Portland edition Coaches of the Year

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Ed. Note: This story will appear in our April 16 print edition.

Boys’ team

JOE RUSSO—Portland basketball

They really should have known better.

They being all those “experts” picking against Joe Russo’s Portland Bulldogs the week leading up to the Class A state final.

Certainly, defending champion Hampden Academy, riding a 43-game win streak, was formidable, but you never write off a Russo-coached squad, especially one without a blemish itself and one which essentially played a home game on that final Saturday of the season.

Sure enough, the master motivator made the most of his team’s underdog role and not only did Portland win the title, the Bulldogs essentially had it wrapped up after a dazzling display in a first period which ended with Portland ahead, 22-5.

For writing yet another triumphant chapter, making sure his team finished perfect in perfect fashion and for getting the most out of a dynamic group, Joe Russo is The Forecaster’s choice as our Portland edition Coach of the Year, of a boys’ team.

Russo previously won the award in 2004 and 2011.

Russo is a Bulldog through and through, playing for Portland back in the 1970s and even being part of an undefeated team of his own in 1973-74 (that chapter didn’t have a happy ending as the Bulldogs were upset by Westbrook in the semifinals). Russo went on to play at the University of Maine-Presque Isle, where he was a captain as a junior and senior (he’s a member of the UMPI Hall of Fame).

Russo’s coaching career started right out of college, when he took over the Portland JV squad at the ripe age of 22. His first varsity job was at Bonny Eagle and after three seasons, he returned home in 1990 and stayed put. Russo is well over the 300-win plateau at Portland and now has three Gold Balls to his credit (1999 and 2004 were the others).

This Bulldogs squad was dominant from the get-go and largely ran roughshod over the league in the regular season. Portland had no trouble with Noble in the quarterfinals, fought off Deering’s upset bid in the semifinals, then, after a Russo-inspired defensive switch at halftime, blew past Bonny Eagle in the second half of the regional final to earn a test against Hampden, which it passed with flying colors.

Russo had top-notch talent in the likes of seniors Jayvon Pitts-Young, Matt Talbot and Justin Zukowski, but he turned senior Travis Godbout and junior Steve Alex into stars and also made the most of the talents of role players senior Dan Kane and sophomore Amir Moss.

By the final horn of the state game, there was no doubt that Russo had done a masterful job.

Russo, the father of three, is coming up on a quarter-century not just coaching the Bulldogs, but also teaching health and physical education at Portland High. Those involved with the game hope to see him win many more games and titles.

Don’t be surprised if that’s the case. Joe Russo, our Portland boys’ team Coach of the Year, is a champion, as a coach and as a motivator.

Previous winners:

2012-13: Rich Henry (Waynflete basketball)

2011-12 Dan LeGage (Deering basketball)

2010-11: Joe Russo (Portland basketball)

2009-10: Bob Brown (Cheverus basketball)

2008-09: Kevin Haley (Cheverus swimming)

2007-08: Bob Brown (Cheverus basketball)

2006-07: Bob Brown (Cheverus basketball)

2005-06: Dan LeGage (Deering basketball)

2004-05: Jack Lowry (Cheverus hockey)

2003-04: Joe Russo (Portland basketball)

Girls’ team

KEVIN HALEY, Cheverus swimming

Haley has long been recognized as one of the state’s premier boys’ swimming coaches, but this winter, he guided the Cheverus girls to a first-ever championship and that’s worthy of high praise itself.

For turning the Stags girls’ program into a powerhouse and now into a champion, Kevin Haley is The Forecaster’s choice as our Portland edition Coach of the Year, of a girls’ team.

Haley was named boys’ Coach of the Year in 2009.

Haley has spent a good chunk of his life involved with Cheverus swimming. After competing, he went to school at Northeastern University, then returned home and got into coaching as an assistant with the Stags. He took over the head job in 1997 and became the girls’ coach in 2004.

While Cheverus has long been among the state’s elite boys’ programs, finally breaking through and winning a Class A title in 2013 and winning a repeat crown in February, it took a little longer for the girls’ program, but this winter, everything fell into place.

While the Stags featured front-line standouts like Winter Female Athlete of the Year Sarah Nappo and Abby Longstaff, Haley managed to develop depth which produced a win in the medley relay and several other solid performances which gave Cheverus the points needed to edge Brunswick by a mere six points for the championship.

It was a great season,” said Haley. “I’m so proud of both my teams.”

Haley lives in Portland and works for the Portland Police Department. He’ll have a lot of talent to work with again next year (which will be his 27th season with the program) and would love to guide both programs to the top of the podium.

That’s a distinct possibility. As long as Kevin Haley, our Portland edition girls’ team Coach of the Year, is at the helm, anything is possible.

Previous winners:

2012-13: Brandon Salway (Waynflete basketball)

2011-12: Brandon Salway (Waynflete basketball)

2010-11: Amy Vachon (McAuley basketball)

2009-10: J.P. Lavoie (Cheverus hockey)

2008-09: Mike Murphy (Deering basketball)

2007-08: John Smith (McAuley swimming)

2006-07: Jan Veinot (Waynflete Basketball)

2005-06: Kevin Campbell (Deering Track)

2004-05: Lindsay Reagan (Waynflete Nordic skiing)

2003-04: Mike D’Andrea (Deering basketball)

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

Sidebar Elements

Joe Russo

Kevin Haley

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