Portland edition Winter Coaches of the Year

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Boys’ Team

JOE RUSSO—Portland basketball

Russo is no stranger to triumph, recognition, or coaching in and winning big games and once again this winter, he showed that he remains at the top of his craft.

Russo and his Bulldogs faced huge expectations going into the season, lived up to billing, then won the inaugural Class AA state final in epic fashion, which convinced The Forecaster to name Joe Russo our Portland edition boys’ team Winter Coach of the Year once again. 

Russo was also honored after championship seasons in 2004 and 2014, as well as in 2011.

Russo has a long-lasting attachment to the Bulldogs, having played for Portland back in the mid-1970s. Russo went on to play basketball 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). 

After a short stint coaching the Portland junior varsity right out of college, Russo’s first head coaching job was at Bonny Eagle, where he won just 11 games in three seasons. He then returned home for good to take over the Bulldogs varsity for the 1990-91 season.

A quarter-century later, Russo has become of the finest coaches in state history.

This winter’s 20 victories gave him 382 at Portland and 393 overall.

Portland won the Class A championship in 2014, but lost to Hampden Academy in last year’s state final.

This winter, the Bulldogs were dominant most of the way, but they did hit a speed bump when they lost at home to Gorham in early January. That proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Portland regrouped and didn’t stumble again. The Bulldogs twice handled rival Deering, the team best equipped to knock them off, and earned the top seed in Class AA North.

Despite having to travel to Augusta, a place that hadn’t been kind over the years, for its tournament games, Portland continued to excel, having little trouble with Edward Little in the semifinals, then crushing Deering in the regional final. The Bulldogs were supposed to crush South Portland, a team they beat by 19 and 30 points in two regular season meetings, in the state final, but the Red Riots gave Portland a mighty scare.

The game would go to overtime, then to a second and the Bulldogs had their backs against the wall on several occasions, but behind the heroics of senior Amir Moss and clutch contributions from everyone who saw time, Portland eked out a 52-50 victory to bring home the Gold Ball.

“These particular kids have had so much success,” Russo said. “The kids worked hard and they loved basketball with a passion.”

Russo’s brilliance with Xs and Os and his unrivaled ability to get his team to improve over the course of the season are well known. He also makes quite the impact on the young men under his wing.

“Coach has helped me become a better player and a better man,” Moss said. “He’s built up my basketball IQ.”

Russo a Portland resident and father of three, teaches health and physical education at Portland High. Don’t be surprised if he has many more victories and championships in his future.

That’s because Joe Russo, our Portland edition Winter Coach of the Year of a boys’ team, has the Midas touch. Like a fine wine, he’s only getting better with age.

Previous winners:

2014-15 Dan Lucas (Cheverus hockey)

2013-14 Joe Russo (Portland basketball)

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

KENT HULST, Cheverus hockey

Hulst made his return to the high school ranks this winter and helped the Stags more than double last year’s win total and not only make the playoffs, but win a game once they got there.

Hulst, a former Portland Pirate of great renown, was able to relay his vast understanding of the sport and help players of varying skill sets get better as the season progressed.

In light of those accomplishments, The Forecaster is recognizing Kent Hulst as our Portland edition girls’ team Winter Coach of the Year.

Hulst is one of the most storied professional players to ever play in Portland and he stayed in Maine when his career ended. Hulst started coaching the North Yarmouth Academy boys’ team and led the Panthers to the Class A Final in 2003, but they lost to Edward Little. He also coached girls’ youth teams before the Cheverus girls’ job opened for this season.

The Stags won their first two games, lost a pair, then rattled off seven straight victories. Cheverus went just 2-5 down the stretch, but still managed an 11-7 record and qualified for the South Region playoffs as the No. 3 seed before downing Biddeford, 5-3, in the quarterfinals. The Stags went no further, as they were ousted by Falmouth, 11-0, in the semifinals.

Rest assured, Hulst made a mark on the girls he coached.

“(Coach) has such a strong authority,” said Cheverus standout Jill Hannigan. “We looked up to him a lot. He came in with a whole different coaching method. It’s interesting to see how the girls responded.”

The Stags figure to remain competitive in the years to come and Hulst figures to get the most out of them as they battle Falmouth and Scarborough for regional supremacy.

Kent Hulst, our Portland edition Winter Coach of the Year of a girls’ team, made an immediate impact at Cheverus, as he continued his life-long excellence when it comes to getting it done on the ice.

Previous winners:

2014-15 Billy Goodman (McAuley basketball)

2013-14 Kevin Haley (Cheverus swimming)

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)

Other edition winners:

Northern: Dave Halligan (Falmouth basketball), Chris Strong (Yarmouth basketball)

Southern: Derek Veilleux (Scarborough track), Lynne Hasson (South Portland basketball)

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

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