South Portland Red Riots Fall Sports Preview

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Junior Charlie Cronin and his South Portland boys’ soccer teammates made another deep playoff run a year ago. This fall, the Red Riots are hoping to again be a top team in the SMAA.

More photos below.

FOOTBALL

Coach: Steve Stinson (12th year, 35-59 overall record)

2015 results: 2-7 (Lost, 47-7, to Bonny Eagle in Class A South quarterfinal)

Top returning players: Matt Crockett (Senior), Deven Dupuis (Senior), Dwayne Roberts (Senior), Finn Zechman (Senior), Spencer Houlette (Junior), Zack Johnson (Junior), Brad Seigars (Junior)

Pivotal games: Sept. 2 BONNY EAGLE, Sept. 23 @ Deering, Oct. 7 SCARBOROUGH, Oct. 15 @ Thornton Academy, Oct. 22 PORTLAND

Coach’s comment: “I love this group. We’ve done a lot of character building. We have a lot of skill back and a lot of good, young talent. We have to replace four of the five guys up front. As cliche as it sounds, we want to have a great year culture-wise and we want to be competitive all year long.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland got off to a fast start a year ago, then its season went off track, but the Red Riots still managed to make the playoffs for the third year in a row. This fall, South Portland wants to be more consistent and it should be in the hunt another postseason berth.

The Red Riots have the foundation of what could be a dynamic offense. Crockett is back under center. He can hand off to Dupuis, Houlette, Roberts or new senior Moses Oreste. Receiving options include Johnson, Zechman, senior Ansel Stilley or junior Noah Malone. Seigars is the lone returning lineman. Johnson will do the kicking and punting.

Defensively, Zechman made the all-star team last season as a defensive back. He’s joined in the secondary by Houlette, Johnson, Malone, Oreste and Stilley. The linebacking corps features Dupuis, Roberts and Seigars. South Portland has some holes to fill on the line, but if it does, it will be solid.

The Red Riots have the misfortune of playing in the same region as the two-time defending Class A champion, Thornton Academy, and the team, Bonny Eagle, many feel is its heir apparent. South Portland needs to compete well all season long to be in the hunt for a playoff spot and possibly a home game in the postseason. If this group stays focused throughout, that’s a distinct possibility.

BOYS’ SOCCER

Coach: Bryan Hoy (10th year, 79-46-17 overall record)

2015 results: 9-4-4 (Lost, 1-0, to Cheverus in Class A South semifinal)

Top returning players: Patrick Graff (Senior), Prince Kunieki (Senior), Khalid Suja (Senior), Charlie Cronin (Junior), Riley Hasson (Junior), Aleks Kaurin (Sophomore), Cooper Mehlhorn (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Sept. 6 DEERING, Sept. 8 @ Gorham, Sept. 13 BONNY EAGLE, Sept. 15 SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 27 PORTLAND, Oct. 4 @ Thornton Academy, Oct. 6 CHEVERUS

Coach’s comment: “We return a very strong team this year despite losing two of the top players in the conference, Kervens Antoine and Ahmed Suja. We obviously will need to find someone to do the scoring as those two accounted for a large percentage of our goals. With all of the skilled players that we return, we should be able to figure something out. We’ve been in the semifinal two years in a row and look to build upon that. Riley should keep us in most games.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Red Riots have been an underappreciated model of consistency during Hoy’s tenure, posting winning marks in a program-record eight successive seasons and making back-to-back trips to the semifinal round of the playoffs for the first time in over a quarter century. Each of the past two seasons, South Portland has been denied in agonizing fashion by Cheverus, but the Red Riots will keep kicking at the door and despite being hard-hit by graduation, this year’s team believes it can again be one of the last standing.

Khalid Suja was an honorable mention all-star in 2015 and is a top returner as a captain and midfielder. Kunieki is another captain, who will look to finish up top. Cronin is another potential top scorer. Kaurin and Mehlhorn are other midfielders to watch. Graff anchors the defense in front of the indomitable Hasson, who will keep his team competitive throughout. South Portland will be bolstered by the addition of senior defender Brandon Gagne, junior defender Riley Ellis and sophomore midfielder Tyree Westerman.

Class A South only gets tougher and deeper each fall, but the Red Riots are up for the challenge. While South Portland can no longer sneak up on anyone due to its recent triumph, it remains hungry and talented and should never be overlooked. Another successful season is in store.

GIRLS’ SOCCER

Coach: Jeff Selser (third year, 7-19-2 overall record)

2015 record: 5-8-1 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Stephanie Aceto (Senior), Zoe Brown (Senior), Callie O’Brien (Senior), Abby Richardson (Senior), Sophia Romano (Senior), Sophie Chase (Junior), Margaret Clay (Junior), Madi Cyr (Junior), Paige Fleming (Junior), Meghan Graff (Junior), Juliana Selser (Junior), Jena Leckie (Sophomore), Grace Steady (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: Sept. 7 @ Deering, Sept. 9 GORHAM, Sept. 17 SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 28 @ Portland, Oct. 5 THORNTON ACADEMY, Oct. 15 WINDHAM

Coach’s comment: “This is our third year of a rebuilding project and all indications are for a breakout year. Last year we were one, maybe two goals away from the playoffs and while we were encouraged by our improvement from the year before, we were not satisfied with missing the playoffs. This year, we have been working hard to shift into the proper mindset to win more games and it is starting to pay off. We have the talent and this year a very deep bench. We have several underrated players and it is is high time they got the recognition they deserve. To do that, we need to win games and we are confident that 2016 will be a giant step forward. Making the playoffs is a must for us this year and a deep run into the postseason is our goal. If we can keep our mental strength up, stay focused on our tasks and perform to our abilities, we have a good shot at picking up some big Heal Points, smoothing the way for a good playoff seeding.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland made nice strides a year ago, scoring twice as many goals as in 2014, and this autumn, the Red Riots are bound and determined to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

The offense will be balanced this autumn. Top returning scorers include O’Brien (five goals in 2015), Richardson (three goals), Graff (two goals) and Selser (two goals, eight assists during an all-star honorable mention campaign). Chase, Cyr and sophomore Julia Banks will also see time up top and Fleming (one goal, two assists last season), Romano and senior Emma Jones, who returns after a year off, will be top midfielders. In the back, Aceto, Clay, Leckie and Steady, along with new junior Kaya Backman, are reliable presences in front of Brown, who returns in goal.

South Portland will have an opportunity to measure itself against some of the league’s best teams right out of the gate and if the Red Riots can get off to a fast start, the sky will be the limit for their season. A winning record and a playoff berth are distinct possibilities. This could be the feel-good story of the season, a team that makes a spirited postseason run.

FIELD HOCKEY

Coach: Leslie Dyer (fifth year, 14-41-2 overall record)

2015 record: 3-11 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Jessica Angelova (Senior), Sophia Cummings (Senior), Lydia Henderson (Senior), Amelia Papi (Senior), Abby Darling (Junior)

Pivotal games: Sept. 3 @ Marshwood, Sept. 7 CHEVERUS, Sept. 27 @ Thornton Academy, Oct. 3 SCARBOROUGH, Oct. 11 MASSABESIC

Coach’s comment: “The girls have worked hard in the offseason. Now, they need to earn it. Illness and injuries prevented us from reaching our potential last year. Our starting lineup didn’t get to play together. This year, we need to win the close games we’ve lost in the past. Getting to the playoffs is the goal.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland’s hopes were short-circuited by misfortune and some tough losses a year ago. The program then said goodbye to all-state standout Maddie Hasson and goalie extraordinaire Grace Chitam, among others. This season, the Red Riots boast a group of seniors who want to taste success and get to the postseason.

Darling was a league all-star in 2015. She’s back to anchor the defense along with Angelova. On offense, Cummings, Henderson, Papi and promising freshman Lydia Grant lead the way. Junior Bonge Lako, who would have been a big scorer for the team, unfortunately has to miss the season with a foot injury. Replacing Chitam will be sophomore Abbie Jellison, who has impressed her coach in the early going with her aggressiveness and flexibility.

South Portland will be in a big second tier of teams hoping to win enough games to qualify for the postseason. The Red Riots should be competitive in all of their contests. If they can find a way to close out victories and bring that confidence forward, they’ll be a team to be reckoned with down the stretch.

VOLLEYBALL

Coach: Nicole Kane (second year)

2015 record: 6-8 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Kayla Brown (Senior), Molly Mawhinney (Junior)

Pivotal matches: Sept. 2 CHEVERUS, Sept. 20 @ Portland, Sept. 22 DEERING, Oct. 6 @ Windham, Oct. 13 @ Kennebunk

Coach’s comment: “We’re looking to carry on the momentum from our hard-fought last game of 2015 versus Cheverus. After winning that game, we missed the playoffs by .7 points, making that the closest we’ve ever come. This season, the team is looking to make a postseason appearance. The big strength we have is the great mixture of seven returning varsity players plus freshman and sophomore classes that show a lot of potential. We’re is looking to be a team that can compete with the established powerhouse programs. With a tougher schedule ahead, we hope to win the games we should win and provide a few upsets from unsuspecting competitors. This season will sure to be one that shows other teams what we’re capable of. Our hard work, dedication and great teamwork will really help give us a push in the right direction and hopefully surprise some teams this season.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The young South Portland program took nice strides a year ago and now will look to take the next step and reach the playoffs.

Mawhinney was a second-team SMAA all-star in 2015 and joins Brown as a talented outside hitter. Freshman Kaleisha Towle will step in as middle hitter, meaning the Red Riots will have a pretty formidable front line.

South Portland plays some of the best teams in the state, but much of the schedule is manageable, meaning the Red Riots could make a run at a first-ever winning record and postseason berth. This program is still growing, but the future and the present are bright.

CROSS COUNTRY

Coaches:
(Boys): Dave Kahill (fifth year)
(Girls): Karen Reardon (14th year)

2015 results:
(Boys) 15th @ Class A state meet
(Girls) 6th @ Class A state meet

Top returners:
(Boys) James Ellis (Senior), Xander Keiter (Senior), Brad Mileson (Senior), Steven Smith (Senior), Dan Woodhouse (Senior), Josh Hyssong (Junior), Lionel Whitehead (Junior)
(Girls): Abby Donahue (Senior), Thaovy Duong (Senior), Toia Francis (Senior), Serena McKenzie (Senior), Taylor Nappi (Senior), Sistine Salerno (Junior), Eileen Porterfield (Sophomore)

Coach Kahill’s comment: “We’re led by seniors who have embodied the best of Red Riots athletics for their entire high school careers. Captains Xander Keiter, Brad Mileson, Steven Smith and Dan Woodhouse, as well as others, enter the season with improved conditioning and their work ethic, camaraderie and love of running provide an excellent foundation for the team to improve for this and future seasons. The underclassmen have great enthusiasm to develop and we look to continue to improve throughout the season. We should be very competitive during the regular season and have the potential to be a top five team in the regional championship..”

Coach Reardon’s comment: “Our first thing is to continue to grow our program, qualify as a team for the state meet and run well at the state meet. We have been in the state meet as a team for 10 of the 13 seasons I’ve coached and we hope to continue that record. It has become a team expectation.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland is once again primed to be a strong regular season team that could make noise in October.

The boys qualified for states in 2015 after falling short the year before and this year’s team is hopeful of moving up from its 15th place finish on the big stage. The loss to graduation of state meet scorers Damian Gavin-Loring and Jake Maloney will hurt, but there is plenty of promise on this roster. The lone returning state meet scorers are Keiter (38th a year ago) and Woodhouse (99th). Mileson also ran at the big meet last year, while Smith didn’t finish. Look for all of those runners to improve as the season progresses. Ellis also has experience, while Hyssong and Whitehead look to break into the top seven. A couple newcomers, senior Layton Steele and freshman Jack Kingsley, add depth. Defending state champion Scarborough remains a top power and teams like Biddeford, Marshwood, Westbrook and Windham also stand in the Red Riots’ way, but this group should be well primed to turn heads at the regional meet, get back to states and make an impact.

On the girls’ side, after a solid 2015 campaign, South Portland returns reigning Fall Female Athlete of the Year Mckenzie, who was third a year ago at states and qualified for New Englands (where she posted the 74th-best time). Other returning scorers include Porterfield (46th as a freshman) and Duong (69th). Francis looks to move up and Donahue, Nappi and Salerno all are seasoned. New this fall are seniors Ella Jocher and Lauren Magnuson (who was on the team but didn’t race a year ago) and freshman Grace Caselden. With several strong teams residing in the SMAA, life won’t be easy for the Red Riots, but they should be very competitive and have what it takes to punch their state meet ticket once more.

GOLF

Coach: Tom Hyland (fifth year)

2015 results: 0-10 (DNQ for Class A state match)

Top returners: Noah McHugh (Junior), Daniel Mickiewicz (Junior), Aidan Schifano (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “Each year becomes more enjoyable. We get better every year as the players embrace the tenets of the program, which are grounded in respect, responsibility and civility. We’ll be young this year with our top four players all being juniors with varsity experience. This bodes well for this year and next. They love to play and practice and I think we will be very competitive in the SMAA. As usual, I am blessed with great kids who possess excellent attitudes and are willing to work hard and listen. Spending time with them is indeed a pleasure.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland looks forward to being much more competitive this fall, as the Red Riots boast several promising players.

McHugh, Mickiewicz and Schifano all earned valuable experience a year ago and hope to lead South Portland into the win column. Another player to watch is junior Conner Buckley, a transfer student. Seniors Jake Angell and Jordan Bell add depth and could play key roles.

The Red Riots are in a very tough division and while match wins will be hard to come by, it’s likely that several individuals will make a name for themselves. Look for South Portland to accomplish much in the weeks to come.

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

Senior Matt Crockett returns at quarterback for South Portland’s football team, which looks to improve on last year’s record.

Junior running back Spencer Houlette figures to be in the middle of the Red Riots’ offense this season.

Senior Finn Zechman will be a top receiving option for the Red Riots.

Alecks Kaurin was an impact player as a freshman. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with this fall.

Senior Jessica Angelova is a key returner for a South Portland field hockey team which is eyeing a playoff spot.

Serena McKenzie had the fourth-best time at last year’s Class A girls’ cross country meet and was named South Portland’s Fall Female Athlete of the Year by The Forecaster. She’ll be a threat for the top spot this season.

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