (Senior), Sydney Frederick (Senior), Gabby Wagabaza (Senior), Merritt Ryan (Junior), Kate Johnson (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 16 @ Gorham, Dec. 18 SOUTH PORTLAND, Dec. 23 THORNTON ACADEMY, Dec. 30 CHEVERUS, Jan. 15 @ Deering, Jan. 20 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 23 @ McAuley, Jan. 27 WINDHAM, Jan. 30 @ South Portland, Feb. 5 DEERING

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’re a work in progress. We’re getting there. We lost a lot of kids from last year. We have some big shoes to fill. I think we’re a middle-of-the-pack team right now. The question is, can we get above that? We have an opportunity to get better. It will be interesting to see how our season goes.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Coming off their best season in a decade, the Bulldogs have some question marks as they welcome a new coach in Lowery, who was an assistant to Jan Veinot last winter. Lowery previously coached for two years at Yarmouth and knows he has talent to work with, but that it will be a process. Donato, who was 15th in scoring (10.7 points per game) and was named to the SMAA third-team last season, will be a matchup nightmare with her quickness and ability to finish. She’s joined in the backcourt by Johnson, who had flashes of brilliance as a freshman, and sophomore point guard Taylor Sargent. Wagabaza will be a post presence, capable of dominating on the glass and getting easy putbacks. Frederick and Ryan also have experience in the frontcourt. They’re joined by junior Gianna Gaudet. The departure of Cierra Burnham (a top rebounder) and Abi Ramirez (a sparkplug and excellent defender), who transferred to Deering, hurts the cause, but this group now knows how to win and liked the taste of what it experienced in 2013-14. The problem is that this time around, Portland won’t be able to sneak up on anyone. The league is as balanced as any time in memory and the schedule is daunting, but the Bulldogs welcome the challenge. As the season progresses, they’ll only get better. A return to the playoffs is a realistic goal and the program appears to be in good shape going forward. Expect another entertaining campaign from this group.

BOYS’ HOCKEY

COACH: Chad Hart (third year, 20-17-1 overall record)

2013-14 record: 6-12-1 (Lost, 4-2, to Scarborough in Western A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Curran Clere (Senior), Ryan Ruhlin (Senior), Zach Fortin (Junior), Peter Barry (Sophomore), Mason Martell (Sophomore), Brent Rickett (Sophomore), Dominic Tocci (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 6 BIDDEFORD, Dec. 10 @ Thornton Academy, Dec. 13 FALMOUTH, Dec. 18 @ Falmouth, Dec. 23 SCARBOROUGH, Jan. 1 CHEVERUS, Jan. 3 @ Scarborough, Jan. 8 CAPE ELIZABETH, Jan. 15 KENNEBUNK, Feb. 12 THORNTON ACADEMY, Feb. 14 @ Cheverus, Feb. 19 @ Biddeford

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’re young after graduating 10 seniors, but we still have skill and speed. Young talent will help give us depth and both goalies have good experience. We have a tough schedule, playing the top five teams twice and we have some tough crossover games as well. We’d like to return to the playoffs again with a higher seed than last year and make a longer run into the playoffs. Many young players have good experience, so we hope that will help us mature as a team.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland/Deering got back to the playoffs last winter and hopes to be a contender again this season, even after graduating several key players. Portland/Deering has contributors who have seen plenty of ice time and they’ll be expected to lead the team. The offense will be paced by Martell, Rickett and Tocci. Clere will also be heard from, as might freshmen Camren King and Joe Pichette. Defensively, Barry, Fortin and Ruhlin make up a formidable unit. Freshman Sam Shaw will also see time in front of junior Alex Girsch and sophomore Sam Segel, who will see time in goal. This group will play hard every night and should gain confidence with every game. There are many challenges on the slate, so bettering last year’s win-loss mark won’t come easily. If Portland/Deering is able to do so, it should have no trouble getting back to the playoffs.

GIRLS’ HOCKEY

COACH: Tim Murphy (second year)

2013-14 record: 0-18 (No postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Georgia Drew (Senior), Colleen Mathews (Senior), Delaney Stokes (Senior), Anna Freund (Junior), Lauren McIntyre (Junior), Kerry Wells (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Dec. 16 YORK, Jan. 1 CHEVERUS, Jan. 8 CAPEFLETE, Jan. 19 @ York

COACH’S COMMENT: “We want to win more games than we lose. This year, we had 24 girls sign up for the program. Some former players, some new to hockey. That’s how developing a city program begins and that’s where we are now, year two of four in re-establishing girls’ hockey in Maine’s largest city.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland/Deering has nowhere to go but up and there are signs that this group could be in for a much more competitive campaign. So far, Portland/Deering has lost to Capeflete (6-0) and to Cheverus (8-2), but there have been positive moments. The offense has some punch behind Drew (an honorable mention all-star last winter), McIntyre (who scored plenty this fall in field hockey), Mathews and Wells. Stokes leads the defense in front of Freund in goal. Ellie Boothe, Ebba Erikkson, Maeve LeClair and Sophie Silva are new to the squad and will provide depth and help down the road. While a winning record might be a stretch, look for this group to earn some victories and some confidence for future success. It would take a lot to make the playoffs, but Portland/Deering isn’t far away from being very competitive once again.

INDOOR TRACK

COACH: Carroll Nappi (14th year w/boys’ team; second year w/girls’ team)

2013-14 results:

(BOYS) tie-20th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) no score @ Class A state meet (12th @ Southwesterns)

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Matt Bliss (Senior), Jonathan Bobe (Senior), Pavel Bobe (Junior), Cooper Collins (Junior)

(GIRLS) Madison Bolduc (Senior), Kelby Violette (Senior), Nera Bedak (Sophomore), Maggie Hosmer (Sophomore), Lily Thorne (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Cheverus, Deering, Scarborough, Thornton Academy

COACH’S COMMENT: “Numbers-wise, we won’t fare so well, but when we get to Southwesterns and states, we’ll score points. If we can get Jonathan healthy, he’ll score some points and Pavel and Cooper should be right behind him. The girls should be competitive. We have some good girls back.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Both Portland teams have some firepower this winter.

The boys’ team is sparked by Jonathan Bobe, who was fourth in the 400 last winter, then was named Portland’s Spring Male Athlete of the Year. He’s battling a groin injury, but should be back to 100 percent by the time the big meets roll around. Pavel Bobe should score as well and Collins is another sprinter to contend with. Bliss will lead the distance contingent. Don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs move up the ladder in February.

On the girls’ side, the top returner is Bolduc, who was second in the triple jump outdoors. She’ll be one of the league’s and state’s elite jumpers. Hosmer and new senior Chessa Hoekstra are distance runners of note. Bedak and Thorne are top sprinters. They’re joined by freshman Ella Altidore, who turned heads on the pitch this fall and could quickly make a name for herself. Violette is the top thrower. Portland will miss Claire Kirby, who will miss the season with an ACL injury. Regardless, this group will hold its own against the league and should be able to score at the big meets, with a few girls having the potential to really turn heads.

SWIMMING

COACH: Lee Crocker (20th year)

2013-14 results:

(BOYS) 14th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 16th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Dominic Guimond (Senior), Tyler Simpson (Senior), Eric Worden (Senior), Peter Gribizis (Sophomore)

(GIRLS) Olivia Gilbert (Senior), Mayzie Corman (Junior), Emily Couture (Junior), Reegan Leslie (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Cape Elizabeth, Cheverus, Greely, Scarborough

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’re very thin with the girls in regards to numbers, but we have four quality swimmers. The boys’ numbers are better. We have two team goals: to improve and to have fun.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland should both improve and enjoy the ride this winter.

The boys return Worden, who came in sixth in the butterfly last season. He’ll also swim the distance freestyle. Simpson scored in the 200 free relay a year ago and will be in the hunt individually. Guimond (fly) and Gribizis (freestyle and backstroke) are the other top returners. A couple of freshmen will help the cause. Reed Foehl swims the backstroke and distance freestyle, while Orion Haynes competes in the backstroke. Several Bulldogs will be in the running for high finishes at the big meets in February.

On the girls’ side, Corman, Couture, Gilbert and Leslie return from a 400 free relay team which scored at states. Gilbert and Leslie will swim the freestyle. Corman competes in the freestyle and the fly. Couture swims the IM, backstroke and fly. They’re joined by new senior Eda French, who competes in the IM and breaststroke. This group will only get better and should be able to score at states for the sixth year in a row.

NORDIC SKIING

COACH: Aaron Duphily (fifth year)

2013-14 results:

(BOYS) 4th @ Class A state meet

(GIRLS) 4th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS:

(BOYS) Patrick Sheils (Senior), Brad Ravenelle (Junior)

(GIRLS) Bea Hesselbart (Senior)

COACH’S COMMENT: “We graduated a lot of our top skiers last year, so this season will be a bit of a rebuilding year. We still have a deep boys’ squad, so we hope to be competitive and produce some respectable results. There are some talented individuals from the girls’ team, but unfortunately, we don’t have the numbers to field a full team. Overall, we’re extremely excited for the season and I’m very interested to see what we can accomplish.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland has accomplished plenty on the trails in recent seasons and should remain formidable this winter.

The boys have to replace longtime stalwart Ben Allen, who was second in the classical and third in the freestyle a year ago. The Bulldogs do return Ravenelle (14th in the freestyle and 15th in the classical in 2013-14) and Sheils (25th in the classical and 31st in the freestyle). If those two get some help, this team should be in the running for another successful season.

On the girls’ side, Lizzie Landry and Laura Frank (top five finishers ago) have departed, but Hesselbart (20th in the freestyle and 22nd in the classical last season) is back. She hopes to do some big things individually.

WRESTLING

COACHES: David Elowitch and Tony Napolitano (13th year)

2013-14 results: 7th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNERS: Greg Cassella (Senior), Josh Hunnewell (Senior), Jaime Lones-Martinez (Senior), Clautel Buba (Junior)

COACH ELOWTICH’S COMMENT: “We have a young team of 21 kids, 11 freshmen. Our seniors are a talented group who could carry us to a top five finish at regionals. Our sophomores and juniors will help fill out the classes and provide added wins throughout the season. Our goals are to fill all weight classes, win 60 percent of our matches, send five wrestlers to states and place five wrestlers at states.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: Portland program continues to impress and its goals are tangible this winter. The Bulldogs opened with a third-place finish in its first meet and will only get better. The program will miss Kidayer Aljubyly, the runner-up at 106 pounds last season. Lones-Martinez was third at 120 pounds last season and hopes to move up. Cassella finished third at 160 pounds and could vie for the top spot. Buba (160 pounds) and Hunnewell (182) also show great promise. They’re joined by senior Jeremiah Israel-Copeland, the football standout and Portland’s Fall Male Athlete of the Year, who will wrestle at 220 pounds and projects to do very well. Several other newcomers are itching for a chance to make their mark. The bar is set higher than it’s been in the past, but this group has what it takes to live up expectations. Expect the program’s success to continue.

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

Senior Steve Alex is Portland’s only returning starter. He was a clutch contributor to the Bulldogs’ championship run last winter and should be a top player in the SMAA this time around.

Junior Amir Moss was a key reserve on Portland’s title team last year. He’ll be a starter and top contributor this season.

Junior Joey Esposito can get the job done at both ends of the floor.

Senior Tanner Foley saw limited varsity time in 2013-14, but will play a key role this season.

Senior Liam Densmore brings his sharp-shooting ability over from Deering.

Senior Elizabeth Donato could be one of the top players in the league this winter as she hopes to lead the Bulldogs back to the playoffs.

Sophomore Kate Johnson is on the brink of stardom.

Look for big things from senior Gabby Wagabaza in her final high school season.

Sophomore Peter Barry is an up-and-coming star for the Bulldogs.

Brent Rickett had a strong freshman season and will hope to pace Portland/Deering’s offense this winter.

Senior Delaney Stokes is a key returner for the Portland/Deering girls’ hockey team.

Sidebar Elements


Portland’s boys’ basketball team was a perfect champion in 2013-14. Despite being hard hit by graduation, the Bulldogs are in the hunt for another title this winter.

File photos.

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