South Portland Red Riots Fall Sports Preview

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South Portland’s fall sports teams will be vying for playoff spots in many sports. Football looks to get back to the postseason and could be one of the better squads in the region. Boys’ soccer has a chance to go deep in the playoffs this autumn. The girls’ team welcomes a new coach and looks to improve and qualify. Field hockey is thinking playoffs after falling short a year ago. Both cross country teams have their share of top runners. Golf hopes to be more competitive and earn a trip to the state match. Volleyball had a competitive first varsity season and is now looking to make the leap to playoff contender.

FOOTBALL

COACH: Steve Stinson (10th year, 28-48 overall record)

2013 results: 5-4 (Lost, 33-32, to Sanford in Western A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Ismael Baez (Senior), Jaren Muller (Senior), Hayden Owen (Senior), Matthew Stearns (Senior), Danny Guiliani (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 6 @ Thornton Academy, Sept. 12 BONNY EAGLE, Oct. 3 SANFORD, Oct. 10 SCARBOROUGH, Oct. 17 @ Biddeford, Oct. 25 PORTLAND

COACH’S COMMENT: “Our numbers are good. We have some young guys trying to step up and fill holes. We’ll try to weather the storm at the beginning. It will make us stronger. We want to get better every week. We want to qualify for the playoffs and we hope to be playing our best football if we’re still playing in November.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: South Portland certainly experienced its share of drama in 2013, opening the season by stunning defending champion Thornton Academy, playing one of the most epic games in memory (a double overtime loss at Scarborough), then fighting Sanford to the wire in the playoffs before falling short by a point. The Red Riots will be rebuilding at several positions this autumn, most notably under center after reigning Fall Male Athlete of the Year Duncan Preston graduated, at running back after Joey DiBiase departed, at wide receiver after the loss of Jordan Susi, and on the offensive line and at linebacker after Josh Allen said farewell.

On a positive note, this team does have some returning talent and some players who are eager to play a bigger role. Junior Nick Mezzanotte, last seen helping lead boys’ lacrosse to its first championship in June, will take over under center. Stearns will step in as the feature back. Mezzanotte has some impressive receiving targets in reigning league all-stars Muller and Owen. Baez and Guiliani have experience on the line.

The defense will be bolstered this autumn by new coordinator Mike Bailey, the longtime Portland High coach. He’ll look to Baez, Guiliani and Muller to man the line. Owen and Stearns will be top defensive backs.

South Portland will have its hands full every week, beginning with a return engagement versus Thornton Academy. This is a team that’s capable of posting another winning record and getting back to the playoffs, but nothing will come easily. Don’t bet against the Red Riots, however. They’ve shown they welcome the challenge and usually rise to meet it.

BOYS’ SOCCER

COACH: Bryan Hoy (eighth year, 60-37-11 overall record)

2013 record: 9-6-1 (Lost, 2-0, to Scarborough in Western A quarterfinals)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Henry Curran (Senior), Bryan Currie (Senior), Andrew Whipple (Senior), Silas Zechman (Senior), Brian Elsemore (Junior), Ahmed Suja (Junior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 5 SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 11 @ Gorham, Sept. 20 NOBLE, Sept. 26 DEERING, Oct. 2 Portland, Oct. 7 @ Cheverus

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’re looking to build off last season’s prelim victory and hopefully make a deeper run in the playoffs. With Henry being more comfortable in goal and with two starters returning, we should have a stout defense in front of him. Our strongest position will be our midfield. We have speed all over the field and lots of players who are very adept at finishing around the goal. So far this preseason, we have scored 23 goals in various scrimmages that have added up to about three full games, while only conceding two. I’m not sure we can keep up that pace as we enter regular season competition, but it certainly is something to take note of. Opening with Scarborough will certainly give us a barometer of where we are at, but we should be challenging for a top spot in the playoffs and possibly our first ever conference championship.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: South Portland has made the playoffs in each of Hoy’s previous seven seasons and has posted a winning record in six straight years. One thing the Red Riots haven’t been able to do is make a deep postseason run, but that could change this autumn. For starters, South Portland is loaded and the league appears more balanced than in the past, especially with Scarborough being seemingly mortal for the first time in forever (the Red Riots open at home against Scarborough Friday and will get a quick idea of where they stand in the pecking order).

This year’s team will have no trouble scoring, as Suja could go off. He scored seven goals and added seven assists a year ago. He’ll be joined by juniors Kervens Anthoine and Gary Maietta up top. Whipple, along with juniors Jacob Brown and Alex Livingston and sophomore Khalid Suja (a transfer from Waynflete) will make up a formidable midfield. Livingston will also see some time on defense, where he’ll join Currie, Elsemore and Zechman and junior Jacob Brown. Curran returns in goal to give South Portland one of the best at that position. He made 85 saves, which tied for first in the conference a year ago, and also pitched three shutouts in 2013.

If the Red Riots can beat some top foes in the early going, it would do wonders for confidence. This could be the program’s best team in a generation. The last trip to the semifinals came way back in 1989, the first year of George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency. It’s time for that drought to end. This time around, a deep playoff run is a distinct possibility.

GIRLS’ SOCCER

COACH: Jeff Selser (first year)

2013 record: 2-11-1 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Christina Ekholm (Senior), Colleen Fleming (Senior), Aimee LaPlante (Senior), Lillian LaRochelle (Senior), Samantha Munson (Senior), Emma Russell (Senior), Abby Young (Senior)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 5 SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 10 @ Thornton Academy, Sept. 13 GORHAM, Sept. 19 @ McAuley, Sept. 22 @ Deering, Sept. 24 WINDHAM, Oct. 4 @ Portland, Oct. 8 CHEVERUS

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’re poised to surprise a lot of people. The team is deep with talent, energy and heart and we’re looking to make our mark on the Maine soccer landscape. We intend to be competitive in every game and are excited about playing a lot of quality teams in a strong conference.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: After falling short of the playoffs a year ago, South Portland welcomes a new coach and looks to get back in postseason contention. Selser played at Hall-Dale and has coached soccer at various levels in South Portland for many years. He’s also on the board of the South Portland Strikers. Selser inherits a team which has the potential to make a quantum leap up the standings.

Russell has faced her share of trial by fire in goal and has emerged as one of the conference’s top keepers. She’ll be assisted this season by defender LaPlante. In the midfield, look for Ekholm and three newcomers: sophomores Callie O’Brien and Emma Jones and freshman Juliana Selser to set the tone. The offense will likely be paced by Fleming, LaRochelle, Munson and Young.

A new era brings a lot of optimism and it’s warranted. If the Red Riots can get off to a good start, they might just make a run at a playoff spot. This program appears to be in good hands going forward.

FIELD HOCKEY

COACH: Leslie Dyer (fourth year, 8-32-2 overall record)

2013 record: 3-10-1 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Michelle Medici (Senior), Maddie Hasson (Junior), Lydia Henderson (Sophomore)

PIVOTAL GAMES: Sept. 8 @ Marshwood, Sept. 10 MASSABESIC, Sept. 18 PORTLAND, Sept. 24 SCARBOROUGH, Sept. 30 @ TA, Oct. 2 WESTBROOK, Oct. 14 CHEVERUS

COACH’S COMMENT: “We’re only returning four varsity players who actually played on the field last season. I graduated seven and lost two to other sports. I have 19 players on varsity this year, so we are building this season for one last time. I will finally return a majority of my team next season. The team is very young, but they all come with experience, so it’s having the girls connect as they have never played with each other at this level. We are hoping to hold our own this season and hopefully success will come with time together. We’ll be a very young but intense and driven team.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: South Portland last made the playoffs in 2010 and getting there is the goal this season. The Red Riots will need several players to quickly get up to speed, but there is a good nucleus in place.

Hasson was an SMAA second-teamer a year ago. She’ll anchor the midfield. Henderson (SMAA All-Rookie team) and Medici (SMAA honorable mention) will probably be top scorers. Medici is actually a top defender as well. She’ll be joined by new sophomore Phonsy Sensombath. Junior Grace Chtiham takes over in goal. Sophomore Jessica Angelova is another new player to watch.

There’s a sense that South Portland is on the verge of turning the corner and returning to the consistent contender status the program once enjoyed. It might not come this year, but look for steady improvement. If all goes well, the Red Riots might find their way into the playoffs.

CROSS COUNTRY

COACHES:
(BOYS): Dave Kahill (third year)

(
GIRLS): Karen Reardon (12th year)

2013 results:
(BOYS) 13th @ Class A state meet
(GIRLS) 6th @ Class A state meet

TOP RETURNING RUNNERS
BOYS: Sean Wyman (Senior), Gavin Damian-Loring (Junior), Thomas Hodgkins (Junior) , Xander Keiter (Sophomore), Steven Smith (Sophomore)
GIRLS: Janey Blackwell-Orr (Senior), Lauren Magnuson (Senior), Kyndra McKenzie (Senior), Casey Loring (Junior), Abby Donahue (Sophomore), Erica Magnuson (Sophomore), Serena McKenzie (Sophomore)

TOP FOES: Deering, Marshwood, Massabesic, Scarborough boys; Bonny Eagle, Cheverus, Marshwood, Massabesic, Scarborough, Windham girls

COACH KAHILL’S COMMENT: “We lost five of our top eight runners, but thrive on the great challenge that it presents this year. The team has prepared for the season and is motivated to improve. We should be competitive and should improve throughout the regular season. We’ll have the potential to again qualify for the state championship meet.

COACH REARDON’S COMMENT: “It’s early, but the girls are showing a lot of potential so far. We’ve lost a lot of good runners the past couple years, but we have a good group coming back. I think we’ll continue to be a contender. We have the ability to have some frontrunners along with maybe even a better pack running with them. We always want to qualify as a team for states and do as well as we possibly can. We want to improve on our sixth place finish from last year. This group likes each other and they’re willing to work hard. We’ll see where that takes us.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: South Portland is going to be a factor at the conference, regional and state levels this fall.

The boys’ squad has been to states five years in a row and if some new runners can step up, the Red Riots will continue that streak. Only one scorer (Damian-Loring, 42nd) returns from last year’s state meet. Hodgkins, Keiter, Smith and Wyman will look to step up. Seniors James Falconer and Chris Mitchell, along with freshman Josh Hyssong, are new to the team and hope to be factors as well. Look for this team to really hit its stride in October, which would help their chances to qualify. Another competitive season is in store.

On the girls’ side, the loss of reigning Fall Female Athlete of the Year Shannon Conley (last year’s Class A runner-up) will be felt, but you can’t write the Red Riots off. For starters, they return a top 10 runner in Loring (who was eighth in Class A last fall and also qualified for New Englands). Serena McKenzie (20th in 2013) also returns. Blackwell-Orr figures to move up. Lauren Magnuson has the ability to lower her time as well. Donahue, Erica Magnuson and Kyndra McKenzie provide depth. Five newcomers will help out. Juniors Meaghan Doyle and Caitlyn Tucker and freshmen Delphi Bourassa, Jenny DiPhilippo and Maddie Smith are part of the next wave of South Portland contenders. Like the boys’ team, the girls are hoping to qualify for states for the sixth consecutive season and should be able to do so. If all goes well, the Red Riots might even get into the top five this time around, led by Loring, who could have another New England-caliber campaign.

GOLF

COACH: Tom Hyland (third year)

2013 results: 2-8 (no postseason)

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: Griffin Henderson (Senior), Jackman Mickiewicz (Senior), Matt Pelletier (Junior)

TOP FOES: Cheverus, Falmouth, Portland, Scarborough

COACH’S COMMENT: “The guys are poised to step up this year. They know the league. I think we’ll be very competitive this year. It would be nice to get one or two kids into the singles championships.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: South Portland expects to be much better this fall and could be one of the best squads in its challenging division.

Mickiewicz (an SMAA second-team all-star in 2013) is the top returner. Henderson was the team’s low scorer (89) at last year’s conference qualifier and has the ability to be even better as a senior. Pelletier (91at the qualifier) also has experience. Senior Kyle Halvorsen and junior Robbie Pommer add depth and look to fit into the rotation.

The Red Riots will be competitive throughout and can’t be discounted as a possible qualifier. This is a team that might turn some heads come October.

VOLLEYBALL

COACH: Autumn Hawkes (second year)

2013 record: 2-12 (no postseason)

TOP PLAYERS: Holly Black (Senior), Paige Carter (Senior)

PIVOTAL MATCHES: Sept. 9 CAPE ELIZABETH, Sept. 18 @ Falmouth, Oct. 3 @ Scarborough, Oct. 14 GREELY

COACH’S COMMENT: “After being a new team last year, we’re really hoping to make a drive toward the playoffs this year. We took a year to learn the basics of the sport and now we’re ready to jump in, play hard and give teams a run.”

THE FORECASTER’S FORECAST: For a first-year varsity program, South Portland can be proud of how it competed. With that learning curve out of the way, the Red Riots are now focused on making some noise in a very deep and talented Class A.

South Portland will be led by Black, who was an SMAA second-team hitter a year ago. Carter is another returning hitter to watch. Newcomers of note include sophomore hitter Gwyneth Zelmanow and freshman hitter Molly Mawhinney.

The Red Riots’ size and athleticism will be something that many foes won’t be able to match. This program just needs to learn how to win, but with Hawkes (a veteran of the Greely juggernaut) at the helm, the right buttons will be pushed. It won’t come easily, but South Portland belongs in the discussion of potential playoff teams. Don’t be surprised if the program takes that next step in just its second varsity campaign.

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

Senior Hayden Owen will be one of the top receivers in the league, giving South Portland’s football team a chance to be among the best teams in Western A this fall.

Senior Ismael Baez will be a force on both sides of the ball for the Red Riots.

Senior Henry Curran is back in goal for South Portland’s boys’ soccer team, a squad which could be among the best in Western A.

Look for junior Ahmed Suja to be one of the top scorers in the league this season.

Hot on the heels after winning a state title in boys’ lacrosse, senior Andrew Whipple will look to lead the Red Riots boys’ soccer team to greatness this fall.

Senior Emma Russell returns in goal for the Red Riots.

Senior Aimee LaPlante is a key returner for a South Portland girls’ soccer team which could be vastly improved this season.

Sidebar Elements


Junior Casey Loring was one of the top 10 cross country runners in Class A a year ago and will lead South Portland again this fall.

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