SOUTH PORTLAND—After finally scaling the Class A mountaintop a year ago, the South Portland boys’ lacrosse team is eager to do it again.
In 2014, the Red Riots survived a mighty scare from Thornton Academy before winning the Western A Final in memorable fashion, then they held off Brunswick, 10-8, in the state final to capture the program’s first title.
While graduation has taken its toll, as standouts like Duncan Preston and Thomas Leddy, captain Josh Allen and key contributors Ben Bilderback, Joey DiBiase and Jordan Susi have departed, South Portland is ready for the challenge of defending its crown.
“I think the guys know what they have to do to win,” said Red Riots coach Tom Fiorini. “They’re anxious. We have to plug holes. We have kids in different positions, but at the end of the day, I think we’re a solid team.”
At a recent preseason practice, returning players were optimistic about the season to come.
“We have most of our core from last year,” said Red Riots standout senior goalie T-Moe Hellier. “We have a bunch of younger guys who will have to step up. I think a lot of these guys want to get back where we were last year. It felt good. We want that feeling again.”
“I think we can do it,” said senior Andrew Whipple. “We definitely have a hardworking team. I believe in my teammates. We just need to play smart lacrosse.”
“It’s been a great preseason,” said junior Jack Fiorini. “We went 5-0 and won the Casco Bay Cup and beat two teams from New Hampshire. I think we have less experience, but we have a good senior class and a lot of good juniors. Last year’s sophomores, like me, have experience. We’re still fast. We’ll still push the ball. Not much has changed in our game plan.”
South Portland figures to be strong on offense behind Jack Fiorini, Whipple, seniors Kyle Halvorsen and Chris Mitchell and new senior Lucas Michaud.
“What can you say about Andrew?” Tom Fiorini said. “Andrew led in assists last year in southern Maine. He holds all the records. We’ll look for him to put the ball in the cage a little more this year. Jack had 50 goals, 36 assists last year. He’s a 6-foot-5 monster. I’m not sure how many teams can stop him. Maybe slow him down, but not stop him. Lucas just came back to South Portland. I think he’ll bring an element that will surprise people. He’s a nice addition for us this year. Chris Mitchell is a silent kid who gets every ground ball. He’ll step up and take an offensive role. I think Kyle will step up and you’ll see something from him offensively. I have good young kids too. We’ll see what they bring to the table.”
The defense features several key returners, including senior Trenton Lloyd-Rees and junior Nick Mezzanotte.
“We have some great kids back there on defense,” Tom Fiorini said. “Nick is back. He took over freshman year and has held tough ever since. Trent’s started for two years. Now we have Brian Elsemore, who as a sophomore, could have started for any other team. I also have Benedetto Nappi, who might be my best defenseman as a sophomore.”
If all else fails, the Red Riots can turn to arguably the state’s best goalie, Hellier, who will attend and play at Goucher College next year.
“Having T-Moe provides everyone on the team with self assurance,” Jack Fiorini said. “He’s the last man standing. We’re confident if a team takes a shot, he’ll make the save. He’s a really good goalie to fall back on.”
“Having T-Moe back there, there’s a comfort zone,” said Tom Fiorini. “You assume the ball is going to be saved and you assume the ball is going to be cleared. It’s a privilege having him back there.”
Making South Portland’s quest even more challenging is the fact that Class A is loaded. In the West, the Red Riots will have to get past Thornton Academy again, perennial powerhouse Scarborough and perhaps up-and-coming contenders like Gorham and Westbrook.
If that’s not tough enough, if South Portland is fortunate enough to return to the state game, Brunswick or Cheverus could be waiting.
“Obviously Scarborough is good every year,” Whipple said. “TA wants some redemption. If we make it far, we have to watch out for Brunswick.”
“TA will definitely be good,” Hellier said. “We’ll have a target on our back after last year. Brunswick’s always good. Cheverus, Scarborough, they’re looking good.”
“TA and Scarborough are the two (I’m most concerned with),” Tom Fiorini added. “Gorham will be a tough matchup. Cheverus will give Brunswick a run, but I think Brunswick’s the odds-on favorite to win it all.”
For nearly a year, the Red Riots have worn the crown.
Now, it’s time to try and do it again.
“Everyone’s been congratulating us and it’s been a great experience,” Jack Fiorini said. “It’s something I dreamed of a long time, since I was little, following my Dad around practice. We think this is our year too. We have the pieces to do it. It’s not about last year. It’s about this year.”
“Being a senior I really want to win,” Whipple said. “I’ll work hard every day. That would be awesome.”
As much as the Red Riots hope to repeat, they most of all want to remain a top program year after year.
“We don’t want to be a one-trick pony,” said Tom Fiorini. “We want to build something here and continue to compete every year. Our goal is to get back to the state game. I think we have the pieces in place. We might be a little sloppy to start, but at the end of the season, I think we’ll jell. I’m so lucky to have these kids. We work hard, but we have so much fun.”
Last June, South Portland’s boys’ lacrosse team celebrated its first state championship. A new group of Red Riots is primed to make another title run this spring.